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  • 9:00 am on August 7, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Roundup #215 

    New Events

    North Africa/Egypt-Sudan (266M)

    Sudan: Stricter Covid-19 measures in Northern State. Link

    Egypt denounces Turkey’s move on Hagia Sophia. Al-Monitor
    … announces plans to restore monastery in South Sinai …

    East Africa/Horn (520M)

    Tanzania’s president says the country is virus free. NYT 
    … experts outside are skeptical …

    Ethiopian workers forced to return home, some with Covid. NYT 
    … returning from the Persian Gulf, other parts of Africa … 
    … “may be fueling a growing outbreak” …

    Kenya decides to scrap the school year and start over. NYT

    West Africa/Nigeria-Sahel (457M)

    Malawi: Forced labor, prostitution, child marriage. UN 
    … “rescuing victims of human trafficking”

    Nigeria’s Lagos to allow places of worship to reopen Aug. 7. Reuters 
    … restaurants, social clubs, etc. reopen Aug. 14.

    West Asia/Saudi-Iran (303M)

    Big event of the week was the massive explosion in Beirut. 
    … NYT has a long read on how the ammonium nitrate got there. NYT 
    … the story starts with a leaky, troubled Russian-leased cargo ship. 
    … Initial investigation: negligence is cause of blast. Reuters 
    … NYT also has a bit on what ammonium nitrate is. NYT 
    … CT: an evangelical leader’s grief over divided, devastated country. Link 
    … Ground Zero: a rip through the heart of an already dying city. Link 
    … “Beirut will never be the same again.” CNN 
    … (that may be headline hyperbole) 
    … Collection of photos from AP. Link 
    … Collection of photos from NYT. Link

    Lebanon was already in crisis before that: 
    … Statista: A country in economic crisis. Link 
    Over 90k Syrian refugees struggling to find food. France24 
    Inside Lebanon’s crippling economic crisis. Link 
    … produces next to nothing for export, and has relied on remittances; running out of cash.

    Iran’s Covid death toll 3x higher than admitted, says report. Link 
    … Government actually estimates death toll at 42,000 
    … 1 person dying from Covid-19 every 7 minutes in Iran, according to state TV

    Syria: poverty deepens across the region. UN

    Turkey: “Bad news” for marginalized Christians. Politico 
    … decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia “yet another blow to already marginalized community”

    South-central Asia (2.1B)

    Afghanistan facing humanitarian disaster amid pandemic, continuing violence. Link 
    … at least 11 killed in roadside bombing. Link

    Wakhan, Afghanistan usually receives 100s of foreign tourists. RFE 
    … This year, zero, impacting the local economy.

    Kazakhstan is confiscating a pair of church buildings. Link

    Tajikistan suspends electricity deliveries to Uzbekistan. Link 
    … insufficient snowfall hindered output at hydropower plant …

    India: PM Modi will help lay the foundations for a “grand” new Hindu temple at a flashpoint holy site in Ayodhya that has been the spark for some of India’s worst sectarian violence. Link

    India: Covid-19 spreading, but … Link 
    … 82% of total cases are in 10 states. … 66% are in 50 districts … 
    Bihar: “Rely on God”–medical network overwhelmed. Link 
    … lacks good hospitals, woefully short on resources, “worst is yet to come”

    India extends ban on international flights (departures and arrivals) through August 31. Link

    Pakistan: Poor and desperate, Pakistani Hindus accept Islam to get by. NYT 
    … drawn by jobs or land offered by Muslim groups …

    Pakistan to lift remaining Covid-19 restrictions by August 10. RFE

    East Asia (1.6B)

    TikTok/WeChat Ban: Huge event, still trying to understand ramifications: US Presidential executive order banning US transactions with TikTok, WeChat, and their parent companies ByteDance and TenCent. I’m less familiar with Bytedance, but I know TenCent owns significant stakes in most of the very popular videogames in the USA, including Fortnite and Overwatch. 
    … “China opposes U.S. orders” Reuters 
    … “A true US ban on WeChat would be a personal disaster for anyone with family/friends/business in China” @niubi 
    … “With WeChat sanctions, Trump strikes at heart [of Chinese social life, commerce, business]” WPost 
    … WeChat has 1+ billion users. A ban will have a major impact on comms. Radii 
    … “Video game companies owned by TenCent will not be affected; only transactions related to WeChat” @SamAugustDean

    New USA CyberPolicy has serious bite on Chinese firms Diplomat 
    … “Clean Network Program” lists 5 major areas where Chinese companies will not be allowed

    Hong Kong issues arrest warrants for exiled democracy activitss. Link 
    … includng at least one American citizen living in the United States. 
    … and some exiles living in the UK. Link 
    … France halts ratification of extradition treaty with HK. Link 
    … Christians worry new law will hamper missions. CT 
    … HK charges 24 for attending an annual vigil for Tiananmen. NYT

    US “Administration is poised to impose [additional] sanctions on Chinese officials…” @JenniferJJacobs 
    … including HK chief Carrie Lam Straits Times

    “Sheep without a shepherd”: Hong Kong churches divided by politics. Japan Times

    China Times: “China will retaliate if Chinese journalists in US are forced out.” Link 
    … “including targeting US journalists in Hong Kong”

    US travel to Tibet still blocked by China. Link

    China says it will not recognize UK overseas passports. Guardian 
    … “raises the prospect that 3 million HK citizens eligible for the passport will be banned from leaving HK”

    South Korea see continued Covid infections linked to churches Korea Herald

    Southeast Asia (700M)

    Philippines: millions back on lockdown as Covid cases soar. Link 
    … capital, 4 surrounding provinces, 27 million people (25% of Philippines)

    Covid-19 pops Philippine remittance bubble. Link 
    … plunged deep into recession – 16.5% fall in growth – 19.3% fall in remittances in May 
    … 2019, remittances = 10% of GDP 
    … old piece: many Filipino overseas workers likely to lose their jobs Link

    Indonesia: ~4k passengers arrived in Bali on reopening day. Link

    Thailand: Cases rise, plans for “travel bubble” shelved. JT

    Europe/North America (1,125M)

    Slight opening: Russia resumes visa-free entry for some foreigners. Link

    USA: How families are finding God, grace and faith outside a house of worship. Link 
    … “Parents say they miss the religious communities that were a big part of their lives, 
    … but they are finding ways to practice their faith with their children.”

    USA rescinds global level-4 travel warning, reverts to country-by-country warnings. SMH

    USA: How two California megachurches kept worshipping. CT

    A priest revives a nervous parish: “Can you bless our quarantine room?” LAT 
    … Covid-19 is driving spiritual hunger out into the open 
    … “Now, I don’t know when they will all be back. So I go to them.”

    New Data


    … now: 17.3m (+1.8) cases, 674k deaths 
    … 7/24: 15.5m (+1.7) cases, 633k deaths 
    … 7/17: 13.8m (+1.6) cases, 590k deaths 
    … 7/10: 12.2m (+1.5) cases, 550k deaths 
    … 7/3: over 10.7m (+1.0) cases, 517k deaths 
    Trackers: Johns

    WHO: Africa cases will soon surpass 1 million. Link

    ACLED reports significant outbreaks of intercommunal violence in Africa. Link

    New Longreads

    “Where the Pandemic is only getting worse”: the crisis in the United States shouldn’t distract from the worsening situation elsewhere. Atlantic

    How to make SMART requests for help. Forbes 
    … a useful application of the acronym …

    The people that Covid-19 has cut off from home. Guardian 
    … Chinese students, Mongolian tourists, Palestinians …

    The Pandemic Depression: The global economy will never be the same. Foreign Affairs 
    … “massive economic contraction that will be followed by a financial crisis” 
    … “nonperforming loans, bankruptcies, sovereign defaults…” 
    … “World Bank: 60 million will be pushed into extreme poverty…”

    “Inequity at the boiling point” NYT 
    … looks at the people who are most affected now by rising temperatures.

    A vaccine reality check: so much hope is riding on a breakthrough, but a vaccine is only the beginning of the end. Link

    Futuristics & Technology

    Twitter begins labeling state media accounts, focusing on China and Russia. Link

    After Oct 1, airlines may start laying off staff and cutting pay (under the federal airline bailout guidelines). Several airlines will likely see severe cuts (United says it could cut 45% of its workforce). This also implies far fewer flights. “It could be risky to book a flight now for after that date.” WPost

    India widens its ban on apps from Chinese companies. Link

    Interesting piece: “small US company with ties to US defense/intelligence has embedded software in 500+ mobile apps allowing it to track the movements of hundreds of millions of mobile phones worldwide.” (How is this different from TikTok, WeChat, or even FB?) Link

    Watch the test flight of the engine stage of SpaceX’s Starship. Link 
    … it takes off
    … and it lands. I never tire of watching this.

    Zoom to shift to “partner-only” model in China, suspending direct sales. It looks like Zoom is trying to address some of its security and PR issues. Wonder if people are reassured. Link

    Google employees will work from home until July 2021. Guardian

    Former head of American Airlines says 1/3 to 1/2 of business travel will never come back. WSJ

    The Panopticon is already here Atlantic 
    … another piece on China’s use of AI to enhance total control, and how its exporting the tech.

