Category Archives: Pastors

Brunsons leave Turkey, to have Oval Office meeting with President

 
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Andrew and Norine Brunson board an aircraft at a private terminal at Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport in western Turkey on October 12. The Brunsons are scheduled to arrive in the United States on October 13. (Photo credit: Family Research Council)

Andrew and Norine Brunson left Turkey on a military aircraft late on October 12, local time. They are expected to arrive at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 13, after a stop at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. The Brunsons are expected to then go to the White House for a meeting with President Trump.

“This is the day our family has been praying for,” Andrew said in a statement. “I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States. My entire family thanks the President, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support.”

Trump was in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a campaign stop when told the military aircraft carrying the Brunsons had cleared Turkish airspace.

“We’re very honored to have him back with us,” the President said. “He suffered greatly.”

Brunson was convicted of terror-related charges and sentenced to three years, one month and 15 days in jail earlier on October 12. The judge then reduced the sentence to time served on good behavior, ordered him released, and lifted the house arrest and international travel ban.

After the ruling, the Brunsons went to their home in Izmir for several hours before being driven to the Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport in western Turkey.

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was originally detained on October 7, 2016, and held until July 25, 2018, when he was released from prison to house arrest. Brunson was indicted in March 2018 on charges of being a “member and executive” of the Gülen organization and supporting outlawed Kurdish militants. He faced up to 35 years in prison if found guilty of all the charges.

Administration, others celebrate Andrew Brunson release

 
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Andrew Brunson (left, wearing red tie and glasses) leaves the court in Aliağa, Turkey on October 12 after being convicted of terrorism charges but released on time served. (Photo: AP / Emre Tazegul)

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and others took to social media to celebrate the release of Andrew Brunson on October 12. Brunson was convicted by a Turkish court on terrorism charges and sentenced to 37 months in prison. The judge reduced his sentence to two years for good behavior, and ordered Brunson released on time served.

He was originally detained on October 7, 2016, and held until July 25, 2018, when he was released from prison to house arrest.

Brunson is scheduled to be flown to a U.S. air base in Germany by military transport on October 12 before returning to the United States.

In a statement to the court before the verdict was issued, Brunson tearfully refuted all the allegations.

“I’m an innocent man,” he said. “I love Jesus. I love this country.”

Brunson’s defense attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said the verdict was “the best of a bad situation. He is going to go (to the United States) but I hope he is able to come back. He is someone who absolutely loves Turkey.”

RELEASED! Andrew Brunson convicted but released on time served; return to U.S. expected soon

 
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Andrew Brunson (center) is shown being transported from his home in Izmir, Turkey, to the court in Aliağa on October 12.

A Turkish court lifted the house arrest and international travel ban against EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson on October 12, while sentencing him to 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days on charges that he assisted the Fethullah Gülen organization. The Turkish government blames Gülen for the failed July 2016 coup attempt and considers the organization a terrorist group.

By removing the travel restrictions, Brunson is free to leave Turkey.

The October 12 hearing was Brunson’s fourth appearance in court.  At the close of the proceedings, the prosecutor asked for a 10-year sentence but requested that the court release Brunson from house arrest and lift the international travel ban.

“Finally, after two long years, Andrew has been released,” said EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “God has shown Himself faithful—as He always does—to Andrew, Norine, and their family, as well as to the thousands and thousands of people who have been praying for the Brunsons for so long. Let’s continue to pray for their safety and quick departure from Turkey.”

Turkish and other international media reported that at several prosecution witnesses retracted earlier statements during the October 12 hearing in Aliağa, Turkey.

News media around the world began reporting on October 11 that a “secret deal” between the U.S. and Turkish governments had been reached. Under the agreement, Brunson would be released after certain charges against him were dropped, in return for a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey. It is unclear if the October 12 decision is in response to the reported pact.

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was originally detained on October 7, 2016, and held until July 25, 2018, when he was released from prison to house arrest. Brunson was indicted in March 2018 on charges of being a “member and executive” of the Gülen organization and supporting outlawed Kurdish militants. He faced up to 35 years in prison if found guilty of all the charges.

