Category Archives: People

EPC churches help with Texas, Florida hurricane recovery efforts


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Hurricane Irma caused a large tree to fall on the home of Andy Black, an elder for Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)

EPC churches in Texas and Florida continue to both recover and minister in their communities following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Eddie Spencer, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., said Irma brought heavy winds and flooding rains to southwest Florida.

“A number of our folks have been hurt by flooding,” he said. “We will help them.”

Spencer also said the focus of their outreach efforts “will probably be Immokalee,” a largely agricultural community about 35 miles southeast of Fort Myers with a significant migrant worker population—many of whom live in trailer homes damaged or destroyed by the storm. “I am very proud of our church family. We have been very engaged in the community and caring for each other.”

He also noted that as of September 18, the church was without electricity. “We had church yesterday with generators and fans and people seemed delighted that I preached a shorter sermon.”

Matthew Everhard, pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla., said the homes of two of their elders were damaged—one severely—but he was not aware of any injuries or major casualties.

“Most else is debris-related,” he said, “but we are contacting all 400 members and our 100 shelter guests.”

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Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the home of Jim Phinney, an elder for Faith EPC in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)

The church used its Family Life Center as a shelter, where approximately 100 local residents rode out the storm. Everhard said everyone at the shelter “survived happy and well-fed,” but reported several leaks to the church building and damage to the facade.

Ikki Soma, pastor of City of Refuge Church in Houston, reported via email that one of their ruling elders’ homes “looked like a war zone,” following Hurricane Harvey, noting that the all the drywall in their home had been removed from floor to ceiling.

“It’s the most devastated home I’ve seen,” Soma said. “Most people only have three to five feet of drywall removed. Pray for him and his family. His wife lost her mother last Saturday too, and many mementos from her mom were lost in the flooding.”

Michael Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, requested prayer for Michel Yonts, pastor of Edna Presbyterian Church in Edna, Texas. Edna was in the path of Hurricane Harvey, and Herrin said the home Yonts still owns in Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma.

“Please pray for Michel and Pauline as they deal with this double dose of difficulty,” Herrin said.

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Following Hurricane Harvey, piles of rubble from flooded homes are a common sight in southeast Texas.

Herrin also reported that Daniel Situka, EPC teaching elder and a hospice chaplain in Houston, needs significant repairs to his home. “His house was flooded and his roof needs some repair, but he said it is hard to find a contractor,” Herrin said. “FEMA has inspected the house, and has recommended that some more wet material be removed.”

Herrin also said Situka ‘s car was totaled. “He has a rental car and is back to work, but will have to buy a new car. Daniel has been very impressed with how helpful everyone has been.”

Daniel Nguyen, an EPC evangelist working with the Bellaire Vietnamese Fellowship, expressed gratitude for the EPC’s Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund.

“Thank you for showing your love of Christ through your prayers and financial support,” he said. “We have several members as well as non-Christian friends in our Vietnamese community who sorely need this kind of help to get back to their normal lives. As we earnestly share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our Vietnamese people, please pray for God to soften their hearts so they would soon receive Him as the Savior and Lord of their life.”

Alan Trafford, pastor of Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lake Jackson, Texas, reported that flood waters from Hurricane Harvey have receded in southern Brazoria County, south of Houston.

“It hasn’t rained since the storm, thankfully, but the millions of gallons that fell on the Greater Houston area had to pass through the coastal counties to reach the Gulf,” Jackson said via email. “This is what caused our flooding, approximately ten days after the storm hit.”

He said volunteers from Covenant have worked closely with a local ministerial alliance in coordinating volunteer efforts and serving the area in a variety of ways.

“We have had a hand in many tasks, from feeding evacuees at one of the local shelters to collecting diapers for the Pregnancy Help Center, from unloading huge amounts of supplies for the local food pantries, to filling hundreds of sandbags,” he said. “It has been gratifying to see so many groups coming together to help, and we hope to work with groups from other churches in the coming months.”

Jackson noted that the need is “immense,” with more than 120,000 homes in Southeast Texas completely flooded, and thousands more damaged.

