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Christian World News: June 24, 2011

On this week’s Christian World News: U.S. troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, a Japanese church reborn after the tsunami, Paraguay’s tribes changed through educational ministry, and more.
 

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Today on Christian World News The beginning of the end. The U.S. starts pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Who’s waiting to fill the vacuum and what could it mean for religious freedom? Plus – A Japanese church washed away in the tsunami, reborn in a coffee shop? This pastor says it’s all part of God’s plan. And – Crossing cultures. A Korean Christian puts down roots in Paraguay. Now he’s giving these kids a shot at a better life. And welcome everyone to Christian World News. I’m Wendy Griffith. George Thomas is on assignment. This week U.S. President Obama announced the first drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Some question if the U.S. is pulling out too soon. Among them are religious rights groups who say Afghanistan still has a long way to go in guaranteeing religious freedom. It’s especially harsh for Christians. Afghans who leave Islam to follow Christ have been jailed and threatened with a death sentence. It could get worse if the Taliban comes to power. In 2010 the Taliban murdered ten members of a Christian aid team providing medical treatment to villagers in northern Afghanistan. And in 2007 the group kidnapped 23 Christian Korean missionaries, murdering two of them before releasing the rest. Joining us now is Knox Thames, policy director for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The group advises the U.S. State Department on religious freedom issues worldwide and he’s just back from Afghanistan. Knox, it seems like there’s hardly any religious freedom in Afghanistan today. Will it just gets worse when the U.S. pulls out? Well, that’s a great question and that’s something that we’re very concerned about. And it’s critical that the U.S. government as it’s looking towards 2014 works to establish safeguards that the Afghan government will respect for the religious freedoms of all Afghanis, be they Christians, Hindus, Sunni or Shia Muslims. If the Taliban were to ever come back to power, it would have devastating consequences for really all Afghanis of any faith, but especially for minority religious communities. Knox, the Afghan constitution, believe it or not, guarantees religious freedom, so why aren’t we seeing that put into practice? Well, the Afghan constitution the way it was drafted has a conflict inside the very articles that make up the text. While it does have language that commits the Afghan government to respect the U.N. universal declaration of human rights, it also has provisions that say nothing can go against Sharia law. And the problem facing Afghanistan now is what is Sharia law? Is it the version that the Taliban forced on to the populace or is it a more moderate, progressive version that we see in other countries around the world? Well, last time I checked Sharia law and freedom of religion don’t mix at all. Well, we’ve certainly seen examples where very regressive interpretations have led to severe religious freedom abuses for Christians and other minorities, but also even for Muslims. It prevents Muslims to debate their own faith and have an open discussion about how to interpret the tenets of their faith. What should the U.S. government be doing to encourage religious freedom in Afghanistan? Well, it needs to put this on top of the agenda. As we’re looking to transition authority and responsibility to the Afghanis, we need to make sure that they understand the importance of religious freedom, the importance of creating space in their society for peaceful religious dialogue. That they also understand the importance of tolerance. That just because you’re of a different faith, different ethnicity, that doesn’t mean you’re of less value and that you have just as many rights as any other Afghan citizen. So we need to be putting this on top of the agenda and raising it at the highest levels in Kabul. And, Knox, what’s the big picture here? Why is religious freedom so crucial to democracy? Well, without it—you know, religious freedom is a unique human right in that it stands atop other human rights—so if you have religious freedom you also have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. And we’ve seen where there isn’t religious freedom those rights are also not respected and women’s rights are also abused. So if you want to have a flourishing democracy that’s growing forward, that’s moving the country forward, you’ve got to have fundamental rights like religious freedom fully respected for all. Okay, but what’s the reality? What’s really going to happen if the Taliban comes back to power? Oh, it would be horrible. It would be devastating for the Afghan citizens and also for our foreign policy in the region. As we know, the Taliban allowed terrorist attacks to be launched from their soil and if they were to come back into power we would have to assume that they would rebuild those liaisons and again try to establish those goals. So we must do everything we can to ensure that that day doesn’t come. And putting human rights and religious freedom at the top of the agenda, making sure that the Afghan constitution is interpreted in such a way that religious freedoms are protected and respected, will go a long way and help to create the safeguards that will prevent that day from ever coming again. And they certainly need our prayers for that. Well, Knox Thames, we thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. The ongoing NATO campaign to oust Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is now in its third month. Libya is a mostly Muslim nation but there is a small Christian community there. As international correspondent Gary Lane tells us, they’re hoping for another kind of freedom. Here’s Gary from Libya. