Christian World News: August 19, 2011

On this week's Christian World News, How Syria's unrest affects Christians, a New Zealand church helps earthquake victims, missionaries heal the hearts of orphans, and more.


Today on Christian World News – The U.S. and several allies call on the Syrian president to resign. But how will this affect the Christian community? Plus – Christchurch, New Zealand still recovering from a massive earthquake. See how Christians there answer the call to provide some of the most basic needs. And – Healing the hearts of orphans. How one missionary couple in Mexico is providing a loving family to those who need it most. And welcome everyone to this week’s edition of Christian World News. I’m George Thomas. The President of the United States is calling on Syria’s leader to step down. In a written statement, President Obama said Bashar Assad’s bloody crackdown on civilian protestors makes him unfit to lead and that he must go. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up on the president’s statements: The people of Syria deserve a government that respects their dignity, protects their rights, and lives up to their aspirations. Assad is standing in their way. An estimated 2,000 Syrians have been killed by government forces since a peaceful uprising began nearly five months ago. The U.N. says the crackdown may rise to the level of crimes against humanity. The United States also slapped sanctions on the Syrian regime, freezing all government assets and targeting its lucrative energy sector. The European Union joined the call for Assad to resign. Syria’s political chaos, as you can imagine, has the country’s tiny Christian community also on edge. Christians, mind you, make up about ten percent of the population and have historically enjoyed a level of religious freedom. Here’s a look at their role in Syrian society. Friday night in the Old City of Damascus. It was a short distance from here that the Apostle Paul had his dramatic encounter with God and received his calling to spread the Gospel. Today Syrian Christians are continuing to follow in Paul’s footsteps. This image of Christians sharing their faith in a Muslim-dominated country may come as a surprise to some. But the fact is that Christianity has had its roots in Syria since early in the first century. Following his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul established the first organized Christian church at Antioch in ancient Syria. Meanwhile, John the Baptist’s head is said to be located here at the Umayyad mosque, which used to be a church at one time. And up the road from the Umayyad mosque you’ll find the Chapel of Ananias. It is here down in the cellar where locals say the Lord used Ananias to cure Paul’s blindness. (Voice of Interpreter). This is the place where the Apostle Paul received his calling to share the Gospel across the Roman world. Today Christians have the freedom to worship openly here and we are proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ everywhere in Syria. Christians make up ten percent of the Syrian population; the majority are Muslims. Most of the Christians live in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, and Latakia. The Orthodox and Catholic churches have the strongest following here. There are also have a dozen or so evangelical churches. Edward Awabdeh pastors one of those congregations on the west side of the capital. Less than one percent of the Christians are the evangelicals in Syria. So we are a small minority. By a minority that is seeing some growth. Ibrahim Samara pastors an evangelical church in the Old City of Damascus. (Voice of Interpreter). The church today in Syria is living in its golden age. We see a hunger for God among the youth, and many families are expressing openness to the message of Christ. The church is also moving in freedom. The Syrian constitution allows for freedom of religion. Although proselytizing is discouraged, the Christians we talked to say they’ve never had trouble sharing their faith with non-believers. (Voice of Interpreter). Obviously, we have to use some wisdom and discernment in how to best share Christ. We especially have to avoid talking negatively about other religions. In the meantime one of the most effective tools of evangelism in Syria, and in fact throughout the Middle East, continues to be the showing of the Jesus Film. (Voice of Interpreter). Over the years we’ve had the chance to show the Jesus Film in a number of cities across the country. And every time we show the film, 99 percent of those in attendance are non-Christians. Today the Gospel, which spread from here to the uttermost parts of the world, is making its way back to the region. And the Syrian Christians that CBN News talked to said the changes that are taking place across the Middle East are part of God’s plan for the sake of the church here. (Voice of Interpreter). God is using these changes for the glory of His church. We believe that we are living in the End Times and that Christ’s return is very imminent. God is giving an opportunity for the people in the Middle