Pray for Andrew Brunson

 
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Bill Campbell

by William P. (Bill) Campbell

It was July 18, 2018. I sat in the cavernous Aliağa courtroom in Western Turkey, watching Andrew Brunson boldly testify to the gospel of salvation and forgive the Turkish officials for persecuting him without cause. It was a message that needed to be heard by everyone, I thought. I was glad so many were listening in: a group of officials and witnesses at the stand, the armed guards, and the entourage of reporters, Turkish pastors, and varied observers in the aluminum bleachers in back of the courtroom.

How powerful it would be if the world could catch the spirit behind Andrew’s words.

It can! Maybe not come from the flurry of news media that followed the hearing, or from the transcribed court proceedings that will serve as public record in Turkey. I am referring rather to the influence of your life and mine as we pray for Andrew’s release. Every day that Andrew is detained in Turkey and God’s people pray, it is not only the American government that is being influenced to action. The God who reigns over the nations also is being stirred to action—hopefully to free Andrew, impact Turkey, and change each of us. Our prayers are His pen through which He can transcribe truths on our hearts. Realize this:

  1. Andrew and the pastors in that courtroom set a high bar for boldness that should inspire us to be more fearless as we live for the Lord with all of our freedoms. In the courtroom, the pastor who interpreted for me had already offered himself as a witness in Andrew’s case. He knew that in so doing, he put himself under the careful scrutiny of a government that is making it very difficult to be a Christian. Each of the Turkish pastors present with me had already spent time behind bars because of their faith. At any point, one or all might face prison for the rest of their lives. And Andrew, if not released, faces a 35-year prison term. Interceding for such courageous believers can birth courage in our hearts.
  2. Andrew’s predicament can also remind us to pray for Turkey. Several days of conversations I had with Turkish believers revealed a deep-seated concern that Andrew’s case may be evidence of a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the country. According to accounts I heard, Turkish citizens who have offered even a mere suggestion on social media that they are not happy with the current situation in Turkey are often required to begin reporting every few days to a government office confirming that they are fully supportive of the government. One more slip and they may find themselves joining company with more than 150,000 others who have been detained or imprisoned on various charges since the attempted overthrow of the government in July of 2016. Surely as we pray for Andrew, we must pray for Turkey.
  3. When we pray for Turkey, we will quickly find ourselves praying for the world. Turkey is a gateway to both East and West. It was originally from Turkey that Christianity was launched around the globe. It was there also that the first seven councils of the church were held. Oddly, Turkey—the cradle of early Christianity—is now one of the least-Christian countries in the world. There are nearly as many active churches in the small town from which I write, Hendersonville, N.C., as there are in the entire nation of Turkey (about 250). Depending on how “Christian” is defined, Turkey is between 0.2 and 0.4 percent Christian. The stark contrast between what was and what is may seem depressing, but it should actually give us great hope. An old Korean proverb says, “Where water once flowed, it can flow again.” Let us pray for God to bless the beautiful land of Turkey and all of its people. Let us offer petitions to Him for that nation with this realization: what God has done before, God can do again. May Turkey continue as a democracy, may all peoples be welcome there, and may the Church flourish.
  4. Praying for Andrew may cause us to recognize how quickly we may lose our freedoms if we don’t stand strong in our faith. Sadly, the Church in America tends to be influenced by its culture more than it influences culture. We must once again heed the messages found in the letters to the seven churches as recorded in Revelation 2-3. By the way, each of these seven churches was situated in what is now Turkey. Only partially uncovered ruins remain in each location. But the truths in those letters live on. They call us to be genuine Christians—willing to follow Christ even when things are tough and when we face slander, opposition, and difficulty.

Conclusions for Today

It is natural to become discouraged in our prayers for Andrew as we experience delay after delay. It is supernatural, however, to realize that God is at work for good—even on Andrew’s behalf—and that our prayers are being heard. The sovereign God who used Joseph’s imprisonment (Genesis 39) as part of His greater purpose can and will use Andrew’s detention in ways we have not anticipated and may never fully understand. God is at work. And we must never give up.

 

Campbell serves as Pastor of Hendersonville Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville, N.C. He also is the founder and president of Scripture Awakening, a ministry that provides resources to help people read, study, and live the Scriptures. 