  • 9:00 am on July 30, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Roundup #214 

    New Events

    North Africa/Egypt-Sudan (266M)

    Sudan: “We had to eat our seeds for planting” Link 
    … 10m facing food shortages …

    In Darfur, the killing goes on Link 
    … violence has surged amid fresh accusations against security forces

    For French-Algerian families, virus disrupts cherished summer ritual. Link 
    … “Holidays in Algeria are a cornerstone of the cross-cultural identity”

    East Africa/Horn (520M)

    International flights to Kenya resume. Link

    Kenya’s churches re-open cautiously. Link

    A second generation of locusts is invading east, south Ethiopia. Link 
    … 1 million people will likely need emergency food assistance 
    … worst locust infestation in Ethiopia in 25 years

    With Somalis, why a quiet hajj hurts Link

    West Africa/Nigeria-Sahel (457M)

    Senegal’s biggest holiday sees shortage of sheep. Link 
    … Eid al-Adha requires a sacrificial sheep. Covid restrictions have made them more expensive.

    Children in Nigeria area continue to endure “horrendous violations.” Link 
    … brutal abuse at hands of Boko Harm, affected by military ops

    West Asia/Saudi-Iran (303M)

    Some Arab states resuming air traffic despite pandemic. Link 
    … “particularly those heavily dependent on tourism”

    Scorching, record-setting heat wave across Middle East. Link 
    … Baghdad hits 125 deg F.

    Iraq seethes on the edge of another social explosion. Link

    Saudi: downsized hajj begins amid pandemic. Link 
    … only 10,000 are participating in the ritual this year … 
    … all inside Saudi. 2/3 foreigners already in Saudi Arabia. …

    Turkey: passes law granting sweeping power over social media. Link
    … social media platforms ordered to open offices in Turkey 
    … offices to respond to demands to block/remove offensive content 
    … slow bandwidth, limitations on platforms if they refuse

    Yemen: 2020 could be worst year yet for hunger in Yemen. Link 
    … half the country relying on food aid to survive 
    … “perfect storm”: deadly combination of war, Covid-19, floods, locusts …

    South-central Asia (2.1B)

    Afghanistan: Taliban “on the verge of establishing pure Islamic government” Link

    Afghanistan: 1,200+ civilians killed in in first half of 2020. Link

    Bangladesh: a quarter submerged, millions lose everything. Link 
    … torrential rains follow cyclone 2 months ago 
    … country witnessing pattern of more severe, more frequent river flooding

    “The poor in north Bangladesh” are the worst victims of Covid-19 fallout. Link 
    … “severe food related distress because of inadequate income during pandemic”

    In India, Muslim devotees of Lord Ram celebrate ‘bhoomi pujan’ in Adhoya. Link 
    … “We have converted to Islam and embraced its prayer system, but that doesn’t change our ancestors. We believe that Lord Ram is our ancestor…”

    India: slum study casts doubt on official Covid data. Link 
    … Covid infections passed 1.5 million, deaths neared 35,000 … 
    … but study suggests 57% in Mumbai’s slums have the virus … 
    Experts warn crisis could get worse as cases mount. Link 
    … “Tough few months ahead”, esp. Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu 
    … worst hit cities: Mumbai, Chennai 
    … floods, coronavius hobble Assam, Bihar. Link 
    … West Bengal announces 9-day lockdown. Link

    “In Kashmir, the hills are alive with the sound of schooling.” Link 
    … 100s of students attending open-air classes …

    India’s migrant workers fear return to the cities. Link 
    … spurning free air tickets, accomodation, higher pay 
    … form the backbone of India’s economy, grim implications for the economy

    India-China border tensions simmer, India adds 35,000 troops Link

    India bans 47 more Chinese mobile apps. Link

    Many countries are using Covid-19 clampdown as an excuse to arrest journalists. Link

    Kyrgyzstan: losing the fight against Covid-19? Link

    East Asia (1.6B)

    “With security law as a cudgel, Beijing cracks down on Hong Kong” Link 
    Hong Kong: don’t write its obituary yet (op/ed) Link
    … “the resilient people are bouncing back”

    Continued rise in surveillance, control in China: home to 18 of the 20 most surveilled cities in the world. Link

    Last week, we noted new rules for foreign teachers. 
    Now: New “social credit system” for foreign teachers could be coming. Link

    Yet more reports of workers being forced to leave China.

    Hong Kong Covid response: bans social gatherings of over 2 people. Link 
    For kitchen-less Hong Kongers, ban on restaurant dining is hard. Link 
    After public anger, HK reversed itself on breakfast/lunch restaurant ban. Link 
    HK postpones legislative election for a year. Because, “virus.” Link 
    … I personally think it probably is the case – but doing so while cracking down on security certainly raises suspicion.

    Arrest warrants issued for six HK democracy activists. Link 
    … they have fled the territory … 
    New Zealand suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Link 
    EU to restrict exports to Hong Kong. Link 
    Germany suspends HK extradition agreement. Link

    China says worst of flooding still to come. Link 
    … third wave of floods formed in upper reaches of the Yangtze River 
    … 2 million evacuated, 142 dead since flooding began in June

    Southeast Asia (700M)

    Cambodia’s government using laws to restrict freedoms. Link

    Indonesia finalizing ‘travel corridor’ with UAE. Link 
    … would exempt certain travelers from 2-week quarantine measure … 
    … to facilitate business trips, official & diplomatic visits … 
    … 2-week quarantine defeats short-term trips, but money talks …

    Bali to reopen to international tourists in September. Link 
    … more than half of Bali’s economy depends on tourism. 
    … With tourists gone, many Balinese returned to farms and fishing. Link

    Philippines extends coronavirus lockdown in Manila. Link

    Thailand: antigovernment protests mount as young Thais demand change. Link

    Vietnam’s Danang enters lockdown amid surge in Covid cases. Link 
    … suspend all flights, train/bus travel to coastal city 
    … more than 80,000 (mostly tourists) fled/evacuated. Link

    Europe/North America (1,125M)

    A North American Muslim Community holds a mock drive-thru hajj. Link 
    … “get in the festivities of the season… much like a drive to see Christmas lights…”

    New Data


    … now: 17.3m (+1.8) cases, 674k deaths 
    … 7/24: 15.5m (+1.7) cases, 633k deaths 
    … 7/17: 13.8m (+1.6) cases, 590k deaths 
    … 7/10: 12.2m (+1.5) cases, 550k deaths 
    … 7/3: over 10.7m (+1.0) cases, 517k deaths 
    Trackers: Johns

    WHO: Africa cases will soon surpass 1 million. Link

    New Longreads

    How I work: Productive Expert Charles Duhigg. Link 
    … some interesting bits in here, especially about the power of story.

    a16z on Hidden Networks: Network effects that don’t look like network effects. Link 
    … “So why does this matter? Companies with network effects that don’t look like network effects are diamonds in the rough. Because their networks are hard to measure, they can often be under-appreciated in the short run and disproportionately strong in the long run.” How many DMMs may fall into this category?

    Futuristics & Technology

    With rising fear of flying, Europe’s sleeper trains reawaken. Link

    “Our remote work future is going to suck.” Link 
    … explores the negative impact of everyone-working-remotely on careers and communication

    “I am a model and I know that artificial intelligence will eventually take my job.” Link 
    … CGI models are being given backstories, personalities, causes to champion

    Robot usage is soaring during the pandemic. Link 
    … they probably won’t be fired when the pandemic ends.

    Global app spending set to pass $100 billion in 2020. Link

  • 9:00 am on July 24, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Roundup #213 


    … now: 15.5m (+1.7) cases, 633k deaths 
    … 7/17: 13.8m (+1.6) cases, 590k deaths 
    … 7/10: 12.2m (+1.5) cases, 550k deaths 
    … 7/3: over 10.7m (+1.0) cases, 517k deaths 
    … 6/26: over 9.4 m(+1.1) cases, 483k deaths Trackers: Johns

    New Events

    North Africa/Egypt-Sudan (266M)

    Study finds 1 in 3 Sudanese children malnourished. Link 
    … half of all current adults suffered malnutrition in childhood.

    Egypt looks to be seriously considering invading Libya, going up against Turkey. Link

    East Africa/Horn (520M)

    Kenya’s churches reopen cautiously as infections rise. Link

    A second generation of locusts is invading east, south Ethiopia. Link 
    … 1 million people will likely need emergency food assistance 
    … worst locust infestation in Ethiopia in 25 years

    West Africa/Nigeria-Sahel (457M)

    “They cannot go up, and they cannot go back” Link 
    … Pandemic leaves migrants stranded in the Sahara. 
    … “When Cherif Balde set out from Senegal to cross the Sahara and make his way to Europe, he never dreamed that 13 years later he would still be stuck in the desert.”

    Nigeria may resume international flights before October. Link

    More aid workers killed by Boko Haram in Borno State, Nigeria. Link

    Major protests in Mali: say they won’t stop until the president resigns. Link

    West Asia/Saudi-Iran (303M)

    Greece is bracing for a rise in refugees if relations with Turkey worsen. Link

    Baghdad airport reopens. Link

    Iran’s death toll is over 15,000; currently at Link200 deaths per day. 
    … 12 of 31 provinces are red “high risk” zones, under restrictions.