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to many Libyans here in the eastern part of the country and they’re determined that they will defeat Muammar Gaddafi. They’re glad that they’re now free in this part of country. But what about the Christians, have they been free? Yes, there is a small Christian community here. There are some Muslim-background believers. They’re too frightened to talk to us on camera, but we did talk to one woman off camera. She was the wife of a sheik, a Muslim priest. And she told us that if she were to have a Bible and be in public with that Bible that she would certainly be arrested and that her husband did not know she was a Christian. Her children also became Christians through watching satellite television. You see satellite dishes throughout the country here. But the largest number of Christians here in Libya are from the ex-pats, from the foreign workers that come here. Most of them are Egyptian and we had the opportunity to meet with some Coptic Christians and to visit them in one of their services. And they told us they’re freer here than they would be in Egypt. In Libya, more better than in Egypt. The Egyptian Christian in Egypt is in a bad manner now. Are you worried? I’m not worried because God is with us. If God be with us, who is against us? We traveled throughout North Africa: in Tunisia, Libya and also Egypt. We’ll have many crucial reports for you to see in the days ahead. I’m Gary Lane from Derna, Libya. Up next – I regret that I was not able to reach out to our neighbors and now most of them are gone. Out of the rubble of the Japanese tsunami a new church is born. When the tsunami hit Japan it swept away entire towns, including a number of churches. However, some are finding a new location and a new ministry in the wake of the disaster. Asia correspondent Lucille Talusan reports from Sendai, Japan. The tsunami flattened coastal villages like this one in Sendai, thousands of its residents swept into the sea. Three months have passed and this area still needs a lot of cleaning. Actually, there’s still the stench of dead bodies. I cannot imagine how the parents tried to save their children. Here you see a stuffed toy, school supplies of children. As much as the families would want to come back here to live again, the residents are rethinking whether they should come back and rebuild their houses in this place. The Seaside Bible Chapel was not spared from the tsunami’s powerful wave. The church is totally gone, along with Pastor Naito’s house. Buried in the rubble, Naito and his family found the church sign. Noah is Pastor Naito’s son. I spent five years of my life in this place. I lost everything in the tsunami, but I realized the things I concentrated on were worthless. I regret that I was not able to reach out to our neighbors and now most of them are gone. The church had only 30 members, but small churches are typical for Japan. And this is because most people are Buddhists and Shintoists. Plus, Japanese are very private people. They are not fond of joining large communities like Christian churches. However, the disasters of March 11 are giving Christians opportunities to share God’s love with the victims. Japan has always been a difficult place to share the gospel. The Japanese have everything, but what they’ve always lacked is the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Jonathan Wilson is the director of Christian Relief Assistance, Support and Hope in Japan. CRASH Japan is a network of Japanese and international Christian groups. We’re finding as we send teams into shelters and wash people’s feet, or massage their hands and listen to their stories and pray with them that hearts are opened like never before. CRASH teams work alongside local government officials who see the value of their efforts. I thank the organization for helping our town. They bring unity to the communities and hope for our people. CRASH also helps churches like Seaside Bible Chapel rise again. The congregation now meets in a coffee shop provided by the organization. Before the tsunami, our church was located 700 meters from the coastline and it was quite an empty place. But now we are in a good place where a lot of people go and so there’s a better chance to share the gospel more. It’s all part of God’s plan. A cross that was dug from the ruins is now erected where the Seaside Bible Chapel used to stand, as a symbol of hope and a reminder that when everything else is gone only one thing prevails. We don’t need anything except God. We only need our faith in Him, nothing more. Lucille Talusan, CBN News, Yagi, Japan. Great story. Thanks so much, Lucille. Turning now to South America, thousands of tribal people in Paraguay driven from their traditional homeland are living in deep poverty. Their plight is made worse because they don’t speak the national language and don’t blend in. So when a Korean missionary decided to give these tribal children a better