Prayer Guides and other resources, including an in-depth, 31-day prayer initiative for Andrew and Turkey, are available at www.epc.org/freepastorandrew.

EPC issues Call for Prayer and Fasting ahead of October 12 Andrew Brunson hearing

 

AndrewBrunsonPrayerGuide201810HorizontalThe trial of Andrew Brunson, EPC Teaching Elder imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016, resumes on Friday, October 12. In an effort to stand with and pray for the Brunson family, the EPC is issuing a Call to Prayer and Fasting for the week of October 8.

“Recent speculation in the media that Andrew could be released on October 12 should cause us to ramp up our prayer efforts,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “We all desperately want that outcome, so I hope that every one of our 600 congregations will participate in this week of prayer and fasting.”

Six specific prayers are suggested for the days leading to the October 12 hearing:

  • Pray for Andrew and Norine’s continued physical safety, as well as perseverance in prayer and protection from discouragement.
  • Pray for God to prepare all of the players in the trial: the prosecution, the defense, every witness, and Andrew himself. Pray for God’s wisdom to prevail over all aspects of the trial.
  • Pray for Andrew to be emboldened to give a clear gospel witness, and that those in attendance (including media, guards, attorneys, and others) would hear and understand the gospel message.
  • Pray for media representatives at the trial to be safe, and for journalists to write reports that will glorify God.
  • Pray that unless the Lord has a purpose in keeping Andrew in Turkey, that he will be released from his current house arrest, allowed the freedom to travel, and acquitted of the charges.
  • Pray that God will use the trial and its outcome to open doors for the gospel in Turkey.

Prosecutors in the case have asked for a 35-year prison sentence on charges that Brunson helped terrorist organizations and worked to convert Turks to Christianity.

A printable bulletin insert in pdf format with these Scripture prayers can be downloaded at www.epc.org/news/freepastorandrew.

Also available is an in-depth, 31-day prayer initiative for Andrew and the nation of Turkey, which was developed by EPC Teaching Elder William P. (Bill) Campbell. Campbell serves as Pastor of Hendersonville (N.C.) Presbyterian Church, and also is the founder of Scripture Awakening, a ministry that offers resources to help people read, study, and live the Scriptures. Campbell attended Andrew’s trial on July 18, 2018, in Aliağa, Turkey.

Mid-Atlantic church leaders assess damage from Hurricane Florence

 
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Flooding from Hurricane Florence inundated the parking area of Myrtle Grove EPC in Wilmington, N.C., but by September 19 had not entered the church building.

As flooding from Hurricane Florence continues to affect the Carolinas, pastors of EPC churches in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic continue to assess storm damage and prepare for further flooding from rain-swollen rivers.

At least 37 deaths in three states have been confirmed as a result of the storm, which dumped as much as three feet of rain in parts of North Carolina. More than 10,000 residents remain displaced.

Stacey Miller, Pastor of Myrtle Grove Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, N.C., reported via email on September 17 that the primary difficulty is that flooding has isolated Wilmington. The city of 120,000 is on the Atlantic coast in southeastern North Carolina, just north of the South Carolina border and was still mostly surrounded by floodwaters on September 19.

“Flood waters are blocking roads and highways in every direction,” Miller wrote. “As the inland creeks recede, the rivers are rising and are expected to crest at record levels. So it may be quite some time before routes are clear for people to be able to drive in and out of the city.”

He said about half of the church members and staff evacuated before the storm and are currently unable to return.

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Flood waters covering Interstate 40 outside Wilmington, N.C.

“One of our elderly members is in ICU and her daughters can’t get to Wilmington to be with her,” he wrote. “In the community at-large, we have heard some sobering stories of total destruction of property, and flood damage with no flood insurance. Once all of our members return to Wilmington and assess their property, we may hear of other major losses within our own flock as well.”

Miller noted that he has been able to contact many church members, including some who stayed as well as some who evacuated before the storm hit.

“I know of two members who had trees come through the roof,” he wrote. “Otherwise, most have had trees down in yards, roof leaks, and other relatively minor issues. There have been few reports of major damage for our folks who stayed. As we have heard from members of our congregation, the prevailing theme is that God has been gracious to us.”

He said the church roof lost some shingles, resulting in some minor water damage. “Otherwise, there appears to be very minimal damage to our property,” he said.

