W-H, bank urged to resolve debt outside court; With $70 to its name, troubled district can’t pay $2.8 million loan

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 7B

The Wilmer-Hutchins school district has $2.8 million in bank debt, $3 million more in teacher salaries it can’t pay and $70 in the bank.

That grim financial picture is why a Dallas County district judge ordered the district and Wells Fargo to find a way to settle their loan dispute without judicial intervention.

“You have a joint interest in keeping this district viable,” Judge Robert Frost said Friday. “The only hope for both sides is that you work together.”

Wilmer-Hutchins borrowed $3.3 million from Wells Fargo in March 2003, the first of several times recently the district has been unable to pay its bills without an infusion of outside cash. It missed payroll twice this school year, and district officials acknowledge they have no idea how teachers will be paid over the summer.

Unfortunately, when it came time for the bank’s loan to be repaid this spring, the district could only find about $500,000. Wells Fargo sued to collect the remaining $2.8 million it is owed.

Friday’s court hearing was to allow the bank to argue that the district should be forced to set aside that much money in a separate account. That way, the cash will be available if the bank wins its suit.

But the district doesn’t have that kind of money. Don Grimes, a Wells Fargo vice president, said Wilmer-Hutchins’ bank account has only about $70 in it – not enough to buy a high school biology textbook, much less pay its 300-plus employees over the summer.

“There are no available dollars,” said James Damm, the district’s interim superintendent, whose last day on the job will be Tuesday.

Mr. Damm said the district is due one more small infusion of state funds in a few weeks, which should allow Wilmer-Hutchins teachers to receive their June paychecks. But July and August checks are, at the moment, purely theoretical.

“It looks pretty bleak at this point,” said Joe Tave, a Wilmer-Hutchins teacher who is suing the district to be ahead of Wells Fargo in line when the district’s limited resources are divvied up.

During the hearing, Wilmer-Hutchins attorney Kevin O’Hanlon did not dispute that the district owed Wells Fargo the $2.8 million. But he argued that the district should prioritize paying electricity bills and teachers before repaying the debt.

Mr. O’Hanlon also indicated he would attempt to draw out the court’s proceedings as long as possible, which would give the district more time to come up with cash.

At one point, he insisted that a photocopy of the loan agreement was not acceptable as a court exhibit and that the original loan agreement should be transported from its home in a Minneapolis vault before the action could proceed. His objection was overruled.

Judge Frost said he would rule on the set-aside proposal on June 10, but he clearly expressed a desire that the matter could be resolved without his intervention. He ordered the parties to work with mediator Deborah Hankinson, a former Texas Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Damm said the district has made an offer for an extended repayment of the loan, but Wells Fargo has not accepted it. Even if the district and bank settle on a deal, it won’t answer the question of how Wilmer-Hutchins will pay its salaries this summer. The district will need to borrow about $3 million to meet those obligations.

In the meantime, the district is searching for money wherever it can. On the agenda for its Tuesday board meeting is a proposal to lease out several unused school buildings – including the former A.L. Morney and Mamie White elementaries – to community groups.

Meanwhile, Wilmer-Hutchins’ legal docket continued to grow longer. While waiting for Friday’s hearing to begin, Mr. Damm was served with papers notifying him of a new suit filed against him by Annie Lee, a former assistant superintendent.

Ms. Lee was interim superintendent in spurts this spring – once for a few days, once for a few hours – as part of the intramural disputes that eventually led to the school board’s ouster by state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley.

District seeks help from Austin, voters; If all else fails, students could be sent to other districts

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1B

The future of Wilmer-Hutchins will come down to two votes: one in Austin, one at the district’s polling places.

The troubled school district is relying on legislative action to make its financial bind less painful – and counting on voters to extend the district a lifeline this July.

“It really is up to the citizens to determine if the district has any additional service to provide to the children of Wilmer-Hutchins,” said Al Black, president of the district’s state-appointed board of managers.

If things don’t work out on either end, the district may be forced to turn to what Mr. Black called Plan B: keeping the district formally open but shipping its students to neighboring districts this fall.

Most pressing of the district’s many problems is the result of its May 7 election, in which voters refused to authorize a tax rate above 90 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The district had been taxing near the state-allowed maximum of $1.50 per $100, but it had been doing so illegally. The voters’ decision effectively cuts the district’s budget by 40 percent.

In recent weeks, interim Superintendent James Damm and other district leaders had said they were working on plans to operate the district at the lower funding level – plans that included major cuts in staffing and student activities. But on Tuesday, Mr. Damm said that effort had failed.

“We have come to the conclusion that the district just can’t function under those assumptions,” he said. “It cannot provide even the basic necessities of a school district.”

The district is looking to Austin for help. The Legislature is considering bills that would reduce how much school districts must rely on property taxes to fund their operations. If legislators can approve such a change before the session’s end Monday, it would make Wilmer-Hutchins’ tax problems less crippling.

But even with the Legislature’s help, Mr. Black said the district would struggle to provide a decent education. That’s why board members said they wanted to put the tax rate issue back before voters, probably in late July.

Board members didn’t formally approve the July revote at Tuesday night’s meeting, but they asked that the issue be put on the agenda of its next meeting.

They said they would try to sell the public on the district’s new face in a series of public hearings – some to be held in such areas as Wilmer and Hutchins, which have sometimes felt marginalized from the district’s political center of gravity in southern Dallas.

“I’m confident we can show residents the improvements that have been made and are being made,” board member Sandra Donato said.

It has become increasingly unlikely the district will be dissolved before classes begin this fall. Under state law, Commissioner Shirley Neeley can order the district’s absorption into one or more neighbors – but only if the district is rated academically unacceptable for two years. That second year’s rating won’t come until July at the earliest.

By then, a statutory deadline for dissolution will have passed, and Dr. Neeley could not order Wilmer-Hutchins shuttered until the summer of 2006.

The board of managers is free to negotiate the district’s demise itself, but that too looks increasingly unlikely. Even if the tax revote in late July fails, it would probably be too late to dissolve the district before the start of school a few weeks later.

Instead, district leaders sketched out their Plan B, which could involve divvying up Wilmer-Hutchins students among neighboring districts. For example, it’s possible high school students could be lent to one district and elementary students to several others, Mr. Black said. Administrative duties could be handled by districts outside southern Dallas County, he said.

