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Christian World News: July 1, 2011

On this week's Christian World News: A look at the latest crackdown on Iran's Christians, see how one man is serving up the gospel in Haiti, walk the 'Gospel Trail' in Israel, and more.
 

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Today on Christian World News – Crackdown in Iran. Hundreds of Christians behind bars. And one pastor facing a death sentence. Plus – Serving up the Gospel in Haiti. This American missionary's recipe for Christian TV flavors the Gospel message with Creole cooking. And – How a selfish lark led to a lifetime of service and the rescue of hundreds of children in Nepal. Christians jailed in Iran. One pastor could pay for his faith with his life. Hello everyone, I'm Wendy Griffith. George Thomas is on assignment. There's a crackdown against Christians in Iran. The Islamic regime is targeting house church pastors and their leaders. Hundreds have been rounded up and imprisoned since the beginning of this year. Senior international correspondent Gary Lane has more. The crackdown has led to 285 believers in 35 cities being arrested in Iran in the past six months according to Elam Ministries, an organization that serves Christians in that country. Many of the arrested Christians have spent weeks and even months in prison, often serving long stretches in solitary confinement. They also have endured interrogations and psychological abuse. Iranian pastor Hormoz Shariat is with International Antioch Ministries. He hosts a satellite television show that is broadcast into Iran. Most often revolutionary guards just arrest, don't even tell the family. They can't have a lawyer, not even a formal charge. Sometimes they get killed without even a formal charge. When he became president in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged to halt the spread of Christianity in Iran. He launched a crackdown at that time, but David Yeghnazar, USA Director of Elam Ministries, says the government's efforts are now intensifying. In particular of the last year this persecution has gained momentum. And I think that's really because the church is growing with increasing momentum. Yeghnazar and Shariat say the government for the first time is admitting that Iranians are leaving the Islamic faith and becoming Christians. They're writing about it in the newspapers. They're warning people. They've stated publically that they will arrest people who are becoming Christians, that they will close down networks of house churches. So the government is intentionally going after the house churches. The supreme leader last October he came and said that house churches in Iran are a threat to our national security. And that was a signal, says Shariat, for the government to target house church Christians and especially their leaders. Iranian Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi has warned against the strong attraction of Christianity among Iranian youth. And he recently admitted the government crackdown has failed to stop the spread of Christianity in Iran. But Iran's Islamic government is likely to continue the crackdown. And many Iranians are worried that similar radical Islamic governments could arise in other Middle Eastern countries. As revolutions and uprisings spread throughout the Middle East, Shariat says his Iranian viewers are warning Arabs to learn from what happened in Iran in 1979 when Iranians protested against the shah and got Ayatollah Khomeni instead. They're telling their brothers just to "watch out, watch out! This is what we did – we wanted freedom, we wanted democracy and the religious fanatics take over. Please don't let that happen to you." Gary Lane, CBN News. And we're learning more about the pressure on Christians in Iran. A pastor could be executed any day now for apostasy. The Iranian supreme court has upheld the conviction and death sentence of 36-year-old Youcef Nadarkhani. He's a former Muslim imprisoned near the city of Rasht, Iran. The house church pastor was arrested in October 2009 after he protested a government decision forcing Christian school children to be taught Islam. And joining us now with more from Bartlesville, Oklahoma is Todd Nettleton of The Voice of the Martyrs. Todd, what else can you tell us about Pastor Youcef? Well, this is a man who went to the Islamic school, went to the public school, and said, "Listen, I understand that all of the students are given religious instruction, however our family is Christian and so my children should be given Christian religious instruction, not instructed according to Islam." That seems to be what put him on the radar of the authorities. They subsequently arrested him, accused him of apostasy. He was found guilty and sentenced to die for that crime. Now, Todd, no pastor has actually been executed in recent years in Iran so what are the chances that the Iranian government will actually carry this out? Well, that's really kind of the million dollar question at this point in time. It has been more than 20 years since someone has been executed for apostasy in Iran. However, we have seen an increased stridency towards the house church movement. The piece just talked about the fact that whereas before house churches were raided but it was kind of kept quiet. Now it's that house churches are raided, people are arrested, and it's on the evening news and you have the mullahs preaching about it in their