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Communities Celebrate Christmas On Devastated Gulf Coast; Many People Doing Last-Minute Holiday Shopping; Military Man Gets Warm Homecoming; Controversy Over Wiretaps Continues; One Year After Tsunami, Recovery Continuing; "Left Behind" Series Wildly Popular

Aired December 24, 2005 - 07:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Faith, hope and the generosity of others makes Christmas a little bit brighter along the hurricane hit Gulf Coast. A small army of volunteers leave their own homes for the holidays to bring Season's Greetings to Pearlington, Mississippi.
And good morning, everyone from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

It is 6:00 a.m. in Pearlington, 2:00 p.m. in Bethlehem.


I'm Tony Harris.

Betty Nguyen has the weekend off. Betty has the rest of the year off.

We'll take you to Pearlington in a moment.

But first, a check of what's happening right now in the news.

More government monitoring without warrants. CNN has confirmed through several government officials that hundreds of predominantly Muslim areas of Washington and five other cities have been tested for nuclear materials. The FBI says it does not target any specific group while trying to prevent possible terrorism. Muslim advocacy groups say the policy is another example of a two-tiered system of justice.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld continues his Christmas goodwill tour with the troops in Iraq this morning. He had breakfast with troops in Camp Victory.

CNN's Aneesh Raman has the latest in a live report coming up in just a few minutes.

In Indonesia, even Santa Claus is security conscious on Christmas Eve. Authorities in Jakarta are doing their best to prevent possible terrorism by sweeping churches, shopping centers and other locations for possible explosives. Fears of Islamic extremists carrying out a Christmas terror attack, as they did five years ago, prompted the security upgraded.

And in Southeast Asia, the memorials have already begun. One year ago Monday possibly the worst natural disaster ever hit the Asian subcontinent. This is the first in many ceremonies honoring the dead from last year's killer tsunami. At least 177,000 died. More than two million were left homeless.

And coming up later in this hour, the children of the tsunami and how they're coping one year later. CNN's Alex Quade returns to Indonesia to see how their lives have been changed forever.

Also, an action adventure hero with a Christian message. We'll meet the men behind the wildly successful "Left Behind" book and game franchises in our Faces of Faith.

And was it Terrell, Lance, Kobe or Katrina? A look at which names made headlines at the top sports stories of the year when we go "Beyond The Game."

You can always count on Christmas. Despite war, storms or unemployment, many will celebrate tomorrow. That means the clock is ticking so be ready to negotiate strollers, carts and elbows, because depending on where you live, you have about 12 hours to shop. Christmas Eve day is rarely a big shopping day, but retail analysts warn this is Saturday. So last minute crowds could swarm.

For holiday travelers, here's a number from AAA. More than 63 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles to spend time with family and friends. Nearly nine million will fly.

And in Bethlehem, crowds are gathering for Christmas mass in the birthplace of Jesus. This in spite of a warning from Britain's Foreign Office that the West Bank of Israel is not a safe place to travel.

With so many people on the roads, in planes, in the air, let's check out weather across the nation right now.

Bonnie Schneider with us on Christmas Eve, upstairs in the CNN Weather Center -- Bonnie, good morning.


HARRIS: Well, if you have any doubt that the Christmas spirit prevails in the worst of times, just look at what was found in St. Bernard Parish just outside New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina destroyed this house. But Frosty and friends found a home. This FEMA trailer is a home for the holidays for one resident whose house is too heavily damaged to provide shelter.

Here's proof Santa shows up no matter what. Damaged Christmas decorations are broken but still on display.

It is not a picture perfect Christmas, but maybe it's an opportunity to bring out the best in people. That's what's happening in a little Mississippi town where Katrina blew hope and charity to places farther down the road. But now that it is Christmas, good people from across America are bringing their goodwill to Pearlington, Mississippi.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien reports for AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Deep in a Mississippi pine forest...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our kitties died in there.

O'BRIEN: ... little Lisa Autry (ph) and her neighbors still call the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina their home for the holidays.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been miserable. We are not planning anything at all for Christmas or any of the holidays.

O'BRIEN: The shrimpers have no boats and the muddy Pearl River is choked with sewage, the Christmas bear limp with dirt.

