Roundup #233

New Events

North Africa

Tunisian migrants to Italy rose 5x to 13,000 in 2020. Link

East Africa

Ethiopia is warning Sudan it is running out of patience with a border dispute. Militia clashes have erupted, and some have been killed. Wednesday: Ethiopian aircraft entered Sudanese airspace, Sudan called for expulsion of Ethiopian ambassador. Link 1, Link 2

Massacres are still happening in northeast Ethiopia; the latest is as yet unclaimed. Link

Droughts, Covid-19 unemployment have led to ‘famine-like’ conditions affecting 1.3m in Madagascar. Link

West Africa

Central African Republic‘s capital was attacked by armed groups seeking to overturn the 27 December election results. This is the culmination of a string of attacks that have caused nearly 100,000 to be internally displaced. Link

Great analysis of Nigeria’s cattle crisis: how drought and urbanizatioon led to deadly land grabs. Both Nigeria’s cattle population (20 million) and people population (200 million) are the largest in Africa. City growth is invading cattle routes. Fundamentalist fighters are in the mix. Also, rainfall drops have caused desertification and drought. Solutions are hard to come by, so the crisis will continue on and more violence will be done. Link

West Asia

Iraq’s economy has been hammered: oil revenues are the worst in over a decade. I haven’t seen specific figures for other oil-centered countries but suspect this is true of many of them as well. The drop in oil revenues impacts every element of the economy, including subsidies for the poor (e.g. bread prices). Oil revenuesResults

South & Central Asia

A large fire tore through a Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, destroying 100s of homes, leaving 1000s displaced.  Link

Turkey is facing a severe drought due to poor rainfall–the “most severe drought in a decade.” Water levels across the country are critically low, and “Istanbul could run out of water in 45 days.” Of course, we’ve seen these kinds of short-term problems before (remember Cape Town a few years ago?), and I suspect the problem will be solved–but farms across Turkey are also on the verge of crop failure. Link

Hindu pilgrims–multiple millions, probably–flocked to the Ganges River (this year, hosted in Uttarakhand) to participate in India’s Kumbh Mela festival, despite the danger of Covid-19. One pilgrim: “The greatest truth on earth is death. What’s the point of living with fear?” Link

The farmers’ protests continue in India: they have created camps around Delhi that are virtual cities. The Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the laws they are protesting, but the farmers want them repealed. Link 1, Link 2

India’s invisible farmers: the women who keep India’s farms running. Oxfam says 80% of farm work in India is undertaken by women. Link

Kashmir has weathered violence, political strife, but the current security crackdown and Covid-19 have brought tourism (and its economic benefits) to a near halt. Link

Nepal’s ruling Communist Party (elected in 2017) split in a political crisis in December, and early elections will be held in April and May. China and India are scrambling to try to influence the results. Link

A mark of severe poverty: Uzbekistan struggling to prevent newborn babies from being sold by mothers due to financial and social insecurity. Link

East Asia

ChinaSource has an excellent survey of the top news stories related to religion and Christianity in China in 2020, edited from one originally published by China Christian Daily. Link

The United States banned all Xinjiang cotton, tomatoes over forced labor; this represents 20% of the world’s cotton from entering America. Canada and the UK also initiated bans. USACanada/UK.

… China, meanwhile, demanded the US lift its ban, calling the accusations the “lie of the century.” Link

The BTJ Centre for all Nations school in South Korea is emerging as a Covid-19 hotbed; government is warning of “strong measures against those obstructing anti-virus measures.” Link

The desecration of a Hindu shrine in Pakistan has people asking whether the nation can protect religious minorities. (India facing similar issues, of course.) This is mostly about Hindus vs Muslims but has implications for other minorities as well. Link

Most of Pakistan was hit by one of the biggest power failures to ever affect the country: apparently, a power transmission station in southern Sindh province affected the entire network. Power failures are common. Link

Southeast Asia

Malaysia’s king has declared a state of emergency to shore up government in order to curb Covid-19. I’m not seeing any changes in borders, international travel yet, but there are new limitations to movement. Link

Vietnam gets its first Christian public library, opened by the Vietnam Bible Society. Link

Thailand is launching some experiments to attract tourists, offering half a dozen golf courses as quarantine centers: enjoy the game, roam freely within the premises rather than confining themselves during two weeek quarantine. Thailand wants its tourists back. Link


Covid case data

… 1/15: 92.6m cases, 1.98m deaths (2.1% CFR)
… 1/05: 88.2m cases, 1.9m deaths (2% CFR)
… 12/18: 73.9m cases, 1.6m deaths (2.1% CFR)
… 11/20: 57.0m cases, 1.3m deaths (2.2%)
… 11/13: 53.0m cases, 1.29m deaths (2.4%)
Trackers: Johns

New lockdowns: TunisiaMalaysiaPortugalChina (22 million), Japan.

Travel bubbles
USA joins the bandwagon: international air travellers coming to America will have to produce proof of negative tests before they board a plane. Could impact ~100k travelers per year. Perhaps another ~100 countries have similar requirements. Link

Saudi Arabia warns against travel to 12 countries due to Covid-19 situations there. Link 

New Resources

HRW’s 2021 World Report.

Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List.

Dancing in the Mosque looks like an interesting book about Afghanistan: “an Afghan mother’s heart-wrenching tale.” Review here.

Longer Reads

1. CSIS has a list of 13 trends & stories to watch in “sub-Saharan Africa” (but includes the Horn). Link

2. The World Tourism & Travel Council says requiring vaccinations to travel is “discrimination.” Good luck with keeping it from happening, in my view. Link

Futures & Tech

1. Millions have left WhatsApp for Signal, Telegram due to WhatsApp privacy terms change. Link 1, Link 2.

… and, WhatsApp is really battling privacy concerns in India (where it’s also being sued). India is its biggest market. Link

… “Yes, you can continue to use WhatsApp – just change these three settings first.” Link

2. Muslim prayer apps are found to be tracking Muslims, selling data to companies with ties to US government. Link

3. The huge value of China’s market has led to self-censorship to win approval and access. Yet another example: Hollywood. Link

4. Venice is watching tourists’ every move, “in a bid to change tourism for the better”: “We know in real time how many people are in each part of the city, and which countries they are from… by analyzing phone data… information all aggregated automatically, so no personal details can be gleaned.” Less privacy-conscious countries probably will have the same kinds of technology soon, but won’t have the same kind of restraint. Link

5. Many countries entirely block the Internet & social media in the lead up to elections. The latest example is Uganda, which has ordered a complete Internet blackout “until further notice”. Link

6. Car makers are competing with PlayStation makers for semiconductors. Link

7. MIT Technology Review has an analysis of the five AI trends that are likely to shape 2021 and beyond–written & sponsored Baidu, a Chinese multinational. Link

8. China is training its surveillance cameras to detect maskless drivers, concerned that they could become superspreaders. This is a use of technology that other places could rapidly justify and implement. Link

9. Iran’s power outages have been worsened by illegal, power-sapping crypto mining. Link

Roundup #232

New Events


Over 2 million displaced by conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Reuters
… about half fled after their houses were burnt …

North Africa: 10 years after the Arab Spring, uncertainty dominates. Newsweek
Just seen book: “Understanding Libya since Gaddafi”, Ulf Laessing. Amazon

Weekend attack in Mali kills 100, displaces 1,000. Link


Western Asia

Iraq plunging into economic crisis. NYT
… hobbled by neglect+corruption, devalues currency, imported electricity cut off for nonpayment

In a northern town brutalized by IS, Iraq tests its power. AP
… Sinjar, home to the Yazidi: “almost everyone harbors unresolved trauma”

Oman: over 270k expatriate workers left due to Covid-19. MEMO
… would be interesting to see a survey of #s of workers in all countries who left

Saudi Arabia to reopen borders with Qatar, easing rift. NYT
… UAE will also restore Qatar trade, travel links. BBC

Turkey: battered economy puts Erdogan to the test. NYT
… “feeling ire at home as many Turks struggle to buy food”

90% of Syria families in Lebanon live in extreme poverty. MEMO
Syria’s bread lines are so long children skip school to wait in them. Post
… “One day I stood for seven hours.”