    Inside Lebanon’s Linkcrippling economic crisis. 
    … produces next to nothing for export, and has relied on remittances 
    … running out of cash

    “MBS expected to be Saudi king by year’s end.” LinkLink.

    Turkey’s eastern province of Van has become a refugee graveyard. Link 
    … first stop for refugees fleeing Iran, Afghanistan; many wait in Van for years until their asylum application is accepted.

    South-central Asia (2.1B)

    Emirates to resume flights to 62 destinations. Link

    More violence: dozens killed in widespread insurgent attacks. Link

    The unhappiest Eid for cattle farmers, traders. Link 
    … 100s of 1000s of cattle remain unsold due to Covid-19 
    … 1000s of cattle farmers will see massive losses

    Antibody study says 1 in 4 in Delhi have Covid-19. Link 
    … 1% of the population is a recorded/confirmed case. 
    … “Glimmer of light”: fall in daily new infections in Delhi. Link 
    Covid cases in India grew from 1 to 1 million in 6 months. Link 
    “Area-specific lockdowns complicate economic recovery.” Link 
    … cities and states moving in and out of lockdown 
    All but one district of Kashmir is in a complete lockdown. Link 
    … similar declaration in Manipur 
    … also, West Bengal. Link 
    Will have to deliver vaccine on a scale never seen before. Link 
    “Offers escape” to Afghan Hindus, Sikhs facing attacks. Link 
    … many fear those escaping will face poverty in India 
    Another piece on the decline of demand for idols and the related loss of income. Link 
    How Central Asian Covid-19 data was managed and manipulated. Link 
    … lots of “pneumonia” cases; Christians, churches, others impacted

    East Asia (1.6B)

    China considers new rules, mandatory trainings for foreign teachers. Link 
    … several rules foreign teachers should not violate including 
    … “engaging in religious education or preaching illegally” 
    … only around 1/3 of 400,000 foreign teachers in China employed legally 
    … authorities cracking down on illegal foreign teachers 
    China will require a negative Covid test for all inbound travelers. Link 
    UK suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Link 
    … says it will need to be changed

    Interesting piece on ‘dark fishing fleets’ from China fishing in North Korean waters, pushing North Korean fishermen into less safe, distant waters; many NKor fishing boats apparently lost, washing up in Japan. LinkLink

    US orders China to close Houston consulate, citing efforts to steal trade secrets. Might complicate things for Americans inside China, or wanting to go. LinkLink. 
    … China responds, ordering US to Linkshut down Chengdu consulate.

    “China is pressuring for a land swap deal to settle the China-Bhutan border, in hopes of gaining an advantage over India.” Link

    North Koreans “desperately need the border with China to reopen”: hunger, homelessness, business closures all rising. Link

    **Remittances: **piece on the many Filipino workers who normally go abroad to work, and send home remittances that account for 10% of the Philippines GDP–100s of 1000s likely to lose their jobs this year due to Covid-19. Link

    Southeast Asia (700M)

    Tourists are gone, Balinese return to farms and fishing. Link 
    … “more than half of Bali’s economy depends on tourism…” 
    … “last year, … 6m tourists from abroad, 10m Indonesian tourists…”

    West Sumatra wants tourists to come for Idul Adha, despite pandemic. Link

    “Indonesia set to have the world’s highest rate of child deaths from Covid-19.” The headline and the trendline are a little exaggerated, but there’s a disturbing data point: 300 children below the age of 6 died due to Covid-19 plus co-morbidities. “Late diagnosis and treatment” were driving factors in the deaths. Link

    Where you see a pandemic, Thailand sees an opportunity. Phuket is set to launch a 3 billion baht plan for medical tourism, specifically focusing on elder care and, in phase 2, on the prevention of Covid-19 and other pandemics in the future. Link

    Thailand’s emergency decree will be extended until August, but they are slowly allowing more people (especially business people, medical tourists, and some migrant laborers) to enter. Link

    Europe/North America (1,125M)

    Southern Europe opens its doors to tourists, but not many are coming. Tourism will likely be dragged down by lack of demand even when the doors are open. Link

    Animated chart of who the average 26-year-old American lives with. Today, more likely to live with a parent than with a spouse, roommate, or cohabiting partner. Reflects the changing demographics of, and influencers on, potential candidates. Link

    “Convent outside Detroit lost 13 nuns in one month.” Given the mortality rates amongst the elderly, and the fact that many religious (Catholics, Orthodox, and also among Buddhists?) in this age demographic, I would expect we would see more stories like this. And if it’s impacting Catholic monastics, it will likely impact mission agencies as well, especially those whose demographics skew older. The expansion of the Kingdom is not without risk. Link

    South Africa is closing schools, grappling with virus surge. Link

    In poor places (this article is about Latin America), “dubious virus remedies” (read: dangerous, poisonous, ineffective) are surging. “Hospitals don’t have tests, don’t have materials, don’t have protective equipment.” There is a place for churches to spread good information and help. Link

    New Data

    Infographic: how a family gathering infected 41 people. Link 
    … this is Covid-related. But one can also think about other kinds of spread with this perspective.

    Spent on video games, in the USA, in June: $1.2 billion (up 26% Y/Y). Link

    New Longreads

    Protestants around the world: a short excerpt from the World Christian Encyclopedia, by Todd Johnson. A survey of Protestants in 2020, including a map. Link

    Futuristics & Technology

    The beta api of OpenAI’s GTP-3 machine learning tool was released. It’s an interesting tool that’s amazing some people. I’m not on the waitlist to try it out (yet), but what I’ve seen is fascinating. It’s trained on a large data set so you can ask it a question like “when was the first fax sent” and it will generate a paragraph (or more) of plausible (or at least plausible-sounding) text. This could be “write text for you” as a service. Personally, I think this is less “killer AI” and more “replacement for low-level text writers.” Link

    Interesting: ByteDance considering selling majority stake in TikTok. Link

    China is launching an ambitious lander mission to Mars, as well. Link

    People are mounting cameras on beetles. Link

    VPNs are re-thinking hosting servers in Hong Kong. Link

  • 9:00 am on July 17, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Roundup #212 

    Observations on growth in Muslim regions

    My work on documenting movements has led me to conclude at least 29 million believers are part of movements that are mostly or exclusively concentrating on Muslims. Not all of these believers come from a Muslim background, but most do. This sounds like a huge and hard to believe number, but it really shouldn’t surprise us.

    First, there are some 1.9 billion Muslims in the world. 29 million is a very small percentage – just 1.5%. That kind of number could easily be missed, especially if they were going out of their way to keep their religious affiliation out of general view (as many are).

    Second, there have been many threads & whispers of large scale movements in the Muslim world for some time. The common refrain has been “More Muslims have come to Christ in the last century than in the previous 20 combined.” While it’s true “the previous 20 combined” is a pretty low bar, it’s still true there is a lot of growth in the number of Christians in majority-Muslim countries.

    Yes, some countries have seen declines in the numbers of Christians. Many of the highly Islamic countries (>90% Muslim) have seen significant declines, indeed. The most marked of these include Yemen, Libya, and Iraq–nations torn by warfare, where many of the Christians fled violence and persecution.

    However, according to the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia , strongly-majority Muslim nations like Afghanistan, Iran, Algeria, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, and Oman have each seen rapid Christian growth–at least 2%, and some significantly more. In some places, most of this growth is in the ebb and flows of diasporas, but in all of these places there has also been growth in the number of Christians among locals. And this fact, published in the WCE, shouldn’t really surprise us either: for years we have gotten plenty of signals about the rapid growth of Christianity in Iran, and the pieces of growth in Algeria are well known (especially amongst the Berbers). And I’ve heard from many people, from many organizations, who have had long experience in these countries, who have told me about wide-ranging efforts. Further, in less Islamic countries (>60%, <90%), there are very few reports of declines, and many reports of significant growth (Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Sierra Leone).

    Given all of this, it should not be surprising that more is happening “underneath” the surface than is commonly acknowledged or published. We should be encouraged by the gains. But we should also remember that while much progress has been seen, much remains to be made. And some of the gains made to date can be very fragile, so we need to continue to pray for and collaborate with our brothers and sisters in these places.

    New Events

    Covid-19 Dashboard

    … now: 13.8m (+1.6) cases, 590k deaths 
    … 7/10: 12.2m (+1.5) cases, 550k deaths 
    … 7/3: over 10.7m (+1.0) cases, 517k deaths 
    … 6/26: over 9.4 m(+1.1) cases, 483k deaths 
    … 6/19: over 8.3m (+0.8) cases, 450k deaths 
    Trackers: Johns

    Several nations slow re-openings in midst of virus surge.

    Back in lockdown: AlgeriaBangaloreBiharHong KongManilaBarcelona.

    North Africa/Egypt-Sudan (266M)

    Covid-19 has put Algeria’s “peaceful revolution on hold” 
    … the past year’s protests have stopped, the streets are empty …

    Sudan drops penalty for apostasy, alcohol ban for Christians 
    … worry that “this is a lot to take for the Sudanese.” 
    … Concerns about backlash from conservative Muslims, counter-demonstrations, etc.

    Sudan declares a state of emergency in Darfur after virus protests erupt.

    Tunisia jails a woman for a Koranic joke on Facebook 
    … reposting a Facebook joke about the coronavirus written as if it was a Koranic verse.