Keith Cobb, Pastor of Hollywood Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Greenville, N.C., reported a “significant leak around our steeple, and water under several doors throughout the building. This, of course, is minimal in comparison to what is going on around us.” He noted that since the Tar River flows through Greenville, “we have every reason to suspect that we— like Goldsboro, Kinston, Tarboro, and Rocky Mount—will shortly have many opportunities to help flood victims in our community in the coming days and weeks.”

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Flooding in Leland, N.C., a western suburb of Wilmington.

Greenville is in eastern North Carolina, approximately 120 miles north of Wilmington. The metro area has a population of approximately 175,000.

Kevin Cauley, Pastor of Darlington (S.C.) Presbyterian Church, said extensive flooding is hampering a full assessment.

“Everyone is waiting for flood waters subside to be able to assess damage and have a plan,” he said via email on September 19. “Unfortunately, there is more flooding expected over the next 24 hours.”

Darlington is in northeastern South Carolina, approximately 130 miles west of Wilmington, N.C.

Matt Walton, Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Florence, S.C., said a tree fell through the roof of a church member’s house, and his sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C., suffered significant water damage.

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Damage to Matt Walton’s sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C. Walton is Pastor of Trinity EPC in Florence, S.C.

“We will soon see our rivers swollen from water from North Carolina trickling down,” he added,” so pray that that will not cause flooding over the next few days.”

Walton noted that the church property emerged largely unscathed, though a break-in occurred during the storm and some items were stolen.

Florence, S.C., is about 10 miles southeast of Darlington and is home to approximately 40,000 people.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said donations to the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund would be disbursed as quickly as possible.

“As we saw with the hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria last year—and the recent wildfires in California—when there is a need, our churches step up and demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ. We will get those funds to where they are needed as soon as we can.”

In collaboration with the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches affected by the storm. Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Florence Relief (283)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Florence Relief,” and send to:

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

To help publicize the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund, a bulletin insert is available for download in printable, pdf format at www.epc.org/emergencyrelief. The insert is designed to be printed on standard, 8.5×11 paper and cut in half vertically or horizontally.

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Red flags mark EPC churches within 150 miles of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., where Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14. Wrightsville Beach is 6 miles east of Wilmington, N.C.

Howard Shockley, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic Stated Clerk, dies at 74

 
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Howard and Margaret Shockley

Howard Grady Shockley Jr., Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic since 1999, passed away on August 7, 2018, at Spartanburg (S.C.) Regional Medical Center. He was 74.

The only son of the late Grady and Lucille Shivers Shockley, Shockley felt the call to ministry at a young age and dedicated his life to serving the Lord with a servant’s heart. Supported by his wife, Margaret, he honored his call to the fullest and loved his work of mentoring, counseling, and supporting his fellow pastors and EPC community. In addition to his leadership at the presbytery, he planted the first EPC church in Asheville, N.C, in 1981.

A native of Opelika, Ala., Shockley was a graduate of Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.; Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.; and earned a Ph.D. from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; son Paul and his children, Emma, Naomi, and Timothy; daughter and son-in-law Rachel and Finn Dahl and their children, Austin, Anelie, and Arissen; and son and daughter-in-law Thad and Amy Shockley.

A memorial service will held on August 10, 2018, at Christ Church EPC in Anderson, S.C. Interment will follow at Greenville Presbyterian Church in Donalds, S.C.

In lieu of flowers, memorials should be made to the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic’s Allman-Fischer Fund, which supports missionaries and pastors in the presbytery. Gifts can be sent to Allman-Fischer Fund, c/o Tim Burns, 2514 Plantation Center Drive, Matthews, N.C. 28105.

Senators, Administration, religious freedom council applaud Turkey court ruling as Brunson leaves prison for house arrest

 

In response to a Turkish court’s ruling July 25 to release Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest, officials in Washington, D.C., have issued statements supporting the decision.

Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) issued a joint statement in which they called the move a “step in the right direction.”

“Today’s decision by the Turkish Court system to move Pastor Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest is a step in the right direction and will help alleviate some of the unacceptable hardship and anguish Pastor Brunson and his family have endured over the last 20 months,” the senators said. “The Government of Turkey should now release Pastor Brunson and immediately return him to the United States, an action that would begin to restore the longstanding friendship between our two nations.”