South Asia

Troubled Afghan peace talks enter a new phase. NYT
… negotiations toward a cease fire continue, but fundamental issues are in the way
Targeted, unclaimed killings are terrorizing Afghanis. NYT
… is it the Taliban? or factions using the chaos to settle scores?
Afgh: In a place mired with war, the virus is an afterthought. NYT

India: who gets to breathe clean air in Delhi? NYT
… air pollution killed more Indians last year than any other risk factor
… “the rich can have the best quality air purifiers… the poor can’t”

Pakistan has fenced itself off from Afghanistan. Economist
… the boundary will likely affect families more than fighters
Pakistan: welcoming a new year at an ancient festival. NYT
… a small ethnography of the Kalash & the Chawmos festival.
Fear of the virus forced Pakistani Christians to curtail Christmas celebrations. Post
Mob attack on Lahore church on Christmas morning. MNN

Central Asia

Kazakhstan’s new rules for election observers. Eurasianet
… “a violator casts several ballots, but …
… the observer has to ask him if they can publish the video evidence documenting this.”

Tajikistan: the plight of migrant workers in 2020. Diplomat
… “one of the most remittance-dependent countries”
… basically, long read article recapping impact of Covid on migrants & country

Turkmen: families risk losing subsidized food for not paying utility bills. RFE
… “people can barely afford to buy bread, let alone pay for gas, electricity”

Weathering a tourism downturn in Kyrgyzstan. UN

Kyrgyzstan’s silent hill: how smog is killing a city. Eurasianet
… affects unreached as well as workers engaging them

Eastern Asia

Hong Kong rounds up 53 pro-democracy activists. BBC
… 1,000 police took part in morning raids in 72 areas
… “biggest crackdown since China imposed a draconian security law”
… those arrested had held an unofficial ‘primary’ to pick opposition candidates for 2020 elections

HKers who tried to flee to Taiwan jailed for up to 3 years. CNN
… “nearly every remaining pro-democracy politician, activist arrested.” FP
… “Arrests sound the death knell of dissent in Hong Kong”

Hong Kong has a new 3-week quarantine rule for travelers. NYT
… “three weeks in a hotel… if you can find one.”
… govt says necessary to defend against extremely contagious new variant

“We found the factories inside China’s internment camps.” BuzzFeed
… satellite images show factories built just steps away from cell blocks …

117 witnesses detail N Korea’s persecution of Christians. CT

1st time on record, SKorea’s births < deaths. NYT
… also, experts warn “Covid-19 would have a negative inpact on marriage, births”

Southeast Asia

Indonesia’s new religious affairs minister pledges to safeguard religious minorities. Diplomat
Why Indo is vaccinating working pop first, not elderly. Reuters

Thailand: “facing a long drought in tourists.” Bangkok Post
… a month-by-month survey of 2020 & the impact of Covid on pivotal tourist industry
…  2021 international arrivals likely down to 7m from 39.8m in 2019

Western Europe + N America

Without tourism, Tuscan village slides back in time. NYT

Croatia: 10s of 1000s homeless after 6.4 earthquake. NYT

In Photos: For French Catholics, the virus is another test of their faith. Post


Covid case data

… 1/5: 88.2m cases, 1.9m deaths (2% CFR)
… 12/18: 73.9m cases, 1.6m deaths (2.1% CFR)
… 11/20: 57.0m cases, 1.3m deaths (2.2%)
… 11/13: 53.0m cases, 1.29m deaths (2.4%)
… 11/6: 49.1m cases, 1.24m deaths (2%)
… 10/29: 44.8m cases, 1.17m deaths
Trackers: Johns

Analyses, trends

Zeynep T: The mutated virus is a ticking time bomb. Atlantic
… a) more lethality or b) more transmissability with same lethality: (b) = more deaths

As the virus resurges in Africa, doctors fear worst is yet to come. NYT
… “possible, very likely the rate of exposure is much more than reported”

McKinsey projections on when the pandemic is likely to end. Link

Increasing situations

Beijing stepping up Covid-19 curbs as cases rise. Reuters
… seals off two megacities south of Beijing, in Hebei. Al Jazeera
Japan’s PM declares state of emergency as cases surge to highest levels yet. CNN
Thai govt asks people to stay home if at all possible to contain surge. Al Jazeera
Lebanon begins new 25-day lockdown. AP

Covid travel bubbles

Canada requires int’l arrivals to have a negative test before boarding. NYT
Saudi reopens borders, international flights. Al Jazeera
… had temporarily closed after UK discovered more contagious variant

Other data

10.4m children in Africa, Yemen suffer acute malnutrition in 2021. ReliefWeb


New website – at least, I haven’t encountered it before – Link

Longer Reads

10 conflicts to watch in 2021 – Intl Crisis Group
… Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sahel, Yemen …

USA: “The unaffiliated are not unreachable: understanding, reaching the nones.” Stetzer
… (also, a clear argument that the unaffiliated are not the unreached)

Can the church save marriage? CT
… interesting long-read on trends in marriage both in USA and elsewhere in the world

Christianity isn’t “becoming” global–it always has been. CT

Photos: Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas in the time of Covid. MiddleEastEye

Futures & Tech

Wired has a look at what 2030 could look like. Wired

Russian cyberhack probably penetrated 250 US govt+corporate networks. NYT
And, 3-part series on China using big data to spy on Americans. FP
Inside the NSA’s secret tool for mapping your social network. Wired

Japanese company has facial recognition that can recognize in spite of Covid-19 masks. BBC

A touch free holy water dispenser in Poland. Link

USA: 2020 was a pivotal, contradictory year for facial recognition. MIT TechReview
… despite scandals over problems with recognizing some racial faces,
… growth in adoption isn’t slowing

Physical security keys prevented leaks from the 2020 election campaigns. CNBC
… short article about tech that could help keep email accounts safe …

Will you have to carry a vaccine passport on your phone? MIT TechReview
… unclear how systems will work or how useful they will be
… but probably govts will want to implement some kind of system

WhatsApp revamps privacy policy. ArsTechnica
… brief review of data that will now be shared with FB “family of companies”

How future armies could use tems of drones, robots to swarm buildings. DigitalTrends

New book & interview on China’s surveillance state. NPR

… “We have been harmonized: life in China’s surveillance state”

Roundup #231

New Events

East Africa

Desert locust re-invasion threatens millions across the Horn. UN
… Ethiopia rains, Somalia cyclone = favorable breeding conditions… AllAfrica

Kenya, Somaliland agree on direct flights to Hargeisa. AllAfrica
… first destination for Kenya Airways into a Somali region …