East to turn to Him. And these are truly historic times in that region. Joining us for some perspective is CBN senior editor John Waage. He has spent several years in our Jerusalem bureau covering the events in the Middle East. What is it about Syria, John, that makes this place quite acceptable for evangelical Christians, perhaps unlike any other country in the Middle East - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq? Well, I think part of it, George, is that Assad himself is from a minority in Syria and so minorities get a little more protection. Also his father when he came to power in 1970 was a member of the secular Baath party, the same party that Saddam Hussein had founded in Iraq. And so Christians actually had a certain amount of, if not freedom, at least ability to carry out their faith within their own communities and everything under both of them. And so that I think is the primary reason. But I remember five years ago you were in Syria and you were really taken aback. I remember you being struck by what you saw in Damascus at the time. Absolutely, because, you know, in some ways when I hit the streets of Damascus you get this perspective of a very closed, Islamic country. And it is quite the opposite. You have women who are wearing European outfits. They’re not walking around with the hijab, and there is this openness. But I am concerned as I’m sure you are—our viewers watching this are concerned—the president is calling for Assad to step down, who replaces him and more importantly what does it mean for the Christian community, as you mentioned, that has thrived under the Assad regime? Your thoughts? Well, there were some problems for the Christians. I mean, Assad himself, there are reports that he shut down eight house churches among evangelicals last year and probably continues to this day. So it isn’t all roses for the Christians there, but, no, there is uncertainty in the Christian community now in Syria about where it goes from here because Syria is 90 percent Sunni. And if you look around at the so-called Arab Spring and who seems to be coming to the forefront it’s the Sunni Muslims. And just as in Iraq where it’s estimated that more than half the Iraqi Christians have left since the U.S. invaded and ousted Saddam, the same fate might await the Christians in Syria. And so it’s a really difficult time because Christians, as many other people in Syria, would like to see human rights come to the forefront. They’d like to see the end of the dictatorship, but what comes after it that’s a very important question for them. And it is one that I’m sure that you will continue to watch for our viewers. A very, very important hard time in this strategic part of the world. John Waage, as always, thank you, sir, for your insights. We have other news to report. In neighboring Iraq, as John was mentioning, a lot of challenges there. A bomb blast severely damaged a Christian church in the northern city of Kirkuk. It is the second attack against a church in the city just this month alone. Here you can see the damage done to the Syriaq Orthodox Church in aff-fromm (phonetic). The bomb blew a hole in the wall sending bricks across the church, floor and furniture. The pastor says it’s the third attack against this church in the last five years. No one, fortunately, was hurt in the attack. Right now Muslims around the world are observing their holy month. It’s called Ramadan. A ministry to persecuted Christians is asking the global church to pray for believers living in the Muslim countries during this holy time. Michele Miller of Open Doors USA told us that those prayers do make a difference. Often we do go to prayer but we don’t always feel that it really is meeting that need. But God calls us to prayer. He tells us to do that to unite the Body of Christ. And they have told me time and time again that they feel our prayers and that they know that they’re not alone during these difficult times. Difficult times, indeed. And to learn how you can take part in Open Doors’ prayer outreach, visit our website at cwnews.org. Well, coming up on Christian World News – Rebuilding Christchurch, New Zealand after a devastating earthquake. How Christians rise up to help those who are still struggling. And welcome back to Christian World News. Well, people in Christchurch, New Zealand are still rebuilding their lives six months after a deadly earthquake. Within hours after this earthquake struck, the city’s churches sprung into action. And as our news partner SHINE TV reports, churches have continued their relief work to this day. News director Allan Lee filed this firsthand report from Christchurch. Five months on, Christchurch is still broken, the scene of one of the worst natural disasters in New Zealand history. More than 180 lives lost and so far more than a billion dollars worth of damage, and that will climb significantly. From the outside it’s surreal. Images of disaster come through our TV screens. It’s hard to fathom that this is New Zealand. The people who live in Christchurch are still there, still struggling, but more than ever