    East Africa/Horn (520M)

    Ethiopia: Video of damage from protests in Shashamene
    … “similar scenes in many towns along the Rift Valley corridor.” 
    … Economist: “A musician’s murder sparks mayhem in Ethiopia“ 
    … Death toll from unrest following singer’s killing rises to 239
    … Government announces arrests for the killing
    … two men say they work for an armed splinter wing of the Oromo Liberation Front. 
    … “Unresolved tensions, grievances partly fuel violence“ 
    … the Internet has been largely shut down for 3 weeks now

    Ethiopia began filling the Grand Renaissance dam on the Blue Nile
    … Egypt gets 90% of its fresh water from the Nile, of which the Blue is a tributary 
    … Egypt says the dam represents an “existential threat”, asks “for clarification” 
    … I rather doubt this will lead to a war, but a strong potential for conflict remains.

    West Africa/Nigeria-Sahel (457M)

    The fake pharmaceutical industry thriving in West Africa… 
    … particularly tragic in the midst of the Covid pandemic …

    Jihadists in the Sahel threaten west Africa’s coastal states… 
    … even west Africa’s most populous countries are vulnerable … 
    … Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso …

    West Asia/Saudi-Iran (303M)

    China and Iran near a trade and military partnership
    … ‘would vastly extend China’s influence in the Middle East’ 
    … ‘throw Iran an economic lifeline’ 
    … represents massive $ into Iran, oil flow out, military collaboration

    Iraq will reopen airports, international flights this month.

    Turkey’s Erdogan signs decree declaring Hagia Sophia a mosque.

    More interesting: Turkey’s Generation Z turns against Erdogan
    … ‘young people’s rejection of Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism…’ 
    … ‘parents worry heavy dose of religious instruction… prevents learning enough math, science, tech to successfully compete in university exams…’

    In photos: Saudi Arabia through the lens of 5 photographers.

    Remember Yemen: 5 years of conflict, 100,000 dead, 4 million displaced. Backgrounder.

    South-Central Asia (2.1B)

    Afghanistan violence continues with major attacks in Aybak
    … ‘Deadly Taliban attack adds to despair over faltering peace process’

    Kyrgyz chaos: shortage of medics, hospital beds as Covid cases skyrocket.

    Kazakhstan’s second lockdown extended to the end of July.

    Turkmenistan is going into lockdown
    … not because of Covid. There’s no cases of Covid here. No, really.

    South Asia being pummeled by monsoon rains, flooding.

    One-third of Bangladesh is under water
    … monsoon rains drench South Asia, 4 million impacted 
    … “going to be the worst flood in a decade”


    Could reach 1 million Covid cases soon.

    Ladakh, caught between India and China
    … a longer read on the buildup of China and the confrontation in the Himalayas. 
    … I still think war here is unlikely, but Ladakh is in Jammu & Kashmir, one of the least reached provinces.

    Punjab, India’s grain bowl, facing ‘de-peasantisation‘ 
    … ‘peasants are seen giving up agriculture as a livelihood’ 
    … ‘robust shift from farm to non-farm sector’

    No Bangladeshi can leave B’desh w/o valid Covid-19 negative certificate
    … selling fake Covid certificates has become big business.

    Minorities under attack as PM pushes ‘tolerant’ Pakistan. 
    … “A Christian was gunned down… in Peshawar…”

    East Asia (1.6B)

    China’s new security law is implemented: 
    … “disappearing books, illegal words and arrests over blank white paper“ 
    … when words became illegal, people began holding up blank sheets of paper. The symbolism is obvious, especially when done in a group. It’s rather like other symbols, like umbrellas. Beijing will not stand for it. 
    … Further: laws “are designed to make the media self-censor

    China’s troubling vision for the future of public health
    … question: what does it mean for health and security to be intertwined? China’s answer to the question involves constant surveillance “in the name of both biological and political health.” Fangkong = “prevent and control.”

    China’s Xinjiang Policy is “less about births, more about control“ 
    … eradicating Uighur culture, genocide through childbirth prevention … 
    … could a UPG virtually cease to exist in one or two generations?

    ChinaSource sharing a study on how the church is growing in China
    … how much the church is grown can’t be easily known, but “it’s a lot.” 
    … given that “it’s a lot,” the question of “how the church is growing” is helpful.

    US-China tensions continue to rise: 
    … US thinking of a travel ban on all Chinese Communist Party members … 
    … almost certainly, China would respond to that …

    Stress between UK and China, too.

    Southeast Asia (700M)

    Travel bubbles and barriers impact long-term and short-term arrivals as well as transit. Singapore, for example, has mostly banned short-term visitors and only recently begun to partially reopen transit. Travelers entering Singapore from some countries are issued 14-day ‘stay at home’ notices can remain at the lodging of their choice; those from other countries (including the USA) will have to serve their time at a government-designated facility at a cost (est. SGD2,000). These restrictions are causing issues for visa renewal and medical access in the region. Check the Embassy page for details.

    No one knows what Thailand is doing right, but so far, it’s working
    … just 3,240 cases, 58 deaths, and no cases of local transmission in weeks …

    Myanmar’s shattered hopes for peace
    … ‘overshadowed by conflicts that have smoldered for decades…’ 
    … and, illegal drugs have become deeply rooted in Burmese society

    Europe/North America (1,125M)

    US administration backs down, rescinds rule on foreign students.

    Strained US-China relations “are playing out in American universities“ 
    … “Chinese students fearful that their government is watching what they do, and if they attend your program, their degree might be meaningless in their country.”

    USA: Small business owners closing their doors after new lockdown orders, realizing there may be no end in sight to the virus. “Nearly 66,000 businesses have folded since March 1.” In some nations (like Iran and India), people are broadly facing a choice of “death by starvation or virus.” The choice the US is facing is in the same vein, if not quite so stark. If businesses try to remain open “as they used to be” (e.g. bars, churches, gyms, restaurants, etc. open with full occupancy), there is an almost certain prospect of rampant virus spread. Yet many of these businesses cannot make ends meet with takeaway or 25% occupancy alone. If they close entirely, the economic hit will be devastating. Unfortunately, as inadequate resources are being invested in testing, tracing, and isolating the infected to break transmission chains, this stark choice is being faced by many business owners. The first wave of unemployment was the layoffs of employees; a scenario with a second wave featuring the failure and closure of many small to mid-sized businesses is still possible. Open question: what impact will this have on church finances and mission giving? Link 
    … banks gearing up for loan losses, defaults, worst quarter since Great Recession

    5% of US pastors say the return of worship services unlikely before 2021
    … North Point (Andy Stanley) will suspend services for the rest of the year. 
    … ‘It’s an outsider-focused question, instead of an insider-focused question’

    Infographic: US passports used to access 183 countries. 
    … Now, Americans are barred entry to all but 29
    … CNN has a list of nations where Americans are welcome (9, including Turkey) 
    … and a list where they are welcome with restrictions (23, incl Cambodia, Egypt, UAE).

    New Data

    New CHE manual for Covid-19 (PDF). H/T Brigada.

    New Longreads

    A new study suggests the accelerated decline of fertility rates could lead the global population to peak at 9.7 billion in 2064, fall to 8.8 billion by century’s end. The populations of 23 countries (including Japan and Thailand) could shrink by half by 2100. Subsaharan Africa would go the other direction, and grow to 3X its current population. “India, Nigeria, China and the US would be the dominant powers.” But is that scenario actually likely, or will countries “think their way out of the problem” in the next 80 years? Link

    Futuristics & Technology

    SCMP has a new China Internet Report for 2020
    … there’s a limited free version, and a longer pay version.

    Extensive malware stashed inside software mandated by China… 
    … Example: lurking inside tax software that Beijing requires companies to install 
    … ‘high-stealth spy campaign… bypasses Windows UAC… installs modules with System level privileges…’ 
    … My source: ‘Anyone who started a company to stay in China should be aware of this’

    Good early report on Moderna’s potential Covid-19 vaccine
    … I remain cautiously skeptical about the potential availability or widespread distribution of a vaccine either this year or early 2021. But this is a very good sign that one will be developed in the short-term future.

    Bring on the ‘bots, who don’t get sick: 
    … Covid could accelerate automation, hurt low-wage workers

    Hotspot for Jesus
    … a wireless hotspot in his pocket advertises itself as an open wifi connection 
    … it is also a full web server in the local language 
    … including text of the Bible and copies of the Jesus Film.

    Online gaming exceeds $150 billion
    … probably nearly $200 billion by 2022.

    Looks like big changes are coming to the Gmail web interface
    … could be some serious competition for Slack … 
    … how many mission orgs use Gmail? Will affect nearly all of you …

    DDoS-for-Hire fueling a new wave of cyberattacks. 
    … AWS fended off a 3-day attack that was likely ideologically motivated … 
    … Have any mission or church websites suffered DDoS attacks? …

  • 9:00 am on July 13, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Covid-19 July Observations 

    I haven’t done a summary update related to Covid-19 in a while. I’m doing this one now, and will try to do a new summary observation post at least once a month.

    The statistics surrounding total tests, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are difficult to ascertain with both accuracy and precision. I am working on the following assumptions.