Under this scenario, Wilmer-Hutchins wouldn’t be formally dissolved. But because the students would be lent to districts with higher tax rates, they could be funded at higher levels.

Mr. Damm said there was no model for Wilmer-Hutchins to follow. “We’re blazing new ground here,” he said. “No one’s been in a situation like this before.”

Even if the revenue problem is solved, Wilmer-Hutchins won’t be home free. It owes $2.8 million to Wells Fargo, a loan the bank is suing to recover. That case goes to court Friday. The district also needs to borrow about $3 million just to pay its salaries and utility bills through the summer break. A teachers group sued the district Monday to stake employees’ claim to that money.

Teachers file suit to secure paychecks, come what may

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 2B

The Wilmer-Hutchins school district may not have the money to pay its bills this summer, but teachers want to ensure their paychecks are secure.

A teachers group filed suit Monday against the district and a bank to ensure that teachers will be first in line if the district’s financial assets are liquidated.

“We have no intention of letting anyone deny teachers one-third of their annual salary for this school year and making them and their families suffer as a result,” said Joe Tave, president of the Wilmer-Hutchins Education Association.

Wilmer-Hutchins is, once again, teetering on the edge of financial crisis. Twice this school year it has been unable to pay its employees on time. The district will need more than $2 million to meet its payroll obligations between now and the end of the summer, and state funds to the district are nearly dried up.

In addition, the district doesn’t have money to repay a $2.8 million loan to Wells Fargo, and the bank has filed suit to recover the funds.

The suit seeks a judgment declaring that the teachers’ right to their salaries supersedes Wells Fargo’s right to its loan – meaning that the bank could not recover any funds until teachers are all paid. Teachers work on a 10-month contract but are paid their salary over 12 months.

The suit was filed by the Texas State Teachers Association, one of the four main state teacher groups. Spokesman Richard Kouri said that the suit technically only seeks to ensure paychecks for TSTA members in the district but that as a practical matter, any judgment in its favor would apply to other district employees.

Wilmer-Hutchins was recently taken over by a board of state managers, which is considering shutting down the district entirely. Following corruption allegations in the district, residents recently voted to reduce the district’s budget by 40 percent.

Spiritual payback; Foreign priests want to fill need – if Americans let them

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1A

ENUGU, Nigeria – For generations of Nigerians, “missionary” was a synonym for “Irishman.”

Thousands of Irish Catholics left Europe for the wilds of Africa, braving heat and disease to bring the message of Christ to heathen animists.But today’s missionaries are working in the opposite direction. They’re native Nigerians who talk about healing the secular sickness of the West. And these Catholic Africans are crossing the oceans in unprecedented numbers to return the favor Western missionaries once paid them.

“They have a saying: ‘Africa has AIDS, but North America has theological AIDS,'” said Philip Jenkins, a professor of religious studies at Penn State who studies Christianity in developing nations. “‘Our continent’s being devastated by one thing. Yours is being devastated by another.'”

The growth of what scholars call “reverse mission” fits like a puzzle piece into another trend in the Western church: What was once a steady stream of young men being trained in the priesthood by American and European seminaries has slowed to a trickle. More parishes are going without priests – 3,100 in the U.S. last year, up from 500 in 1965. The men arriving from the developing world fill a need.

“The Europeans came to evangelize us, and we thank them for it,” said Casimir Osigwe, who is nearing his ordination as a Catholic priest. “Now it is our turn to evangelize them. We have something to give.”

Mr. Osigwe, 32, is finishing up his studies at Bigard Memorial Seminary in this eastern Nigerian city. It’s the largest Catholic seminary in the world, enrolling more than 1,000 young men.

Contrast that with the Diocese of Dallas’ Holy Trinity Seminary. Its current enrollment is 30.

“We in Nigeria are naturally religious,” said the Rev. John Okoye, Bigard’s rector. “The instinct is in our blood. We have a reverence of the unknown.”

Holy Trinity is by no means unusual for an American seminary. Young men in this country, for whatever reasons, largely don’t want to be priests any more. According to church statistics, the number of Catholics in America increased 29 percent during the papacy of John Paul II. But the number of priests dropped 26 percent. And a large number of the priests who remain are elderly, or baby boomers edging closer to retirement.

“If the trends continue this way, it’s obvious that the numbers will not meet up with the demand,” said the Rev. Michael Duca, Holy Trinity’s rector.

1 in 6 priests foreign

Church officials say there are two basic ways the priest shortage is being met. One is a reorganization of priestly duties – allowing laypeople to take over some of the duties traditionally assigned to priests, like church administration and certain ceremonial roles.

The other solution is importing priests from overseas.

About one of every six priests working in America today is foreign-born, a number that is steadily increasing. And while some of those are older men born in Catholic strongholds like Ireland or Poland, most come from developing countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Colombia and Nigeria.

Most Nigerian priests come through Bigard, the enormous seminary that counts among its graduates Cardinal Francis Arinze, a top Vatican official and a man many considered one of the favorites in last month’s papal conclave.

Outside Bigard’s walls, piles of trash sit in the pitted street, and the jobless roam aimlessly. But inside its gates, Bigard is a quiet, ordered respite from Nigeria’s poverty. A modernist tan-and-green chapel, funded in part by gifts from Germany, rises from manicured lawns. Seminarians in long white robes shuffle from building to building. Students speak with pride about their soccer field, one of the city’s finest.

Bigard has no problems signing up young men; the difficulties come only in finding room for them all. In Igboland, as this part of Nigeria is known, the priesthood is considered the most prestigious line of work a young man can go into.

Traditional religious leaders were held in high regard before the Christian missionaries came, and that status transferred easily to priests when the population converted. “When the Irish came, they brought roads, electricity, schools,” said the Rev. Damian Nwankwo, a professor at Bigard. “People regarded them as visible gods.”

Priests ‘don’t lack’

When a young man is ordained in Igboland, it is tradition that his village collects money from its residents and buys him a car – an enormous gift in a poor nation. Priests can afford luxuries, like satellite television, that other Nigerians only dream of.

“When you are a priest, you don’t lack,” seminarian Tony Ezekwu said. “They have a high standard of living. People want that.”

