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Millions of former Muslims will celebrate Easter this year. Meet one, Hormoz Shariat, the “Billy Graham of Iran.”

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2014 at 3:00 pm
Hormoz Shariat, the "Billy Graham of Iran," and I discuss the Gospel on live satellite TV broadcast into the Persian speaking world.

Hormoz Shariat, the “Billy Graham of Iran,” and I discuss the Gospel — the good news of how Muslims, Jews, and all people can be forgiven and go to heaven — on live satellite TV broadcast into Iran.

(Washington, D.C.) — In 1979, there were fewer than 500 Muslim converts to Christianity in all of Iran. Today, there are over one million Iranian who love Jesus Christ, have become His followers, and are celebrating Easter.

In fact, this Easter millions of former Muslims throughout the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia are celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whereas they once saw Jesus as merely a prophet, now they are convinced that He is God, and they have renounced Islam and chosen to follow Him no matter what it costs them.

In my 2009 non-fiction book, Inside The Revolution, I wrote several chapters about this extraordinary trend of Muslims leaving Islam and becoming Christ-followers. In the book, I described my travels from Morocco to Afghanistan, interviewing “MBBs,” Muslim Background Believers in Jesus.

One of the leaders of this movement that I profiled in the book is Dr. Hormoz Shariat. He was a Shia Muslim in Iran in 1979 shouting, “Death to America!” on the streets of Tehran with his Muslim wife. But within a few years, they were actually living in the U.S. and had both become Christians after dramatic conversion experiences. They started sharing the Gospel with friends and leading them to Christ. In time, they started planting churches of Iranian believers, and eventually founded a satellite TV ministry to broadcast the Gospel and discipleship training into Iran and the Persian speaking world.

In the book, I dubbed Hormoz “the Billy Graham of Iran,” because God has raised him up to preach the Gospel to millions in their native language of Farsi. Now, a Christian magazine has just profiled Hormoz. I was interviewed for the article and was honored to discuss my friendship and respect for him.

I commend the article to your attention and encourage you not only to read it in full, but to share it with others.

Please be praying for Hormoz and his family and team, as well as for all MBBs this Easter season. They face intense spiritual opposition, and persecution. But they have see the great hope and freedom and forgiveness and peace that comes from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and most are eager to share the good news of God’s amazing grace and love with the Muslim world, regardless of the challenges and dangers they face.

THE BILLY GRAHAM OF IRAN

By Troy Anderson, Charisma Magazine, April 2014

Not long after the Iran hostage crisis, the authorities arrested Hormoz Shariat’s 16-year-old brother, Hamraz, on a minor political charge. At the time, Hormoz was a new believer in America and was confident his brother, a political activist who had a small role with the Mujahedeen, would be released. But in 1984, after two years in jail, Shariat’s brother was executed by a firing squad.

Shocked by the news of his brother’s death, Shariat broke down crying, asking God why He let it happen. He felt anger toward God and the people who killed his brother. A few days later, Shariat told God he wanted revenge—but then he recalled the Bible’s words that say, “Vengeance is Mine” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). Shariat told God he hated those who had killed his brother—but then he remembered Jesus said anyone who is angry with their brother has already murdered them in their heart (Matt. 5:21-22).

He says he felt the Lord saying to him in prayer, “You know who your enemy is? These people—the clergy and the leaders of Iran—are not your enemy. They are lost children. You have only one enemy. Satan has been working to bring about this injustice. If you want to hurt Satan, evangelize. It hurts him really bad when you bring people to Christ.”

As Shariat tells it, that’s when he committed himself to sharing the gospel the rest of his life.

“I had a vision that by the end of my life I could bring 1 million Muslims to know Him,” he says. “I also learned that God’s love is the greatest power we have to stop Islam and help Muslim captives be free.”

Visions of Jesus

In the three decades since Shariat set his resolve, this minister—dubbed “the Billy Graham of Iran” by New York Times best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg—has not only watched that goal come to fruition, but has also been given a front-row seat to one of the most astonishing supernatural phenomenon in modern times: thousands of people in Iran and throughout the Middle East reporting visitations of Jesus in dreams and visions.

“It’s amazing,” says Shariat, who founded the satellite broadcasting ministry Iran Alive Ministries in 2001. “God is graciously appearing to people in visions, dreams and through miracles. Sometimes they have dreams or visions of Jesus, run across our satellite television broadcast, hear the gospel, and then they believe. They may have, as children, had dreams or saw visions of Jesus. The vision or dream prepares them for the gospel. Other times they watch our program, ask if this is true or not, and then they have a dream or vision that confirms what they heard.”

Shariat believes the message is clear—that God is telling Christians in the West, “You look at them as terrorists who have no hope of salvation. Are you looking at them that way? I’m not. Look at Me. I’m appearing to them. I’m doing it Myself. Would you join Me to reach out to the Muslims?”