    1. The total number of tests seems largely to be tracked in places where the statistics are most accurate (e.g. Western nations, as well as certain Asian countries like Korea). Very few countries seem to report the number of tests, but if they do, that number is probably both accurate and precise for the moment the snapshot was taken.

    2. The total number of infections is almost certainly accurate in the sense that it is not exaggerated or deceptive as a floor. But there are problems with precision, some of which I outline below. And certainly, the case numbers are not an accurate ceiling.

    • In many places—especially the United States, where the most cases currently are found—there are not enough tests. Many infections are untabulated and often even undiscovered. It is impossible at this point to know exactly how many are being missed. Some studies are being done to try and ascertain this number, and these early studies seem to suggest infections are actually 10X known infections, at least in the United States.
    • In some places, such as Central and Western Asia, it seems very likely the total number of infections is being deliberately understated if not outright hidden. Observers have seen indications the number of cases and deaths far exceed the number being reported. So in these cases, the numbers are no less than what is reported, and very definitely more.
    • In some places, such as Southern Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), I have doubts about the quality of the number. I’m not sure there’s any conspiracy to hide case counts as there are demonstrably so in other places, but I also wonder, given the situation of these countries, if the numbers could possibly be so low.
    • In all places, we need to remember the numbers for infections or cases lag the actual infection point. One of the key elements to the spread of Covid-19 is the asymptomatic nature of the early stage of infection. Many people show no signs of infection–and yet are still infectious, able to spread Covid-19–for the first week or so of the disease. Once they have the disease, some will go to the hospital or to get a test, and some will not. (In some cases, if they have a mild case, some doctors will say “you are a presumed positive, go home, self-manage”–but they will never have a test, and so not enter the official statistics.) The time between symptoms showing up and going to the hospital/getting a test is another lag. And, there’s yet another lag in reporting (this especially shows up over the weekend). So today’s reported cases are really infections from at least a week, and maybe two, earlier; and today’s infections (as a result of transmission) won’t show up for another week or two.

    3. The number of deaths is likewise challenging, though perhaps less so than counting infections. Deaths are obviously more visible than the first infections (especially due to the asymptomatic period). However, multiple factors nearly always contribute to any single death. A good article on how deaths are counted are “The Uncounted Dead.” Unfortunately, the total number of deaths has become a politicized factor, with some arguing that either deaths are exaggerated, because:

    • people who are older, or who have underlying symptoms, are more likely to be killed by Covid-19. For example, a 90-year-old with persistent asthma would be more at risk to Covid-19’s attack on the lungs and heart. Might they have died this year anyway? Did Covid-19 kill them, or did it aggravate the underlying symptoms that killed them?
    • some believe the numbers are being inflated because hospitals are “counting everything as Covid-19, to get more money.” I haven’t seen any instances of this, but I’ve seen lots of cases of hospitals being overwhelmed with cases.
    • Due to many infections not being reported, and indeed many Covid-19 related deaths not being counted as Covid-19 deaths, it seems to me far more probable that the death statistics undercount the actual situation. Studies in excess deaths are being undertaken to document this.

    4. “Case fatality rates” and “Infection fatality rates” are calculated by dividing the total number of deaths by the total number of cases or infections. In the USA, 127,461 is 4.9% of 2.6 million cases. By comparison, influenza is estimated to have an infection fatality rate of 0.1%. Of course, if there are many more infections than we presently know about, the rate would be lower. Still, if infections were just 10X, the fatality rate would be 0.49%–some 4X worse than flu.

    With this basic context, here are some things I’ve observed from June’s trends:

    1. Understanding that the global numbers are a floor, not a ceiling, the current global number of infections–10.4 million or so–represent just 0.13% of the world’s total population. In the United States, 2.6 million is 0.78% of the total population of 330 million. Even if the actual number of infections were 10X higher, this would still mean only 1.5 to 2% of the population has been infected. For all it has done so far, the virus can go a lot further.
    2. Even if we reached infections of 0.5 million per day, the virus could continue for another 15,600 days (42 years!) before it infected everyone in the world (and that doesn’t account for children born during that time period). (A million a day would cut that to 21 years.)
    3. How do we stop Covid-19? There are two possibilities: (1) a vaccine, or (2) existing infected people are isolated until the disease has run its course without them infecting anyone else. A vaccine may be created sometime in 2021, but making it widely available will be challenging, and could take months or even years (worldwide). Isolation has worked in some countries (e.g. Southeast Asia, New Zealand, etc); in others, it’s problematic for logistical and cultural reasons. And, isolation only works if new instances of the virus aren’t imported from other places.
    4. Until Covid-19 is stopped, it must be “lived with.” How we live with it is a subject for national debate in some places, and national control in others. But one factor is: if our national policy allows us to stop it, what do we do to keep it out?
    5. Because different countries will have different approaches to the virus, travel barriers have been and will continue to be established. In some places, “travel bubbles” are being defined (e.g. travel between Australia and New Zealand but no one else). In other places, countries and states are requiring quarantines for arrivals from certain places. In still others, they are barring travelers from some countries (the most notable recent case is the EU’s barring of Americans).
    6. I anticipate that these travel barriers will almost certainly have enormous effects on the missionary enterprise in the next months to years. I think travel bubbles, barriers and quarantines will be one of the most impactful factors on us. I think it very likely they will decimate the short-term trip side of things–in many places, it will be simply impossible to take an effective 2-week trip anywhere. (This will also have impacts on tourism.)

    If your agency used to do significant numbers of short-term trips, and you aren’t this year, and you don’t anticipate doing so next year, I’d like to hear from you. I won’t use your name or shame anyone (there’s no shame in this!) but I’d like to confirm if my view of this trend is true.

    1. The travel barriers will also make certain passports more important than others in certain areas (for example, might European divisions of some multinational agencies be about the only ones able to get around in the EU?). These passports will likely not be the traditional Western ones.
    2. For existing workers, the question of visa renewal is also very stressful. Many workers who have to leave their existing countries are wondering if they’ll be able to get back in.
    3. In this context, rising xenophobia is being noticed. People who come from virus-laden countries are being treated differently. In the case of Americans, globally accessible images of people fighting over being required to wear masks is not playing well. People who live in Korea, for example, have noted “we freak out over 40 new cases, and you have 40,000 new cases per day and don’t want to wear masks.” The people in countries where the virus is under control do not feel positive about the people traveling/immigrating from places where the virus is perceived to be running rampant.

    Note that in some countries – like China and India – pandemic xenophobia is merging with other trends. China, particularly, seems to be a “perfect storm” that is leading to very strong barriers of entry. If you’re finding that to be true, too, I’d like to hear from you also.

    1. Long-term service will also be complicated. A 2 week quarantine is completely doable if you plan to be in country for years. (It might also make 90-day “tourist visas” more problematic in some places.) However, many of the places worst affected by the virus are also highly unreached countries. Being able to work long-term in the context of disease and lockdown will also challenge missions in the near future. For all Americans have bemoaned the lockdown in the United States, these have not been nearly as severe as some other countries have endured.
    2. The travel barrier/bubble is a rapidly changing story. I am monitoring for news articles and government releases on this topic, and would welcome any pointers people have for specific countries.
  • 9:00 am on July 10, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Roundup #211 

    New Events

    Covid-19 Dashboard

    … now: 12.2m (+1.5) cases, 550k deaths 
    … Largest places: North Africa 0.1m, Southern Africa 0.2m, South-central Asia 1.5m, Southeast Asia 0.1m, West Asia 0.8m, East Europe 0.9m, North Europe 0.4m, South Europe 0.6m, West Europe 0.6m, Central America 0.4m, South America 2.5m, North America 3.1m. All other regions, <0.1m. 
    … 7/3: over 10.7 (+1.0) million cases, 517k deaths 
    … 6/26: over 9.4 (+1.1) million cases, 483k deaths 
    … 6/19: over 8.3 (+0.8) million cases, 450k deaths 
    … 6/12: over 7.5 (+0.9m) million cases, 421k deaths

    Trackers: Johns

    N. Africa/Egypt-Sudan (266m)

    North Africa is facing one of the worst droughts in years
    … Morocco’s economy to contract because of Covid, drought expenses

    E. Africa/Horn (520m)

    Ethiopia: Death toll from unrest following singer’s killing rises to 239
    … this is a significant issue – sparks in a powder box …

    W. Africa/Nigeria-Sahel (457m)

    The fight to prove Covid-19 is real as cases rise in Africa 
    … ‘In some countries, people don’t believe the pandemic is real’ 
    … ‘The hospitals of Lagos tell a different story

    But: Nigeria restarts domestic flights amid easing coronavirus restrictions.

    W. Asia / Saudi-Iran (303m)

    Thermometers in hand, Dubai opens for tourists.

    South-central Asia (2.1b)

    Afghanistan: ‘dramatic surge in security threats to control highways’ … 
    … FP: ‘Resurgent Taliban bodes ill for Afghan peace

    Italy bars entry to passengers from Bangladesh until October 5
    … bode ill for expatriate Bangladeshis wanting to return to work …

    After re-opening, several Central Asian nations seeing resurgence in Covid cases: 
    … Kyrgyz hospitals swamped by Covid-19 cases
    … a lot of circumstantial evidence that deaths in Kyrgyzstan are undercounted
    … Uzbekistan has entered a second lockdown
    … Indicators of upsurge in Turkmenistan, too.