Friday sermons how bad the house churches are. So, this is a new day for persecution in Iran and it looks very seriously like they could carry out this execution as a part of that increased crackdown on Christians. Todd, what do you think is behind this recent crackdown on the house churches in Iran? Well, here's the good news. The church is growing so fast in Iran and there is such a hunger for the Gospel that the government doesn't know how to respond. They don't know how to stop people from coming to Christ and so they're seeking everything they can, including these very harsh crackdowns. What can our viewers do? Of course we can pray but how can they actually make a difference with this Islamic regime? We have posted Pastor Youcef on our website - prisoneralert.com - which allows people to write letters to him. The other thing, though, that they can do right off of prisoneralert.com is write letters to Iranian government authorities. We've got the email address for the supreme leader; we've got the email address for some of the court system there. We want people to get on and write emails and let them know the world is watching how they treat this pastor and how they treat Christians in their country. Indeed, and we certainly need to remind our viewers to pray for the deliverance for Mr. Youcef. Todd Nettleton of The Voice of the Martyrs, thanks so much for joining us. You're welcome. And to find out how you can help persecuted Christians in Iran and around the world, check out our Christian World News website. There you'll find links to the Voice of the Martyrs and the other ministries mentioned in this story. Political unrest in the African nation of Senegal has Christians on high alert there. Muslim protesters burned down two churches in the capital city of Dakar this week. A dispute over the upcoming presidential elections sparked riots across the city. More than a hundred people have been injured. The government has imposed a curfew and cut off power for much of the city. CBN News spoke with one Christian living in Dakar. Because of safety concerns we won't mention his name or his ministry. He told us why he believes Muslim protesters are taking advantage of the political unrest to target Christians. There is a Muslim element, a radical element, that exists in Dakar that has traditionally been underground. This group has existed for sometime. They're using this political unrest and the power shortages as cover to attack these churches now. Christian leaders in Senegal declared Sunday, July 3rd a day of prayer and fasting. Coming up on Christian World News – Cooking up something big in Haiti. They really love to watch my reaction as a white person speaking their language, eating their food and really enjoying it, as I really do enjoy it. How this American missionary is spicing up the Gospel message. Welcome back. It's been almost a year and a half since the earthquake that devastated Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. As Haitians struggle to rebuild their lives, a unique television show, "La Bonne Nouvelle," is giving them a sense of hope. Stan Jeter reports from Port-au-Prince. Joel Trimble has offered Haitians a unique TV recipe for the past six years. Part travelogue, part food show, a sprinkling of spiritual counsel, and a lot of encouragement. I love Haiti, I love the Haitian people, and I love to minister the Gospel to them. So my thought was I want to go to where the people are and I want to show them the beauty of their nation. The show has built a strong audience around Haiti and in Haitian communities overseas. Surprisingly, the most popular feature is the food segment. They really love to watch my reaction as a white person speaking their language, eating their food and really enjoying it, as I really do enjoy it. The program takes viewers to a different part of the country every week. It's travel with a purpose and an antidote to all the bad news about Haiti. It could be a clinic, it could be a hospital, it could be the mango exportation, it could be the coffee exportation. We show them the beauty of their country, the positive story behind something taking place in the country. And we focus on that and we do a documentary, kind of like a travel channel-type of format, and then in the middle of it I give what I call a "little counsel for life." Trimble counseled parents in one recent production about the importance of investing in the lives of their children. Typically, while he's in town he'll show a Christian film and invite people to follow Christ. In a nation that's struggled for generations to free itself from poverty, Trimble's messages are well received. We're able to bring the Gospel into the living rooms and homes of Haitian people in a practical way and make them not only feel good about their own country and about themselves but to let them understand the principles of God. Haitians are more receptive to this teaching since the devastating earthquake of January 2010. No one knows how many died in the disaster. Estimates go as high as 200,000. For the past year, however, the world has focused on the needs of the survivors. The government estimates that about a million people lost their homes during the Haiti earthquake. They came to live in places like this. This actually used to be a golf course. Life is really hard in these tent cities but many are finding hope for the future right here. Haitians are still flocking to church services