Five people sleep in this chilly one bedroom FEMA trailer. Lisa bunks on a kitchen shelf.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is where I sleep and that's where my brother sleeps.

O'BRIEN: The Christmas stockings are empty, and talk of the holidays in Pearlington, Mississippi brings a rush of tears.

LINDA MARTIN, LISA'S GRANDMOTHER: About all we can live on is a ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be careful, you guys.

O'BRIEN: But a few volunteers are determined to bring hope to this little town, people who fear Pearlington will be overshadowed by the plight of New Orleans, folks who believe relief work shouldn't just be left to big government.

UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: I'm glad to be a part of it.

O'BRIEN: Like these firefighters from Canyon, California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to Pearlington.

O'BRIEN: Or B.J. Lee, the medical student from Stanford...

B.J. LEE, STANFORD UNIVERSITY MEDICAL STUDENT: It's such a big effort and there's so much bureaucracy involved. Sometimes it's easier to just drive down than like waiting for a call.

O'BRIEN: Steve Horn came from Carbondale, Colorado.

STEVE HORN, CARBONDALE, COLORADO, VOLUNTEER: I don't like to work for organizations because generally your -- your feet are kind of stuck in the mud.

O'BRIEN: Angela Cole, a New York nurse, has launched her personal relief mission.

ANGELA COLE, PUBLIC HEALTH NURSE: I was down here when they needed food and water and ice. You can't make that kind of connection with somebody in a situation that is so dire and then just say I did my part and walk away.

O'BRIEN: Dashing through the snow, she brought home pictures to her colleagues at LifeBrands, a medical advertising agency, and they shipped back supplies.

COLE: My concern was there wouldn't be a Christmas, that it would be just another day, just another time of year, and it would be too quiet and too dark and too dismal.

O'BRIEN: She found Susan and Reggie Livebrand (ph) from Unum (ph), Georgia, who sent aid by the truckload and a 600-pound Christmas tree.

ISAIAH OLIVER, HURRICANE VICTIM: It makes me feel good because that lets me know that people care.

O'BRIEN: So they strung up the lights...


O'BRIEN: ... unloaded the presents...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A heater to keep warm in the FEMA trailer.

O'BRIEN: ... and filled their shell of a church.

JACQUELINE BRADY, HURRICANE VICTIM: I know it's Christmas, but I don't have the spirit. I just have to -- I'm working on it.

O'BRIEN: Mama Sams (ph), the 88-year-old town elder, offered a prayer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have fed us, they have clothed us, they have give us shelter, and we want to thank the good lord for them.

O'BRIEN: Thankful new friends have not forgot Pearlington.

Soledad O'Brien, CNN, reporting.


HARRIS: For those people in Pearlington, bringing Christmas to the residents there might make this their best Christmas ever. What about you? We want to know what is your fondest Christmas moment ever, whether it was helping another person, visiting friends or family or receiving one of the best gifts ever. We want to hear your story this morning.

Send it along. You know the address by now,

It is the Saturday before Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Do you have all of your gifts? Well, experts say today could be busier than expected. Let's see if that's true. Elenora Andrews, from our Atlanta affiliate WSB, looking lovely this morning, joins us...



ANDREWS: Merry Christmas.

HARRIS: Outstanding. Outstanding. Joins us from a local Wal- Mart. And where are you, Elenora? Is this Roswell, Georgia?

ANDREWS: Well, we're in Roswell. And let me tell you, Tony, there's a sign -- I wish I could show it to you -- it's a shopping days until Christmas, zero. That is it. We are down to the bottom line. And the thing is, stores close early. They're saying this Wal- Mart is expecting 15,000 people through the front door before 9:00 this morning.

So we're standing at the busiest entrance.

And Mary Jo Homer was good enough to stop for us to show us.

Good morning, Mary Jo.


ANDREWS: Now, you said you are actually shopping for your boys this morning.

HOMER: I am.

ANDREWS: Tell me why you decided to get out so early.

HOMER: Well, one of my boys had to be at work at 7:00 this morning. So they helped me with my decision. But also to beat the crowds. There's a lot to do today.

ANDREWS: Well, there's a lot to do. And since her boys are at work, we're going to show you what she got.

