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Christian Group Drops Indonesia Orphan Conversion Plan

Reuters, Jan 13 2005

Washington, USA -- An evangelical Christian charity has dropped plans to settle 50 Muslim children orphaned by the Asian tsunami in a Christian-run home after the Indonesian government blocked the move, the group said on Thursday.

Virginia-based World Help has raised $70,000 to place Muslim children in a Christian orphanage near Jakarta. But the group's president, the Rev. Vernon Brewer said it suspended fund-raising on Wednesday after Indonesia said Muslim children could not be raised in a non-Muslim home.

"Once we realized that the government was not going to grant permission yesterday we took that fund-raising appeal off of our Web site," Brewer said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

The plan drew criticism from Muslim groups which said it would take advantage of people in a position of need. Many religious charities prohibit mixing relief efforts with proselytizing.

"This confirms some of our worst fears that certain missionary groups would exploit the tragedy and the earthquake to enter into these areas and convert people through use of a disproportionate power relationship," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"How many incidents of this type are taking place that we don't hear about?" Hooper said.

WorldHelp raises money for charity efforts and also seeks to win converts to Christianity by building churches and distributing Bibles, according to the group's Web site.

Members of the group "will travel to the country of India, where God is overcoming hundreds of years of false religions and idol worship," a message on the Web site said.

"We're really not trying to proselytize," Brewer said of the group's orphanage plans. "It's no different than what Mother Theresa did by taking Hindu orphan children and placing them in a Roman Catholic children's home in Calcutta, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing that."

The group had planned eventually to house a total of 300 children. The money raised so far was enough to house 50 orphans for three years in an orphanage run by World Help partners Henry and Roy Lanting, Brewer said. The group now aims to find 50 Christian orphans for the home, he said.

World Help has raised $200,000 over all for tsunami relief efforts, he said.

Indonesia, alarmed at reports of possible child-smuggling or exploitation following the Dec. 26 tragedy, has already announced a ban on foreign adoptions of orphaned children.



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