The promise of status no doubt attracts some to the priesthood. And some see seminary more as a path to an education than a way to answer a spiritual calling. Their view is summed up in the comment of a young Bigard seminarian who said he was willing to be a parish priest when he’s ordained in a few months, “but what I really want to be is a professor.”

And while many priests come to America because they believe they can do good work, others come for more prosaic reasons. Dean Hoge, a sociology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., estimates that a Nigerian priest’s buying power increases fivefold when he lands in America.

“What is their motivation for joining the priesthood?” he asks. “In the best and most noble case, they want to serve Jesus Christ. But maybe they also want to escape the farm. I’m sure both of those are there.”

Nigeria has shortage, too

For as bad as the priest shortage is in America, it’s far worse in many emerging countries with an exploding Catholic population – including some that are shipping priests right and left to the States.

Even with its drop in ordinations, the U.S. had one priest for every 1,375 Catholics in 2002. There was one for every 4,694 African Catholics.

That’s not news to priests in Nigeria. “We have almost 10,000 men and women and children in this parish,” said the Rev. Humphrey Ani of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Enugu. “There’s no way we can minister to them all. We need more priests, too.”

But the exodus continues, primarily for financial reasons, Dr. Hoge said: Poor nations simply can’t support the same number of priests as wealthier ones. Catholics in rich countries are better organized, he said, and do a better job of pressuring church leadership to hire more priests.

The Vatican has acknowledged some of these issues. In 2001, Cardinal Jozef Tomko of Slovakia, head of the church’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, wrote that the church must “counteract the prevalent trend of a certain number of diocesan priests who … want to leave their own country and reside in Europe or North America, often with the intention of further studies or for other reasons that are not actually missionary.”

Cardinal Tomko said some African and Asian dioceses were sending most of their priests to work abroad, in part because they could not be supported financially in their native countries. He said Western nations “must never deprive young churches of these priests. … It is a matter of fairness and of ecclesial sense.”

‘Reminder … of the poor’

The young seminarians of Enugu speak of the West with what can only be described as missionary zeal. They speak out against materialism, individualism and creeping secularism. They say they can help put Catholics in touch with a spirituality that transcends the quest for wealth and social advancement.

“The state of the African world is a reminder to the church of the poor,” said Clement Emefu, a first-year theology student at the Spiritan International School of Theology, another seminary in Enugu. “In the States, people feel they have everything and they don’t need anything. Here, that you are lacking something reminds you of human need.”

Some Americans agree. “The African church is in touch with the raw elements of humanity: birth, marriage, death, hunger, thirst,” said Christopher Malloy, an assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas. “For me, in a comfortable house, it’s easy to think life is not dramatic. They bring the message to us with excitement.”

But that message does not always translate easily. Problems often begin with gaining entry to America. Tighter immigration standards after Sept. 11 have made it more difficult for some priests to get visas.

It’s also a struggle for American dioceses to check into a foreign priest’s background – a high priority for many church leaders in the wake of accusations of priestly misconduct.

“I need to make sure he’s the right person, and that can be difficult from so far away,” said Father Josef Vollmer-Konig, director of vocations for the Dallas Diocese. He said the diocese gets one or two requests each month from Nigerian priests wishing to work in the Dallas area, few of which are granted.

The difficulties continue upon arrival. White parishioners may be uncomfortable with a black priest. Some have trouble fighting through the accents.

“Americans aren’t very tolerant of these things,” said Dr. Hoge, co-author of a soon-to-be-published book on foreign-born priests.

He said some priests have trouble adjusting to the less exalted status American priests have – both in society and in their churches, where U.S. lay leaders often take on decision-making roles reserved for clergy in other countries.

The biggest adjustments are often ceremonial. Nigerian Masses can feature hours of singing, swaying and dancing. Western services are, well, dull in comparison.

“When I came here, I asked: If I was a layperson, would I be going to church at all?” said the Rev. Ernest Munachi Ezeogu, a Nigerian-born priest who now works in Toronto.

“The answer was no. There is no life, no joy. People come to fulfill a duty, not because they want to celebrate Christ.”

Father Ezeogu has tried changing things a bit: adding music, adding jokes to his homilies, trying to relate Scripture more directly to people’s lives. He’s also started a Web site where priests who want livelier homilies can download some of his.

He said the reaction has been positive. But not every Nigerian priest has had such luck.

The Rev. Joseph Offor, a parish priest in Enugu, did missionary work for several years in Germany.

Once, he said, a woman approached him before Mass and asked how long his sermon would be. “She said I should keep it to under four minutes.” (Nigerians are accustomed to homilies lasting an hour or more.)

“I ended up speaking for about 15 minutes,” he said. “She was very annoyed afterward. She said she would not come back, and she did not. It is a very different world there.”

Moved by the Spirit; Nigerians blend Catholicism, traditional beliefs

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1A

ENUGU, Nigeria – Ejike Mbaka is telling a story. The 20,000 Nigerians gathered around him in the red-dust lot have gone quiet.

“Last week, there was a man who was mad, insane,” he begins, standing on a rickety stage. “For years, the doctors attempted to heal him. But the infirmity continued. He came to me for help.

“I gave him some healing water” – and here, some in the audience hold up the small plastic packages of water he sells, 45 cents each – “and told him to pour it in his ear on Sunday. Then pour it in his other ear on Monday.

“He did exactly that. And on Tuesday, a large frog crawled out of his ear. And he was cured.”

Appreciative cheers from the audience. “Such are the things God can do,” he says.

It’s about 10 p.m. When the sun comes up in the morning, the crowd will still be here – except for those injured thrashing on the ground under the Holy Spirit’s spell.

What’s remarkable about the scene isn’t what Ejike Mbaka says. It’s who he is. He’s not a witch doctor. He’s not a Pentecostal preacher. He’s an ordained Catholic priest.

After sunrise, he’ll go back to his parish, Christ the King Catholic Church, and hear confessions. But for now, he’s promising the crowd hundreds of miracles on this night. If they’re lucky, he might even repeat a feat he says he’s accomplished four times before: raising a man from the dead.

Scholars say Father Mbaka and his brand of Catholicism symbolize the impact that Christianity’s rapid expansion in the Third World could have on the faith: pushing mainline religion toward the supernatural.

