Category Archives: Pastors

March Jeremiah Journal highlights Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

 

In the March 2019 edition of the Jeremiah Journal, Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri and Juan Rivera, Pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, describe how some of the donations to the EPC’s Hurricane Maria Emergency Relief Fund were put to use in Puerto Rico.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

Federal court rules minister’s housing allowance constitutional

 

HousingAllowanceRulingA three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled unanimously on March 15 that the housing allowance tax exemption for ministers is constitutional. The decision reversed a 2017 opinion by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb. Crabb ruled that the exemption provides an unconstitutional benefit to religious individuals, thereby violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit that led to the 2017 decision was brought by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The group was challenging a federal law passed in 1954, under which a “minister of the gospel” is exempt from income tax on compensation that is designated part of a housing allowance. The FFRF—which has fought against the housing allowance provision for more than 10 years—argued that the law discriminates against secular employees.

“I am thankful that with the Seventh Circuit’s decision, this matter is settled—at least for now,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I am confident that the FFRF and other atheist groups are not going to give up their fight easily, so we will continue to monitor the situation and keep our churches and ministers informed.”

Crabb also had ruled in 2013 that the housing allowance was unconstitutional—a decision that was overturned by the Seventh Circuit in November 2014. At the time, the appeals court stated that they did not rule on the “issue of the constitutionality of the parsonage exemption,” leading to the case being refiled under a different legal tactic.

In their most recent ruling, the judges declared that the 1954 law “falls into the play between the joints of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: neither commanded by the former, nor proscribed by the latter” and therefore neither endorses nor inhibits religion, and does not cause excessive government entanglement. The judges also noted that Congress has been providing federal tax exemptions for religious organizations as far back as 1802.

Writing for the panel, Judge Michael Brennan said that the primary effect of the housing allowance “is not to advance religion on behalf of the government, but to allow churches to advance religion, which is their very purpose. Providing a tax exemption does not connote sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement” of the government in religious activity.

Ministerial Vocation Committee, presbytery Ministerial/Candidate Committee chairs meet in Orlando

 
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Brad Strait (right), Chair of the Ministerial Vocation Committee, leads discussion during the annual meeting of the MVC and presbytery Ministerial Committee and Candidate Committee Chairs on March 12 in Orlando.

Members of the Ministerial Vocation Committee (MVC) and Presbytery Ministerial and Candidates Committee Chairs met March 12-13 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando. The MVC addresses ministerial issues at the national level of the EPC, and the Presbytery Chairs lead at the presbytery level.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of the work tackled by the MVC and these presbytery committees,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I have said for a long time that the most important committee in our presbyteries is the Ministerial Committee, because when it does its work well it frees the presbytery to focus on mission and outreach. The networking, sharing best practices, and addressing common issues that took place between MVC and these chairs this week will have high value for the ongoing health of the EPC given the overlap in their ministries.”

Among the topics discussed by the group were the EPC ordination process, the Candidates Educational Equivalency Program (CEEP), and strategies to address the ongoing physical, mental, and emotional health of EPC pastors and ministerial candidates.

Members of the Ministerial Vocation Committee are Brad Strait (Chair), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Michael Flake, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Neal McAtee, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Frank Rotella, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Phil Stump, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; and Caroline Tromble, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

Ministerial Committee and Candidate Committee Chairs who attended the meeting were Bruce Tenenbaum and Eric Toohey (Presbytery of the Alleghenies); Scott Sealy (Presbytery of the Central South); Jamie Cupschalk and Jay Lee (Presbytery of the East); Rick Gernhardt (Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean); Tom Pitman (Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic); Joshua Hansen and Charles Youther (Presbytery of the Midwest); Ed Cummings and Scott Koenigsaecker (Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest); David Abdo and Jay Hull (Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest); David Hoffelmeyer and Zach Hopkins (Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes); and Greg Daniels (Presbytery of the West).

EPC church members safe following Alabama tornado outbreak

 
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Debris litters a yard the day after a deadly tornado damaged a home in Beauregard, Ala., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

First Presbyterian Church of Opelika, Ala., escaped damage during the March 3 tornado outbreak that devastated portions of southern Alabama. As of March 5, 23 people had lost their lives in Beauregard, a rural community about 10 miles south of Opelika.

“No one in our congregation had major damage or injury,” said Josh Yates, Assistant Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, “though some of our long-time members knew some of the victims.”

Yates reported that numerous aid organizations were in the area, but the authorities are asking people to stay out of the affected area until all residents are accounted for. News outlets are reporting as many as several dozen people are still considered missing.

“We are in a holding pattern right now as far as relief goes,” Yates said. “Since things are still in a search-and-rescue mode, cleanup efforts would probably not occur until next week. Plus, area residents have donated so much in the way of dry goods and supplies that right now we have more than we need.”