Kenyan Christians traveling for Christmas fear al-Shabaab bus attacks. CT
… traveling on buses near Somali border …


Some concerns that Ethiopia’s conflict could yet become a regional war. ECFR
As war goes on in Ethiopia, ethnic harassment is on the rise. NYT
Govt orders businesses to re-open, first aid convoy arrives. MEMO
How Ethiopian doctors fled militia attacks. Hiraan Online/BBC

Northern Africa

After 30 years, USA drops Sudan from state sponsors of terrorism list. NYT

“Algerians are hurting”: Dinar’s dramatic fall deepens economic woes. Link

Middle East eye has an explainer on Western Sahara. Link
EuroCFR: dispute could escalate conflicts across N Africa, Sahel. Link

“To end the killings in Libya, the cost balance needs to change.” HRW
… crime has been normalized, cost of unlawful killings is zero.
… domestic courts barely functional

Sat-7 announces first Christian tv programs made in Tunisia. Link

Western Africa

Boko Haram blamed for Niger attack: 28 killed, 800 houses burned. Reuters

337 students missing in Nigeria after gunmen attack (Boko Haram). Bloomberg

Nigeria orders mobile users to link phones to ID numbers. Bloomberg
… “196 million active phone lines, 41.5m Nigerians had req’d identity numbers”

Western Asia

After Nagorno-Karabakh war, trauma, tragedy and devastation. NYT
… “It’s going to be hard to forgive.”

Years after Daesh, Iraqis forced out of refugee camps into uncertain future. MEMO

And in Mosul, life and resilience shines. CSM
… Iraqis are slowly, resiliently breathing life back into their streets & shops

Syria’s conflict isn’t over yet: more fighting in Idlib. VOA

Deepened & prolonged poverty affects Syrian refugees & their hosts. ReliefWeb
… est. 4.4m people in host communities in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan
… 1m Syrian refugees and 180,000 Iraqi IDPs pushed into poverty due to Covid-19

Turkey’s coffeehouses, a hub of male social life, may not survive virus. NYT
… “Every day I used to come here… this is our second home… it’s a place I love, I see my friends, and I am happy and I play games.”

South + Central Asia

The Virus Trains: How lockdown chaos spread Covid across India. NYT

India gears up for world’s largest vaccination drives. Straits Times
… over 300 million expected to get doses in first phase through July

India farm protests: mass strikes intensify. Independent
… Indian farm widows join the protests against reforms. Reuters
… small farmers fear changes = end of guaranteed minimum prices for crops,
… leave them at the mercy of big retailers.
… “suicide by struggling farmers has been a problem in India for years”
… Protests are likely to continue; buses bringing more people in from Punjab

India now a ‘dangerous and violent space for Muslims.’ Independent
… “South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020” – PDF
Love & the law: Hindu-Muslim couple challenges marriage rule. CSM

The possibility of a currency devaluation in Iraq. IOR
… would help the government, but hurt the purchasing power of Iraqis …

Victims of War and Conflicts: Child Labor in Afghanistan. Khaama Press

Covid-19 runs unchecked in Pakistan’s overcrowded prisons. AP

Balochistan: Pakistan’s land of the disappeared. CNA
… claims of 55,000 kidnapped; 18,000 bodies found since 2000

Tajikistan: pandemic wreaks havoc on migration lifeline. Eurasianet
… food prices have jumped >25%, and few jobs in Tajikistan
… the country depends on remittances from workers in Russia
… 2019 remittances = $2.5b, or 33% of T’s GDP. Halved in 2020.
… Russia-Tajik travel extremely limited, migrants can’t get in to work

Uzbekistan has made progress in eliminating forced labor, but… Diplomat
… it hasn’t entirely stopped it in the cotton sector …

Eastern Asia

China is building a ‘super’ dam on the Yarlung Zangbo River. Straits Times
… close to line of control in Tibet
… “far-reaching impact on India’s north-east water security”
… river flows into Arunachal Pradesh, then to Assam, then to Bangladesh

China building massive Myanmar border wall after virus cases spike. Diplomat

More Chinese students return to China after getting degree. China Daily
… 700k Chinese students went abroad to study in 2019

China raises Covid penalties for incoming flights. China Daily
… airlines will get 2-week suspension if 5 passengers on a flight test positive

Book review: Shandong, the Revival Province. Global China Center
… this is a very long review of the details in the book …

Southeast Asia

In Indonesia, a blurred boundary between the living and the dead. NYT
… the elaborate death rituals of the Toraja of Sulawesi (75% Christian) …

Isaan road trip: a brief travelogue in Thailand. CNN

Thailand relaxes travel restrictions for citizens from 56 countries. Jakarta Post
… visitors from Australia, France, USA can enter without visas now
… requires pre-travel Covid-19 negative test to enter country,
… still undergoing a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine

The Internet as battleground in Thailand’s Covid-19 Tinderbox moment. Diplomat
… “8 million Thais may be out of work by the end of 2020”

As Singapore ventures back out, migrant workers are kept in. NYT
… low wage workers mostly confined to dormitories …
… through 2022, minorities from Covid-prevalent countries working in Covid-free countries will likely find themselves restricted …

N America / W Europe


Chart: Blasphemy laws still common around the world. Economist

Covid case data

… 12/18: 73.9m cases, 1.6m deaths (2%)
… 11/20: 57.0m cases, 1.3m deaths (2.2%)
… 11/13: 53.0m cases, 1.29m deaths (2.4% CFR)
… 11/6: 49.1m cases, 1.24m deaths (2% CFR)
… 10/29: 44.8m cases, 1.17m deaths
… 10/23: 41m cases, 1.1m deaths
Trackers: Johns

Australia-NZ travel bubble. NYT
The hurdles to getting the Covid vaccine to Africa. All Africa
How the pandemic changed how [some] live and work. SMH
One quarter of the world may not get the vaccine until 2022. Stat

Longer Reads

Spiritual Warfare in the African context. Lausanne
… interesting, useful survey …

In a pandemic, should missionaries leave or stay? Lausanne
… a mental model for the missiology of risk …

Covid-19 has posed new challenges to the world’s waste-pickers. Economist
… The “invisible recyclers”: Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s informal waste sector. SyriaDirect

The Hole in Africa’s heart. AllAfrica
… Analysis: swathes of the continent are home to people whose efforts at self-rule or traditional ways of life have challenged state attempts to deal with Covid-19. The “lawless third” of the continent – all of Libya, half of Algeria, much of the Sahara & Sahel, north Nigeria, the Horn, and a crescent of the African forest belt – is difficult to reach and engage. This by implication also discusses challenges to reaching these areas with Good News. “The people living in these zones deserve equitable access… regions that are under-serviced fall into three, sometimes interlinked categories…”

Why people still starve in an age of abundance. MIT TR
… % undernourished dropping, but absolute number rising (similar to unevangelized)
… Hungry: 2014, 628.9m; 2019, 688m; if unchecked, 2030, 840m
… 10 extreme hunger hotspots (apparently Oxfam has a list; would like to find)


Huwaei tested AI software that could recognize Uighurs. WPost
… could send automated “Uighur alarms” to authorities …
… AI software that can recognize & send alarms based on one set of parameters or data set (e.g. Uighurs) could potentially also do the same with other data sets (e.g. criminals, poor-performing students, religious adherents…)

