Category Archives: Pastors

U.S. Helsinki Commission hears pleas of Andrew Brunson’s daughter


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Andrew Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari is shown in a frame from the recorded video of the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s November 15 hearing on Turkey, “Prisoners of the Purge: The Victims of Turkey’s Failing Rule of Law.”

Jacqueline Furnari, daughter of Andrew Brunson, shared an emotional plea for the United States to continue efforts to secure the release of her father. She spoke to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, on November 15 in a hearing entitled “Prisoners of the Purge: The Victims of Turkey’s Failing Rule of Law.”

Andrew Brunson is an EPC teaching elder, arrested in Turkey in October 2016 and subsequently held on charges of espionage and terrorism. The hearing was held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

“I know my dad and his character as only a daughter can,” she said, “and I know the charges against him are absurd. My father is not an armed terrorist trying to overthrow any government. My dad is a pastor who went to Wheaton College, then on to seminary and got a Ph.D. in New Testament. He has selflessly served Turkey for 24 years now. Everything in his life is centered on his faith. For my family, who has loved, served, and prayed for Turkey and its people, seeing these absurd charges brought against my father has been an extremely painful experience. The past year of our lives has been filled with uncertainty, worry, tears, and countless unanswered questions.”

In her five-and-a-half-minute testimony, Furnari recounted her childhood in Turkey.

“As I grew up, I saw my father pour himself into his work, and how willing he was to sacrifice his needs and wants for the sake of others. He believed, as I do, in a greater purpose in life and actively lived out his life with a purpose of showing people the love and grace of God.”

She also described her February 2017 wedding in a civil ceremony.

“We didn’t want to get married without my parents present, but because my husband is in the military, we could not postpone it. We had received my dad’s blessing, but neither of my parents were there. I will never get that moment back. For those of you who are fathers of daughters, I’m sure you would want to walk your daughter down the aisle. My father didn’t get that.”

Furnari concluded with an emotional plea to the Commission.

“My family has suffered greatly because of these absurd and false charges. Please make any and all efforts to secure my dad’s release and bring him home for Christmas. He’s been imprisoned falsely for far too long.”

Click here to view the 97-minute hearing in its entirety. Furnari’s testimony begins at 50:30, and she responds to questions at 1:10:34.

The Helsinki Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

Andrew Brunson’s daughter to address Helsinki Commission on November 15


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Jacqueline Furnari, daughter of Andrew Brunson, will address the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCU) on Wednesday, November 15, in a hearing entitled “Prisoners of the Purge: The Victims of Turkey’s Failing Rule of Law.” The CSCU also is known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and is an independent agency of the Federal Government. Brunson is an EPC teaching elder, arrested in Turkey in October 2016 and subsequently held on charges of espionage and terrorism.

The hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. in Room 124 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., and will be webcast live at www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce111517

“The efforts of the U.S. government to win the release of Andrew Brunson continues,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Vice President Pence met with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim at the White House last week to discuss a number of issues between the two countries—including Andrew.”

Other panelists in Wednesday’s hearing are Jonathan R. Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the U.S. Department of State; CeCe Heil, Executive Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice; and Nate Schenkkan, Director of the Nations in Transit Project at the Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.

The hearing will examine the factors contributing to the detention of American citizens, particularly Andrew and U.S. consulate employees in Turkey, as well as the judicial processes to which they have been subject. Furnari and Heil will testify about Andrew’s ongoing detention. Witnesses will also discuss the impact of these arrests on U.S.-Turkey relations and policy recommendations that could help secure their release.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental, and military cooperation in 57 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

Click here for more information.

Church Planters Retreat offers refresh and recharge


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Attendees of the EPC Church Planters Retreat enjoyed breakout sessions on a variety of topics, including fundraising, self-care, worship, and more.

As one of the EPC’s four strategic initiatives, church planting is a priority in the EPC. A significant aspect of supporting church planting is supporting and ministering to church planters. A key strategy in supporting EPC church planters is the annual Church Planters Retreat.

This year’s retreat was held October 25-27 at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo. Nearly 50 EPC church planters, their spouses, and members of the Church Planting Team (CPT) joined presbytery leaders and others for three days of training and renewal that included peer networking, breakout and mentoring sessions, fellowship, prayer, and more.