Now, Mary Jo, what's in your bags? What did you get for them?

HOMER: Spice racks.

ANDREWS: Show us. I mean let's take a look and see. Now, many people are trying to find these last minute deals. So you think you did pretty good?

HOMER: Actually, I did really well.

ANDREWS: Oh, that's beautiful.

HOMER: A nice big spice rack. I'm trying to teach my boys how to cook. And then I just bought every spice that they've got in the store, I think. ANDREWS: Oh my goodness.

HOMER: If they mess it up, at least they'll have lots of flavor, so.

ANDREWS: Oh. You know, never too much flavor.


ANDREWS: Just shake a little more here and there.



HOMER: And that's about it. Just spice -- and another spice rack because I have three boys in college. So they all need to know how to cook.

ANDREWS: Well, and you said you're pretty busy. You've got some tennis shoes on down there.


ANDREWS: You're taking off?

HOMER: I am. I am, running.

ANDREWS: All right. Well, thanks for stopping to talk to us and many people...

HOMER: Thank you.

Happy Holidays.

ANDREWS: ... Happy Holidays to you -- are going to be making multiple stops. So, of course, we'll be monitoring the shopping and bring you details at the top of the next hour.

HARRIS: Wait a minute...

ANDREWS: And we are live in Roswell.

HARRIS: Wait a minute, Elenora.

Are you telling me that store is expecting -- what did you say? Fifteen thousand people between now and, what, 9:00, 10:00 this morning?

ANDREWS: Well, you know, people really want to make the best out of the few hours that they have. So, Tony, here's my question, though.

Are you finished with your shopping?

HARRIS: I've got a little bit to do. I've got a little bit. So maybe I'll hit that Wal-Mart and a couple of other stores and try to get it done as best I can, before the stores close, at what time today, Elenora?

ANDREWS: Stores closing, not just at this one, but 5:00 and 6:00 nationwide. So you've got to get out there and get moving early.

HARRIS: All right. All right, let me wrap this thing up here and go.

All right, Elenora, see you at the top of the hour.

ANDREWS: All right, thanks, Tony. See you.

HARRIS: All right, take care.

In other "Stories Across America" this morning, we begin in New Mexico, where federal officials arrest four suspects for stealing as much as 400 pounds of explosives. The materials were stolen last Sunday from an unguarded depot. ATF agents say there were enough explosives taken to level a large building.

Florida authorities are still looking for the man on your right, Reynaldo Rapalo. He is the multiple rape suspect who escaped a Miami area lockup on Tuesday. This is video from a previous court hearing. Police believe he sexually assaulted as many as seven women and girls. There is a $31,000 reward for Rapalo's capture.

And in Detroit, it is a she said/she said case of a barroom brawl involving the wife of Congressman John Conyers. Monica Conyers confirms she and Rebecca Mews came to blows Tuesday night during a birthday celebration. Mrs. Conyers claims she was defending herself. Miss. Mews, who appeared on Detroit television sporting a black eye, says Conyers attacked her without provocation.

Both women filed police reports. Detroit police have yet to comment on the female fisticuffs.

And still ahead, one year after the tsunami, we'll head back to Indonesia to show how the children there are surviving.

Plus, take a look at your screen and cast your vote -- Kobe Bryant, Terrell Owens or Katrina ruining the Superdome. Which one of these would you say is the top sports business story of the year?

The answer later, when we take you "Beyond The Game."

But first, a break.


HARRIS: How about this? Waking up Christmas Eve with composer, singer Jim Brickman. Well, he gave me my own personal private concert this week. I'm willing to share. Stick around for my interview with Jim Brickman, 10:00 Eastern, right here on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Joshua Dominy (ph). I'm stationed at Tikrit, Iraq. I'd like to wish a Happy Holidays to my family and friends in southeast Texas. You all have fun and I love you all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm (INAUDIBLE) First Class Alice Dann (ph) stationed here in Bahrain with public works.

I want to send out holiday greetings to my mom in Turo (ph), Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Sergeant Felicia Dorsey (ph) from Al Asad, Iraq. I would like to say hello to my daughter Tatiana (ph) in Scott Ridge, Georgia. Dana and Jordan, I love you and miss you. Happy Holidays.