The United States Council on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also welcomed the court’s ruling.

“It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga in the statement. “This is welcome news … but it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on July 25 that house arrest was a positive development, but Brunson “should have been freed long ago.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said via Twitter on July 25 that the decision was “long overdue.”

Brunson left the prison at approximately 5:30 p.m. local time in Turkey (10:30 a.m. Eastern). Live television footage showed Brunson being put into a vehicle outside prison and driven away guided by a police motorcycle escort. His Turkish lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt , confirmed that Brunson will be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is banned from leaving the country.

“These officials in Washington have been our ‘heroes on the Hill’ and have worked hard for Andrew’s release,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “But we need to remember that this is not over. Even though Andrew will be at his home in Izmir, he will be closely monitored and his movements will be restricted. We should continue to pray and advocate for his complete freedom until that time when he steps off the plane onto American soil.”

On July 23, Tillis and Shaheen announced a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress assessing Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation the three senators introduced earlier this year in response Brunson’s continued imprisonment and Turkey’s intention to purchase an S-400 missile system from Russia. Last week, they introduced a bill that would prohibit international loans to Turkey until the detention of U.S. citizens ends.

On July 24, Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari spoke to the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, hosted by Pompeo. Furnari’s 12-minute testimony can be watched below.

Click here to watch the full one-hour segment of the day’s proceedings. Furnari begins her talk at 20:30.

Andrew Brunson moved to house arrest

 
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Andrew Brunson

Turkish media is reporting that Andrew Brunson has been moved from prison and put under house arrest. According to the Daily Sabah, the EPC Teaching Elder has been moved to his home in Izmir due to “health issues.”

The Second High Penal Court in Izmir issued the ruling on July 25, which also included an international travel ban meaning Brunson cannot leave the country. The same court ruled on July 18 that Brunson be returned to prison until the hearing in the trial, scheduled for October 12.

“We are very thankful for this court ruling to allow Andrew to be detained at his house instead of behind bars, where he has spent more than 21 months,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “At the same time, this trial is not over. He is still facing serious charges so we press on in praying, fasting, and advocating for Andrew.”

Brunson has lived in Turkey since 1993 and was arrested in October 2016. He was indicted on charges of having links to Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999 and whom Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey calls a terrorist group.

President Trump, others continue to condemn Andrew Brunson detainment

 

A Turkish court’s decision to return Andrew Brunson to prison at the conclusion of the July 18 hearing until the next hearing on October 12 has drawn intense, bipartisan criticism.

Late on July 18, President Donald Trump said on social media that not granting Brunson’s release was a “total disgrace” and added that the EPC Teaching Elder “has been held hostage far too long.”

On July 19, six Senators introduced a bill to direct the top U.S. executive at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to block future loans to Turkey, except for humanitarian purposes. The bipartisan bill—dubbed the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act—was authored in response to “the unjust detention” of nearly two dozen U.S. citizens, including Brunson.

In a statement, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said, “Until Turkey begins acting like a NATO ally again, we will continue to pursue measures like sanctions and loan restrictions against them. We desire cooperation and strengthening ties between our countries, but the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its own people.” Lankford was joined in the proposed legislation by Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a quick resolution to the impasse on July 19.

“We continue to call on the Turkish government to quickly resolve (Brunson’s) case in a timely and transparent and fair manner,” said Heather Nauert.

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Andrew Brunson

On July 18, the four senior members of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (USCSCE, also known as the Helsinki Commission) released statements condemning Brunson’s ongoing imprisonment.

“The cruelty of today’s decision is astonishing,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)., USCSCE  Co-Chair. “By extending Pastor Brunson’s indefinite detention and setting his next trial date for mid-October, the Turkish government has declared its intention to keep this innocent man in jail past the two-year anniversary of his arrest without conviction or any credible evidence against him. There is no room in NATO for hostage-taking. Pastor Brunson should be freed immediately.”