determined to get through. Normal is whatever you find, isn’t it. And today normal is we’ve got a huge row of containers here protecting people from potential rock fall. We’ve got some empty buildings which are being used. But we’ve got a family that’s having a birthday and they’re just carrying on having donkey rides with the very young kids. And in general terms, people quickly accept their environment because you can’t do a lot else. The people whose homes are in the red zone (??? have been told that the clay seaboard just nine months earlier to raise a family and so into a community) is to be pulled down because it’s not fit to repair or build. First house—we only bought it last year in January—so yeah it’s been a little bit of a shattered dream for us but that’s why you get doubts. Some are in authority, dealing with their own disasters and also having to help a community come to terms with incredible loss. The place that you’re passionate about and live in and work in will look completely different. Driving past homes and places from your past will simply become bare land and a memory. We were quite positive about being able to save the major portion of this, but the next one came along and it’s really devastated unfortunately. I’m not so worried myself about physical things. They don’t really affect me in that way. Whether the car survives or the building survives is more minor to me than whether a person is okay. Christchurch people have had to deal with more in just a few months than most of us will experience in a lifetime. But there is something you have to envy: how these people, these communities, have pulled together and the family who prays God that they’ve been told their home won’t be repaired or rebuilt because at least they know, unlike so many others. It’s incredible that when we face our darkest times, when it seems that nothing can go right or there’s no hope, the human spirit, the Kiwi spirit, awakens and we begin to understand what this life is about – family, community, and a person’s ability to show amazing love. Going through hardships and struggles, I believe personally, it amplifies what we feel in our heart, and so therefore if we feel love in our heart and we go through struggles we also amplify that. So for us going through hard times I think in a way has actually shown us where our true heart is and where our true faith is. It may be the simplest ideal to love your neighbor, but it’s more valuable now to people in Christchurch than ever. And if this tragedy has shown us Kiwis anything, it’s how remarkable we can be when we have to be. And to find out how you can help the victims of the Christchurch quake, you can go to our website, cwnews.org. Up next – Caring for the orphans. How one missionary couple is changing lives, one child at a time. For the past two months students in Chile have abandoned their classrooms and joined street protests to demand improvements in public education. Student demonstrators have been met with water cannon and tear gas as the government struggles to come up with solutions. But while some students protest, a few Christian youth have taken a very different approach - they’re turning to prayer to change their country. Lord, you are above all, the head of this country, and that’s why we turn to you now so that you will control this situation, so you will bring peace, harmony and love in this country. Chilean students are protesting the lack of school resources, especially in the nation’s poorer communities. Orphanages, housing, dozens, or even hundreds of children are disappearing. Instead, governments are stepping in to protect children from neglect or abuse by placing them with substitute families. But one American couple in Mexico is creating a new model. It’s a wholesome community for orphaned or abandoned children where they can grow up in a family atmosphere. Stan Jeter has their story. In Arriaga, Chiapas in southern Mexico, Bill and Tammy Woods and their missionary staff offer love and guidance to dozens of orphan children. They started out decades ago working on youth ranches and a Romanian orphanage and saw that growth was limiting personal attention. We started out with eight kids and then before long there were twenty, within a year we had forty. We found that as it grew then we lost the family atmosphere. The first twenty kids were very healthy emotionally, but then what happened with adding so many more children to the mix that you couldn’t meet all the emotional needs. Bill and Tammy didn’t have children of their own but they’re convinced that every orphan needs a loving family. When you put a bunch of children into a large building you can maintain them, you can take care of their basic needs of clothing and schooling and food, but in terms of being able to get those hugs and the time one-on-one they lose it. And when a child begins to lose that then something happens in their soul, something happens in their personality. We’ve seen children come out of orphanage who reject their adoptive parents because they don’t know how to connect. The Beacon of Hope is an