“That is what is defining the face of Christianity in Africa now,” said Jacob Olupona, a native Nigerian and a religion scholar at the University of California at Davis. “The church is discovering how powerful a phenomenon it is, how popular it is with the people. And now they can’t stop it. So they go along with it.”

Some within the church worry about this nudging of conventional Christian doctrine toward the mystical. But others, including Father Mbaka, say it’s a welcome return to the early days of Christianity, when earthly signs of God’s power were a regular and acknowledged part of the faith. He quotes Psalm 97 to emphasize God’s force: The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.

“I believe that, as a Catholic priest, I am a healing instrument of God to my generation,” he says. “The whole environment is charged for a miracle.”

Vatican approval

The teachings of Catholicism and faith healing are not diametrically opposed, even to the Vatican. Since the 1960s, the charismatic renewal movement within the church has advocated a more Pentecostal style of worship, including “charisms” such as speaking in tongues and healing. It has met, perhaps surprisingly, with general approval from church leaders.

In 1979, addressing the movement’s leaders, Pope John Paul II said charisms are “all part of the richness of the Lord. I am convinced that this movement is a sign of his action.”

When Pope Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he wrote the foreword to a book on the charismatic movement. Criticizing “a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism,” he wrote that charisms were “not just ancient history, over and done with.” He cautioned, however, against charismatic Catholics’ going too far and subverting the central role of the church’s hierarchy.

Dr. Olupona said that 10 or 20 years ago, the Nigerian Catholic hierarchy might have asked Father Mbaka to keep quiet. “But they realize that it’s a different story now,” he said. “If they did that now, they would be courting their own demise. People believe in him.”

Father Mbaka, a handsome 38-year-old, says he began his healing ministry in 1996 after discovering he had curative powers. “It is the work of the Holy Spirit,” he explains. “I can’t heal anyone as a human being. I am open to God as a channel. And the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. Cancers disappear.”

He says those who doubt him will face God’s wrath. Three days earlier, a man in a neighboring state vehemently criticized his ministry. As punishment, Father Mbaka says, God struck the man blind. “If he repents, he will see again,” he says.

Every Wednesday, Father Mbaka’s all-night healing sessions draw thousands to the vacant lot he calls the Adoration Grounds, next to his Catholic parish. Around 10 p.m., after hours of preaching by his followers, he strolls in like a rock star.

The band at stage left blares – lots of drumming, blasts of trumpets, and occasional female vocalists. He holds a golden cross and wears the traditional finery of the Catholic Church; followers reach out to touch the hem of his gold and ivory robe.

A dozen priests and almost 30 nuns follow him. There will be a Communion service later, and Father Mbaka needs help distributing the Eucharist to the swelling crowd.

“In America, I would not see a crowd one-hundredth the size of this one,” he tells the cheering crowd. “But the spirit of God is in Africa.”

Father Mbaka rattles off passages in Scripture that support his healing ministry. Luke, Chapter 7: “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Matthew, Chapter 19: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Jesus’ own words, he says, are what will bring the miracles in a few short hours.

Father Mbaka’s flock is very poor, and he says he needs money to serve them. He wants to buy land in the country and build housing for orphans and the elderly. To support his dream, he made a fundraising swing though America a few months ago, including a stop in Dallas.

“In America, they have the money but not the worshippers,” he tells the crowd. “Here we have the worshippers but not the money.”

To raise cash, he has started selling his own private-label “healing water,” called Aquarapha. “God is using Aquarapha to heal a lot of diseases,” his newsletter says, next to a customer testimonial claiming that the water healed his swollen eyelids.

Father Mbaka acknowledges that most American Catholics would be skeptical of his ministry. It doesn’t bother him. “That’s the problem with the American church,” he says. “There is not enough faith. I believe the God of old is still the God of the present.”

Pushing boundaries

African Christians have, in recent years, pushed at the boundary between traditional beliefs and the version of the faith they were taught by Western missionaries.

In 2000, a South African archbishop, Buti Tlhagale, advocated adding animal sacrifice to the Catholic Mass as a way of venerating ancestors. “Animal sacrifice has a special place in the scheme of things and is celebrated in almost all African families,” he argued. “We have kept it out of the church of God for too long.”

Africans began to experiment with their Christianity in the late 1960s, when nations were gaining political independence from European colonial powers. Some people wanted religious independence, too, and left the mainline faiths to form what became known as the African independent churches. These churches integrated traditional beliefs into a Christian framework, emphasizing spirits, exorcisms and connections to ancestors. Many included the word “apostolic” in their names as a way of connecting to the early days of Christianity, when miracles were not considered uncommon.

A second wave of experimentation came in the 1990s, following the rise of Pentecostal churches in Africa. They claimed to offer a more direct path to the Holy Spirit, through tools like speaking in tongues, snake handling and healing. Pentecostalism remains enormously popular; one evangelist, the German Reinhard Bonnke, draws close to 2 million people to crusades in Nigeria.

Traditional churches were forced to adapt, Dr. Olupona said. “Their members were leaving, and they had to do something to keep them.” African cultural markers, like drumming and dancing, were introduced to previously staid ceremonies. So were elements of the supernatural.

As the Rev. Joseph Offor, a priest in Enugu, put it: “These other churches had something to offer people, and we needed to offer it too.”

Through all the changes, faith healing has been an important component. In places like Nigeria, access to quality health care is reserved for those with money. Diseases like polio, long abolished in America, persist here. AIDS threatens to wipe out much of the continent. So people turn to faith.

“We’re talking about churches that are responding to human suffering,” Dr. Olupona said. “Human poverty in the midst of plenty. An unpredictable, at times very violent society.”

“In the West, if you are sick, you go to a hospital,” Father Offor said. “Here we can’t. So we don’t put limits on miracles here.”

At one point in the evening, Father Mbaka says to the crowd: “Every person here is ready to die for this ministry!” The gathered thousands cheer wildly.

Some have already died. Father Mbaka has, on occasion, preached against the state government of Enugu. On March 7, 2002, 14 worshippers at one of his services were killed. A government inquiry said they died in a stampede, the result of the priest’s over-incitement of too many people packed into too small a space. Father Mbaka says they were killed by government gunmen.