EU proposes sweeping new rules for online businesses. WPost
… could cause fundamental changes for tech giants …

Passenger planes being converted to freighters. Reuters
… Pandemic change: less travel, more e-commerce shipping …

AI co-pilots US military aircraft for the first time. CNN
… “in 10 to 15 years, widespread/ubiquitous use of robots in most militaries”

Lack of stable electricity holds back high-growth African economies. Link

Newly-launched satellite can see inside of ‘some’ buildings. Futurism.
… can see through clouds, and in day or night …
… this kind of tech is a long way off, but eventually could identify # of people in a house …

USA FDA authorizes first OTC fully at-home antigen test for Covid-19. FDA
… test will cost ~$30 …

Amazon reveals it’s 4-seater robotaxi. TheVerge
… looks like one of those little terminal-to-plane buses you’d see at an airport …
… guessing this will be used on company lots, airplanes, other controlled environments

Algorithms for Love: Japan will launch an AI dating service. Singularity
… one of the lowest birth rates in the world, below replacement level
… 25 of 47 prefectures already provide some kind of matchmaking service
… estimate population will fall from 127m (2015) to 88m (2065).

Roundup #230

New Events

East Africa

Kenya: “I grew up a fervent evangelism for Islam. Now I’m living out the book of Acts.”  CT

Fleeing Ethiopians tell of Ethnic massacres in Tigray war.  NYT
… 10s of 1000s sought safety in Sudan, give accounts of devastating, complex conflict …
Concerns mount over shortages, child welfare in ongoing Tigray crisis.  UN
Stories of separation & violence as more Ethiopians reach Sudan.  Tigray-war
… number of refugees arriving increased from 400/day to 800/day
In pictures: Ethiopian refugees in Sudan face an uncertain future.  Al Jazeera
Facing war, virus and locusts, Ethiopia’s once golden economy loses its luster.  WSJ
What Ethiopia’s unrest means for China.  Diplomat
Tailor of Tigray mends Ethiopian refugees’ clothes and hearts.  Yahoo News
… “to make life a little easier for fellow refugees who ‘came here with nothing'” …

Northern Africa

Morocco will recognize Israel, US will recognize Morocco sovereignty over W Sahara.  WPost
… big win for Morocco …
In the Tindouf refugee camps, resignation and frustration do battle.  Link
… this report from 2018 goes into detail about the Western Sahara issue …

Sudan at critical juncture in path towards democratic transition.  UN
… and, Going undercover in the schools that chain boys.  BBC

Western Africa

Mali: Conflict, Covid trigger upsurge in child trafficking.  VOA

Nigeria: Celebrating the goddess Yemoja with dance, water and prayers.  Al Jazeera

Wealthy Nigerians buying citizenship overseas.  Al Jazeera
… As a % of emigration, very few migrants are actually coming to the United States (despite media headlines). But many are attempting to leave their country of residence and locate in another, somewhat better location. (Iranians migrate to Turkey, Ethiopians/Somalis to Saudi via Yemen, etc). Engaging with the nuances and complexities of these diaspora populations is challenging but can be fruitful.

Senegal, Travelog: how to pretend you’re in Dakar today.  NYT

Eastern Asia

China, Covid-19: how everyday life has changed in Wuhan (8-min Video).  BBC

How China’s Communist Party trains foreign politicians.  Economist
… “Across the world it is seeking to sway tomorrow’s leaders” …

S Korea to criminalize sending leaflets into N Korea, bowing to regime.  WPost

Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan lifts Covid-19 foreigner entry ban at airports.  RFE

South Asia

The mountain shrub fueling Afghanistan’s meth boom.  Al Jazeera
… “a potential game changer for drug traffickers, making meth cheaper, easier to produce, more profitable”

Afghan government, Taliban agree Islamic law to guide peace talks.  CNA

Afghanistan, Iran open first rail link.  
… from Iran’s Khaf to Afghanistan’s Herat …

“Eat and don’t die”: daily-wage labor as a window into Afghan society.  Link

Police in Uttar Pradesh arrest 10 men under new anti-conversion law.  CNA

Not without India: the “world’s pharmacy” gears up for vaccine race.  Reuters
… India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker …

Why India’s farmers are in revolt in the middle of a pandemic.  WPost
… “thousands of farmers have cut off major entrances into Delhi in massive protests” 
… “govt says sweeping changes will spur investment, farmers consider them an existential threat”
Explainer: the multi-billion dollar food program at the heart of protests.  Reuters
… it’s all about the sale of wheat and rice …

In an Iranian ICU, doctors grapple with Covid-19 and US sanctions.  CNN
… lots of politics, but also insight into the situation in Iran …

Western Asia

Syrian war deaths slow, but reach 387,000.  AFP
… includes 117,000 civilians (which includes 22,000 children).

The ghosts of the Assad regime continue to haunt Syrian refugees in the Netherlands.  NRC

Istanbul is locking down–unless you’re a tourist.  NYT
… the strict weekend curfew doesn’t apply to foreign visitors …

N America / W Europe

Western Europe is losing its immigrants.  FP
… Eastern Europeans are returning home in droves … an analysis of E Europe economies …

USA: Suspected Chinese spy targeted local California politicians.  Axios
… I include as a reminder that agents of foreign governments aren’t only focused on national governments. I don’t link to this to engender undue fear or conspiracy-mongering, but it’s worth remembering that we need to be careful in sharing details even with very interested parties or donors. As the old Klingon proverb goes: “If you don’t want a thing heard, don’t say it.”

US: projections for reaching herd immunity (combo vaccine, infection) by summer 2021.  Link
… middle-of-the-road assumptions, seems fairly realistic based on what I read and what others have said …

USA: the evangelical brand is not as tarnished as most people think.  Ryan Burge
… America % evangelical has stayed constant, even risen slightly, 2010-2018 
… rising numbers of Catholics self-identifying as evangelical … 


UNHCR: 80 million displaced in 2020.  UN

US adds Nigeria to top of religious persecution list.  CT
… removes Sudan, Uzbekistan from lists of “Countries of Particular Concern”

Useful: the six largest language families in the world.  Wycliffe

Global arms sales top $360 billion, US and China dominate.  Independent

Over 1 billion people live in poverty hotspots.  Brookings

90% of people in poorer countries will not have a Covid-19 vaccine available to them next year.  Independent
… a reminder of the nuances and complexities of a limited supply of vaccine.

New Prayer Guides
Pray for China: a daily, illustrated prayer guide.  AFC
Prayer guide for the Banjar of Indonesia.  Link


Polygamy is rare around the world, mostly confined to a few regions.  Pew
… interesting analysis: only about 2% of the world lives in polygamous households, primarily in West+Central Africa, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan. This reminds me of a piece I recently saw from one ministry that told the story of an eager new believer–a well known, wealthy man who had multiple wives and dozens of children. As the gospel spreads in unreached areas, this is one of the local complexities that has to be worked through.

New ChinaSource Quarterly: Chinese American Christianity in History & Today.  ChinaSource
… lots of great-looking articles in here that I’ve saved to my library …

The struggle of social-distancing in a crowded refugee camp.  Independent


Companies back a new way to make the Internet more private.  ArsTechnica
… a new DNS technique separates address lookups from the people making them. This could be great for people who live under repressive regimes, and generally for preventing tracking for advertising purposes, but in reading this I wonder how it will impact services like OpenDNS and other blockers.