Yates noted that the church expects numerous opportunities to minister as the recovery continues.

“We are very thankful that all of our church members were spared,” he said, “but pray for us that we would share the gospel during all of this, and for wisdom to provide the right kind of help when and where it’s needed.”

EPC Home Missionary John Bueno releases Spring 2019 newsletter 

 

LatinsUnitedNewsletter201902John Bueno, EPC Home Missionary serving with Latins United Christian Ministries (LUCM), invites you to read his Spring 2019 newsletter, in which he discusses Latin cross-cultural ministries in the EPC. Among the highlights are Hispanic EPC church plants in Memphis, Charlotte, and Bellevue, Nebr., as well as Bueno’s ongoing ministry in Colombia and the EPC’s partnership with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.

Click here to download the Spring 2019 edition in PDF format.

For more information about LUCM, contact Bueno at johnbknox@yahoo.com or 402-350-3815.

EPC pastor pens book on financial obedience

 

DavidSwansonEconomyOfGodDavid Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, has published his fifth book, The Economy of God: Discovering the Joy of Financial Obedience. The book is a compilation of a 12-week sermon series on money and generosity.

As Swanson states in the book’s introduction, “in Scripture, God has an entire economy that He wants us to observe—a way of working and producing—a way of earning, spending, saving, and giving.”

He also notes that in his 27 years as a pastor, “I have seen time and again how money can be the source of pain, strife, discontent, and division … but it does not have to. Money, when rightly and biblically understood, can be an absolute source of joy and delight.”

The book is available in paperback and Amazon Kindle formats at https://smile.amazon.com/Economy-God-Discovering-Financial-Obedience/dp/1793135614/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1550520951&sr=1-1

You can support the ministries of the EPC by purchasing Swanson’s book (and other items) through the “smile.amazon” program at Amazon.com. When you login to your Amazon account (or set up a new account), use smile.amazon.com and select “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” as your preferred charitable organization. The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of purchase price to the EPC.

Revelation 7:9 Task Force continues “listening tour”

 

Revelation79JanuaryMeetingMembers of the EPC’s Revelation 7:9 Task Force continue to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves its neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language as described Revelation 7:9. The group met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, February 5-6.

Continuing its focus on “input” during its first year, the group spent a significant portion of its meeting in discussions with individuals outside the EPC. These include Léonce Crump, Pastor of the multicultural Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga.; Michael Chen, National Director of Training and Cross-Cultural Ministry for the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO); and Michael Thornhill, CCO Associate Director of Cross-Cultural Ministry and Recruiting. The CCO is a strategic partner of the EPC.

“The hard and heavy work of listening—and listening well—is helped considerably by the support of friends and partners like Pastor Léonce and the CCO,” said Dean Weaver, Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, Pa. “I know I speak on behalf of the entire Revelation 7:9 team when I ask everyone in the EPC to please keep us in your prayers as we continue this important work.”

The Task Force is co-chaired by Weaver and TE Rufus Smith, Presbytery of the West. Members are TE Tom Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Marc de Jeu, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE David Dwight, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Enid Flores, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Phyllis Le Peau, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Soon Pak, Presbytery of the Midwest; Beth Paz, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Brandon Queen, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Tim Russell, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Tom Werner, Presbytery of Mid-America; and Ted Winters, Presbytery of Mid-America.

 

 

Andrew and Norine Brunson to attend State of the Union address

 
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Andrew and Norine Brunson, pictured preparing to leave Turkey in October 2018.

EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, will attend the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., on February 5. The North Carolina natives will be guests of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Tillis worked to help secure the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held in Turkey for two years on charges of terrorism and espionage. Though innocent of the charges, he was convicted on October 12, 2018. He was released on the equivalent of time served and returned to the United States, where he met with President Donald Trump at the White House on October 13.

“The Brunsons demonstrated tremendous grace and unshakable faith during Andrew’s nearly two-year imprisonment and house arrest,” Tillis said in a statement released February 4. “His plight caused Americans from every corner to pray for his release and for leaders in both political parties to work together to apply pressure on the Turkish government to secure his return to American soil. It’s an incredible feeling that nearly one year after I first met Pastor Andrew Brunson in a Turkish prison, where he faced an effective life sentence, I now have the honor of welcoming him and his wife, Norine, as my special guests to the State of the Union.”

Trump will deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building. The address is scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m. EST.

Nación Santa in Haines City, Fla., celebrates particularization as state’s first Spanish-speaking EPC congregation

 
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Leslee Quiñones (center) leads worship during Nación Santa’s celebration service on January 20, 2019. To her right is Pastor Luis Quiñones; to her left is Case Thorp, Senior Associate for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

Nación Santa (Holy Nation Church) in Haines City, Fla., celebrated particularization on Sunday, January 20, as the newest congregation in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

“I want to say ‘Thank you’ to the presbytery and the EPC,” Pastor Luis Quiñones told the gathering of more than 100 members and guests. “To God be the glory; we made it!”