Healing time

About 3 a.m., after Communion, a breeze kicks up. It’s been scorching hot all night, and people have been standing in place for up to 10 hours now. It’s time for the healing to begin.

“You are not at all free to leave here with your sickness,” Father Mbaka thunders to the crowd. “This is not a democracy. This is a theocracy. Under divine order, you are to be healed!”

The band gets louder. The breeze dies down. “I don’t know what the devil has done to you to put you in eternal tears,” Father Mbaka says. “But I am going to force it out of you. I am not here for jokes! This place is the new Calvary!”

He cites Mark, Chapter 16: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Then he yells into the microphone: “Do you believe? Do you believe?”

A too-thin woman in a brown dress is the first to approach the stage. The crowd has created an open space, and she walks into it, eyes rolled back, speaking in tongues. She falls to the ground and begins flailing, arms extended and bent violently.

She has the floor to herself for a minute or so before others are similarly moved. One by one, they come out of the crowd, yelling or muttering, and begin convulsing like someone having a nightmare.

A man in dress slacks falls to his knees and shakes while looking up to heaven and screaming. Women fling off their sandals and headdresses and roll and kick and cry.

Father Mbaka comes off the stage to stand among them. He keeps up the chant: “Do you believe? Do you believe?” The number of people moved by the Holy Spirit climbs: 20, then 40, then 100. Women come out of the crowd to tie scarves around the legs of other women thrashing on the ground, lest their skirts lift, exposing their legs to the audience.

One woman starts eating dirt; another’s jaws chatter as if she were freezing. A powerful man stands and spins angrily, eyes closed, until he has to be restrained by a group of men.

“The wounds are opening! You can’t help yourself!” Father Mbaka shouts. “Receive it!”

Some of those convulsing are clearly injuring themselves – most with strains and sprains, but a few are bleeding. It’s hard to tell who’s crying in religious passion and who’s crying in pain.

The dozen priests on the stage look down on the crowd silently.

Then, after 35 minutes, the music stops. Father Mbaka lowers his voice. His assistants, wearing orange T-shirts and black vests, pull the injured away to the Christ the King parish house, where they’ll be tended to.

Rapid growth

African Christianity is growing at a cheetah’s pace. In Nigeria alone, the number of Christians is projected to leap from 50 million in 2000 to 123 million in 2050. As their numbers grow, so will their influence over the global church.

Many wonder how “African” the faith will become.

“A lot of more mainstream Catholics in Africa are very nervous about that,” said Philip Jenkins, a Penn State professor who studies African Christianity. “They don’t mind having the drums in church. But they draw the line somewhere.”

Some Enugu priests who refuse to condemn Father Mbaka nonetheless speak of him with a tone of confused acceptance. “Some people find that is the path they wish to follow, but it is not for me,” said Terkure Igbe, a seminarian.

Just before the sun rises, after the injured have been carted away and the crowd calmed, Father Mbaka calls out, “If you have been cured of blindness through this ministry, come up to the stage.”

About a dozen people come up and start dancing joyously. Joseph Osundu is one. Asked about his healing, he said he was never actually blind. “I am here to support my pastor,” he said. “My sister had cancer, and she was cured. He is a good man.”

‘Very sad people’

A few hours earlier, during a lull in the services, Father Mbaka had taken a few of his assistants to an area behind the Adoration Grounds.

This is where the truly unfortunate come: the destitute, the homeless and the crippled. They sit on the ground between parked cars. Many haven’t eaten for days. Father Mbaka walks among them, as he does every Wednesday. His assistants distribute bowls of rice.

Most of the men are missing at least one limb. One had the right side of his face melted off when his brother threw acid at him. Another has horrific burns over his entire back.

“These are very sad people,” Father Mbaka says. “They are here every week. Good Christians.”

Why, if Father Mbaka is such a powerful healer, are their ailments never cured? Why don’t these men regrow limbs, or fresh, clean skin?

Father Mbaka pauses for a moment.

“God must have decided he does not want to heal these people yet,” he says. “God is in charge.”

Southern cross; Far from the cathedrals of Europe, global demographics are inexorably changing the face of Christianity

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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ENUGU, Nigeria – When the Rev. Humphrey Ani walks out on the poured concrete floor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, he sees the future of Christianity stretched before him.

The pews are packed, even though the slowly turning fans do little to disperse the Sunday morning heat. More than 2,000 worshippers are sitting under the church’s tin roof, and hundreds more gather outside in the dirt courtyard, eager to hear the four-hour service.

The women are all dressed in conservative, ankle-length dresses and ornate headscarves. The men look a bit scrappier; this is a poor town, but they show up for church.

For centuries, Christianity has been primarily a white, European and North American religion. But the explosive growth of Africa and Asia, combined with the success of evangelization there, will change that forever.

By 2050, it’s expected that only one in five Christians worldwide will be white. And places like St. Joseph’s – a regular parish in an unremarkable Nigerian town – will be the Christian mainstream.

“I’m sure it will be an adjustment for Americans – they are used to being in charge,” Father Ani said during a brief break between services, scarfing down bread before facing thousands more parishioners. “But I hope we can all realize we are one brotherhood before God.”

There is, of course, a rich history of missionary efforts in Africa and Asia, and those efforts have been overwhelmingly successful. But even if missionaries had no further success – if not another soul were converted to Christianity – the sheer fact of high birth rates in the developing world would produce some startling numbers:

In 1900, 82 percent of the world’s Christians were in Europe or North America. By 2025, that will drop below 30 percent.

Nigeria had 50 million Christians in 2000; by 2050, it’s projected to have 123 million – more than Germany and France combined. The Congo’s Christian community is expected to more than triple, to 121 million. There will be more Christians in Ethiopia than England, more in India than Italy.

“There is this very strong idea that Christianity is a Western religion that has been on loan to other parts of the world,” said Philip Jenkins, a Penn State professor whose book, The Next Christendom, is the central text of those projecting the faith’s demographic future. “Of course, it’s a Near-Eastern and North African religion that has been traveling for the last 2,000 years.”

Take this part of southeastern Nigeria, known as Igboland today and Biafra during the disastrous Nigerian civil war of the late 1960s. It’s perhaps the most heavily Catholic spot on the continent, with about 90 percent of its people belonging to the church.