Tom Ricks, CPT chair, explained that “church planting nuts-and-bolts” training sessions focused on topics such as fundraising, worship, self-care, and preaching in a start-up situation.

“Church planting is one of the hardest and loneliest endeavors of which I have ever been a part,” said James Daniels, pastor of Chelsea Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, Ala. The church plant is not yet holding formal worship services, but is in the formation stage of hosting social events such as prayer breakfasts to build a local core group.

“The retreat came at a critical time in the process, and offered a beautiful balance of information and transformation,” Daniels added. “I’m entering back into my local community renewed and inspired for the days ahead.”

“This retreat was absolutely necessary,” said Brian Roskin, pastor of River City Church in St. Charles, Mo. “The topics were thoughtful and relevant for my current situation. I was able to connect with others doing the same thing, creating a network for me.”

Breakout sessions for spouses were led by Patty Robinson, wife of Shawn Robinson, founding pastor of Clayton Community Church in Clayton, Calif., and a CPT member. Her topic, “Engaging, Equipping, and Encouraging,” addressed how to navigate the call to be a church planter’s wife—including managing expectations and boundaries.

“Taking care of your relationship with God, knowing how and when to invest in the (church) plant, and protecting your marriage and family is what make the journey unique,” she said.

Another component of support for EPC church planters is a Church Planters’ Cohort, now in the planning phase with a launch goal of January 2018.

“The cohort will meet bi-monthly via FaceTime,” Ricks noted, “and cover topics essential to the first two years of church planting.” He added that “covenant triads” will provide opportunity for church planters to check in, support, and pray for each other.

Cohort leader Bart Garrett, pastor of Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif., reported that eleven church planters expressed interest during the retreat in this continuing training/support effort.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, noted that the retreat could not happen without local church giving to Per Member Asking, since food and lodging are funded in the EPC budget.

“Commissioners to the 2017 General Assembly in Sacramento approved funding church planting—as well as the other strategic initiatives of church revitalization, effective biblical leadership, and global movement—in the EPC budget, so every church that participates in Per Member Asking is investing in EPC church planting.”

Ricks noted that many EPC presbyteries pay travel expenses for church planters and their spouses, “so they can attend virtually cost-free.”

“The Church Planting Team and I are grateful for the opportunity to help invest in and grow the next generation of EPC church planters,” Ricks said. “We’ve seen many churches come along side us as ‘Parents, Partners, and Patrons’ of church planting. Thank you to everyone who supports church planting. If you’re not yet involved but interested in learning more, let me know!”

Ricks can be contacted at tom@greentreechurch.com or 314-909-9197, ext. 1007.

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EPC church planters and their spouses at the 2017 Church Planters Retreat in Colorado Springs, Colo.

 

Imprisoned Andrew Brunson pens modern hymn, “Worthy of My All”


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Andrew Brunson holds a small cross given to him as a gift in a photo taken October 10 in the Turkish prison where he is being held. 

On November 3, Norine Brunson posted a recording of “Worthy of My All” to the Andrew and Norine Brunson Facebook page. The song was written this fall by EPC teaching elder Andrew Brunson while in prison in Turkey.

On the post, Norine commented, “This is a simple recording of Andrew’s song and his melody. Sung by a precious sister who has been here with us for over ten years. She is not a native English speaker as you can tell, but she is very special to us.”

Click here to listen.

Click here for a printable lead sheet in pdf format.

“What a blessing it would be for each of our EPC churches to incorporate this modern hymn into their worship services,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Norine calls it a ‘simple recording,’ but it’s clear that the depth of Andrew’s commitment to Christ flows through these incredibly moving lyrics.”

Brunson has been held since October 2016. At the time of his arrest, he was serving as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church in the coastal city of Izmir. He faces charges of espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrowing the Turkish parliament, and membership in an armed terrorist organization.

 

Hope Church Memphis featured in The Gospel Coalition


HopeChurchTGCThe Gospel Coalition’s lead story on November 2, “How the Country’s Largest White Presbyterian Church Became Multiethnic,” tells the story of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn. Planted in 1988 in a predominately white suburban area, within 20 years the congregation was the largest in Memphis—but with less than 1 percent of its 7,000 attendees African American.