AI predictions: top 5 AI trends for 2021.  PWC
… 25% of surveyed companies report widespread AI adoption …

Iran says ‘Smart satellite-controlled machine gun’ killed scientist.  Al Jazeera

How high-tech spyware ends up in the hands of Mexico’s cartels.  Guardian

The world’s biggest drone debuts: used to launch satellites into orbit.  The Hill
Thailand uses drones, ultraviolet cameras to surveil border with Myanmar.  Straits Times
… after dozens of new Covid-19 cases were found linked to a town in neighboring Myanmar …
A drone with a flamethrower attachment.  Link
US: police drones are starting to think for themselves.  NYT
… “When the Chula Vista police receive a 911 call, they can dispatch a flying drone with the press of a button…. rather than spending tens of millions of dollars on large helicopters and pilots, even small police forces could operate tiny autonomous drones for a relative pittance…” Flying drones with AI are aiding investigations while presenting new civil rights questions …

Digital, biometric IDs
India: Covid-19 spurs national plans to give citizens digital identities.  Economist
… Millions of migrant workers forced back to villages by India’s lockdown feared destitution. India’s biometric ID system came to the rescue. $1.5b was transferred digitally and at speed into the bank accounts of 30m people with little waste, fraud, or distribution cost. 1bln accounts in India are linked to Aadhaar identity numbers…
Activists sound alarm over African biometric ID projects.  Al Jazeera
… lack of a regulatory framework to protect the privacy of citizens …
Big data turbocharged repression in China’s Xinjiang.  Straits Times
Sci-fi surveillance: Europe’s secretive push into biometric technology.  Guardian

China’s new surveillance currency.  Diplomat
… China hands out “red envelopes” of digital cash… but when people use it, they gain data about citizens’ habits.

Roundup #229

New Events

East Africa

When a fig tree withers or falls, the Kikuyu see it as a bad omen or transfer-of-power signal.  BBC
… interesting piece that naturally made me think of the Fig Tree cursed by Jesus.

Kenya: Fear of massive dropouts when schools reopen after Covid-19 shutdown.  AllAfrica

Ethiopia says military has taken control of Tigray region capital.  Post
UNHCR appeals for $147m to support 100k refugees from Tigray in Sudan.  UN
Questions linger among the corposes of an Ethiopian massacre.  Yahoo News
Inside a Tigray town scarred by Ethiopian conflict.  Yahoo News
“We left them to die in their hospital beds. I don’t know how we will face God.”  Telegraph
… lots of people will have lots of forms of PTSD.
Aid trucks coming to Ethiopia’s Tigray as refugees recount war suffering.  Al Jazeera
Explainer on the slow-burning tensions leading to Ethiopia’s conflict.  WPost
… very good 11/24 medium-read article exploring the issues …

Northern Africa

Egypt, UNESCO widen scope of Speak Arabic initiative.  Daily News
… “most Egyptian youth abroad cannot speak Arabic” … 
… Initiative “aims to preserve Egyptian culture & identity among Egyptian children living abroad”

Egypt’s population to reach 132.3 million by 2030.  Daily News
… annual GDP growth of 8% needed to enhance current living standards …

Sudan: Endless Plights.  Relief Web
… Inflation rates reached 212% in September 2020, vs 200% in 2019 
… Flood crises impacted more than 0.8 million people 
… poverty rate is 65%, food instability 25%, 2.7m children suffer acute malnutrition

Western Africa

Islamist violence escalates in Burkina Faso.  Reuters
… over 7 million people face acute hunger across area of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso 
… armed groups have cut off access to supplies, farmland 
… Burkina Faso deteriorating fastest

Mali: Covid-19, conflict, and child-trafficking.  UN
… thousands of boys working in gold mines across country 
… women and girls abducted, child marriage rising

Nigeria reels after massacre of farmers.  Al Jazeera
… Civilians working in rice fields slaughtered by armed men over the weekend 
… In villages near Maiduguri, capital of Borno State 
… uncertain how many dead – many divergent counts – some as high as 110

Eastern Asia

Why is Hong Kong so superstitious?  BBC
… despite being an ultra-modern city, ancient superstitions still play an everyday role in people’s lives …

Fishers among Men: Lake Tai’s Catholics bid farewell to the waters.  Sixth Tone
… Lake Tai on southern edge of Yangtze Delta is a centuries-old home to a unique population of Catholics 
… Fishing has recently been banned to help restore the Yangtze’s devastated fish populations 
… This article looks at the religious faith as a cultural bind that keeps the community together

China eliminates absolute poverty one month before self-imposed deadline.  CGTN
… but, really, is this more than saying people are “slightly over” a somewhat arbitrary line? 
… the poverty line is 2,300 yuan per year (2010 prices) or a little less than US$1/day. 
… nevertheless the article is an interesting if short read with lots of data and links to other analysis

Inside a Xinjiang detention camp.  Buzzfeed News
… massive detention center censored out of Baidu Maps. Size of 13 football fields. 
… Mongolkure facility is one of at least 260 newly built sites 
… the camp can be easily found on Google Maps: just click here

China mulls new rules on foreigners to “prohibit religious extremism.”  CNN
… “list of potential new restrictions & requirements could make practicing that belief far more difficult”

China to tap elderly population in bid to tackle looming demographic crisis, boost economy.  SCMP
… 12.6% of population was aged 65 or above in 2019 
… group to hit 300 million by 2025

North Korea authorities relax price controls, and food prices spike.  RFA
… in early November, 2# rice = one month’s salary 
… “if we can’t move around to make a living, authorities are basically letting [us] starve to death”

South Asia

Where the pomegranate harvest is life, the Taliban brought ruin.  NYT
… an incursion that devastated a prized crop shows the loss and uncertainty many Afghans endure.

Uttar Pradesh’s new anti-conversion law.  India Times
… people wishing to change their religion will have to give a notice 2 months in advance … 
… go through a police inquiry … 
… aimed at preventing “conversion for marriage,” the so-called “love jihad”
Haryana, Madhya Pradesh also express wish for anti-conversion laws.  Indian Express
And, police in India have made their first arrest under the new interfaith marriage law. NYT

In my remote corner of India, Christianity is seen as a cultural threat.  CT
… “I belong to the Adi tribe, in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, in the remote northeast…”

India’s leading documentary filmmaker spent decades tracking the rise of Hindu nationalism.  NYT
… “now, under an increasingly repressive government, he holds his screenings in secret”

Tens of thousands of farmers swarm Delhi to protest deregulation rules.  CNN
… new rules “making it easier for corporates to exploit agricultural workers who make up more than half of India’s 480-million strong workforce” (article tells us something about half of the adult workers in India)

Pakistan: how forced conversion turned this Christian girl’s life upside down.  Vice
… “He bought me”: more than 20 girls from minority communities kidnapped/converted monthly on pretext of marriage

Bangladesh set to move Rohingya refugees to remove island.  Reuters
… over criticisms calling it an “island detention center”

South-eastern Asia

Papua: Life and death in the “Land of the Clouds”.  CT
… “In the mountains of Papua, missionaries and Indonesian professionals serve the lost together.”