Rosenberg wrote about this phenomenon of dreams and visions in his book Inside the Revolution. “It’s an exciting development,” he says, “and it’s consistent with the Bible prophecies found in Joel 2, in which the Lord says in the last days He will pour our His Holy Spirit and people will see dreams and visions.”

Explosion of Faith

Since the hostage crisis ended in 1981, Rosenberg says the number of Christians in Iran has increased exponentially, from 500 to a conservative estimate of 1 million. Shariat, however,  says the number may be far larger, noting that Iran—the world’s only theocracy, with 76 million residents—has the fastest-growing evangelical Christian population on the planet, according to the latest edition of Operation World’s manual. In fact, more Persians have come to Christ in the 35 years since the Islamic Revolution than in the prior 1,400 years combined—and most of these conversions have occurred in the past decade, as an estimated 62 million Iranians have gained access to the gospel message through satellite TV broadcasts….

[To read the rest of this fascinating article, please click here]

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>> Would you like to read a short explanation of the Gospel, and how you can have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ? Please click here and read “The Four Spiritual Laws.”

>> An historic Christian awakening is under way in Iran. I discuss the inside story in this 20 minute interview with Dr. Hormoz Shariat.

>> Watch Hormoz Shariat share his story at an Epicenter Conference (YouTube)

>> Hormoz Shariat interviews Joel Rosenberg on satellite TV into Iran (YouTube)

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Leaflets ordering Jews to register in east Ukraine city or be deported creating fear. Pro-Russian separatists say order isn’t real. But someone is trying to scare Ukrainian Jews. The question is: Who? Statement by Natan Sharansky

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2014 at 4:25 pm

ukraine-mapUPDATED: Here is a statement issued by Natan Sharanksy, head of the Jewish Agency — “an act of provocation.” 

(Washington, D.C.) — There is a deeply disturbing article in the USA Today that I encourage you to read and share with others. It reports that leaflets are being spread throughout the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk saying that government officials controlled by pro-Russian forces are ordering Jews to register with local authorities and pay a fee, or they could be deported and their assets could be confiscated.

Secretary of State John Kerry today called such actions “intolerable” and “grotesque.” But pro-Russian separatists flatly deny the allegations that they have been distributing leaflets requiring Jews to register. 

The leaflets exist. They’ve been spread all over the city of Donetsk. They’re even printed on official government stationary and they bear the signature of the mayor. But the mayor says he didn’t write it. So who did? Are they a hoax, or official policy?

One thing is clear: someone is targeting the Jewish people of Ukraine, trying to instill fear in them, and trying to get them to leave the country.

The threat left many of the 15,000 Jews of Donetsk ‘shocked and hysterical,’ the chief rabbi of the city told The Daily Beast in an interview on Thursday,” reports the Daily Beast. “He pointed out where one of the leaflets had been left on a tree outside his synagogue on Oktiabskaya Street. In all of his 20-year service in Donetsk, Rabbi Pinhas Vyshedski said, he could never imagine that anything as ‘cynical’ and ‘anti-human’ could ever happen to his community.”

Here’s the latest:

That said, given the long history of virulent anti-Semitism in the region, there is reason to be concerned for the safety of the roughly 200,000 Jewish people in Ukraine.

Consider recent headlines:

As I write about in The Auschwitz Escape, Adolf Hitler made similar legal moves against the Jewish people in the early 1930s, separating them out from the rest of the population. We know where it led — the Final Solution and the gas chambers a few years later. We cannot yet say where the leaders of Donetsk are going with this, but clearly such moves bode ill.

Please pray for the Jewish people in Crimea and throughout Ukraine, for safety and protection and for the Lord to truly bless them amidst this crisis and beyond.

Please also pray for Israeli leaders and other Jewish leaders as they determine how to respond to these developments, should they prove to be true. Is it possible that soon Israel will have to begin airlifting Jews out of Ukraine? If that happens, the Christian community must stand with the Jewish people and help in every way.

Here’s one of the key news reports that set off the international furor:

Jews ordered to register in east Ukraine

By Oren Dorrell, USA Today, April 17, 2014

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

Donetsk is the site of an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held on joining Russia.

The leaflets bore the name of Denis Pushilin, who identified himself as chairman of “Donetsk’s temporary government,” and were distributed near the Donetsk synagogue and other areas, according to the report.

Pushilin acknowledged the flyers were distributed by his organization but he disavowed their content, according to the web site Jews of Kiev, Ynet reported.

Emanuel Shechter, in Israel, told Ynet his friends in Donetsk sent him a copy of the leaflet through social media.

“They told me that masked men were waiting for Jewish people after the Passover eve prayer, handed them the flyer and told them to obey its instructions,” he said.

The leaflet begins, “Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” and states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and “register.”

It says the reason is because the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta, a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk,” a name adopted by the militant leadership.