HARRIS: How good is that?

Our thoughts are always with the military men and women deployed far from home, far from family. But it's different during the holidays. The distance seems greater.

So when our Los Angeles affiliate, KTLA, had a chance to make a military family's season brighter, a no-brainer.

Here's Frank Buckley.


FRANK BUCKLEY, KTLA REPORTER (voice-over): Major Herbert Sherl (ph) is almost home.

In August, the Air Force major deployed here to Iraq, to an air base north of Baghdad. It was where he was supposed to stay until his unit came home at end of January, too late for Christmas and too late for the birth of his second daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got a little girl. Her name is Hannah (ph). She's due January 20th. A C-section is scheduled for the 18th and I was supposed to come home from Iraq after her due date. So back in Iraq, a couple of my commanders had mercy on me because we were overstaffed and I got to come home early.

BUCKLEY: He told us but he didn't tell his wife, who thought we were there to take pictures to send to the major. Their 2-year-old daughter Emily only knows that dad is in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And hasn't seen her daddy in four months, so I think she's either going to be happy to see me or not know who I am.

BUCKLEY: But just listen to moment when Herbert Sherl walks through the door. Little Emily sees him first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Daddy! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honey, what are you doing here? Oh, my god! What are you doing home? What are you doing here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm surprising you!

BUCKLEY: The homecoming, a Christmas present this family will never forget.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, too.


HARRIS: Oh, man.

Coming up tomorrow morning, a special holiday family reunion.

Through the magic of technology, we will reunite a soldier in Iraq with his family back in Hotlanta. Sergeant Lloyd Swain, seen here on the right, will join us from Baghdad. His parents and two sons will join us here at the CNN Center. You can catch their reunion tomorrow morning during our 7:00 Eastern hour.

There were so many stories this year that jumped right off the sports pages and onto page one, which one of these belongs in the top of the list in the world of sports?

Cast your ballot now.

A break and we're right back with more on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.



HARRIS (voice-over): Pro-football's Terrell Owens, basketball's Kobe Bryant, baseball's Rafael Palmeiro, NASCAR's Tony Stewart and the Louisiana Superdome -- all of them major headlines in 2005.

Which one captivated your attention?

We'll go "Beyond The Game" this morning to find out the number one sports business story of the year.


HARRIS: And joining me now for the countdown to number one is the author of "When the Game Is On the Line," CNN sports business analyst Rick Horrow from West Palm -- oh!

Outstanding, young man.


RICK HORROW, CNN SPORTS BUSINESS ANALYST: Good morning. HARRIS: Good to see you, sir.

HORROW: Hey, all I want to tell you is you have to have a lot of self-esteem and love yourself...

HARRIS: Yes, you do.

HORROW: ... significantly to do this, don't you think?

HARRIS: Yes, I do.

HORROW: All right, that's enough of that, all right?


HARRIS: All right.

HORROW: Right. Yes. And I do...

HARRIS: Yes, just brush it to the side a little bit.

HORROW: I need it. I do.

HARRIS: Handsome. Just a handsome man.

All right, here's the thing, you win...


HARRIS: ... you win your 13th, 15th, 18th Tour de France and all you get is number five on your list?

HORROW: Well, yes, but there are others, quickly. So, you know, he has a pretty darned good year. He wins his seventh Tour de France, OK? He donates half a million dollars to Katrina relief. We're, of course, talking about Lance Armstrong. He makes $17 million in endorsements, OK?


HORROW: He becomes the most likable athlete, twice as likable, according to surveys, as Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods. And, to top it off, he successfully proposes to rocker Sheryl Crow. That's a darned good year.

But number five on the list.

HARRIS: Number five on the list.

And number four, a big group here, a collective award to the NCAA athletes.

What gives?

HORROW: Yes, but -- well, here's why. It's the whole NCAA. We're in the middle of this marvelous season right now. We'll talk more about it next week.

HARRIS: Right.

HORROW: But we have the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. We have the MPC Bowl in Boise. True, we lead up to the BCS Championship in a week-and-a-half, the over hyped Southern Cal/Texas game. But now we have also the NIT Basketball Tournament, bought by the NCAA. You have half the football teams and three quarters of the basketball teams indirectly playing in post-season tournaments.