Sen. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), USCSCE Co-Chair, also called for Brunson’s immediate release, “otherwise this cruel abuse of a U.S. citizen should have serious consequences for our country’s relationship with the Turkish government.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said the Turkish court’s decision “represents yet another miscarriage of justice in this case. I remain deeply concerned that Mr. Brunson remains in prison in Turkey. The Turkish government must drop its spurious charges and release Mr. Brunson immediately.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), described Brunson’s trial as “conspiratorial charges, anonymous witnesses, and political agendas, and bears no resemblance to a credible judicial process. Even as the Turkish government prepares to lift its nearly two-year state of emergency, we should not be fooled into thinking that the rule of law is returning to Turkey. Pastor Brunson’s wrongful imprisonment proves that nothing is likely to change.”

The USCSCE echoed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued a statement on July 18 declaring “The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah expressed gratitude for the statements of condemnation.

“I am thankful that so many of our government officials have recognized Andrew’s situation and are speaking out against his continued incarceration,” he said. “We will continue to persevere on Andrew’s behalf, and look forward to the day—hopefully very soon—when he steps off a plane onto American soil.”

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was been held since October 2016, and was indicted in March 2018 on charges of terrorism and espionage. Among the accusations in the indictment are charges that Brunson was a “member and executive” of the Fetullah Gülen organization—which the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan blames for a failed July 2016 coup attempt and considers a terrorist group—and supported outlawed Kurdish militants. He faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty.

Senators press for release of Andrew Brunson, threaten further legislative action

 
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Clockwise (from top left): Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thom Tillis, R-N.C.)

In response to Andrew Brunson’s return to custody following hearings on July 18, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, James Lankford, and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement calling for his immediate release. The court in Aliaga, Turkey, remanded the EPC Teaching Elder to prison until the trial resumes on October 12.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson has languished in a Turkish prison for the last two years, causing tremendous hardship and heartache for him and his family,” the senators said in the statement. “He is an innocent man and has been unlawfully detained simply because he is an American pastor who assists all those in need, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Turkey and the United States are longstanding NATO allies and it is imperative to the interests of both nations that Turkey starts behaving like one. We call for the immediate release of Pastor Brunson and other American citizens currently detained in Turkey, including Serkan Golge. We encourage the Administration to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure the release of these innocent people before Congress is forced to press for even stricter legislative measures that will be difficult to unwind.”

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Andrew Brunson

Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 7, 2016. In April, he was indicted on charges related to terrorism and espionage. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

In April, the four senators led the effort to craft a bipartisan letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for Brunson’s release. The letter was signed by 71 senators. Tillis has visited Turkey twice, including meeting with Brunson and attending his trial on April 16. Shaheen and Graham visited Brunson in prison in June, and also met with Erdoğan and pressed for Brunson’s release.

In previous legislative actions, Tillis and Shaheen secured a provision that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove Turkey from participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation introduced by Lankford, Tillis, and Shaheen. Lankford and Shaheen have worked with Graham to include sanctions in this year’s State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill. Those measures target Turkish officials complicit in the unlawful arrest of Americans.

The senators are part of a growing chorus of condemnation in Washington, D.C., against the court’s ongoing decision to keep Brunson imprisoned.

In an article titled “The Brunson farce” published July 17 by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in response to speculation following discussions between Erdoğan and President Trump, Aykan Erdemir wrote that Brunson should be released “not because of a deal, but because there isn’t a shred of evidence against him.” Erdemir is a senior fellow at the FDD and a former member of the Turkish parliament.

On July 18, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a statement declaring that “Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.” The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.

Bart Hess Award presented to Restoration Church (Munford, Tenn.)

 
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Mike Gibson (right), Pastor of Restoration Church, receives the Bart Hess Award from Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly, on June 22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn., is the recipient of the 2018 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

“Receiving this award came as a shock,” Pastor Mike Gibson told the Assembly. “When I found we would be receiving this, I asked God, ‘What I am supposed to do with this award when I am supposed to be cultivating humility?’ because I can have some trouble in that area. I believe He told me ‘This is to encourage and inspire churches who have been where you’ve been, to know that I am in this and you can go forward.’ There were so many times I was ready to give up, thinking the ministry was never going to take off and have an impact in our community. But I know something like this—or bigger—can happen in any church.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said Restoration Church received the 2018 award because its leadership was not only willing to ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also was willing to make changes in response to the answers they received.