The multi-national congregation—the first Spanish-speaking EPC church in Florida—has members from Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico. Nación Santa started as a mission church in Kissimmee in 2008, and relocated to the campus of First Presbyterian Church in Haines City in 2014. In early 2017, Quiñones approached David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, about leaving their denomination and coming under the oversight of FPCO and the EPC’s Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

“When we remember how we started our relationship with (FPCO), we have to say that God was moving in material ways,” Quiñones said. “Thank you for your love and support. You are one of us.”

Case Thorp, FPCO Senior Associate Pastor and EPC Moderator-elect, delivered a message from Philemon in which he asked the question, “What does it mean to be evangelical?”

Referencing verse 19, in which Paul reminds Philemon that he owes Paul “his very self,” Thorp posed two questions.

“Who do you owe? Who told you about Jesus?” he asked. “But further, who owes their life in Jesus to you because of your life and ministry? Who are you teaching and bringing up in Jesus?”

He noted that the answer to the second question “is why we are evangelical.”

In addition to Thorp, other guests included FPCO Ruling Elders Chris Phillips and Chris Morgan; Mike Gillett, Moderator-elect of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; and Juan Rivera, pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Rivera delivered the installation charge to Nación Santa’s first class of Ruling Elders— Esther Duque, Adalberto Negrón, Reinaldo Perez, and Kelvin Velez.

 

EPC pastors share victories and challenges, strengthen connectionalism

 

Pastors500-1000Pastors who lead EPC churches with membership of 500-1000 meet each January for networking, fellowship, community, and sharing best practices. At this year’s gathering, held January 16-18 at the Office of the General Assembly, 16 of these pastors discussed a variety of topics relevant to their ministries and settings.

Elder shepherding and discipling, discerning vision, strategic planning, leading through seasons of spiritual attack, self- and staff care, and the blessings and potential pitfalls of a congregation becoming more multi-cultural sparked rich discussion.

Mark Fuller, Pastor of Trinity Church in Plymouth, Mich., said the gathering “is the most encouraging thing I do all year. It is so refreshing to spend this time with peers; I go back home each year excited about how God is going to use what I get from being with this group.”

Others attending were Adam Barr, Peace Church in Middleville, Mich.; Scott Castleman, First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, Miss.; Jeff Chandler, First Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, Calif.; Scott Farmer, Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, Calif.; Bryan Gregory, Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.; David Henderson, Covenant Church in West Lafayette, Ind., Scott Koenigsaecker, Sequim Community Church in Sequim, Wash.; Jeff Moore, First Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Ill.; Tony Myers, St. Paul’s EPC in Somerset, Pa.; Robert Perkins, Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church in Moraga, Calif.; Carolyn Poteet, Mt. Lebanon EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Doug Resler, Parker EPC in Parker, Colo.; Tom Ricks, Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo.; Jeremy Vaccaro, First Presbyterian Church in Fresno, Calif.; and Richard White, Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C.

Goal reached for Andrew Brunson recuperation fund

 
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Andrew and Norine Brunson, pictured as they are leaving Turkey on October 12, 2018.

Editor’s note: This article replaces an earlier version that contained potentially sensitive information.

As of January 2, the goal for the EPC’s “Welcome Back, Andrew!” Fund has been met. Donations to the fund will be used to assist Andrew and Norine Brunson in their recovery from their ordeal in Turkey. The Brunsons returned to the United States on October 13, 2018, following Andrew’s two-year imprisonment on charges of terrorism and espionage.

When the fund was launched in October, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said the fund would be closed to new donations when the target was reached.

“I know I speak for Andrew and Norine—and Christ Community Church—that starting 2019 knowing that Andrew’s year of recovery is fully funded is an enormous blessing,” Jeremiah said. “I am thankful for so many churches and individuals who gave sacrificially so Andrew and Norine can have this time to recover and seek what God has for them in their next chapter of ministry.”

Andrew is serving as Missionary-in-Residence at Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C.—his and Norine’s home church. Gifts to the fund are financing the position (which was designed and created specifically for the Brunsons) for one year. Donations to the fund will cover court costs Andrew incurred with his conviction in Turkey of terrorism charges; relocation expenses; a travel allowance to help the Brunsons reconnect with their adult children (who live in three different parts of the U.S.); and seek medical and spiritual assistance as needed.

WORLD Magazine names Andrew Brunson its 2018 “Daniel of the Year”

 

BrunsonWorldDanielAndrew Brunson has been named the WORLD Magazine “Daniel of the Year” for 2018. The publication gives the annual award to an individual who exhibits bravery in defense of God’s authority by helping the persecuted.

