Stefan J. Bos
BAM, IRAN (ANS) -- Praying Iranian Christians and believers from around the world continued humanitarian efforts in Bam Saturday, January 3, as relief workers reported "miracle rescues" more than eighth days after an earth quake reduced this city to ruins.
Against all odds Iranian relief workers pulled a 97-year old woman from beneath the rubble of a building which collapsed in the world's most devastating earthquake in decades. "God kept me alive," Shahrbanou Mazandarani said after sniffer dogs located her Saturday afternoon.
At least 30,000 bodies of people killed by the December 26 quake have been recovered in Bam, a historic Silk Road city about 630 miles (1,000 kilometers) southeast of Tehran, that once had 103,000 inhabitants.
Government officials have warned the total death toll may be as high as 50,000. "It's a miracle," said Red Crescent worker Abdollah Moundehali after the estimated three-hour rescue operation to save the elderly woman.
A Red Crescent spokeswoman said she "doesn't have a single scratch on her face." She reportedly managed to survive trapped under furniture, which had provided enough space for her to breathe.
The unlikely rescue came as officials had turned their attention from rescue operations to recovery work.
At least six people, including an 80-year-old woman and a six- year-old girl, were pulled from the ruins of Bam in recent days, defying experts' opinion that it was impossible to survive without food or water for so long, reports said.
In addition a young Iranian couple tied the knot amid the ruins of the earthquake-hit city on New Years Day, a moment of joy in a place of mourning, Reuters news agency reported.
RED CRESCENT WEDDING
The newlyweds abandoned their plans for an elaborate wedding in favor of a ceremony in a Red Crescent tent. They pledged to donate the wedding jewelry they received as presents to raise money for victims, Reuters said.
Amid signs of hope, American Southern Baptists and other mission organizations were heading for Iran to meet in their words "the physical and spiritual needs" of survivors in cooperation with Iranian Christians, who have often been persecuted by the regime, according to human rights groups.
"There are some (Iranian) Christians that we're working with," said World Help representative Noelle Yeatts in an interview with Mission Network News (MNN), a Christian mission news broadcaster.
"The major need now is just for emergency items water, food, clothing, medicine, (and) they are there now distributing those items," explained Yeatts. "I think this is going to open opportunities that (Iranian Christians) never would have had. Since they're able to distribute these items, they're also going to have the opportunity to share the Gospel."
However Food for the Hungry President Ben Homan said active churches are small. "In emergency situations lives are at stake and the church is not a major force in Iran," he told MNN.
"But, people are made in the image of God and they have value and we communicate powerfully when we go into places where the church isn't," Homan said.
"We say we love you and greet you with supplies, with warm blankets, housing, with medicines and we do so in the name of Christ."
Homan stressed he has been praying that supplies and people can get in quickly so they can begin helping physically, which he said could open doors to share the Gospel. "This is such an opportunity to extend an olive branch of peace and to provide a setting for dialogue and to care for people with the love of Christ."
He added that medical teams are needed desperately in Bam, where tens of thousands of people were also injured.
World Vision, another Christian aid organization, said its New Zealand branch will commit nearly 30,000 USD towards earthquake relief operations in Iran after residents "overwhelmingly" responded to its public appeal.
LARGE SCALE RELIEF
World Vision New Zealand executive director Helen Green said they hoped to quickly match the government funds.
"They're getting the funding together to mount a large-scale relief effort as well as gathering supplies from their warehouse in Italy. Agency teams are in Tehran clarifying with local authorities the most immediate needs. This week, the first airlift of relief supplies goes in," MNN reported.
The first plane was to carry blankets, plastic sheeting and water containers, while the organization was also preparing to airlift food, water purification units, electricity generators and medicines.
World Vision explained the aid comes "with the hope of being an example of the love of Christ during this time," MNN said. The organization was apparently in a strong position to render assistance in Iran, having formed close ties with local aid agencies during the Afghanistan crisis when many refugees fled to Iran.
The United States has temporarily lifted restrictions on humanitarian assistance to Iran, although the Iranian authorities have warned their perceived hostile policy toward Washington can only change after a dialogue.
United States President George W. Bush named Iran as part of the 'Axis of Evil', a group of countries he considers dangerous for their alleged support for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction programs.