future, their leaders welcomed him with open arms. Our correspondent Carolina Martinez reports from Asunción. "Embrace the Future" is a project to build ten Christian schools for the indigenous people of Paraguay during 2011. They hope to build over ninety more schools in the next 10 years. It all began with a conversation between a Korean evangelical pastor, a missionary in Paraguay, and an indigenous chief. Chief Francisco said to me as I was leaving the community: "Pastor Diego, I’m asking you to please come back here and preach the gospel to our community. If you come and preach the gospel, then our children’s future will change." Pastor Diego Yang and his congregation in Asunción have over twenty years of experience in the education field. They have a school with over three hundred students. Many of them learn of the Christian faith for the first time at the school. The school’s Christian teaching has transformed the lives of hundreds of families so far. And now, thanks to donations from a Presbyterian church in Korea, and the help of other churches and organizations, they are responding to the need of the indigenous tribes in Paraguay. I’m also looking for several Christian programs, not just building a classroom—that’s only a part of the project—because infrastructure does not change the person. So we are looking for teams rather than bricks. According to the latest census, there are 108,000 indigenous people in Paraguay. So far, the ministry of education has 310 rural schools for the indigenous people, but they are very small and have few resources. Only 50 percent of all indigenous children attend primary school, and only one percent go on to college. Dionisio is part of that one percent. And thanks to the Christian education he received through Pastor Yang’s ministry, he is now an agent of change in his community. After you convert, or are born again and become a Christian, you change so much. We got to know God, we studied the Bible. My family, my community, after knowing God, we completely changed. This ministry has also the permanent support of dozens of young volunteers who come from different parts of the world. When you come to Paraguay and begin working with children, young people, and you do all this social work that you never imagined you would do in your life, you can really feel that blessing and that sense that God is at work. The "Embrace the Future" project will not only build schools and provide education to children. It will also work hand in hand with another project of Pastor Diego Yang, which is already underway: a training and evangelism school for the indigenous chiefs across the country. There, they learn agriculture, beekeeping, they receive work tools, but they also learn the Word of God in their own language, Guarani. In Asunción, Paraguay, Carolina Martinez, CBN News. When Christian World News returns – Touching the untouchables. How this writer made a missions trip to India and got a "novel" idea. Randy Singer is a practicing trial lawyer who also pastors a church on the weekends. But in his spare time he writes legal thrillers. His latest novel is called "False Witness." The plot includes some of his experiences from a recent missions trip to India. He spoke with George Thomas about what he saw there. I first went to India a couple of years ago and I was just blown away by my experience there, George. I felt like I stepped back into the book of Acts because there are miracles happening, there are massive numbers of conversions, people coming to Christ. But there are incredible needs as well and persecution there. And so just having been touched by that experience I thought I need to kind of weave that into one of my stories because I think a lot of western Christians, a lot of folks in America, don’t know some of the incredible challenges the church is facing there. There’s one particular group of people that perhaps our viewers are not familiar with. They’re called "the untouchables." In that sense they are the lowest of the lowest in the Indian culture. They’re also called Dalits. Your visit to India had an impact on your life as it relates to this particular group of people. Tell us about that. Right. Well, as a lawyer, I’m looking for places where the gospel and human rights converge. And the Dalits in India—as you said they used to be called the untouchables—there are more than 165 million of them. Most of them live in poverty. Only two or three percent of Dalit women know how to read and write. And as I was talking to the leaders over there, for years the Dalits have been told you’re not even worth what an animal’s worth. You know, a dog can go into a temple but not a Dalit. And even though in India the laws have changed so that they now have equality, the leader told me it takes two generations to get out of oppression or slavery. The first generation changes the laws but the second generation changes the mindset. And when you go to these schools for Dalits, these English-speaking schools sponsored by folks like the Dalit Freedom Network, and you see these little children, their big smiles and their bright eyes, you know, and you think what can I do to help them have opportunity in life, to realize that there’s freedom in Christ but other people care about them and they are worthy of Christ dying for them. As you know, there is this thing called the caste system in India that really has held millions of Indians in bondage as a result of this system. Right. There are numerous