It's a $5 billion business and that whole college sports aspect is number four on the list.

HARRIS: Right.

OK, so number three, image and sports.

Explain, please.

HORROW: Image, image and more image.


HORROW: That's three issues.

Terrell Owens' $35 million mistake, opening his mouth and doing some of the stuff that got him on the bench. You've got Kyle Bush, the last year's NASCAR point leader, getting in a fight with Phoenix police outside of the track before that race. You've got the basket brawl with the Pistons and the Pacers. And you also have Dockers with the dress code. The company saying $500,000 to outfit these players.

But here's really the rub. A study just done says that 42 percent of the kids think that their coaches in youth sports yell too much.


HORROW: And 14 percent think that they cheat. That, really, that whole image issue, as it affects the kids, is the number three story of '05.

HARRIS: And the number two story, the second story of the year in sports and business, BALCO and steroids.

HORROW: Well, the second most important is the whole drugs in sports.

HARRIS: Right.

HORROW: You know, we had congressional hearings and it forced the baseball industry to solve their problems at the end of a legislative gun on Capitol Hill. A lifetime ban after three strikes with steroids, amphetamines and the like. But the key issue there is the kids now who are watching the games talk about tainted athletes, asterisks next to home run records. And a California study said 21 percent of the kids...


HORROW: ... think that they either know somebody who's taking steroids or do it themselves. And that's that big issue.

HARRIS: A little drum roll here.

And the number one sports business story of the year?

Talk us through hurricane Katrina.

HORROW: Well, of course, it has to be the number one story in business, and probably life, as well.


HORROW: You know, the Superdome probably refurbished and rebuilt, six Super Bowls, four final fours. The Sugar Bowl moved to your neck of the woods in Atlanta this year temporarily. But are the Saints coming back or are they going to San Antonio or L.A.? the Charlotte, now New Orleans, now Oklahoma City Hornets -- do they stay there? Do they go back?

Four hundred high school games, 35 facilities wiped out or affected.


HORROW: $4 billion in the sports sector alone. And obviously the untold, unprecedented, unparalleled human suffering because of Katrina.

HARRIS: Merry Christmas to you.

Good to see you, sir.

It's been a good year for you.

HORROW: Hey, Merry Christmas to you. I love working with you. I look forward to a cool Yule.

HARRIS: Yes, yes, yes. '06 should be fun for us. Thanks, Rick.


HARRIS: Let's get a quick check of weather now.

Bonnie Schneider is here -- boy, if you're out and about, if you've got to do some shopping, in vast parts of the country the weather is not bad.

(WEATHER REPORT) HARRIS: And there is much more ahead in our next half hour.

The lines are long when the books come out. We're not talking Harry Potter here. But there is some mystery in the "Left Behind" series. The story in our Faces of Faith this morning.

And coming up at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, he started writing commercial jingles as a college student. Now, he's an internationally known composer and singer and great player, as you can hear. You don't want to miss our very own concert with Jim Brickman. That's today, 10:30 a.m. Eastern, 7:30 Pacific.


HARRIS: And we are following Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as he continues his trip to Iraq. Rumsfeld right now is in the northern city of Mosul this morning, meeting with U.S. troops stationed there. And we're expecting new video soon. When we get it, we will bring it to you.

CNN has learned the government has also been monitoring dozens of Muslim related sites for suspicious radiation levels since 2002. The purpose? To detect the building of dirty bombs, which can spread deadly radiation.

Government sources tell CNN that the FBI has conducted the monitoring without warrants at mosques, businesses and homes. More than 100 are in the Washington, D.C. area, but sources say some monitoring has also happened in Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Seattle.

FBI officials say there is no specific program targeting Muslims, but they say all investigations are intelligence driven and predicted on specific information about potential criminal acts or terrorist threats and are conducted in strict conformance with federal law.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations calls the development "disturbing."

So the big question remains, is government eavesdropping legal?

The answers given one way or the other are becoming more pointed and public, with administration critics calling it a presidential power grab.