“Some of the poorest neighborhoods, in rural or unincorporated areas, have suffered the worst flooding,” he said. “We are sending teams out to rip out carpets and flooring, remove debris, and cut out drywall. About a dozen families in the church had water in their homes. The worst was one of our elders who got four feet of water in his newly remodeled house—his second flood in just over a year.”

He said the church’s new youth facility has been converted into accommodations for work groups. “We trust that the Lord will continue to use us to demonstrate the compassion of Christ.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said contributions to the EPC’s emergency relief funds have helped local churches immensely.

“In the wake of Harvey, Irma, and now Maria in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, I am so grateful for the generosity of individuals and churches across the EPC who have helped our churches minister to their members and communities. I hope we can continue to bless them in this way.”

As of September 20, the Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund has received $235,182 while the Hurricane Irma relief fund had received $14,976.

A Hurricane Maria relief fund has been approved by the National Leadership Team and will be announced by September 22. Maria caused significant damage in Puerto Rico—home to three EPC churches in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean—including loss of power across the entire island.

Turkish court levels more charges against Andrew Brunson


Andrew Brunson

Andrew Brunson

A Turkish court added three new charges against imprisoned EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson on August 24. The charges include gathering state secrets for espionage, attempting to overthrow the Turkish parliament and government, and to change the constitutional order.

According to a report from the World News Group, Brunson could face up to four consecutive life sentences if convicted. The article quoted Brunson as saying during court proceedings, “I am a defender of Jesus Christ. I am a religious man who builds a church and does it in the knowledge of the state. I will never support any Islamic movement.”

“We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to ‘pray without ceasing,’” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Please do not stop praying for Andrew. He and his family need it more than ever.”

Brunson has been held since October 2016, and has been charged in a separate Turkish court with membership in the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), the network of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen whom Turkish authorities blame for masterminding the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

Iconic golden hand back atop Port Gibson (Miss.) EPC church


Written by Brandon O’Connor/The Vicksburg Post
Photos by Courtland Wells/The Vicksburg Post
Reprinted by permission

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Michael Herrin, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, reads a poem as The Hand Pointing to Heaven is hoisted atop the church’s steeple on Aug. 16.

The Hand Pointing to Heaven is once again in its rightful place atop the steeple of First Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson, Miss.

The 10-feet 4-inch, 250 pound golden fist with its index finger pointing skyward was returned to the top of the steeple at First Presbyterian on Aug. 16 following a two-month restoration process.

The golden hand was taken down from the steeple on June 26 and sent to Virginia where it was restored and then recovered in gold plate.

“We sent it to American Stripping Company in Manassas Park, Virginia.” Rev. Michael Herrin said. “They stripped off the previous coatings, repaired the metal, it had rust mainly on the cuff around the bottom. They then prepared the surface for gilding. The gilder’s studio from Maryland put the gold plate on it. It is real gold plate, just real thin.”

The hand was then shipped back to Port Gibson where it was originally scheduled to be reinstalled Aug. 9. Inclement weather caused a slight delay in the process, but Wednesday it was raised back to the top of the steeple where it sits 147 feet above the ground.

“It is a symbol of Port Gibson,” Herrin said. “It is a symbol of what we are all supposed to be about. It reminds us that this life isn’t about us. It is about God. It does what steeples are supposed to do. They are supposed to point us to God.”

There was some question Wednesday of whether they would raise the hand to the top of the steeple or not after a few cracks were found in the back when it was unwrapped. They decided to go ahead after sealing the cracks to keep water out.

“I carried it up there with a mattress and it worked fine,” Jimmy Cassell, the chairman of the Deacon’s Board, said. “They built some cradle they wanted me to bring it back in. That cradle is too hard evidentially, and when we hit bumps it bent it a little bit. We calked it and hopefully it is going to be alright.”

After the repairs were made and members of the congregation had the chance to have their pictures taken with it, the hand was raised to the top of the steeple using a crane. There it had to be bolted back onto the steeple and the lightning rod had to be attached.

A hand has been atop the steeple of First Presbyterian since 1860, when the current building was finished. The original hand was made of wood and this hand, which is made of metal, was purchased and placed atop the steeple in 1903.