“Launched in 1911 as Munford Presbyterian Church, they have a rich history and beautiful sanctuary,” Jeremiah said. “However, they were in decline. But under Mike’s leadership, that decline was reversed. To reach the unchurched in their community they changed their name and their image, and the Lord brought them scores of new people. Lives are being redeemed, revived, and restored through the ministry of Restoration Church, and I am thrilled that their hard work has been recognized by the entire EPC.”

Jeremiah will present the award to the congregation on Sunday, August 19.

The Hess Award is given annually to the EPC church that has demonstrated the most innovative approach to church growth or revitalization. Church growth—in both its spiritual and numerical aspects—is an essential part of the mission of the church. The award provides a vehicle by which positive, reproducible innovation is encouraged and shared with others in the EPC. It is named for Bart Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

#epc2018ga

38th GA sings Andrew Brunson’s ‘Worthy of My All;’ hears daughter read letters from prison, describe family’s ordeal

 

Addressing the 38th General Assembly on June 21, Jacqueline Furnari—Andrew Brunson’s daughter—described her family’s ordeal over the 20 months since her father’s imprisonment in Turkey.

“October 7, 2016—more than a year and a half ago—is the day my parents were called into the police station,” Furnari said. “This was my oldest brother’s 21st birthday, and he never got his birthday (telephone) call.”

She said that her parents had been working to secure permanent resident status so they could stay in Turkey long-term, and thought they were being summoned for questions related to their application.

“What they were not expecting was to be told that they had been deemed a threat to national security and that they were going to be deported,” she told the Assembly. “This all happened so quickly that they were barely able to tell a few family members what was going on before their phones were taken away and they were taken into custody.”

The Brunsons’ daughter added that she did not find out until several days later.

“My aunt called me and asked if I had an update,” she said, adding that the next two weeks were “absolutely terrifying” for her and her two brothers.

“We didn’t know why they were taken,” she said. “We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know how they were being treated; how they were being kept. We had absolutely no information and no way to get that information. All we knew was that something was very, very wrong.”

Andrew’s wife, Norine, was released after nearly three weeks of detention. “It was a relief to get some news and understand what was starting to happen,” Furnari said. “But at the same time that conversation I had with her was heartbreaking because she had just said goodbye to my dad and didn’t know when she would see him again.”

She read portions of several letters her father had written to her from prison.

AndrewBrunsonOctober2017

Andrew Brunson

“’I am attempting to follow His example,’” she read. “‘I declare with my will that I will submit to Him. I am kept here by force, but I can choose to submit with my will even though my emotions are severely distressed and not at all wanting to submit. I am trying to be faithful even when overwhelmed with fear—faithful to declare God’s character even when I don’t understand. I ask you to pray for me in this, to be faithful to the end.’”

The letter also contained the words of a prayer Andrew told her that he prays each night:

“’Father God, I ask that you pour out on me the courage and strength, the endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness of Jesus,’” she read, adding that he also wrote, “I declare God’s character, and pray that He uses this time to work deeply in my life.”

Furnari concluded by reading a message Brunson penned to the EPC:

“’My brothers and sisters of the EPC, I am so grateful to you for standing with us during this difficult time—for praying for us. I know a number of people have fasted, and I thank you for doing this. It’s a great blessing to us to be part of the EPC family. I pray every day to be faithful to the end, and it is my desire to show the great worth of Jesus Christ by being willing to suffer for Him. I ask that you pray for me in this, that I will be faithful to the end. I hope that next year I will be able to thank all of you in person rather than through my beautiful daughter, but again, thank you for standing with us. Your brother, Andrew.’”

Furnari also testified that she and her family have seen God at work in the midst of the situation. In an interview with EPConnection, she said when her father wrote his song, “Worthy of My All,” that she knew he was “going down a better path.”

“When he was arrested he went through a really dark time,” she said. “At some point, he was allowed to have his guitar but he couldn’t bring himself to play it, or even touch it. But the moment I heard he written a song I knew that he was doing a lot better. He had it in him to pick up that guitar and not just sing the usual worship songs, but write one for God to express his aguish, but also his desire to honor God in his situation.”

