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Christian ministries are walking through a door thrown open by the deadly December 26 earthquake. They are working on improving relationships with Iranians, and taking advantage of opportunities to demonstrate the Christian faith to them.

The December 26 temblor in Bam, 630 miles southeast of the Iranian capital Tehran, killed an estimated 34,000 people and injured 30,000 others. The Iranian government waived visa restrictions, allowing aid from Christian agencies and elsewhere.

John Schenk, communications manager for World Vision, says working side by side with Iranians in the relief effort will ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.

"Ideologies and politics have not been part of the discussions," Schenk said. "It's been about the shock they've suffered and what motivates us to help."

Clive Calver, president of World Relief, said the opening is unprecedented. "The church has something to offer that is more valuable than food or blankets," Calver said from Bam. "We can pray in the name of Jesus."

Still, Ken Isaacs, director of projects for Samaritan's Purse, said opportunities for evangelism must wait. "The heart of our ministry is sharing the mandates of Christ," Isaacs said. "But this is an Islamic society. We're not preaching."

Evangelical Protestants in Iran number around 30,000, a majority of them Muslim converts. Muslims who convert can face intimidation, jailing, and even death. Iranian Christians International in Colorado Springs reported that there are around 200,000 ethnic Armenian or Assyrian Christians. They include communities of Presbyterians, Anglicans, Orthodox, Catholics, and Pentecostals.

Calver said Iranian evangelicals across the country have been at the forefront of the relief effort, because there ...

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March 2004

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