orphanage set up like a home, according to founders Bill and Tammy. Now that we’re in Mexico we really felt that we wanted to do something that was more family-oriented and have smaller amounts of children living with us. This concept of Christian family has resulted in the emotional and physical restoration of dozens of children – as in the case of Carmita, a brutally abused, artistic girl who over the years has been restored and turned into a happy young lady. Many of these kids will never be adopted because their parents have parental rights but they can’t keep the children. So we keep them in long-term care. And so we function as a family. We tell the children yes, to the world this is an orphanage but to us this is family. When we go on vacation we take all twenty-plus kids with us. This is our family. Three years ago they began a new project called the Potter’s Ranch. The Potter’s Ranch is 106 acres where we can take care of more than 200 children. We have the building for production of rabbits, cattle, we have fruit trees, we’re also putting in greenhouses, all for the purpose of sustaining the work with what’s produced here. The ranch will also have tilapia tanks, a concrete block factory, and community homes. …to produce almost a village idea where you would put them in small homes with a substitute mother or a couple so that they can get that. We’re designing it for twenty homes to begin with. There will be a school in the area, everything that we’d find in a little village so that they feel like this is normal. The ranch is designed to be self-sustaining and to host visiting work teams. The goal is to make it self-sufficient so that we’re not always looking for others to give. And what’s also helped here, I think, is the kids can work there, they can learn to work with their hands and be outside and work with the animals. And then in that way when they leave they can have a life. So for us the goal this year is to finish our first house, which is called the bunk house, and that house receives short-term teams that come in and help us build. Bill, Tammy and their team hope that with God’s help they can establish loving families that will serve hundreds of Mexican orphans now and for generations to come. And we just go little by little, watching it happen. Stan Jeter, CBN News. – Commercial Break – And finally on our broadcast this week – A Dutch man is building a replica of Noah’s ark. And it matches the dimensions of the vessel found in the Bible. My colleague Chris Mitchell went to Holland to see it for himself. Drive about an hour south of Amsterdam and you can see the ark. The big idea started with a dream in 1992. The night of my dream the ??? part of Holland was flooded. So the next day when I woke up I said to my wife, “I’m going to build the ark of Noah.” Yeah, that was the first beginning. Despite objections from his wife and others, Johann Huibers first built this replica, one-tenth the size of Noah’s original ark. Six hundred thousand visitors came to see that one, but Huibers had a bigger dream. Huibers built the ark the same dimensions as Noah did: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. As you can see, it’s huge. Some believe the ark was the largest wooden structure ever to roam the seas. That makes it the length of one and a half football fields and the size of a five-story building. But how do you build an ark? I didn’t make plans, you know, I had no drawings, I had nothing. I had the will to build a boat and I asked God every day, give me the ideas how to build, how to do it. And God gave me day by day, so it was fairly easy. The ark also carries replicas of the animals that would have been on the ark. But is the story about Noah real? Huibers says there are more than 200 stories of a flood in ancient history. It’s the same story. There was somebody who took all the animals inside a boat and he survived. But why did this modern-day Noah want to build the ark in the first place? To tell the people about God - who is God and that people start to read the Bible again. When you open the Bible, God will be there, you know, and He will give you all the answers. Huibers believes the ark is a sign of the days we’re living in, just like in the days of Noah. They’re terrible, like the same situation at the time of Noah. Nobody cares about God. Nobody cares about each other. They kill each other for nothing. Unbelievable. Just like Noah, people criticized Huibers. It was a very hard time. Everybody’s asking why and it’s not necessary and you don’t have permission to build the ark of Noah. But Huibers and his team persevered. They expect to finish the ark by the end of the year and hope to take it to the 2012 London Olympics. Chris Mitchell, CBN News, Dordrecht, Holland. Thank you, Chris. Well, that’s it for this week’s edition of Christian World News. I hope you’ve enjoyed our broadcast. If you’ve got any suggestions, story ideas, please email those to cwnews.org. Until next week, from all of us here at Christian World News, good-bye and God bless you.


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