Click here or on the image above to watch Furnari’s entire presentation, followed by Assembly attendees singing Andrew’s modern hymn, “Worthy of My All.”

Click here for more information about Andrew Brunson, including a timeline of events, sheet music for “Worthy of My All,” and more.

#epc2018ga

38th General Assembly makes history with landmark ‘firsts’

 
GA2018LI-Selfie

GA SELFIE—From left, Evelio Vilches, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah, Eddie Spencer, Moderator Tom Werner

The EPC’s 38th General Assembly, held June 19-22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., made history as the first Assembly to include a “selfie” from the platform. At the beginning of the Thursday afternoon business session, Evelio Vilches, Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Eddie Spencer, Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., took the historic photo prior to their report on how contributions to the EPC’s Hurricane Irma Emergency Relief Fund was used to help their congregations and communities in the aftermath of the September 2017 storm.

“As Stated Clerk,” said Jeff Jeremiah, “it is my ruling that indeed this is the first ever GA selfie.”

In another first, six commissioners started what may become a tradition at the GA Thursday evening worship service—“kilt night.” Donning the traditional Scottish attire were Edward Cummings, Pastor of Terrace Heights EPC in Yakima, Wash.; Alan Trafford, Pastor of Covenant EPC in Lake Jackson, Texas; Suzanne Brown Zampella, Pastor of Connellsville Presbyterian Church in Connellsville, Pa.; Matthew Everhard, Pastor of Faith EPC in Brooksville, Fla.; Case Thorp, Senior Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.; and Jeremy McNeill, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bucyrus, Ohio.

GA2018LI-Kilts

KILT NIGHT—From left, Edward Cummings, Alan Trafford, Suzanne Brown Zampella, Matthew Everhard, Case Thorp, Jeremy McNeill.

EPC adds seven churches in 2017–2018

 

Seven churches joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the reporting period of May 23, 2017, through June 1, 2018. The new EPC churches were announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Ken Roberts, Moderator of the 32nd EPC General Assembly, prayed for the new churches.

“You already know every person who will be attending all these churches,” Roberts said in his prayer. “You know their needs, joys, hurts, and hearts. We pray for each staff member who will be ministering to each person in these congregations. As we commit these churches to you, may You be gloried in the worship and business of each church, and in each heart.”

These newest members of the EPC family of churches are:

Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (Leawood, Kan.)
Sheldon MacGillivray, Pastor
www.cornerstoneks.org
Presbytery of the Great Plains

First Presbyterian Church (Malden, Mo.)
Derek Evans, Commissioned Pastor
www.facebook.com/Malden-Presbyterian-Church-144604838944152/
Presbytery of the Central South

Hendersonville Presbyterian Church (Hendersonville, N.C.)
Bill Campbell, Pastor
www.hendersonvillepc.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

New Life Gathering (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Scott Jackson, Pastor
www.newlifeknoxville.org
Presbytery of the Southeast

Walkersville Presbyterian Church (Waxhaw, N.C.)
Eric Bartel, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Walkersville-Presbyterian-Church/117441554948378
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wayside Presbyterian Church (Sanford, N.C.)
Robert Johnson, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Wayside-Presbyterian-Church/464287536951632
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wylliesburg Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Wylliesburg, Va.)
David Wood, Stated Supply Pastor
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Each of the new churches was a previous congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

#epc2018ga

In MSNBC interview, Senators Lankford, Shaheen discuss imprisonment of Andrew Brunson

 

In an interview on MCNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on May 24, Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) continued their call for punitive action against Turkey due to Andrew Brunson’s prolonged imprisonment. The EPC Teaching Elder has been held since October 2016 on charges of espionage and terrorism.

“He is basically being held hostage by (Turkish) President Erdoğan,” Shaheen said, “and this is a blatant attempt to blackmail the United States and we are not going to stand for it.”

TillisShaheenMSNBC

Lankford and Shaheen are pursuing targeted sanctions against Turkish officials, and are working with Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on a bill to prevent the transfer of American fighter aircraft and technology to Turkey until the relationship between the two countries improves. In the 10-minute interview, they also discussed the future of U.S.-Turkey relations and Erdoğan’s oppressive tendencies.

Click here to watch the full interview.