    Central Asian migrants worst hit by coronavirus job losses in Russia 
    … 40% of CA migrant workers in Russia permanently laid off during quarantine is tracking cases to the state and district level
    … India has 794k confirmed cases, of which 277k are presently active. 
    … Covid cases in India are doubling every 28 days
    … (which means they are roughly 2 months behind the United States). 
    … There is a strict lockdown across nine districts in West Bengal.

    Mumbai opens up four new field hospitals.

    Loss of demand for idols, downturn in business for Idol makers in Rajasthan.

    Last week: Pakistan’s capital to get its first Hindu temple complex 
    … ‘part of government outreach to minority Hindu community’ …

    Now: government’s plan has sparked a predictable but deplorable backlash
    … over 8 million Hindus live in Pakistan, more than half the world’s countries 
    … ‘demographic has failed to construct a place of worship for itself for 73 years’

    Pakistan’s army tightens its grip.

    East Asia (1.6b)

    United, American Airlines stop flights to Hong Kong 
    … after city ends Covid-19 testing exemption for crews 
    … due to rise of infections in Hong Kong

    China, Hong Kong, national security law 
    … Changed overnight, navigates its new reality … 
    … GWU professor does an extensive look at the law
    … ‘It is asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction over every person on the planet’ 
    … ‘If you’ve ever said anything that might offend the PRC, stay out of HK’ 
    … New police powers to surveil lawyers a ‘major threat’ 
    … The Great Firewall descends on HK internet users 
    … HK’ers want to leave Hong Kong; Taiwan is first choice
    … Exodus would damage office market already hit by unrest, virus 
    … HK security law is causing fear to rise in Taiwan …

    Australia to offer Tiananmen-style visas to Hongkongers currently in Australia
    … halts extradition agreement, extends visas

    US-China tensions continue to rise: 
    … US sanctions Chinese officials over mass detention of Muslims 
    … 2 carriers sent to South China Sea in show of force …

    China has built a stranglehold over supplies of masks, gowns, test kits, and other medical equipment. Other factories around the world, set up during the time of Covid-19, will struggle to compete with China in the future. China’s control over this side of the industry could be a flashpoint in the future.

    China’s schools in book cleansing drive… 
    … removing books deemed politically incorrect …

    As Dalai Lama turns 85, his lineage’s future is as uncertain as Tibet’s.

    Possibly impacting some – Japan flooding deaths rise to 58 
    … ‘tens of thousands of troops, police officers, rescue workers’ mobilized …

    ‘Virus free’ North Korea fires health officials for quarantine failures… 
    … Covid-19 spreading in three areas of country including capital …

    Southeast Asia (700m)

    Thailand’s hotel industry is entering a recovery phase
    … the government wants to encourage domestic tourism … 
    … the nation is still tepid on foreign tourists … 
    … the Tourism Authority expects an 80% plunge in foreign tourist arrivals
    … all of this will deeply impact Thailand’s economy … 
    … tourism accounts for 20% of GDP …

    And, a long read on the struggle for political control in Thailand
    … provisional reports suggest 25% of Thais have lost their jobs …

    Vietnam entrepreneur installing ‘free rice ATMs’ across the country to help those affected by Covid.

    Bali, Indonesia holds mass prayers for re-opening
    … plans to gradually reopen to domestic tourists this month, 
    … and to foreigners in September.

    Europe/North America (1,125m)

    USA colleges brace for steep drop in international students this fall
    … new req: if intl’s are taking online-only (not in-person) classes, can’t stay. 
    … this will impact ministries that work with international students. 
    … Among others, would deport 369,000 Chinese students … 
    … a lot of money involved, since int’l students often pay full price for tuition 
    … so unsurprising that a variety of schools are vowing to protect students 
    … and that some schools are suing the Trump administration over it

    Travel restrictions on Americans erode a sense of passport privilege
    … ‘Travelers from the United States are not welcome.’

    650+ Covid cases linked to re-opened US religious facilities
    … a very small part of the overall pandemic; the headline is hyperbole.

    Two Covid-19 ravaged churches take different recovery paths
    … but they shared a tragic fate: together losing 134 members …

    The vulnerabilities of Somali communities with Covid-19 in Europe. 
    … several high-profile Somali deaths in London … 
    … ‘alarming number of Somalis either dead or in critical condition’ …

    Melbourne, Australia returns 5 million people to 6-week lockdown after grappling with Covid resurgence.

    New Data

    In Syria, a grim trade-off between tackling pandemic and famine
    … ‘global economic downturn has exacerbated food shortages worldwide’ 
    … ‘2020 could be one of the worst years on record for food insecurity’ 
    … WFP doubles number it predicted will face hunger to 265 million

    Oxfam warns hunger could kill millions more than Covid 
    … (but of course this is locked-down Covid. If Covid weren’t locked down, it could kill millions more than hunger. It’s a cruel trade-off without a significant anti-Covid effort.)

    mSightly is a visualization tool with a Covid-19 hub. Very nice visualizations.

    Great PDF from Financial Times helps identify which chart/visualization to use.

    New Longreads

    Adam Kucharski, ‘The Rules of Contagion: why things spread & why they stop.’ 
    … Wired’s extended review.


    Nearly everyone in the world connected via smartphones and mobile phones. 
    … But not all connections are equal. 
    … This infographic looks at the cost of 1GB of mobile data in every country
    … A look at Pakistan and the lack of internet access in much of the country.

    Several tech companies are suspending processing HK requests for data 
    … after the new national security law, they’re trying to figure out their position 
    … FB, Google, TwitterTelegramZoom 
    … TikTok will pull out of HK because of security law 
    … Techcrunch: Tech industry ‘comes to grip with HK’s national security law’ 
    … FP: ‘Is this the beginning of the end for Western tech in China?’ 
    … Wired: ‘Security law puts big tech at a crossroads

    Hong Kong downloads of Signal surge.

    Companies using deepfake technology to create synthetic training videos.

    United may furlough 36,000 staff starting October 1
    … bookings are just 16% of last year’s travel …

    Drones light up Seoul night sky with coronavirus advice. 
    … just included for the wow factor …

    Can our ballots be both secret and secure
    … an interesting longread on the math of encrypting votes yet allowing voters to ascertain their votes are counted. Unfortunately, since the mathematician in question works for Microsoft, I can just see the conspiracy theories now.

  • 9:00 am on July 3, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Roundup #210 

    New Events

    Covid-19 Dashboard

    … now: over 10.7 (+1.0) million cases, 517k deaths 
    … 6/26: over 9.4 (+1.1) million cases, 483k deaths 
    … 6/19: over 8.3 (+0.8) million cases, 450k deaths 
    … 6/12: over 7.5 (+0.9m) million cases, 421k deaths 
    … 6/5: over 6.6 (+0.8m) million cases, 391k deaths 
    Trackers: Johns

    N. Africa/Egypt-Sudan (266m)

    Syrian refugees in Egypt hopeful as virus restrictions eased 
    … Syrians will be able to go back to work. 
    … Registered 130k refugees, est. 250,000 actually.

    E. Africa/Horn (520m)

    Kenya’s balcony churches: finding new ways to worship in lockdown.

    Ethiopia in the midst of severe ethnic unrest catalyzed by the murder of activist and singer Hachalu Hundessa. 
    … more than 80 killed, troops deployed, 2nd day of unrest 
    … ‘armed gangs roaming capital, targeting rival ethnic groups

    W. Africa/Nigeria-Sahel (457m)

    Nigeria: Coronavirus is battering Africa’s middle class
    … a third of Nigeria’s workforce may be unemployed at end of year …

    More than 30k refugees fled NW Nigeria in last two months … 
    … Christians in Nigeria flee violence and fear Covid-19 … 
    … Fighting in the Sahel has driven 1.7 million from their homes.

    W. Asia / Saudi-Iran (303m)

    Iraq: rising virus cases, oxygen shortages stoke outrage, fears of chaos 
    … ‘true number of cases many times higher than reported figures’ …

    Syria faces mass starvation or mass exodus without more aid
    … a million Syrians are food insecure, some starving & dying … 
    … also, last week: Lebanon: Over 90k Syrian refugees struggling to find food.

    Israel orders US-based Christian TV channel off the air 
    … ‘hid its missionary agenda when it applied for a license’ …

    Turkey: Erdogan wants to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque
    … ‘Don’t let Erdogan erase Turkey’s Christian past.’

    South-central Asia (2.1b)

    Afghanistan: ‘You have no right to complain’ (HRW Report
    … Education, social restrictions and justice in Taliban-held Afghanistan … 
    … we should not think that the Taliban have suddenly changed …

    And: Afghans paid $1.6 billion in bribes annually 
    … down from $2.88 billion in 2016, but higher than the government’s annual revenue

    India: June sets Covid-19 records.

    Delhi opens makeshift 10,000-bed hospital amid surge. 
    … at the Radha Soami religious center, using ingenious looking cardboard beds.

    After turning their backs during lockdown, cities now want migrant workers back.

    Kashmir’s Dark Year
    … months-long security crackdown, and now Covid-19.

    Nepali families face hunger, skip meals as pandemic hits remittances.