Bali struggles with “Covid-poor” as Indonesian cases hit record.  Al Jazeera
… malnutrition long a problem in the island’s east 
… collapse of tourism means more are now going hungry

Singapore nearly virus free after local cases and clusters cease.  Reuters

Singapore, a city of skyscrapers and little land, turns to farming.  WSJ
… virus-related border closures shows that dependence on the outside world for food could spell trouble

Western Asia

Putin’s Russia turns to soft power with threat of force to influence Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict.  NYT

Some of the nearly 200,000 displaced Yazidis return home.  NPR
… it’s been 6 years since ISIS launched a genocide against this religious minority … 
… The towns of their homeland are largely ruined … 
… “would rather live on bread & water [in our homeland] than eat meat & rice as displaced people”

Turkey to impose curfew, weekend lockdown against Covid.  MEMO

Yemen war dead estimated at 233,000.  UN
… 131,000 from “indirect causes” such as lack of food, health services, infrastructure
Thousands of migrants trapped in war-torn Yemen.  LAT
… “We’re not alive, we’re not dead” 
… In 2019, almost 140,000 from the Horn (mostly Ethiopia) attempted to cross to Yemen and on to Saudi Arabia.

N America / Europe

Russia wants to reverse population decline; Siberian coal country shows challenges.  WPost

USA: Refugee ministries hope to rebuild under Biden.  CT
… after drastic cuts, need to rally partners, volunteers to be ready for jump in refugee admittance


New data on international students in USA.
… 1 million students, 2% Y/Y decline, still top destination. 
… top sources: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia

Urbanization in Africa: short Twitter infographic video.  @sumitaneja1

Malaria death toll > Covid-19 death toll in Subsaharan Africa.  Reuters
… increasing malaria deaths due to Covid-19 disruptions to anti-malaria campaigns

Why richer countries fare worse under Covid than poorer countries.  Economist
… TL;DR: richer countries tend to be older. 
… “60s 2x more likely to die than 50s, 70s higher still. Probability of dying 2x every 8 years of age.”

New report: Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2020.  World Bank

13m or 20m?–The difficulties and influence of determining Shenzhen’s population.  SCMP
… China wants Shenzen (mainland area around Hong Kong) to be a “core engine” of reform to power growth… but analysts have long debated the accuracy of population estimates, a key factor in determining just how much economic development has happened. Worth remembering that we use population estimates to estimate the general level of effort required to reach a place, and while the estimates are likely accurate to within an order of magnitude, the ground reality will likely require some plans to “scale up.” Which is one reason DMM approaches are so useful.


Refugees vs IDPs: the difference, and why it matters.  Link
… h/t Mission Catalyst for surfacing this link. Interesting look at how these two different groups get different levels of resources. (TL;DR: IDPs are worse off because Refugees get international aid)

Red Sea Dynamics: a 9 part series.  Africa Report
… who are the players – the Red Sea as a vital artery for the world economy – shifting power in the Horn – Yemen – Somalia – more

For expats & missionaries, Covid-19 was a crossroads.  CT
… the first question for Christians living abroad was, “Go or stay?” After that, it got hard.


Israeli surveillance tool Circles used by African countries to snoop on private citizens.  Hiiraan
… Circles can find you with just your telephone number.  Forbes

Digital Canyon: 1.3 billion school-aged children can’t log on to Internet at home.  UN
How one group is bringing Internet to the most rural schools in Kyrgyzstan.  Eurasianet
… essentially, a local repository of Kyrgyz-language educational content scraped from the Internet

AWS launches Panorama, can add machine-learning technology to any camera.  TechCrunch
… pitched as a way to ensure safety in manufacturing lines, or analyze traffic in retail stores 
… transforms existing on-premises cameras into super-powered surveillance devices 

Drones have raised the odds and risks of small wars.  Bloomberg
… success of UAVs in recent conflicts will tempt more countries to go on the offensive …
… Turkey’s military campaign beyond its borders is powered by homemade armed drones.  WPost

Is it safe to fly during the pandemic?.  Bdnews24
… “Answers from the experts” – Longread I guess from the NYT reprinted in Bangladesh newspaper.

Meet GPT-3.  NYT
… it has learned to code (and blog, and argue) (and tweet, and summarize, and…) 
… next generation AI text-generator … was that email written by me, or GPT-3? 
… (I already use to schedule meetings… and many of my quick email responses come from Gmail’s text prompter…)

The Covid-19 vaccination programme will be the biggest in history.  Economist

Proof of vaccination will be required to fly on some airlines.  @DrEricDing

Covid has accelerated the adoption of online food delivery by 2 to 3 years.  CNBC
… this and other tech will lead to less personal interaction where it is pervasive. 
… NextDoor means you can interact with neighbors online sans face-to-face 
… more people will be familiar & less anti- worshipping online… 
… what other cultural changes are being brought about by what we are forced to do now, and discover we like?
Covid may be encouraging people to live together in larger groups.  Economist
… In lockdown, people see the appeal of housemates.
Warner Brothers will simultaneously release in theaters, online streaming.  TheVerge
… experimenting with a limited one-month streaming release …

China pushes QR-code based global travel system.  BBC
… China: “need to harmonize policies and standards and establish fast tracks for orderly flow” 
… Human Rights: “codes could be used for broader political monitoring & exclusion”

Self-driving robotaxis are taking off in China.  CNN
… also, KFC rolls out self-driving 5G chicken trucks.  Link


“When I was finally able to return to Beijing in early Oct this year, I had 1200 RMB in my wallet. I just noticed my wallet still has exactly that amount. I haven’t spent any cash at all in the two months since I returned. China is basically a cashless society now.” ~@david__moser

Roundup #228

No Roundup next week. It’s Thanksgiving week in the United States, and I’ll be on vacation.

Music to improve your day: What Child is this + Child of the Poor.  Youtube

New Events

East Africa

Somalia: the need for greed.  SomTribune
… a fascinating article whose analysis I am insufficiently knowledgeable to affirm or deny. But it makes some logical sense. I’m not sure it’s either positive/negative for Kingdom efforts, but it should give some insights into the complexities and difficulties emerging Somalia faces.

More than 1,000 killed in the past six months in S Sudan.  Al Jazeera
… communal conflicts …

Sudan will decide the outcome? FP
… This is a well written explainer with graphics for the conflict … 
… TPLF, dominated Ethiopian politics for decades … 
… since displaced & sidelined as Abiy consolidated power, 
… and made peace with TPLF enemy Eritrea … 
… TPLF has not gone quietly … 
… quite a bit in here about farming, ethnic conflicts, and the Blue Nile …
Another explainer, this one a 5 minute video from the Guardian, very good. Guardian
Another perspective: Tigray’s war is about economic power. FP
Explosions rock major cities amid growing fears of wider civil war.  Independent
… Conflict widens as missiles are fired at airports.  NYT
… Rockets target Eritrea’s capital.  Al Arabiya
Red Cross: ‘Immense suffering, risks spiraling.’  ICRC
… Aid groups plead for access to refugees.  Boston Globe
… Hunger looms as conflict rages.  DailyNewsEgypt
4,000 fleeing Ethiopia fighting to refugee camps in Sudan, daily.  National News
… Refugee camps ‘lack basic necessities’.  Dabanga
Ethiopia cracks down on the Internet in Tigray.  WPost
… telecomm blackout … but lots of new Twitter accounts sharing data …
… Ethiopia shuts down telephone, Internet services in Tigray.