CNN's Andrea Koppel takes a closer look.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the nation still reeling just days after the 9/11 attacks, Congress authorized President Bush to use all necessary and appropriate force to go after those responsible, authority Mr. Bush claimed just this week gave him the power to sign off on secret wiretaps of American citizens.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is absolutely. As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.

KOPPEL: But in an op-ed in Friday's "Washington Post," Tom Daschle, the former Democratic leader of the Senate, challenged Mr. Bush's claim, writing: "I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. The president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions."

It appears that's exactly what the Bush administration is trying to do. Just hours after Mr. Bush left the White House Thursday to start his Christmas vacation, the Department of Justice fired off a five page letter to the leaders of congressional intelligence committees, asserting the wiretapping is "crucial to our national security."

The letter argues that the nation's security trumps privacy concerns of individuals targeted for eavesdropping by the government. Critics say the Bush White House had other tools it could have relied on. It could have requested warrants from a secret intelligence court located in the Justice Department. Or it could have turned to the Patriot Act.

LISA GRAVES, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: No president has taken such an expansive view of presidential power since President Nixon. We should not return to those dark days. Congress needs to conduct thorough, probing investigations into this matter.

KOPPEL (on camera): But it's unclear if and when that will happen. Before adjourning for the year, House Democrats called for an independent panel to investigate, while in the Senate, some Democrats are accusing Bush of violating the law. Senator Russ Feingold, for one, says the president is playing, in his words, "fast and loose with the law."

But the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, has cautioned his colleagues not to rush to judgment.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, Washington.


HARRIS: A grim anniversary across South Asia. In Thailand and elsewhere across the region, people are remember the tsunami disaster from one year ago in the first of hundreds of planned ceremonies. Survivors in Thailand launched a bird-shaped boat filled with flowers. The mourners include Western tourists who were also caught up in the disaster.

Even though it's been a year, many refugee camps are still full and thousands of residents still count on aid to survive.

While so many people around the world prepare for holiday celebrations, people in South Asia's tsunami ravaged region are still trying to find their way back home.

CNN's Alex Quade returned to the devastated area one year later. And as she reports, thousands are still just making do day by day.


ALEX QUADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I went back to Banda Aceh to try to track down some of the children that I had met right after the wave struck. I went back to a refugee camp trying to find one boy in the middle of 4,500 tsunami victims still living in tents there a year later. And this is really a needle in the haystack kind of a situation.

But, surprisingly, the people living there said they thought that he may have gone to another camp about an hour away into the mountains. So, we went there and, miraculously, we found him.

(voice-over): Thirteen-year-old Nasir (ph) lost his father and little sisters to the tsunami. Nasir told me it's been a daily struggle living at the camp. I asked him how does he get through? What's helped him through this year?

And by answering, he showed me a monkey he had found that he had turned into, basically, his best friend at the camp.

Now, while I'm interviewing Nasir, this monkey is crawling up him. And it basically goes and attacks -- goes right for his microphone and chews his windscreen right off the microphone. And then this monkey starts playfully lunging at the camera, lunging at me. It was definitely a light moment amongst these very heavy and powerful follow-up stories that we were doing on the tsunami.


HARRIS: We'll have more from Alex when she joins us live, 10:30 a.m. Eastern. She will introduce us to a 13-year-old Indonesian boy who's forced to wade through the water in search of fish to help his family survive.

But still ahead, this is one of the hottest new video games out there, but it's not what you would expect. If you've been left behind, we will fill you in, in our "Faces of Faith."





HARRIS: That's our Santa zone right there. A nice comfy chair, a beautiful Christmas tree, the Santa baby, right there.

All right, admit it, you're probably still looking for the perfect gift for that gadget fan on your list. Robin Liss is a consumer electronics expert and she knows all about the must have gifts.

Robin ...



LISS: Yes, you know, sorry. I got these airtight Shure headphones in and it's great. I can't hear a thing with them. It comes with this wonderful iPod. Quite a neat gadget gift.

HARRIS: So we'll be talking about that gadget gift and more coming up, in the next hour, correct?

LISS: Yes. We've got all kinds of great last minute gifts for those people who kind of don't know what to buy or, you know, want to go head into those crazy crowds and try to buy something one day away.