in this tent city and throughout the capital, evidence, Trimble says, of a growing spiritual revival. We'd have never imagined that revival would come in the form of a disaster, but that's what's happened down here. People have been saying for years that Haiti would be a great example if it turned around. I can honestly say we're not just at the beginning of a transformation of a nation, but we're seeing it take place in front of our very eyes. Trimble came to Haiti as a missionary in 1975. He and his wife Yvonne have helped plant numerous churches, like this one known as the "Church of the Final Hour." Their church building collapsed during the earthquake, but since then some 500 new people have started attending their worship services. It's amazing. I can't believe it. This is the answer to a prophecy that God has given to us. He said once that this church is going to spread the Gospel out. And this is just the beginning. On the first anniversary of the earthquake, Trimble organized a rally in front of the ruined national palace. It drew over 100,000 Haitians. We called it "Celebrate Life." Instead of having a memorial service and inviting people to come, we decided we were going to celebrate life in Jesus for those of us who were spared. Trimble says the opportunities for sharing the Good News in Haiti are greater now than ever before. He believes he is helping to build the new foundation of Christianity that will bring God's blessing to Haiti. It will bring political leaders of integrity and honesty. It will bring husbands who are being faithful to their wives. It will bring government employees who can be trusted to handle aid funds that come into the country. All desperately needed changes in post-earthquake Haiti. Stan Jeter, CBN News. When Christian World News returns – He started out on a global journey, but the plight of these kids stopped him in his tracks. Hear the story of one man's work to save Nepal's children of war. Operation Blessing teams are aiding flood victims in the Philippines. Heavy rains there have caused four weeks of flooding. Rice fields have been destroyed and millions of families have been affected. Reports say the flooding could last for months. Operation Blessing is distributing mats and blankets to families in shelters. Volunteers are also conducting medical clinics and feeding programs for children. The Director of Operation Blessing Philippines says they hope to feed as many as 5,000 children. Well, Conor Grennan has reunited hundreds of families with children they thought were lost forever. But he never planned to go into this line of work. It grew out of an adventure that turned into something much more. Recently I asked Conor about that impulsive trip that changed his life and thousands of others. Now, Conor, when you went to Nepal back in 2004, you were going on one kind of adventure but it turned out to be a totally different kind of adventure, didn't it? Absolutely. I went really just because I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world. And I only volunteered, frankly, because my friends kind of guilted me into it. You know, I wasn't a Christian at the time or anything else, I just wanted to have fun. What did you discover about these kids? Yeah, this is the amazing thing. You know, I was out there for three months, found that I actually really had a heart for kids, which I never could have expected in my life, came back a year later and that's when we realized the truth that these kids actually weren't orphans. We realized that because a mother came to the gate one day and said, "Hey, I think you have two of my children here." And we were blown away. We couldn't understand how that could be possible, but she told us this extraordinary story. The civil war was still going on in Nepal at that time, up until 2006, and Maoist rebels were abducting children from families out in the villages in the remote areas of Nepal, to put into their army. Even five, six, seven-year old kids. And so parents were desperate to save their kids and would give them to men who were promising them a better future. They would say "I'll take them to Kathmandu valley, I'll give them an education, I'll put them in safe places." And so parents ended up saving up and not only giving up their life savings for this kind of service but also giving up their children. And they were see their children again. Basically you have risked your life to try to reunite these orphans with their parents. Yeah, exactly, and this is where, you know, I never saw any of this coming. I didn't go out there to do any of this stuff of course. But when I got back to New York, it was in the middle of the revolution in Nepal, and I learned that those extra seven kids that we'd been taking care of had been stolen by the traffickers. They'd been snatched away from us and I realized first of all I have to go back and start searching for them, which would take miracle, which was hard because I wasn't a Christian at the time so it's hard to think about miracles. But really it's miraculously one by one started to find them. And I realized, you know, I have to find their families. They have no future if I don't find their families. And so I did the easiest and dumbest thing I could think of really, which was just to fly as deep into the mountains as I could to the last flat strip of land and put on a backpack and take photos of the kids and just start walking through the villages for