Northern Africa

Libya’s political talks stall.  AllAfrica

Tunisia, Libya to begin travel bubble 11/15.  MEMO

Sudan’s partially answered prayers.  CT
… an interview with Abp Ezekiel Kondo on religious freedom and more …

Russia to build a naval base in Sudan.  MiddleEastEye
… I guess they didn’t want to let the Chinese have all the fun …

Western Africa

Nigeria: Igbo synagogues burned, bulldozed amid civil unrest.  Fast Forward
… many Igbo believe themselves descended from a lost tribe of Israel … 
… have taken on certain Jewish practices …

Nigeria’s police brutality crisis: what’s happening now.  NYT

Eastern Asia

China urges new era of mass migration–back to countryside.  WSJ
… Antipoverty push: Xi wants to repopulate rural towns with entrepreneurs and consumers

N Korea orders tightening of anti-virus measures.  Reuters

Kim Jong Un faces a bleak N Korean economy.  Link

South-Central Asia

Afghanistan braces for worst as US troop withdrawal accelerates.  WSJ
… Taliban gloat, government loses grip amid wave of violence …

Second wave of Covid hits Afghanistan, public places shut.  Link

Iran will impose severe restrictions across the country.  Link
… in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus … 
… limiting inter-city travel, banning private vehicles at night, more…

300 killed, thousands injured during anti-government protests in Iran last month.  Independent
… reports Amnesty International …

Pakistan grants Gilgit-Baltistan provisional provincial status.  Diplomat
… residents will now become Pakistani citizens … 
… India rejects the move …

Coronavirus adds to reasons to leave Tajikistan.  Eurasianet
… the terminal state of the economy remains “paramount” …

South-eastern Asia

Indonesia’s tourism industry suffers S$9.5b losses due to Covid-19.  Straits Times

Myanmar military still using children for fighting.  Reliefweb

10,000 pro-democracy protesters march on Thai police HQ.  Guardian
… Thailand’s protests shatter taboos but produce little change.  Straits Times

Western Asia

Lebanon enters 2-week lockdown as virus cases surge.  Link
… curfews, business closures, hospitals run out of space …

Iraq, Saudi Arabia reopen land border after 30 years.  MiddleEastEye

Saudi Arabia ramps up surveillance at holiest sites.  CodaStory
… “new government app threatens Mecca’s undocumented residents” …

Northwestern Syria in photos: Life in the time of Covid.  SyriaDirect

Syria faces worsening bread crisis as regime rations supplies.  MEMO

Turkey introduces partial curfew, shuts schools.  Daily Sabah
… schools closed for remainder of semester … 
… nationwide weekend curfew from 8pm to 10am … 

UAE approves golden visa: 10-year residency for certain professions.  Link

North/Central America/Europe

US megachurches outgrowing their sanctuaries..  CT
… perforce, they are moving to multisite. 70% are multisite, another 10% considering it. 
… 90% consider small groups “central to… Christian nurture & spiritual formation”

Rising Covid cases, deaths among US clinicians.  JAMA
… in many places, including USA, losses amongst doctors will make it harder to treat Covid …
ed. note: wrong link in the emailed version. corrected here.

The US will re-open to refugees. Is the US church ready?  CT

USA: hospitals in half the states facing a massive staffing shortage.  Stat
… “People are going to die” … the bleak article makes the point that it’s not about beds – it’s about doctors & nurses to care for the people in the beds. Covid has a CFR of ~2% in optimal conditions. Even with hospitals overloaded, many cases will not be bad – but for those that are, without ICU beds & doctors who care for the sickest of the sick, the death rate will surge amongst those who need ICU care, and overall as a result. This same pattern can be found in other places, especially in the poorer parts of the unreached world.

USA: State by State guide to coronavirus restrictions. Forbes

Iota is the strongest hurricane to ever hit Nicaragua.  AP
… (at least on record) …


Covid case data
… 11/20: 57.0m cases, 1.3m deaths (2.2%)
… 11/13: 53.0m cases, 1.29m deaths (2.4% CFR)
… 11/6: 49.1m cases, 1.24m deaths (2% CFR)
… 10/29: 44.8m cases, 1.17m deaths
… 10/23: 41m cases, 1.1m deaths
Trackers: Johns

IEA cuts forecast on oil demand for 2021. CNBC

New UNHabitat World Cities Report 2020.  Link

Refugee resettlement numbers fall to lowest in two decades.  UN


What first-time founders learned the hard way.  FirstRound
An interesting read with lessons that could be applicable to mission teams and strategies. Lots of strategies with regard to finding candidates whose values match yours, the best use of advisors, leadership hiring, etc.

How I read.  Link
… interesting idea for reading clusters of 5 books around a particular topic.
… Difficult part is identifying the five books, of course. …
… would be interested in recommendations on 5 key books for: China, India, Indonesia, E Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria

Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus.  Wired
… a really helpful long-read survey of Wired coverage of the virus: background, symptoms, masks, testing & treatment, epidemiology & tracking, etc.

Sometimes we don’t even eat: conflict+covid pushing millions to the brink. ReliefWeb
UN dips into emergency fund as first famines of the pandemic loom.  NYT

Losing elders to Covid-19 endangers indigenous languages.  NatGeo


The end of the pandemic is now in sight.  Atlantic
… two vaccines look like they will work, and more should follow … 
… medium length read on the tech behind the vaccines …

Performance Art on how to evade China’s big brother.  Sixth Tone
… dodging Beijing’s surveillance cameras takes almost superhuman ingenuity and determination…

South Africa: cold requirements for storing Covid vaccines will be challenging.  Link

In Cashless China, Criminals are punished with payment app ban.  Sixth Tone
… rather than jail time or hefty fines, China’s justice system is employing massive inconvenience. I’m sure someone will think of Revelation, but this really has nothing to do with loyalty or worship. Yet.

Roundup #227

Don’t Miss

Beyond’s next online Disciplemaking Nugget Training, 11/18: will focus on how to multiply churches toward movements. Come join with us as one of our field leaders facilitates the conversation. Some have asked for recordings. We don’t provide recordings–first, because of security reasons; and second, unique to nuggets, nearly all of the conversation is in small breakout groups as people read Scripture and discuss how to apply it in their own lives. It’s less a presentation and more a community discovering Scriptural truth together. This is a truly unique series of events; I’m proud of the people who work hard on it, and I hope you’ll join. Link

New Events

Northern Africa

Egypt: Tourists disappear, Bedouins revive ancient farming roots.  CSM

Following peace deal, talks on Libya’s political future begin.  UN
… breakthrough peace agreement between 5 senior commanders in Geneva last month … 
… peace seems to be holding, for now …

Morocco launches military operation in Western Sahara.  AP
… to clear a key road blockaded by weeks by supporters of Polisario Front …

East Africa

Military seizes airport as fighting rages in Tigray.  Al Jazeera
Ethiopia bombs Tigray arms depots, thousands flee.  Yahoo News
Sudan braces for 200k fleeing Ethiopia fighting.  Hurriyet
… Over 11,000 flee to Sudan as Tigray Region conflict continues.  Dabanga
Experts React: understanding the conflict in Tigray.  AllAfrica
Ethiopian police seeking lists of ethnic Tigrayans.  Al Jazeera
… fears over ethnic undertones of the conflict … 
… police chief orders ID of ethnic Tigrayans from NGOs … 
… Amnesty reports a massacre in Tigray …
Ethiopia withdraws 1000s of troops from neighboring Somali.  Bloomberg
… redeployed to help offensive in Tigray Region … 
… raising concerns of a security vacuum in Somalia …