HARRIS: You are wacky.

All right, Robin, next hour on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.


KIMBERLY BEEKMAN, MANAGING EDITOR, "SKI" MAGAZINE: A new trend that we've seen a lot of this season is hard shell jackets with an interior zip out or detachable layer. And while the concept of this is not new, what is new is that the inside layer is actually a fully function, very cool jacket that stands on its own.

This jacket has something that we see more and more apparel companies incorporating into their products. It's got a RECCO avalanche reflector, which enables search and rescue teams or ski patrollers to locate you very quickly in the unfortunate event that you're caught in an avalanche.

This is not a substitute for a transceiver for back country skiers. However, for the inbound skier, it just makes a great safety net, because you never know what could happen.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Specialist Gregory Downs (ph) and I would like to send a special holiday greetings out to my wife Tyra (ph) and my two children. I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I'm Lieutenant Duncan (ph) from Forward Operating Base Taji in Iraq. I'd like to say Happy Holidays to my wife Julia, my daughter Brooke (ph), my son Alex, my parents and the rest of my family back in El Paso. Happy Holidays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Holidays. This is Sergeant First Class Dunham from Taji, Iraq. Hi, honey, boys, friends at the Bottom Way Lanes Bowl 'O Rama. Once again, Happy Holidays.



HARRIS: I just got a note from CNN's Rob Marciano checking in with the wakeup team on Christmas Eve. Good morning to you, Rob. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to you.

In case you're just joining us, here are some of the top stories we're following for you today.

We are closely following Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as he continues his tour of Iraq. Rumsfeld is in the northern city of Mosul this morning, meeting with the U.S. troops stationed there. And we are expecting new video soon. When we get it, we will bring it to you.

It is a concept that has spawned books, movies, even video games. We're not talking about Harry Potter or "King Kong." We're talking about the wildly popular "Left Behind" series. And it pulls no punches when it comes to its religious message.

I'll talk to its creators, coming up next in our "Faces of Faith."





HARRIS: Here I am, just keeping the seat warm for Santa.

"Faces of Faith" this morning.

The numbers are staggering. Sixty million books sold. The Christian fiction series, "Left Behind," has been translated into 30 different languages and new releases are in the works. There are also video games and movies.

For this week's "Faces of Faith," I talked to the two men behind this Christian fiction phenomenon.


HARRIS: Give me a sense of what the books are about, the "Left Behind" series of books. I know you've been writing them, for, what, the better part of 30 years now. And they're wildly successful. But I'm the only one, the only one, I guess, living under a rock that hasn't found one of the books.

But if you could, Dr. Lahaye, talk to us about the series.

TIM LAHAYE, CO-AUTHOR, "LEFT BEHIND": Well, the series was started by -- we studied the bible relative to the rapture of the church and I got the idea of an airline captain who was left behind because he wasn't ready. His wife was a Christian.

And the first thing that dawns on him when half of his plane is empty, that this may be the rapture.

See, the bible is very clear about the fact that one of these days, Jesus Christ is going to shout from heaven and all believers, regardless of what church they belong to, if they put their faith in him -- in his death, burial and resurrection -- and they really have a relationship to Christ, they're going to be raptured out of this world. And everybody else is going to be left behind.

And that's where we pick up the story and take it through the Book of Revelation.

HARRIS: I see.

And, Jerry, I've heard the series of books described as putting characters to the Book of Revelation.

Is that about right, oversimplification or close?

JERRY JENKINS, CO-AUTHOR, "LEFT BEHIND": That's pretty close. That's been my challenge as the novelist is to, in essence, put people in the way of the events that are prophesized in scripture. And so the fantastic things that are prophesized to happen -- 21 judgments from heaven in a seven year period -- and to put modern day characters in the way of those just has helped it to come alive for people.

HARRIS: Tim Lahaye, let me ask you, in this year since the South Asia tsunami, we've seen hurricanes Rita and Katrina devastate the Gulf Coast of America. A lot of folks have suggested these are signs of the pending end of days, signs of the apocalypse.

What is your take on that?