St. Joseph’s will draw up to 9,000 people to services on a busy Sunday. (As a point of comparison, in the nine-county, 67-parish Diocese of Dallas, only the downtown cathedral attracts more weekly worshippers.)

Churches in Igboland are always trying to find ways to deal with overflow crowds. Some evangelical preachers can pull millions to a multiday healing event. Having tens of thousands of Nigerians at a prayer meeting is considered unremarkable.

Some say that sort of spirituality can be a forceful counterpoint to the increasing secularism of the West.

“Here we take religiousness for granted,” said Godfrey Odigbo, director of the Spiritan International School of Theology in Enugu. “In Europe, people think that if you need God, you can just call him. If you don’t need him, you can ignore him. God is not part of everyday life. But deep inside, there’s a yearning.”

The Catholic Church’s growth in the developing world was greatly aided by the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, which allowed Mass in native languages and permitted other localized variations in church rituals.

The travels of Pope John Paul II – the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries – reflected the church’s global growth. He visited more than 40 African nations during his papacy. Dr. Jenkins argues that one reason John Paul was successful as a doctrinally conservative pope was that he knew the church’s millions of new adherents in Africa and Asia were similarly minded.

The new pontiff, Benedict XVI, recognizes that he oversees an increasingly diverse church. Last Sunday, at a Vatican ordination ceremony for 21 priests, he said the church “must open up the frontiers between peoples and break down barriers between classes and races.” The men he ordained embodied that message: While most were Italians, the group included priests from Nigeria, Kenya and Angola.

The worldwide demographic shift leads to questions that go to the heart of the faith. What will it mean to Christianity when, numerically, the version of the faith practiced in Kampala and Kinshasa becomes “the norm” and places like Rome and Canterbury move to the margins?

Many Westerners got their first look at African religious power in 2003, during the debate over the consecration of Gene Robinson as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson is openly gay, and his election was controversial within the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the world Anglican Communion.

But some of the most vigorous opposition came from a surprising source: Anglican bishops in Africa. Africans are typically conservative on issues of sexual morality and, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, they vigorously protested Bishop Robinson’s consecration.

Other Anglicans, up to and including the archbishop of Canterbury, were forced to listen. The Anglican Communion began as the Church of England, but today most of its bishops are African or Asian, and they have clout within the church. In 1998, when Anglican leaders gathered to consider a statement supporting gay rights, African and Asian bishops formed a bloc large enough to defeat it. This enraged some American church leaders, including one bishop who labeled African Anglicanism “a very superstitious kind of Christianity” barely removed from animism.

Jacob Olupona, a religion scholar at the University of California at Davis, said racism fueled some of the Western response. “These are people who think that they own the church,” said Dr. Olupona, whose father was an Anglican priest in Nigeria. “They suddenly discovered they were not going to be calling the shots. They used to get away with anything. The African church prevented that from happening.”

The disputes have led to some unusual realignments within the church, as conservative Americans have sought allies in the global South. In 2000, two American men, Chuck Murphy and John Rodgers, were ordained as Anglican bishops – not by the American church, but by the archbishops of Rwanda and Singapore. The men set up what has become known as the Anglican Mission in America, an attempt by African and Asian churches to “reform” the Episcopal church and push it to the right on issues of morality.

Last month, Archbishop Akinola announced the formation of a new Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America, a group aimed at Nigerian emigrants who disagree with the Episcopal Church’s stance on gay issues.

He told Nigerians that leaders of the American church have “torn the fabric of our common life and have jeopardized your lives and ministries. This is a tragic reality that cannot be ignored.”

Last month’s Vatican conclave was the first in modern times in which leaders from developing countries were considered strong candidates for pope. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria was viewed as one of the favorites, and Latin America produced a number of serious contenders.

Dr. Jenkins said that while the College of Cardinals ended up selecting another European, the conclave “really broke down any residual resistance people might have had” to a non-white pope. Today about two-thirds of Catholics are in the developing world, along with about 40 percent of the cardinals.

In 10 or 20 years, he said, the cardinals will be overwhelmingly from poor nations.

What will a more Afrocentric church bring? Generalizing about 300 million people is risky, but African churches are known for a greater emphasis on the supernatural as well as for their more conservative stances on moral issues.

Pentecostal and charismatic churches flourish, even more than mainline Protestant and Catholic churches do – although some Africans are comfortable mixing and matching elements from different Christian faiths and even indigenous beliefs.

“We have people who come to Mass on Sunday, go to a Protestant healer on Wednesday, and see the witch doctor on Saturday,” said Father Ani, who proudly points out that his last name is the name of the earth goddess in traditional Igbo religion.

In the worldwide Christian community, it’s likely that African voices, along with Asian and Latin American ones, will grow louder in the coming decades. It remains to be seen how Western Christians will react to being subject to theological decisions often driven by people traditionally viewed as souls to be saved by missionaries.

“From a point of view of an American, we’ll be humbled,” said the Rev. Michael Duca, rector of the Catholic Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving. “There will be changes. We don’t know what they are.

“We know that the church may not always find its roots in Rome. That has been the symbol of the center of the faith, where the Holy Father lives. But he doesn’t have to live there, I guess.”

W-H gets new leaders; State ousts trustees, picks manager board and superintendent

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1A

For the fourth time since November, Wilmer-Hutchins teachers will have a new superintendent to call boss.

But this time they’ll have an entirely new board, too.

State Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley swept into the troubled district Thursday and swept out the seven-member school board that has overseen the district’s financial collapse.

The district’s new leadership has been assigned a pressing task: Determine quickly whether there’s anything salvageable in Wilmer-Hutchins schools, which are swimming in debt, indictments and scandal. Otherwise, Dr. Neeley said, the district will be shut down, perhaps very quickly.

“This community no longer trusts the sitting board with its children or its money,” she said. “Whatever decision the team makes, the decision will be one of permanency. No more Band-Aids. No more quick fixes.”

Eugene Young, an assistant superintendent in Lancaster, will become the new superintendent June 1. He replaces interim Superintendent James Damm, whose contract will expire at the end of the month. Some say it’ll take a miracle for Mr. Young to save the district, which took another blow Thursday when a bank filed a lawsuit to recover a $2.8 million loan.