    Surge in cases causes Central Asian nations to reverse re-openings.

    Kazakhstan plans to reimpose lockdown amid virus surge
    … 4-week, nationwide lockdown …

    Pakistani capital to get its first Hindu temple complex 
    … ‘part of government outreach to minority Hindu community’ …

    East Asia (1.6b)

    The big news: Beijing passed new sweeping National Security Law 
    … gives China sweeping powers over Hong Kong 
    … ‘Harsh penalties, vaguely defined crimes’ 
    … RFA (no paywall): ‘China unveils sweeping definitions’ 
    … 100s of arrests under the new law have already been made … 
    The law’s ‘long-arm’ jurisdiction ‘extraordinary and chilling‘ 
    … Article 38: ‘offences by non-permanent residents of HK outside the city’ 
    … ‘If… ever said anything that might offend China, stay out of Hong Kong’ 
    US senators try to give Hong Kong residents priority as refugees … 
    … Taiwan scrambles to get ready for an influx of refugees from HK … 
    … UK makes citizenship offer to HK residents … 
    China threatens to restrict visas for Americans who try its patience re HK 
    … ‘strikes back at U.S. move to restrict visas for Party officials’ … 
    … and says US messing with China on HK could put trade deal at risk 
    … also threatens UK with ‘corresponding measures’ over its support for HK

    China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization
    … The Party wants a Han baby boom that isn’t coming.

    International flights to China are resuming
    … Lufthansa, United, Delta.

    The Communist Party of China has 92 million members
    … WCE 2020 estimated Christianity at 106m. 
    … But then, Chinese-folk religionists are 438m, and Buddhists are 237m. So…

    Chatter about Kim Jong-Un’s health, but I didn’t see it widely distributed.

    Southeast Asia (700m)

    Thailand health ministry prepares for the worst once state of emergency lifted.

    Thai-Hong Kong Travel Bubble discussed.

    Europe/North America (1,125m)

    USA: American Airlines drops 20+ international routes 
    … planning for fewer global travelers in 2021 …

    New Data

    An interesting overview of 3,000 years of Chinese history, focused on its ideas about global governance.

    In photos: the locust swarms of 2020: East Africa, Yemen, Pakistan, India.

    African countries have lost billions in the past three months due to Covid-19
    … 20 million jobs in the formal/informal sectors 
    … 20 to 30% of fiscal revenue, forcing governments to resort to borrowing 
    … tourism/oil sectors represent 25% of Africa’s top 5 economies, all see losses 
    … what impact on the stability of these nations in the medium-term?

    New Longreads

    From a viral immunologist: here’s what antibody tests for Covid-19 tell us.

    5 Pandemic lessons from Eurasia’s evangelical churches. 
    … #4, churches w/o comfortable, well-equipped buildings are more flexible and creative in mission outreach …

    Economist: Covid-19 here to stay: work out how to live with it
    … 4.5% of those infected require hospitalization (Lancet) 
    … ‘be at least January 2021’ before a vaccine is available 
    … shielding the most vulnerable difficult if large numbers infected


    Where to look, when to talk: how to get the most out of virtual meetings.

    #ML: Smart Fill coming to Google Sheets 
    … similar to Smart Compose in Gmail and Google Docs …

    India bans TikTok and 59 other China-authored apps. 
    … Foreign Policy looks at why
    … thousands of Indian TikTok stars need to diversify 
    … ‘We’re devastated, my wives cried’ …


    ‘Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.’ ~Alexander Graham Bell

  • 9:00 am on June 28, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Roundup #165 

    New events

    North Africa

    Chad: a day in the life of a de-miner – Link

    … govt forces retake some Haftar gains – Link 
    … slow-walking into another Yemen – Link 
    … two wars: on battlefield, on Facebook – Link 
    … Libya Telecoms analysis: ‘crippled’ – Link 
    … Analysis: social media+conflict in L – Link

    Tunisia: Twin suicide bombings – Link

    West Africa

    6/16, 24+ killed by Boko Haram attack in N Cameroon – Link

    Nigeria sees attacks by two groups – Link 
    … Boko Haram AND the Islamic State of West Africa Province

    Mali: 95 Christians killed by Fulani militants – Link

    Mauritania cracks down on protestors – Link 
    … “high tension following disputed election”

    East Africa/Horn

    Ethiopia: Top military leaders killed in suspected coup attempt – Link 
    … “dozens killed” – Link 
    … military deployed. Internet cut, again. 
    … Reuters explainer on ethnic militias – Link

    Sudan: How an Internet blackout has affected the ability to protest – Link 
    … and, “Dates and bullets: Sudan in the grip of the RSF militia” – Link

    Uganda tightens border with DRC after 2nd Ebola death confirmed – Link

    Can Uganda build a livable city out of a refugee camp? Link

    Central Asia

    Photos of Kyrgyzstan – Link 
    … “the beauty of the south”: there are some gorgeous landscapes here.

    Kazakhstan gets a new leader, but… – Link 
    … old system’s grip on power remains. 
    … and: police crack down on protestors as activism keeps rising – Link

    The women who came home – Link 
    … Kazakhstan tries to rehabilitate Islamic State returnees

    West Asia/Gulf

    “Faces of War”: Kurdistan’s armed struggle against the Islamic State – Link 
    … set of amazing photographs and brief stories of the fighters

    Lebanon: Anti-Syrian refugee sentiment rising – Link 
    … “authorities have ordered demolition of anything in refugee camps that could be a permanent home” 
    … and, “Forced to demolish their own homes, Syrian refugees in Lebanon seek new shelter” – Link


    Istanbul election redo led to stunning, stinging Erdogan defeat – Link 
    … “a political quake in Turkey” – Link

    South Asia

    Afghanistan: Over 3 million Afghans have returned home since 2012 – Link 
    … over 2.2 million have left the country during the same period

    India: Muslim man beaten to death – Link 
    … “Tied to a lamp post, beaten for 12 hours, forced to chant Hindu slogans”

    Pakistan “plays down accusations of Christian persecution” – Link 
    … “claims ‘individual incidents’”

    East Asia


    Hong Kong protestors “go dark” to avoid surveillance – Link 
    … disable location tracking, buy train tickets with cash, purge social media

    Chengdu: home to a $300 billion “rainbow” economy – Link 
    … “the capital of Sichuan has become a haven for the LGBT community”

    China’s long hot summer of censorship – Link

    Shanghai Sacred – Link 
    … a photo essay of Shanghai’s religious revival

    Southeast Asia

    Thailand: Chiang Mai, “rose of the north”, is wilting – Link 
    … 10 million tourists, 60k retirees

    New Data

    8 ways urban stats are changing – Link 
    … on the other hand, some nuance due to the way “urban” and “rural” are defined – Link

    The Arab world in 7 charts – Link 
    … turning its back on religion? 
    … And, Arab world is losing its religion in response to Islamists – Link

    More than half of the Arab world’s young adults want to emigrate – Link

    World Drug Report 2019 released – Link 
    … “2/3rds of global drug deaths are from opioids” 
    … and, cocaine hit record production levels in 2017 – Link

    The most expensive cities for expats – Link 
    … #1 is Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

    Longer reads

    Hacking the workout journal – Link 
    … this is an extremely simple and workable approach to journaling exercise patterns. I wonder if it wouldn’t be equally useful to journaling outreach & evangelism patterns?

    If you want to do a time journal, here’s a very simple and useful PDF – Link

    Politics aside, here’s an interesting survey of China’s investment in African ports. It’s not just Djibouti, which gets a lot of press – Link


    Only 1 person in Sudan has Internet access. 
    … Ethiopia’s Internet was cut again
    … Myanmar cut access in Rakhine state 
    … Government imposed blackouts are a “power move” to suppress dissent – Link 
    … The numbing experience living through Africa’s growing Internet shutdowns – Link

    Bluetooth beacons used to watch shoppers – Link 
    … but requires store app, so limited surveillance

    “The trouble starts if Facebook’s online currency succeeds” – Link

    Chinese Space Station slated to be operational in 2022 – Link

    Humans can’t watch all the surveillance cameras, so computers are – Link

    Quartz on “cash deserts” – Link 
    … “89% of S Korea consumer payments are cashless …” 
    … “…places where banks have fled and ATMs regularly run dry …” 
    … “paper money is an oddity in Chinese cities …”

    The Pentagon has a unique laser that can identify a person from at up to 200 feet by the unique signature of their heartbeat – Link

    City ransomware attacks and huge payouts to get data back – Link 
    … three cities have fallen victim, 6-figure ransoms. 
    … “corporations have been quietly fighting the battle for years”

  • 9:00 am on June 27, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Gospel Vectors 