LAHAYE: Well, the bible gives many signs about the approaching end of the age. And we happen to be living in a time when probably there are more than there have ever been before. And these natural phenomenon cause people to look up, because they're things over which we have no control. And when all else fails, people have a tendency to look to god.

And I find that that's happening right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God will come to take his people home. No one knows the day or the airline. Without any warning, all infants, children and many people mysteriously disappear. Terror and confusion reign the world over. For those left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.


HARRIS: Is there something that people are taking from these books that is redemptive, that speaks of joy and faith and reassurance?

JENKINS: As a matter of fact, there is. I mean that's the whole point of these stories. You know, we believe Jesus is coming again and we want people to be ready. And we've heard, between Dr. Lahaye and me, we've heard personally from more than 3,000 people who tell us that they've actually become believers through reading these. And we're sure that that represents even more people because of the sheer numbers of sales.

But, yes, there is the whole story. It's about redemption and salvation. And that's really our message.

HARRIS: Jerry, let me ask you, there is a bit of a controversy brewing this year, and it seems to be a bit angrier than it has been in past years, over whether we're to say Merry Christmas, whether we're saying Happy Holidays.

Where do you fall in this debate?

JENKINS: Well, my feeling is that if somebody is Jewish and they're celebrating Hanukah, I'm happy to wish them Happy Hanukah. And if they know I'm a Christian and I'm celebrating Christmas, I expect them to wish me a Merry Christmas. Kwanzaa, whatever, you know, somebody is celebrating is fine with me.

Anything that seems to be done in a public arena, if it's a school or a government run organization, you can't have a Nativity scene, you can't mention the baby Jesus, you can't mention Christ. And, you know, they're saying they want to be inclusive, but actually they're excluding, in essence, Christ from Christmas.

LAHAYE: The ACLU has been fomenting this and attacking Christians and Nativity scene and everything, trying to make our country a secular society. And then those that are in the educrats, that are leaders of the educational system that share their belief in a secular society, they have been advancing it also.

And I think the reaction now is to the excessive secularization of the country at the exclusion of Christian -- Christmas. And it comes to focus when people realize that Christ has been almost eliminated from the public scene as far as Christmas is concerned. And let's face it, this country was funded on Christian principals.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For those left behind, the apocalypse has just begun. (END VIDEO CLIP)


HARRIS: And just in time for Christmas, the prince of praise joins us tomorrow on CNN SUNDAY MORNING.



UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Magnify the lord with me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on! Sing it to me.


HARRIS: Five time stellar award winning gospel singer Byron Cage joins us to spread a little holiday cheer. You don't want to miss this performance. That's tomorrow, 7:30 a.m. Eastern.

CNN SATURDAY MORNING continues in a moment.


HARRIS: Santa Claus is a state of mind. And our "Wows of the Week" are devoted to him.

First, Santa has the willies in Pennsylvania. Willie's Jeep, that is. Santa rides around town in an alternate sleigh, a 1946 Army Jeep, all decked out for the holidays. So keep an eye out for Santa's sleigh, with six shiny reindeer and Rudolph out front.

In South Korea, it's Santa and the furry helpers handing out goodies to one and all. Some serious monkey business going on here. And their sleigh? Well, as you can see here in just a second -- ah, there it is. Not by Rudolph, but by a pink poodle.

And lest we forget, it's Happy Hanukah in Hollywood for the best dressed bowsers in Beverly Hills. There are yarmulkes for the Jewish dogs and the antlers for the rest.

Your favorite Christmas moment, fondest Christmas memory? What do you think? If you haven't sent us an e-mail yet, do so, please,

E-mails this hour. Laurie writes: "Of all the Christmases I have had in my 52 years of life, this Christmas is one of the best. I have seen just how kind, generous, caring and selfless the American people can be. People from all over the country have left their own families to bring joy to so many families here in Biloxi, Mississippi.

That's a great sentiment, Laurie.

And this from Sandra: "My best Christmas ever will be Christmas 2005. My brother SSC Grover Cox (ph) is arriving in Mississippi from Camp Shelby in Iraq this morning."

What a wonderful reunion that is going to be.

Santa, thank you.

And thank you all for sending in your e-mails and your thoughts.

Here's the question -- what's your fondest Christmas memory? And our address,

The next hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING begins right now.


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