The leaflet then described which documents Jews should provide: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”

Consequences for non-compliance will result in citizenship bein g revoked “and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.” A registration fee of $50 would be required, it said.

Olga Reznikova, 32, a Jewish resident of Donetsk, told Ynet she never experienced anti-Semitism in the city until she saw this leaflet.

“We don’t know if these notifications were distributed by pro-Russian activists or someone else, but it’s serious that it exists,” she said. “The text reminds of the fascists in 1941,” she said referring to the Nazis who occupied Ukraine during World War II.

Michael Salberg, director of the international affairs at the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League, said it’s unclear if the leaflets were issued by the pro-Russian leadership or a splinter group operating within the pro-Russian camp.

But the Russian side has used the sceptre of anti-Semitism in a cynical manner since anti-government protests began in Kiev that resulted in the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych. Russia and its allies in Ukraine issued multiple stories about the the threat posed to Jews by Ukraine’s new pro-Western government in Kiev, Salberg said.

Those stories were based in part on ultra-nationalists who joined the Maidan protests, and the inclusion of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party in Ukraine’s new interim government. But the threat turned out to be false, he said.

Svoboda’s leadership needs to be monitored, but so far it has refrained from anti-Semitic statements since joining the government, he said. And the prevalence of anti-Semitic acts has not changed since before the Maidan protests, according to the ADL and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, which monitors human rights in Ukraine.

Distributing such leaflets is a recruitment tool to appeal to the xenophobic fears of the majority, to enlist them to your cause and focus on a common enemy, the Jews,” Salberg said.

And by targeting Donetsk’s Jews, they also send a message to all the region’s residents, Salberg said.

“The message is a message to all the people that is we’re going to exert our power over you,” he said. “Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line.”

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As Easter approaches, Israel’s UN ambassador warns of “the Middle East war on Christians,” rising persecution in Islamic countries. Notes that Israel’s Christian population is growing.

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm

crossAs Jews celebrate Passover and Christians celebrate Easter this week, Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, has written an excellent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on the intense persecution followers of Jesus Christ are facing in Islamic countries.

He notes that there is an “exodus” of Christians leaving the Middle East today, just as Jews had to flee many Arab countries in the 20th century. That said, he also points out that Israel “is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.”

I commend the article to your attention, and encourage you to share it with others.

THE MIDDLE EAST WAR ON CHRISTIANS

Muslim-majority nations are doing to followers of Jesus what they did to the Jews.

By Amb. Ron Prosor, Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2014

This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible’s Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population. The persecution is especially virulent today.

The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East’s population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.

In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers. This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad’s southern Dora neighborhood.

Christians are losing their lives, liberties, businesses and their houses of worship across the Middle East. It is little wonder that native Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries—yet in many cases they find themselves equally unwelcome. Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria’s Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today.

In January, a report by the nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, and the 10th was North Korea. These tyrannical regimes uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws under the guise of protecting religious expression. In truth, these measures amount to systematic repression of non-Islamic groups.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, two men were prosecuted for the “crime” of converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the Islamic kingdom. According to the Saudi Gazette, one of the men, a Lebanese, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes, and the other man, a Saudi, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Those are relatively mild sentences in Saudi Arabia, where conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

The “justice system” in other Islamic nations is not particularly just for Arab citizens, but it is uniquely oppressive for Christians. Radical Islamists in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa are using an ancient law called the “dhimmi pact” to extort local Christians. The community is faced with a grim choice: pay a tax and submit to a list of religious restrictions or “face the sword.”

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressions of political dissent are regarded as acts of blasphemy. Last summer, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of “crimes against state security” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”

The scene unfolding in the Middle East is ominously familiar. At the end of World War II, almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. The creation of Israel in 1948 precipitated an invasion of five Arab armies. When they were unable to annihilate the newborn state militarily, Arab leaders launched a campaign of terror and expulsion that decimated their ancient Jewish communities. They succeeded in purging 800,000 Jews from their lands.

Today, Israel, which I represent at the United Nations, is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.

From courtrooms to classrooms and from the chambers of Parliament to chambers of commerce, Israeli Christians are leaders in every field and discipline. Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has served as a Supreme Court justice since 2003 and Makram Khoury is one of the best-known actors in Israel and the youngest artist to win the Israel Prize, our highest civic honor.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest living in Israel, recently told me: “Human rights are not something to be taken for granted. Christians in much of the Middle East have been slaughtered and persecuted for their faith, but here in Israel they are protected.”

Nations that trample on the rights of their people sow the seeds of instability and violence. The uprisings that have erupted across the Middle East are evidence that the region’s Holy Grail has become the pursuit of freedom, democracy and equality. Let us hope that this quest bears fruit before it is too late for the region’s remaining Christians.

Mr. Prosor is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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>> Report on my meeting with Jordan’s Ambassador to the U.S.

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