The EPC’s largest congregation is now more than 20 percent African American, including the senior pastor, Rufus Smith.

Hope Church will host the 38th EPC General Assembly in June 2018.

Click here for the full story.

The Gospel Coalition is a network of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition, and was founded by Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

EPC removes “pause button” from Hurricane Maria relief


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Juan Rivera (left), Pastor of the EPC’s Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, and Abraham Montes (second from right), Pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, receive a check from Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri from the Hurricane Maria emergency relief fund. Also pictured is Lizzette Gonzalez, Clerk of Session for Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez.

Following two weeks in a “wait and pray” stance toward relief efforts in Puerto Rico, the EPC has restarted its Hurricane Maria emergency relief fund. While the fund had not closed to contributions, active promotion of the fund was put on hold until leaders of the EPC’s churches on the island reported that they were able to receive donations and effectively use them.

Juan Rivera, pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, reported October 18 that banks on the island have reopened, and efforts to rebuild the island’s infrastructure are slowly getting underway.

“We are still without power, and two of our three congregations there cannot hold worship services in their normal locations due to the damage,” Rivera said. “Everyone has lost something, and we have probably 10-15 families in our three EPC churches in Puerto Rico who have lost everything.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, noted that the situation on the island, while still very challenging, has improved to the point that relief funds collected can now be dispersed.

“They have a long road ahead—including untold opportunities for ministry—and by the EPC being ‘much better together’ we all can play a part in their recovery,” he said.

On October 19, Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri presented checks to Rivera and Abraham Montes, Pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez, who were in Orlando for the fall meeting of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

Lizzette Gonzalez, Clerk of Session for the Mayagüez congregation, said four families from the church suffered a total loss of furniture, appliances, and personal belongings; three familes experienced partial loss of their house roof, furniture, and personal belongings; and the church administrative office has structural damage.

“We are so thankful for our EPC family and everything they are doing for us,” she said.

As of October 19, almost $52,000 has been contributed to the Hurricane Maria emergency relief fund.

“Thank you for your generosity in response to all three recent hurricanes,,” Jeremiah said. “To date more than $550,000 has been donated to our Harvey, Irma, and Maria funds.”

Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Maria Relief (508)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church with “Hurricane Maria Relief” on the memo line, and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

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Damage to their regular facility from Hurricane Maria has forced Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, to hold worship services in an outdoor parking garage since the storm hit the island on September 20.

Hurricane Maria fund receives $3250; EPC relief efforts on temporary hold


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Members of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (Westminster Presbyterian Church) in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, gathered for worship on September 24 in an open-air parking garage.

As of September 28, $3,255 has been contributed to the EPC’s Hurricane Maria emergency relief fund. However, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said further efforts to assist the three EPC congregations in Puerto Rico are in a “wait and pray” mode.

“The recovery and reconstruction of the infrastructure on Puerto Rico has gone painfully slow since Maria swept through,” Jeremiah said. “Because electrical power and cell phone service has not yet been restored, our text and phone contacts with leadership of Westminster-Bayamon have been infrequent—though we have learned that Anasco and Mayaguez are doing OK. But the loss of infrastructure has made life difficult.”

On Sunday, September 24, Pastor Juan Rivera led the Westminster congregation in worship at a local multi-level parking garage. Ruling Elder Alfredo Aponte said “Prayers were offered, the Word was read and preached and God was given His rightful place—first place and above all.”

Don Mason, retired pastor of GracePoint Church in Plant City, Fla., and a key leader in the effort to bring the Puerto Rican churches into the EPC, said recovery efforts are limited by the extensive damage on the island.

“Until the infrastructure is restored, all we can do is wait and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and their neighbors,” Mason said.

As an example of the challenges facing the recovery effort, many of the relief supplies that have reached the island are sitting in port in San Juan due to a shortage of truck drivers, gasoline, and diesel—as well as a large number of roads that still are blocked by storm debris.

Jeremiah noted that the Office of the General Assembly has received many inquiries about how the EPC can help.

“For now, it falls to the U.S. military, FEMA, and other government agencies to rebuild the island infrastructure before our relief efforts can begin,” he said.

“As soon as we are confident we can successfully get relief support to our churches in Puerto Rico, we will promote the Maria emergency relief fund again, as well as opportunities for our churches to send relief work teams to the island.”