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Congregation demands timetable for withdrawal from missionary

OMAHA, NB (AP) – The congregants of Westside Presbyterian Church have had enough. For the past four years they have faithfully supported Operation Mobilization missionary Jack Powell in his mission to the Middle East, and for the past four years they have stood by him through botched church plants, poorly punctuated Bible translations, and aimlessly wondering prayer walks. Having grown weary of the “blatant and inexcusable waste of time and tithes” displayed by Mr. Powell, influential churchgoers have begun calling for his immediate return from the region.

Mr. Powell shipped off for the Middle East in the spring of 2004 with the full endorsement of Executive Pastor Joe Munson, who used personal charisma and a recent viewing of Mel Gibson’s The  Passion to whip reluctant elders and parishioners into a proselytizing frenzy.

Longtime usher, Henry Theeson recalls the experience, “I was asleep for most of it, but I remember Pastor Munson blathering excitedly about journeying into spiritual deserts and storming the strongholds of Satan or some such nonsense. I thought he was talking about Nevada.”

Public opinion has turned sharply in the intervening years as Mr. Powell’s supposedly brief campaign has deteriorated into an interminable quagmire of language barriers and religious intolerance.

“I feel lied to,” says one elder who initially supported Mr. Powell’s campaign. “He told us he was going to liberate the nation’s backward people from the institutions of spiritual oppression, and then raise up local pastors who would plant churches and continue the work that he had begun. Well, it’s been five years and several hundred dollars of my hard-earned bingo money, and it seems like there are more Muslims over there now than when he started.”

Powell’s cause has also been hampered by his ties with the increasingly unpopular Reverend Munson.Since taking the pulpit, Munson has seen the church’s staff shrink by 40% and the once respected Sunday School program sink to Mennonite levels of ineffectiveness.His impassioned pleas to “stay the course” go unheeded as his mental competency is called into question with greater frequency.

Both Executive Pastor Munson and Mr. Powell came under fire in 2006 when Powell appeared at Westside’s annual mission conference wearing traditional Iraqi garb and dropping the occasional Kurdish colloquialism. It was then that some in the congregation began demanding a timetable for Powell’s return to the states, claiming that his mission had clearly become an “occupation” with no end in sight.

Public support for the mission spiked last summer during the youth group’s short-term mission trip to Iraq.The controversial trip supplied a much-needed infusion of manpower and morale into the region, and was hailed by many as the most successful ten-day period of Powell’s mission.  Most, however, view the youth group’s efforts to repair an orphanage and perform puppet shows as an isolated blip in an increasingly desperate and unwinnable situation.

While no dates have been set for Powell’s return, several congregants have said they will discontinue their monthly support at the end of the year in the hopes that the missionary will abandon his fruitless campaign and “get a real job.”

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