weeks. And you found them? You found some of them? Yeah, I found all of them, I found all of them. So I went out with 24 families, you know, photos of 24 kids, and I thought I don't know if I'm ever going to find a single family. Might never come back from that mission. Yeah, and I was worried. I mean the Maoists were still very active there, the traffickers were coming after me out there. So I didn't want to think too much about it. But it took me four weeks and I got injured, snowed it, but I found them. Now, Conor, during all this you reached out to God. Yeah. And what happened? Well, that was an amazing thing. I got to know a wonderful young woman named Liz Flanagan who was coming out to volunteer, and she was a Christian. I didn't know much about Christianity at the time. But she came out and I just saw her with the kids, all these little Hindu kids, and she was so compassionate, so wonderful, and to me that became the face of Christianity, you know, far from what I'd ever thought to expect. And so thought I want to learn more about this. So I bought probably the only Bible in Kathmandu, you know. In this little bookshop I found one. And I started reading the Gospels expecting to find all the things that people had told me to find, you know, bigotry and small-mindedness and everything that people had taught me, and found none of that. And in a land where I was surrounded by Hindus, surrounded by Buddhists, somehow Christ just got to me. Now, you have founded, Conor, an organization called "Next Generation Nepal." What is it doing to help reunite trafficked children with their parents? Yeah, I started Next Generation Nepal. I was totally broke. I needed enough money just to even get back and start looking for those kids. So we raised money to do that. I got back out and now what we're doing is literally sending teams out in the mountains to try to find the families of these kids. I mean, we thought that there were maybe a few dozen kids in this position, because it seemed so unusual. We found that there's about 15,000 kids who have trafficked in this way. There are 600 orphanages where kids today are starving to death. Last week, literally, we rescued 20 kids out of one of these orphanages. And so what we do is we rescue them from traffickers, we get their photos, we try to figure out as much information as possible. And then there's no shortcut here. We just literally put on backpacks and walk into the mountains and walk from village to village and we don't come back until we find the families. And you've written about this in your new book called "Little Princes," which has been out for a couple of months, and I guess you can get it where books are sold. Everywhere, yeah. Okay, Conor Grennan, thanks so much for being with us. Thank you, yeah, thanks for having me. And you can learn more about Conor's work at his Next Generation Nepal web page. Find a link on our site, cwnews.org. We'll be right back. Finally today – Israel is launching a new tourism adventure. The aim is to let visitors get off the beaten path and literally walk where Jesus walked. CBN News Israel correspondent Julie Stahl takes us down the "Gospel Trail." For years, tourists have spent much of their time in the Holy Land stuck in groups on crowded buses. Now, at certain sites, they can walk paths and trails similar to those taken by Jesus. This new project starts near his boyhood home in Nazareth and ends where he centered his ministry in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. "And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali." (Matthew 4:13) This is a new, special project that we think that every Christian should experience. And what we are now trying to do is to give this spiritual special experience to the Christian people. This is Mount Precipice and behind me is the Jezreel valley. The Bible says angry crowds tried to push Jesus off the cliff, but he simply walked through their midst and went his way. The first part of the trail is carved into the mountain. The way is very simple. It's not hard for walking. It's not for professional hikers. It's for young people and for old people. Hikers can tackle the entire 37-mile trail or hike a shorter stretch. Parts of it are also made for bicycling. Trail project manager Amir Moran says the symbol of an anchor on a stone pillar marks the route. We see here the next time on the rock there, as you see we can see it from a long distance. And this is exactly the way that people a thousand years ago signed the ways. It winds by the village of Cana, over an old Roman road, up Mount Arbel, and to the Mount of Beatitudes where it's believed Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount. This is exactly the same landscape as it was 2,000 years ago. We chose the route, which is not developed. Almost all the way it looks exactly like in those ancient times. In Capernaum, Jesus' home base, pilgrims can end their trek with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, the same water on which Jesus walked. Julie Stahl, CBN News, The Galilee. Well, if you've ever been to Israel, you certainly know that the Bible does come to life there. And who knows, maybe they'll even let you walk on the water where Jesus walked. Well, that's our report for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. Until next week, from all of us here at Christian World News, good-bye and God bless you.

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