Brunson and his wife, Norine, were missionaries and church planters in Turkey for 23 years prior to his arrest on October 7, 2016. At the time of his detainment he was serving as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church. His trial on charges of espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order, attempting to overthrowing the Turkish parliament, and membership in an armed terrorist organization began on April 16, 2018.

He remained imprisoned until July 25, 2018, when he was released to house arrest. On October 12, 2018, he was convicted on terrorism charges and released on time served. He and his wife, Norine, returned to the United States on October 13.

Click here for WORLD Magazine’s full-length feature on the Brunsons, their ministry in Turkey, details of his imprisonment, and their return to North Carolina.

Revelation 7:9 Task Force begins work

 

Revelation79TaskForce

Members of the EPC Revelation 7:9 Task Force met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, November 13-14. The group was appointed by Moderator Tom Werner (standing) in response to a recommendation approved by the 38th General Assembly “to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves its neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9).”

In its first face-to-face meeting, the group discussed the scope of its work, reviewed preliminary results of an online survey sent to EPC pastors in October, and explored a variety of opportunities and potential challenges that could inform their work over the next two years.

“I am excited about the work of the Task Force,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Their first year can be summed up in one word: Input. They are not working in a vacuum, but seek to learn about our churches and communities from pastors and leaders in the EPC, as well as glean from the experiences of other denominations and organizations that have navigated these same waters in recent years.”

The Task Force is co-chaired by TE Rufus Smith, Presbytery of the West; and TE Dean Weaver, Presbytery of the Alleghenies. Members are TE Tom Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Marc de Jeu, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE David Dwight, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Enid Flores, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Phyllis Le Peau, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Soon Pak, Presbytery of the Midwest; Beth Paz, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Brandon Queen, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Tim Russell, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Tom Werner, Presbytery of Mid-America; and Ted Winters, Presbytery of Mid-America.

Fund established for Andrew Brunson recuperation/recovery

 

WelcomeBackAndrewFundThe EPC has established a fund to assist Andrew and Norine Brunson in their recovery from their two-year ordeal in Turkey. Andrew will serve as Missionary-in-Residence at Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C., for one year, and gifts to the fund—dubbed the “Welcome Back, Andrew! Fund”—will be sent to the church to finance the position. Christ Community Church is the Brunsons’ home congregation.

Richard White, Pastor of Christ Community Church, said the role was designed and created specifically for Andrew and Norine.

“With the challenges of resettling back in the U.S. after 25 years in Turkey—plus the crush of requests we knew he’d receive—we wanted to provide Andrew and Norine the opportunity of a safe place to rest and recover,” he said. “Andrew’s primary responsibility as our Missionary-in-Residence will be to heal, and then to discern God’s direction for their future.”

In addition to compensation and benefits, donations to the fund will cover court costs Andrew incurred with his conviction in Turkey of terrorism charges; relocation expenses; a travel allowance to help the Brunsons reconnect with their adult children (who live in three different parts of the U.S.); and seek the medical and spiritual help they will need in the months ahead.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said the goal is to raise $160,000 and the fund will be closed when the target is reached.

“Throughout Andrew’s 25 months of unjust incarceration in Turkey, churches and individuals constantly contacted our office asking if they could provide financial help to the Brunsons,” he said. “Our response up to now has been that the time had not yet come, but we will be ready when it does. Now is that time.”

The fund was authorized by the EPC National Leadership Team. The Session of Christ Community Church approved the position on October 22, and Andrew accepted the offer on October 27.

“Let’s build on the memorable prayer, fasting, and advocacy efforts we made for Andrew and Norine by supporting the Missionary-in-Residence position at Christ Community Church,” Jeremiah added.

Click here to donate to the Welcome Back, Andrew! Fund.

General Assembly sermons, reports, Leadership Institute plenary session videos now available

 

GA2018VideosScreenshotVideo recordings of the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Memphis, Tenn., are now available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga/ga2018recordings. Speakers include:

  • Ligon Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary.
  • Jacqueline Furnari, daughter of Andrew Brunson.
  • Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk.
  • Eli Morris, Senior Associate Pastor of Hope Church, Cordova, Tenn.
  • Ken Priddy, Executive Director of the GO Center.
  • Tom Ricks, Chair of the EPC Church Planting Team.
  • Jennifer Ross, Director of Matthew’s Ministry at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.
  • Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church, Cordova, Tenn.
  • Greg Thompson, Director of Research and Strategy for Clayborn Reborn in Memphis.
  • Dean Weaver, Moderator of the 37th General Assembly.
  • Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly.

The videos also are available on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80 in the playlist “38th General Assembly.”

#epc2018ga

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.