WorldWatch: Updates on the Global Church

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Officials Investigate Australia Wildfires

Wildfires have claimed more than 180 lives in Australia.

More than a thousand acres burned and hundreds of homes were destroyed in what's being called the worst wildfires in Australian history.

Investigations continue as to what started the fire, but police suspect it was arson.

At least 200 people have died and Australia's prime minister has likened the death toll to mass murder.

Pastor Danny Nalliah of the prayer ministry Rise up Australia says Victoria state's churches are stepping in to help.

"We at the ministry have been out collecting dry rations, clothing, crockery, whatever is needed to help people immediately," he said. "We are fasting and praying, asking God to have mercy on our state and to stop the bush fires. What we need is rain. That the rain would come down."

 READ MORE: Australia to Officially Mourn Fire Victims

Venezuelans to Decide on Key Amendment

This week, Venezuelans will vote on a contraversial referendum that could expand President Hugo Chavez's time in office.

The constitutional amendment abolishes term limits on all elected leaders, making it possible for Chavez to run for as many terms as he likes.

His supporters say he needs more time to complete his socialist agenda in Venezuela.

Political scientist Jamie Ordonez says Venezuela's largest Christian church opposes the measure.

"The Venezuelan Catholic church for different reasons is quitting its relations with Hugo Chavez," he said. "It's a moderate church, it's not a leftist church it seems that some decisions, constitutional reforms by Chavez trying to restrict civil leaders and freedoms are in confrontation with the Catholic church."

Chavez has ruled Venezuela since 1999.

Pastor Killed in Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, Pastor Francisco Cruz, the brother of gang member-turned- evangelist Nicky Cruz, has been murdered.

The 74-year-old pastor worked with drug addicts and juvenile delinquents in Las Piedras.

Last week he was killed and left in the trunk of a car, allegedly by a young man he was trying to help.

Nicky Cruz said he and his family forgive him.

"We will forgive this man. God is a God of righteousness and that's what we believe," he said. "That's the only way we can not allow that negative force or energy to really possess our soul and heart with bitterness."

Francisco Cruz helped more than 150 addicts in the five years he directed the Christian center La Roca.

China 'On Track' to Improve Human Rights?

A U.N. panel on human rights says China is 'on track' to improving its human rights record.

The conclusion was reached despite China's rebuff to countries that demanded it guarantee religious freedom, end torture and stop imprisoning people without trial.

Meanwhile, a Christian human rights activist in China is missing after being taken by police.

The China Aid Association reports Gao Zhisheng was taken from this home on Feb. 4.

Gao angered the Chinese government after releasing a letter detailing his torture at the hands of the authorities in 2007.

 READ MORE: Open Doors List Names Worst Persecutor of Christians

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