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Ava Thomas

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Ex traficante de drogas venezolano dice que Dios lo llamó a salvar a otros.

THIES, Senegal (BP) -- Cuando Ahmad Faraj* tenía 16 años, sus padres lo encerraron en su cuarto. Él no se sorprendió que estuviera en problema, pero si estaba sorprendido de la magnitud del problema. Sostuvo su respiración, presionó su oído en la puerta y escuchó a sus padres hablar de su castigo.

Former drug smuggler says God called him to rescue others

THIES, Senegal (BP) -- Ahmad Faraj* was 16 when he overheard his parents plotting to kill him because of his Christian faith.

"We have to kill him," he heard his mom say. "We can't have a Christian here." The minute Faraj told people in his Senegal village that he'd decided to follow Jesus Christ, he was beaten and sent home to his parents. They then locked him in his room and began to plan how to finish him off. Faraj kept his ear to the door late into the evening. When the house went silent, he slipped out the window and ran to a house where the door was always open for him --- Jorge Reina's house. Reina's story Jorge Reina, a burly Venezuelan man, moved to Senegal a year ago to take in young boys who needed a place to go -- boys like Faraj. In the sandy West African country, it's normal for villagers to turn their children over to leaders of the local religion who promise to give them care and education. More often than not, the kids end up begging on the street. But Reina is different. He has taken in as many young boys as he can, with plans to provide a home for more of them. Many of those who have come to Reina's door have roamed the streets barefoot, begging with dirty bowls. He invited them in, fed them and showed them what Christ's love looks like. "Many of them have no love at home because their parents think that the more they mistreat them, the better men they will become," Reina said. Reina knows personally what many of these boys have gone through. He himself -- once drug-addicted and desperate -- walked off the streets and into the arms of people who loved him like Christ. "At the age of 16, I started doing drugs -- all kinds of drugs," he said. "Twenty years went by, and I went through some very difficult times." He was living on the streets. Smuggling drugs. Dabbling in witchcraft. Engaging in sexual sin. "I wanted to die … I decided to hang myself," Reina recalled. But the belt he planned to hang himself with broke. "I felt my feet hit the ground and I gasped for air. I said to the Lord, 'If You exist, help me. If you really exist, help me.'"

Street boys in Senegal find refuge

THIES, Senegal (BP) -- Moise Al-Jahani* clutches his green plastic bowl with dirt-crusted hands and shakes its contents side to side. Most street children, like this small boy, end many days with not much more than a few sugar cubes, a handful of beans and a handful of rice.

Pastor calls Hispanics to ‘go now,’ reach world

THIES, Senegal (BP) -- Jesús Guillén says he should've died a dozen times over, twice at the hands of his wife.       "For 10 years, I was a very bad husband. I did everything wrong. It was a hell for her," Guillén, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Redención, a Hispanic church in Houston, Texas, says of his past. "I made her life so bad that she tried to kill herself three times and kill me twice."

Ukraine’s cry for help & hope stirs U.S. churches to pray, go

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (BP) -- When Becky Dorman sees Ukraine in the news -- the violence, the bombs, the downed aircraft -- she thinks of Marina. Dorman, a member at Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind., met the young Ukrainian woman in 2009 when Dorman's mission team traveled to Ukraine. Marina was a translator for the team. "I continue to pray for her, especially for her safety," Dorman said. "Having never been to Ukraine before, she really took my heart." A number of churches in the United States have postponed or canceled their plans to do ministry in Ukraine this year because of the unrest. But Christian workers in that region of the world say there is still much that churches "back home" in the United States can do. Tim Johnson,* an IMB representative in Ukraine, said the U.S. church has a "great role" in reaching out to Ukraine during these difficult times by creating awareness, continuing to pray and being a part of outreach efforts. "Those are great ways for the church to continue to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters," he said. "It's just hard when you know that there's church-planting efforts going on, there's desire to see new work take place, but at the same time there's that cloud of fear that hangs in the air," he said. "So we pray for that to dissipate and that we could have a chance to move forward with clear skies." Marina's home is in the Luhansk region, a section of eastern Ukraine torn by conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army. Her home couldn't have been farther away from war -- or from Dorman's radar -- a few years ago. "I remember hearing our pastor say from the pulpit that we needed to have a people group on our heart, and I remember thinking that I didn't even know what a people group was," Dorman, who serves as worship ministry administrative assistant at Graceland Baptist Church, said. Then Dorman's daughter, a junior in college, announced she was going to Ukraine to serve for a summer. Suddenly the needs in Ukraine came to life for Dorman. "I thought, 'You know what? I'll have Ukrainians in my heart," she said. She did. Since Dorman's initial trip to Ukraine in 2009 she has been twice more. The church partners with Joel*, a former worship pastor of Graceland Baptist. He is co-director of the church-planting program at Kiev Theological Seminary. He served 35 years as worship pastor at Graceland Baptist before he and his wife Mary Ellen* began work with the International Mission Board in Ukraine in 2003. Since then, he's partnered with Graceland Baptist to link them with the church planters he trains.

Iraq conflict causes ‘double crisis’ for refugees

MOSUL, Iraq (BP) -- Sudden intense fighting in Iraq has prompted a "double crisis" in the region, with Iraqi refugees compounding the already heavy burden of the Syrian refugee crisis, said Don Alan,* a Christian leader in the region.

As election looms, seminary students pray

KIEV, Ukraine (BP) -- As Sasha gets his cap and gown ready, he remains uncertain about his country's future.

Ukrainian churches face shaky future

DONETSK, Ukraine (BP) -- In Tom Long's* city in eastern Ukraine, life is "fairly calm" -- except that people are carrying baseball bats and packing semi-automatic rifles.

Egypt’s Christians hope for peace amid quiet

CAIRO, Egypt (BP) -- When Egypt's government abruptly stepped down Feb. 24, the action made only small ripples in a nation now accustomed to major political upheaval. Army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is now expected to run for president in the coming election, quietly resigned from power, and new prime minister Ibrahim Mehlib stepped in, reinstating Sisi as defense minister.

Violence rages along tribal fault lines in Central African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic (BP) -- An escalating cycle of violence between Christians and Muslims in Central African Republic is raising questions for missionaries about the future of the church in the region. Retaliatory attacks between the two religious groups are wracking the western part of the nation with out-of-control bloodshed. According to BBC News, the republic is "a nation consumed by rage." "There's a lot of stress, a lot of tension," said Ron Pontier, who has served for 30 years as a mission pilot for a Christian organization in Central African Republic (CAR) and neighboring countries.