U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe’s trips to Africa called a ‘Jesus thing’

BY CHRIS CASTEEL Modified: December 21, 2008 at 12:39 pm •  Published: December 21, 2008
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/> And, he said, "Nobody in Congress understands or cares about Africa.”

Chairmen of the Senate and House foreign relations subcommittees on Africa declined to respond to Inhofe’s comment about Congress’ alleged lack of interest in the continent.

Charles Ssentongo, deputy chief of mission at the Ugandan Embassy in Washington, said many members of Congress have been supportive of Africa.

He specifically cited Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., who head up the subcommittees on Africa, and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

Ssentongo said Inhofe "has been a good friend of Africa and Uganda in particular. Senator Inhofe has been one of the leading voices on the various issues facing our continent.”

Inhofe has been helpful in denouncing the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla group that operates in northern Uganda, "which has been so brutal to our people,” Ssentongo said.

And he said Inhofe has "played an active role in the faith-based aspect of our anti-AIDS campaign.”

Despite his concerns about AIDS in Africa, Inhofe this year voted against a $50 billion bill that included funding for AIDS treatment and prevention in Africa. Inhofe said the bill spent beyond what the program could absorb.

‘A mission there for many years’
The Tulsa senator has made several public statements linking his interest in Africa to his faith.

At a U.S. House committee hearing in 2005, Inhofe said, "I have had a mission there for many years. It is more of a Jesus thing, but I have spent a lot of time in Africa.”

Inhofe’s efforts are linked to those of a group called The Fellowship Foundation, also identified on its tax returns as the International Foundation.

Inhofe said he first went to Africa at the urging of Doug Coe, the longtime leader of the group.

Based in nearby Arlington, Va., the group puts on the National Prayer Breakfast. The breakfast is held annually and attracts leaders from around the world. The foundation also sponsors activities connected to the prayer breakfast in other countries and sometimes pays for lawmakers’ travels.

On its 2006 tax return, the foundation describes its mission in part as "mentoring, counseling and partnering with friends around the world: The foundation seeks to encourage individuals to integrate the principles of Jesus in their work and in their everyday relationships.”

In an interview with an Assemblies of God publication in 2002, Inhofe said, "I’ve adopted 12 countries all the way from Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Gabon in West Africa as far east as Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. I’m planning to meet with nine presidents in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. My focus will be to meet in the spirit of Jesus.”

A common denominator
In 2002, the International Foundation donated nearly $5,800 to charity in lieu of speaking fees to the Republican senator.

The foundation’s tax returns from 2006 show it donated nearly $1 million to a Uganda-based charitable organization and $1,500 to Pentecostal churches in Burundi, another country that Inhofe has visited frequently.

Ssentongo, in the Ugandan Embassy in Washington, said Inhofe has participated in prayer breakfasts in Uganda and that organizers of those breakfasts "have benefited from his (Inhofe’s) wisdom and the people in his office.”

Inhofe said he wasn’t trying to push a specific religious agenda in Africa and that he considered Jesus "a common denominator” in his meetings with African leaders of different faiths.

Said Ssentongo, "He has been very strong on inter-faith dialogue.”

I’m guilty of two things. I’m a Jesus guy, and I have a heart for Africa.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe



ALSO IN THE NEWS ...
Ex-missionary is on staff
Not long after Sen. Jim Inhofe became interested in Africa, he hired a former African missionary for the Assemblies of God as his director of African affairs.

Mark Powers, who lives in Virginia, still works for the Assemblies of God general council while also serving part time on the senator’s staff.

When he was first hired in 2001, Powers was paid about $5,000 a year through the senator’s office. He is now paid $15,000 a year.

Powers accompanies the senator on his frequent trips to Africa.

Matt Dempsey, Inhofe’s communications director, said Powers worked for the Assemblies of God in several African nations before his employment with Inhofe.

"Mark’s proven understanding and knowledge of Africa is exactly the reason Mark was hired,” Dempsey said. "Senator Inhofe is well aware that Mark continues to remain active in his church and has made sure a clear line exists between Mark’s work in the Senate and Mark’s work for his church.”

Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau

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