organizations out there helping the Dalits but there’s one in particular called the Dalit Freedom Network, one of the grassroots, really a vital part of the Indian society when it comes to reaching out and ministering to the Dalit community. Tell us about the DFN. Yeah, I love supporting the Dalit Freedom Network. In fact all the proceeds from "False Witness," my latest legal thriller, are going to the Dalit Freedom Network. I tell my readers at the end of the book: I’ve never asked you as readers to do anything, but I’m asking now. Would you go to the Dalit Freedom Network and for $28.00 a month you can support a child in their school needs and their health needs because money goes an incredibly long way in India. But not only that, the Dalit Freedom Network works with this issue of human trafficking which is huge in India. As you probably know, it’s the number one source and destination nation. There are millions of young Indian girls that get caught up in this. There are more than 12 million children who are in child bonded labor. The Indian government has even done a study that shows that most of the girls in human trafficking are between the ages of 11 and 14. There’s a concept in the—you mentioned the Hindu religion—in some areas like Karnataka has 100,000 Devadasis which are basically you quote unquote marry the temple. But this family in the community says our oldest daughter we’re going to dedicate to the temple and they become temple prostitutes. And then when they’re in their thirties the priests, you know, put them out on the street. And so there’s all this human trafficking issues and the Dalit Freedom Network is working with those as well. As you point out, and rightly so, the travesties that these folks endure in the incredible stories that we have seen is the revival of how God is touching the lives of the Dalit people and especially on the concept of freedom and that they have freedom in this Man from Galilee, Christ Jesus. And that has changed people’s lives. Yeah, and when you go to India you just see mass baptisms and people coming to Christ. But you also see the flip side of that which is persecution, sometimes by the government under anti-conversion laws but many times by radical groups, radical Hindu groups especially. When I taught pastors over there and help train pastors I would ask how many of you have been persecuted for the faith and most of them would raise their hands and they’d all have these incredible stories of how God had worked through persecution to spread the gospel. So it literally is like a time machine, not that you step back into a primitive culture, because as you know India has a very advanced culture, but like you’re stepping back in time to the book of Acts when the church is alive and powerful and raw and organic and really just opening people’s eyes and you see miracles there. It’s an amazing thing. For more about the Dalit Freedom Network check out our website, cwnews.org for a link. We’ll be right back. Well, have you ever wanted to step back three thousand years and into the pages of the Bible? Well, now visitors at a new archaeological site in Jerusalem can do just that. Chris Mitchell explains from Israel. For the first time in modern history, this unique ancient site has been opened to the public. Beginning today, people will be able to actually walk through First Temple period remains, touch the stones, enjoy and study about yet another period of the archeology of the city of Jerusalem. Three thousand years ago, stone masons built these walls to protect the city of Jerusalem. Archeological evidence indicates that the one who commissioned and oversaw this construction was King Solomon. The reality was that a very highly skilled fortification and sophisticated fortification was built by King Solomon. And this is only part of it and it’s very impressive. And you saw these walls, huge stone walls, and it continues. Archeologist Eilat Mazar uncovered the site called the Ofel (phonetic) just below Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, restored it, and told her story in the book "Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem." Mazar believes the Bible refers to this area in the first book of Kings. It says: "...until he (King Solomon) had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about." (I Kings 3:1) Lots of it really can be seen and can be touched and we find lots of stuff that really go directly into the biblical sources. Other tangible examples include this floor that Mazar believes was part of a royal building destroyed in 586 B.C. when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. The excavation also exposed the structure called the Gate House that would have looked like this three thousand years ago. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat sees the site as not only a great piece of history but as another way to share the magic of the Old City. One of the best investments in the future is exposing our past. It enables people to come and see that it’s real, come and visit and go back home as ambassadors of peace. It shows that the Bible is real. It shows that two and three thousand years ago Jerusalem was the center of the world. Chris Mitchell, CBN News, Jerusalem. Chris, you get all the good assignments. There’s so much amazing history in Israel. Well, that’s our report for this week. From all of us here at Christian World News, good-bye and God bless you.

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