“Are you all ready to walk on water?” Mr. Young asked a crowd at district headquarters. “If you are ready, I ask you to engage in a little water walking and step out of the boat and step out into the storm with me.”

Dr. Neeley had first proposed the housecleaning in March, when a Texas Education Agency investigation found that 22 of the district’s elementary school teachers were helping students improperly on the state’s TAKS test. That investigation was prompted by stories in The Dallas Morning News that alleged widespread cheating in the district.

“This is inexcusable, illegal, unprofessional, unethical and unacceptable behavior,” Dr. Neeley said.

Throwing out an elected school board requires approval from the Justice Department, which had to determine whether such a move improperly violated the voting rights of district residents.

When Dr. Neeley arrived at district headquarters Monday morning, she said she was hopeful that approval could come by month’s end. Instead, it came by fax just after 1 p.m.

The old seven-member board will be replaced with a five-member board of managers, all appointed by Dr. Neeley. Two are familiar faces: Dallas businessman Albert Black Jr. and former TEA administrator Michelle Willhelm. Both have been working in the district since November as a state-appointed management team.

The three other board members are fresh to district politics: Sandra Donato, an educator who works with recent immigrants in Dallas schools; Donnie Foxx, a technical support specialist with Exxon Mobil; and Saundra King, a financial analyst and portfolio manager.

While Mr. Foxx has spoken at school board meetings before, none of the three has been major players in the factional tug-of-war that has defined the district’s politics in recent years.

Finding people willing to sign up for duty wasn’t easy. The agency contacted dozens of people starting in March, and many weren’t willing to get involved. “Some people hung up on us,” said Ron Rowell, the agency’s senior director of school governance.

The job is likely to be a stressful one. TEA officials have advised the three new board members not to give their phone numbers to the public until special phone lines can be arranged. But the appointees say there’s hope for the district.

“I’m optimistic we can make some changes,” Ms. Donato said.

The three new board members will not be paid. But Mr. Black and Ms. Willhelm will continue to draw their previous salaries of $480 a day. Mr. Young’s annual salary will be $125,000 – assuming the district is still in existence a year from now.

Mr. Young, a former Dallas principal and teacher, faces an immediate fiscal crisis. The district does not have the money to repay the $2.8 million loan from Wells Fargo. It also doesn’t have the money to meet payroll this summer. In all, the district will need to find $5.7 million by August to meet its obligations.

Even if it does, Wilmer-Hutchins will have 40 percent less per-student funding this fall than nearly every other district in the state. That’s because the district has been setting its tax rate illegally since the 1970s, and voters overwhelmingly rejected a chance last Saturday to allow a higher tax rate.

Pressure will be strong to dissolve the district quickly and merge it with one or more neighboring districts: enormous Dallas or smaller Lancaster or Ferris. A merger would solve the tax rate problem immediately.

“If need be, I feel we would be willing to help out the children of Wilmer-Hutchins,” said Dallas trustee Lew Blackburn. Dr. Blackburn is also human resources director in Wilmer-Hutchins, which means a merger with Dallas probably would leave him without a job.

It’s been a very long school year for Wilmer-Hutchins. Its former superintendent, Charles Matthews, has been indicted twice on charges of fraud and document tampering. Its schools are literally falling apart. A suddenly vaporized fund balance led to the layoffs of nearly 20 percent of the district’s staff.

And the cheating scandal has put the district into academic freefall. For this year’s spring Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills testing, more than 80 monitors oversaw the process to prevent cheating. It worked. The district’s passing rate on the fifth-grade reading test, for example, dropped from 89 percent last year to just 39 percent with monitors in place.

It’s unlikely the debate over who’s running Wilmer-Hutchins is permanently closed. At Tuesday’s news conference, Brenda Duff and Cedric Davis both objected to the takeover. Both were elected to posts on the school board Saturday, but neither now will be able to take a seat.

Ms. Duff argued that she and Mr. Davis, who is her son, are actually now members of the new board of managers. Dr. Neeley firmly rejected that notion.

“I’m going to protect my rights,” said Ms. Duff, who said she would start having her own school board meetings without the state appointees.

Ms. Duff and Mr. Davis said they are considering taking legal action to be seated on the board. Mr. Davis said he is seeking advice from representatives of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

But the outgoing board president, Luther Edwards, says he won’t be trying to cling to power. “This is like a burden lifted off my shoulders,” he said.

He has argued repeatedly that he and the board should not be blamed for the district’s myriad problems. Instead, he said, the culprits are an array of powerful state and business interests who want to see the all-black school board pushed aside to increase the value of the district’s land.

Mr. Edwards said he knew this takeover was coming because, in January, he asked an undercover plainclothes officer to watch over Mr. Black and the other state-approved leadership in the district. He said they planned the removal of the board even then.

Dr. Neeley said scrapping the board was the strongest medicine she could give the district. But some said anything that keeps Wilmer-Hutchins alive – even for a few months – is not strong enough.

“How much longer is this going to go on?” asked Wilmer Mayor Don Hudson. “We have that Wilmer-Hutchins stigma. How can you turn it around? I think getting rid of the district is the way to do it.”

Tough choices ahead in Wilmer-Hutchins; State hopes panel dissolves district before big budget cuts kick in

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1B

State officials say it’s unlikely they will force the shutdown of Wilmer-Hutchins schools in the next few months. But they are hopeful a federally approved board of managers may do it for them.

If that can happen before next school year, children would be saved from the results of Saturday’s tax vote that will force the district to cut its budget by 40 percent.

“It’s very hard to predict the fate of this district,” said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman. “We can’t recall a time where we’ve had a district go bankrupt in the state. We’re not sure what will happen next.”

Wilmer-Hutchins residents voted by a 2-to-1 ratio Saturday to reject a proposal that would have let the district tax property up to the state’s legal limit. District officials were supposed to put the issue before voters in the 1970s but never did. That meant the district has been collecting taxes illegally for the last three decades.

The voters’ rejection will mean a roughly 40 percent drop in the district’s revenue when students return to school in the fall. Wilmer-Hutchins officials have said they will start cutting. But it’s difficult to imagine what the district has left to trim just a few months after laying off 20 percent of its staff during the last financial crisis.