    1. ‘Viral growth’ is a frequently-discussed topic today. This is true for several reasons. One obvious cause is the impact of Covid-19 over the past few months. But there are ‘ideas’ and ‘fads’ as well: Seth Godin wrote a notable book some time back about ‘ideaviruses’, and Malcolm Gladwell wrote his famous Tipping Point on the same idea.
    2. ‘Disciple-making movements’ (DMM) center around the ‘viral’ or ‘exponential’ growth of the church. The name ‘disciple-making movement’ or ‘DMM’ is new, but the theory isn’t. Jesus used the illustration of a seed falling into the ground, dying, and yielding exponential fruit. There have been many multiplying movements in history that have saturated whole peoples and countries.
    3. In summary, for any sort of viral movement (good or bad) to take off, three things are required: (1) people (virus carriers), (2) the contagion (the virus itself, in whatever form we’re talking about), and (3) a context (a place or platform) in which carriers can mix with the not-yet-infected. Without any of these, you won’t have a viral movement—be it Covid-19, Facebook, political ads or a DMM.
    4. The growth of the movement is driven by two factors: (1) how long a person is ‘infectious’ or able to pass the virus on to others, and (2) how easy it is to pass the virus. An easily-caught infection can still fail to multiply through a population if it is short-lived: if it only lasts in its host for a few minutes or an hour. (It doesn’t matter how excited a person is to share the Gospel if that only lasts for Sunday night, and the excitement disappears by, say, Monday morning.) A difficult-to-pass virus (for example, one that only passes through blood transfusions, or a discipling mechanism that requires a multi-year investment of time and money) will not rapidly spread even if it lives in the host for months or years.
    5. If a virus is long-lived and easily-caught, it will spread through a local community—and the mobility of people through a context can widen the viral spread. We see this illustrated sharply in the case of Covid-19: carriers spread out from infected ‘hot zones’ via air travel and ‘seeded’ the virus into other locations. The same principle is at play when dealing with mobile diaspora populations (such as students or international business people).
    6. Often, a virus will spread nearly invisibly in the early stages. When it is spreading from 1 person to 3, and then to 9, and then to 27, it is rapid but often unseen in the midst of larger populations. (This is particularly true of the ‘asymptomatic’ early infectious period of Covid-19: you could have it for as long as a week before symptoms show, and be passing it to many other people.) Suddenly, a virus will ‘go viral’ or ‘burst out into the open’—what this means is that lots of people have suddenly noticed it. By the time the virus has reached the stage where it is widely seen it is often far too late to be easily contained. (This is the point when governments, if they are opposed, will try to quash it—and have to do so ruthlessly.) This inability to ‘see’ viral multiplication well often makes it difficult to engineer its spread. Tech platforms often have an advantage because they know how many ‘infected’ people they have, and often who came to the platform as a result of who (e.g. they can see the contagiousness of the platform).
    7. So, if one wants to see a viral movement happen, how can all these factors combine together for maximum effectiveness? We must start with a ‘virus’ that (a) can be passed on easily, and that (b) people are excited and continue to want to pass on for a long time. (One movement leader told me, for example, that if a church were going to multiply itself, it would do so in the first four years; after four years, it’s easier to start a new church or group than to try to get the existing one to multiply. This is the ‘infectious’ period.)
    8. If you have such a ‘virus,’ the next thing to do is to ‘seed’ the virus into a context where there’s a lot of social interaction between people. An ideal context is one where people from other locations come in-and-out—where they can pick the ‘virus’ (idea, teaching, fad, whatever) up and then travel to other locations and pass it on. If you want to go viral, it’s vital to ‘seed’ the movement into a context with lots of local social interaction and outbound flow using super-spreaders. Repeated ‘spreadings’ will help catch new people moving in and out of the context.
    9. Most Gospel exposures today have more in common with a restaurant than a viral fad. People are being given bread to eat, but not seeds to plant. To spread the Gospel using this model requires something more in line with corporate franchising—one installation trains a manager and sends them out to launch another franchise in another location. Or, to use another analogy, you can be a professional corporate farmer with a huge installation, training up interns and apprentices, or you can help start a movement of community gardens.
    10. All of this has implications for multiplying the Gospel, evangelism, churches, and the Kingdom. If the method of ‘gospeling’ and ‘discipling’ is reproducible (e.g. infectious—can be easily passed on), we don’t need to work so hard at targeting every last neighborhood. Instead, we can choose ‘viral contexts’ with strong commercial and cultural linkages, and well-developed transport hubs. With a viral approach, to saturate a people group it may be more important to identify the most ideal places to ‘pick up’ the ‘Jesus fever’ than to try to systematically engineer where the individual ‘Gospel outposts’ are planted. If it’s infectious enough, it will organically spread to saturate the population.
    • Break down countries into provinces and districts.
    • Look at capitals of provinces, but also look for major economic centers.
    • Look for places with significant transportation hubs (airports, railways, etc) as well as colleges, medical centers, big cultural installations—things that attract people from other places.
    1. Using this approach, you’ll need to watch for ‘flame-ups’ in nearby and distant places, however—because of the often unseen nature of viral spread, you might be surprised how far the Gospel can go from one location. (In fact, to fully saturate a place, it might be best to try to seed Gospel super-spreaders into two or three transport hubs that intersect the same territories.)
  • 9:00 am on June 26, 2020 Permalink | Reply

    Why rapid growth declines as movements increase in size 

    When they are small, movements tend to experience very rapid growth— they might double in size multiple times in a given year. Over time, as movements get larger, this growth tends to plateau. Why? Is it because, as time passes, evangelists get less enthusiastic? The case studies of movements I have collected don’t suggest this is the case. There’s a simpler and, I think, inevitable cause that actually hallmarks a success, not a failure.

    Movements begin due to abundant Gospel-spreading activity.

    Especially among the unreached, this activity is usually conducted by people with missionary or evangelistic giftings. Much of this activity could be termed “abundant sowing” (to use a Biblical term) or “super-spreading” (to use an epidemiological term that many have become familiar with). One example of this kind of event was the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached and saw 3,000 come to faith on that day. Other examples include Paul’s activities in various cities and places, where he evangelized large portions of the population in a relatively short period of time.

    “Abundant sowing” is marked by large numbers of people being added through “conversion” growth. This growth can be explosively fast and can lead to rapid doublings and expansions of size. It can be exhilarating, especially if it happens in places where there has been no fruit for some time.

    Movements continue to expand through the combination of two different kinds of growth: “abundant sowing” and “personal witness.”

    The first Gospel-spreaders often (1) abundantly share the gospel, (2) make disciples, and (3) from this early harvest raise up additional new “super-spreaders”–people who are gifted apostles and evangelists, who almost immediately begin sharing widely and making disciples themselves. This cyclical process can lead to sustained multiplication that can bring a movement very rapidly to four generations and one thousand believers or more. (This process is outlined in the Heart and Four Fields).

    As the movement grows, however, some portion of the growth will begin to come from “demographic” growth. Here I am referring to the everyday witness of the typical believer, especially to their discipling of family members. If you think about it, most believers don’t come to faith as a result of a missionary or passionate evangelist–they come to faith because of their parents, friends, or co-workers.

    While all believers are commanded to be ready to share their faith, not all are gifted evangelists (just as not all are gifted pastors, or teachers, or prophets, or apostles). Further, passionate evangelists–“super-spreaders”–seem to be even rarer. DMM trainer David Watson once told me, “The person who shares the Gospel with 1,000 other people is pretty rare. Most people don’t do anything at all. The few who do typically just disciple their families.” Other DMM practitioners agree: of those trained in DMM principles, somewhere between 2 and 10% (more typically on the 2% side) actually do anything with the training.

    So while it’s true that passionate evangelists find and activate other passionate evangelists, it seems there are only so many to find. Eventually, there are just far more parents and friends than there are super-spreading evangelists. Therefore:

    • In the early days, most growth in movements comes from 10s of evangelists who win 1,000s each, and also find other evangelists who do the same.
    • In later days, most growth in movements comes from 1,000s of households who win 10s each, and find other households who do the same.

    Still, this is not the cause of the plateau. In fact, discipling activities from “typical” believers can lead to significant fruit and rapidly growing expansion (see this analysis).

    The real decline in growth happens when a movement saturates a place or people group.

    Any growth faster than a population’s overall growth will eventually run up against a hard barrier—the total size of the population they are working among. As more people in a place decide to follow Jesus, others—the remainder—will have made their decision not to follow. Places may not be majority-Christian, but they can still be majority-decided. Once this point is reached, the rate of growth will drop rapidly: the “ripe fruit” has already been harvested, and at best you are waiting for more fruit to ripen.

    Reaching the plateau of saturation is not a failure—it is the inevitable result of successful, rapid multiplication.

    Ephesus was an example of saturation: “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” (Acts 19:10). The Scripture doesn’t say they all believed, but it does say they’d all heard.

    This plateau brings with it a new challenge. Once the area has been saturated with the gospel and future growth depends mostly on personal discipleship, we must ask: Are we done? Is this the end of the movement? If not, what’s next?

    To reach this point, disciples have gotten good at making disciples, churches have gotten good at making churches, and leaders have gotten good at making leaders. To transition past this point, movements must now get good at making movements. They have learned how to “pass on what they know” (2 Timothy 2:2). They must now appoint people to be sent out for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 13:2). New growth must be sought by intentionally crossing borders. This will require movements to build the capacity to send its apostolic types to new, unsaturated places.

    This is the same challenge everyone faces: will we choose to contribute to the completion of the Great Commission, or will we be content in our own little niche of the world? Everyone begins by focusing on their own “Judea and Samaria,” but eventually, if we are to obey Jesus completely, we must go to the uttermost parts of the earth. This is not just the domain of Western mission agencies—it is the natural next step to which movements, too, must aspire.

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