Civilians reel as violence spins out of control in Mozambique.  Al Jazeera
… in Cabo Delgado, NE coast, on border with Tanzania … 
… conflict with ISIL …
With village beheadings, Islamic state intensifies attacks.  NYT

Somalia: Locusts swarm into Mogadishu’s pastureland.  Independent

Violence continues in South Sudan despite peace deal.  AllAfrica
… mainly fueled by revenge attacks, cattle raids, land grabbing …

Western Asia

And that’s a wrap on the war: Armenia surrenders.  Eurasianet
… Russian peacekeepers on their way to the region …

Ceasefire greeted by anger, disbelief in Armenia.  Middle East Eye

Iraq, in Photos: intimate glimpse of Arbaeen religious holiday.  NYT

200 Iraqi Christian families return to Nineveh.  MEMO

Iraq shuts down last ‘safe haven’ camps for vulnerable families.  Yahoo News
… 1.3 million still displaced inside Iraq … 
… rapid camp closures could leave 100k in limbo …

The Widow’s Camp: Syrian women craft their safe space.  SyriaDirect

First COGIC Bishop to Israel meets opposition from counter-Missionaries.  CT
… interesting look at anti-missionary forces in Israel …

Eastern Asia

HK pro-democracy lawmakers resign.  BBC
… after Beijing forced removal of four of their colleagues … 
… leaves only pro-Beijing lawmakers …
HK resigning over Beijing resolution.  SCMP
… “Beijing has completely abandoned the Basic Law” …

Suicide spike in Japan shows mental health toll of Covid-19.  Bloomberg
… suicides up 15% in August, even more among women, school-aged children …

N Korea cracks down on local markets, overseas defectors.  Diplomat
… as Covid-19 continues to hamstring economy, NKoreans grow increasingly desperate 
… government moves to keep everything under tight control

South Asia

Food crisis deepens in Afghanistan: 42% facing acute hunger.  ReliefWeb

Overall civilian casualties in Afghanistan down, but ….  Link
… civ casualties caused by Taliban up …

String of attacks have Kabul residents pointing a finger at the government.  NYT

India’s Magh Mela: one of the world’s largest religious pilgrimages is moving ahead as planned.  NatGeo
… usually draws 10 million Hindus …

The cold requirements of Pfizer’s vaccine brings little cheer to India.  Link
… India’s crippling heat, erratic electricity and limited cold storage makes Pfizer vaccine a challenge 
… will apply in other countries in similar environments 

Iran struggles to cope with raging coronavirus pandemic.  RFE
… “caught second wind and returned with great ferocity” … 
… “death toll in recent weeks has skyrocketed” … 
… “40k officially dead, real number likely 2x as high” … 
… “called for 2-week nationwide shutdown, severe restrictions on intercity travel” … 
… “Tehran = half the deaths” …. 
… 700k cases = ~1% infected. 80k deaths = ~10% CFR rate.

South-eastern Asia

Indonesia to begin mass vaccination using Chinese vaccine late this year.  Straits Times

Typhoon Rolly impacted 250,000+ in Philippines.  UN

The monarchy is god: a Thai royalist in a divided kingdom.  Reuters
… looks at changing norms in Thailand with respect to the monarchy … 
… re deference: “The new generation and youth, they’re not into it”

Europe/LatinAm/N Am

Hurricane Eta thrashes Central American countries.  ReliefWeb
… 3.3m affected, 115k evacuated …

Barna American Worldview Inventory 2020.  PDF
… “American Christians redefining their faith: creating new worldview loosely tied to Biblical teaching”
Pair with this op/ed: US Evangelicals aren’t what they used to be.  NYT
… a historical survey of the interfacing between Evangelicals and politics … 
… loss of evangelistic focus …

USA: Biden pledges to raise refugee ceiling to 125,000. Link


Covid case data
… 11/13: 53.0m cases, 1.29m deaths (2.4% CFR)
… 11/6: 49.1m cases, 1.24m deaths (2% CFR)
… 10/29: 44.8m cases, 1.17m deaths
… 10/23: 41m cases, 1.1m deaths
… 10/16: 40m cases, 1m deaths
Trackers: Johns

Singapore-HK travel bubble to start 11/22.  Straits Times
China bans visitors from 8 more countries.  SCMP
… India, France, Russia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Italy, Nigeria, Ukraine, Britain, Belgium, Philippines …

Pew, 2018 data: govt restrictions on religion reach highest level globally in a decade.  Pew


A recipe to build, measure, learn.  Medium
… great short little read that includes a recipe for building “user stories” …

The vulnerable can wait: vaccinate the super-spreaders first.  Wired
This is a fascinating long read into the role of super spreaders in a pandemic. There are numerous takeaways in this piece for DMMs. In movements, apostolic agents (either cross-cultural or indigenous) have the same role as super-spreaders: many people in a DMM are “asymptomatic” (e.g. they show few or no outward signs of being a believer) and are not infectious (they don’t spread the Gospel). But a few are infectious, public, and well-connected. These super spreaders move it from household to household, and regardless of other things, people who have something within a household tend to spread it to those they are around ~24/7/365. (This also shows how movements can be stopped: neutralize the 16% most highly connected.)

How to stop restaurants from driving Covid infections.  Nature
… another interesting piece: mobile data used to confirm physical locations (because people congregate there) can be hotspots. Pondering implications for DMM. Some practitioners look at “edge” places where people from different groups congregate/mix, and Gospel transfer can occur.


Google launches Google One VPN.  Link
… $9.99/mo encrypts all online activity for Androids … 
… Mac/Windows apps coming soon … 
… (probably wouldn’t work in China, though…) …

Google Photos is shutting down unlimited storage of photos.  Link

New tools for managing photo storage in WhatsApp.  Wired
… I dislike how WhatsApp used to save all incoming photos into my phone’s camera roll. This can turn that off.

Completed early trials.  NYT
… “no serious safety concerns so far” … 
… “seeking US emergency use authorization” … 
… “50 million doses this year (=25m people), 1.3b doses in 2021” …
NYT Explainer: 11 things you need to know.  NYT

China clamping down [further] on its Internet giants.  BBC
… “increase unease in Beijing with the growing influence of digital platforms” …

China’s Big Brother is everywhere? not quite yet….  SCMP
… spent billions building camera surveillance networks, but not an all-seeing system … 
… tech not linked nationwide – but may just be a matter of time …

Covid is accelerating change in McDonalds.  Wired
… measurement, big data, “McDonalds knows you and when you are within shouting distance of a restaurant.” The technology changes and adoptions at McDonalds will impact other restaurants and industries.


“I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than give while you’re dead.” ~billionaire Charles Feeney

“Busyness is an illness of spirit.” ~Eugene Petersen. 

Movements that plateau as distinct from those few…

Movements that plateau (as distinct from those few that have fizzled entirely)–they reach a certain size, and maintain it, yet don’t grow beyond it. Why? Because they hit various barriers which they fail to surmount, and then institutionalize to maintain their existing growth? Having institutionalized, it is then perhaps best to spin off a new movement (a “new wineskin”) to get her the barrier that the existing movement couldn’t surmount. In the long run, many movement practitioners note it is easier to start a new church than to try to teach an existing church to reproduce when it hasn’t in a long time. It may be the same is true of movements.

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.

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.)