Additionally, the district has a $3.3 million loan due and no money to pay it off. It’s also unclear how Wilmer-Hutchins will find the money to pay its employees through the summer.

Interim Superintendent James Damm said Monday night that the district would ask voters this summer to authorize a higher tax rate.

“In the next month, we’ll explore all the options … within the restraints we will have to work with,” Mr. Damm said. “It could be difficult. People could lose their jobs. Schools could be closed. Programs could be reduced or eliminated.”

Saturday’s results were not unexpected, but they have left officials in Dallas and Austin wondering what’s next for the troubled district.

TEA officials have investigated the possibility of forcibly annexing Wilmer-Hutchins into a neighboring district – most likely the much larger Dallas school system, which borders it to the north. Under state law, an annexed Wilmer-Hutchins could be taxed at the state maximum without voter approval.

Donald Claxton, the Dallas schools spokesman, said the district has not been formally approached about accepting Wilmer-Hutchins students.

“It’s all in the hands of the state at this point,” he said. “We don’t feel it’s our position to be making any overtures of melding the two.”

But state officials say their hands are, at this point, probably tied. If Wilmer-Hutchins is to be forcibly annexed, it must happen by July 1 under state law. And two other puzzle pieces must fall into place: The district’s test scores must be low enough to earn the “academically unacceptable” tag, and the U.S. Justice Department must approve the takeover.

However, school ratings aren’t typically released until the fall. Even if TEA speeds up the release of Wilmer-Hutchins’ rating, the district’s tests won’t be fully graded until June. Even then, an appeals process is guaranteed under state law.

If forced annexation is out, that wouldn’t prevent Wilmer-Hutchins from seeking a merger on its own. The current school board has been a staunch defender of the district’s autonomy, making such a move unlikely in the short term.

But TEA officials are seeking the board’s ouster from office. Later this week, agency officials will announce the names of three area residents who they wish to appoint to a new board of managers, along with the two state-appointed managers already in place.

The board of managers also requires Justice Department approval, but Ms. Marchman said a Justice decision could be coming as soon as next week.

Once in place, the board of managers would have all the powers of the current school board – including the ability to negotiate the district’s formal demise. The board also wouldn’t face the strict deadlines required under a forced annexation.

“Other districts that have gotten into this sort of financial trouble have put themselves on the path to consolidation before they find themselves in financial ruin,” Ms. Marchman said.

TEA will not bail out Wilmer-Hutchins if it can’t pay its bills, she added. All the agency could do is advance about $1.2 million the district is due this summer.

TEA is attempting the forced annexation of one other district, tiny Mirando City in South Texas, which has had serious academic problems in recent years. It is being merged into the neighboring Webb Consolidated district.

“I went to school here, my husband did, my son did,” said Hilda Esquivel, school board president of Mirando City, population 500. “It’s hard to think about losing the school. It means a lot to this town.”

So far, the annexation process in Mirando City has taken about four months and could still be derailed by a threatened lawsuit. That timeline is an indicator that a speedy annexation in Wilmer-Hutchins is unlikely, Ms. Marchman said.

Refusing to forget Vietnam; Local immigrants give thanks for lives here, feel for hardship there

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1B

Tom Ha left Vietnam 30 years ago today.

He was a 24-year-old medical student on the island of Phu Quoc, tending to refugees who had fled the advancing North Vietnamese Army. It was on the radio that he first heard the news: Saigon had fallen.

Having worked alongside Americans at an aid agency, he knew his life would be at risk under a communist regime. So after a few confused hours, he found himself silent on a dock with hundreds of his countrymen – looking out to the Gulf of Thailand and hoping for an American ship to arrive.

“We were sitting quietly, like ghosts,” he said. “We were there all night. No one left. We had no choice.”

In the morning, his ship came in; he was on his way to a new life.

“We have everything here,” said Mr. Ha, now an insurance agent in Euless. “We have freedom, we have democracy, we have jobs. But back there, people are still living in fear.”

For many Americans, the war in Vietnam has become a fuzzy, distant memory. But for those who fled the country 30 years ago, it never ended.

“All across Vietnam there is starvation and loss of basic human rights,” said Andy Nguyen, who like Mr. Ha finds an Americanized name easier to use than his birth name, Nguyen Xuan Hung. “We are committed to finish what we have started and bring freedom to the country.”

On Saturday night, several hundred Vietnamese-Americans gathered in Arlington to commemorate the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Some had memories of the war fresh in their minds. Others were their grandchildren, speaking with Texas accents.

There are more than 50,000 residents of Vietnamese origin in North Texas, with the greatest concentrations in Richardson and Arlington.

Many left in the aftermath of Saigon’s fall. Others slipped out years after.

Mr. Nguyen came to the United States at age 14. His father and five siblings all crowded onto a fishing boat and drifted 10 days before landing on a Malaysian beach on Palm Sunday, 1981.

His family had tried escaping just after the fall of Saigon, but the boat they were on ran out of oil before they could reach international waters. His father was president of a local bank, he said, so his family was a target for communists.

“I will never forget seeing the communist soldier point an AK-47 at my father’s head and say he would kill him if he wouldn’t tell them where the bank’s gold was kept,” Mr. Nguyen said. “It was hell.”

His father ended up being dragged to re-education camp. The family survived by catching clams and selling jungle firewood at the local flea market.

Mr. Nguyen – who now owns a computer networking business – is one of many Vietnamese-Americans who take an active role in advocating change in their homeland. Vietnam is still officially a communist state, although trade and political relations with the U.S. have improved recently.

“I will not return there until there is freedom and democracy in Vietnam,” said Mr. Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese American Community of Greater Tarrant County. “In another five years, I hope we can see some positive changes.”

Vietnamese communities across America planned commemorations for today, including a protest outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington.

Vietnam is a different place than it was 30 years ago. Some immigrants to America now return home for visits. The communist government has made a few moves toward economic liberalization.

Phu Quoc, where Mr. Ha once treated refugees, is now a resort. Its Web site calls it a “tropical leisure paradise … genuinely unspoiled by time … like Vietnam used to be ten years ago.”

But for Mr. Ha, a decade back in time isn’t quite far enough.

“It’s painful to see 80 million people oppressed for so long,” he said, crying.