“The original minister, Dr. Zebulon Butler, during his sermons would make the hand gesture,” Cassell said. “They took that hand gesture and made it.”

It has been a fixture of Port Gibson ever since. The hand was last taken down from the steeple in 1989 to be refurbished.

“It is always scary when it comes down because there are so many things that could happen,” Azalea Knight, who has been a member of the church since 1972, said. “It is such a landmark for the state of Mississippi and Port Gibson. It is beautiful and I am so excited to see it back up. It is such a void while it was gone.”

Norma Bearden made the drive from Natchez to see the golden hand returned to the steeple. The hand and the church hold a special place in her heart and she wanted to be there for its return.

“I was married in this church in 1979. It really was a good feeling that we are trying to keep the town up. It brought back a lot of good feelings about my wedding,” Bearden said. “I grew up in the area and I saw the hand nearly everyday of my life. I thought it was monumental that we have been able to keep it restored and in such good condition. It shows the pride of everybody in the Presbyterian Church.”

The two month long project cost the church $43,000 Herrin said.

“I am so thankful for all the people that contributed to this and did it. It is so great to have deacons who will take a project and just run with it,” he said. “It looks wonderful. Beautiful, golden, shiny. I think it does its job. It points people to Christ and that is all we can ask.”

Longtime EPC pastor Bob Hopper dies at 65


BobHopperRobert D. “Bob” Hopper passed away suddenly on Monday, June 12, in Elyria, Ohio. He was 65. At the time of his death he was serving as Transitional Pastor for Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Hopper graduated from Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., in 1973, where he met his future wife, Tacey (Keller), in the freshman orientation line. They were married in the Grove City College Chapel in January 1974. The Hoppers both later graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass.

Bob began full-time vocational ministry in 1977 as a pastor in the United Presbyterian Church, where he served for four years, and then spent fourteen years as a pastor and church planter in the Presbyterian Church in America. In the EPC, he served 11 years as pastor of North Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wexford, Pa., and later served interim roles as Transitional Pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Fresno, Calif.; Southport Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Ind.; Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kan.; and Central Presbyterian Church in St Louis, Mo.

The Hoppers’ ministry extended to the Byerzhitsa Church in Bryansk, Russia, where they have participated in short-term projects for more than 20 years—including orphanage ministry and helping with the construction of several of church plants of the Byerzhitsa congregation. Bob also was involved in numerous mentoring and discipleship activities, including serving as an EPC Transitional Pastor coach/mentor, an NRA Firearms Training Counselor, and a certified SIG SAUER Master Firearms Instructor.

His favorite pastimes were spending time with his family, and shooting with family and friends. He also was an avid Pittsburgh Pirates fan.

He is survived by his wife, Tacey; daughter and son-in-law Jessie and Aaron Zacek of Prospect, N.Y.; son and daughter-in-law Seth and Lacy Hopper of Indianapolis, Ind.; son Luke Hopper of Fort Campbell, Ky.; and eight grandchildren: Abigail, Joshua, Madeline, Samantha, and Nathaniel Zacek, and Mikayla, Angela, and Tyler Hopper.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, June 18, at North Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Bob’s memory to further the ministry of the Byerzhitsa Church—all donations should be made out to North Park Church with “Bryansk” on the memo line.

Click here for a full obituary notice.

Divided We Fall: new Luder Whitlock book addresses Christian disunity


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Luder Whitlock

What can we do to foster unity and deeper community in a world where so many relationships are fractured and fractious? Luder Whitlock, minister at-large for First Presbyterian Church of Orlando and a member of the EPC National Leadership Team, addresses this question in Divided We Fall: Overcoming a History of Christian Disunity. The book was released in May by P&R Publishing and available from a variety of booksellers.

In the book, Whitlock explores God’s desire for unity in the church, overviews the history of global Christianity with an eye on its schisms and agreements, and points readers toward the necessity of God-honoring fellowship. In the closing chapters, he tackles some challenges and concerns, as well as provides practical steps for increasing trust and developing understanding—particularly within the church.

DividedWeFallAmong the many Christian leaders writing endorsements of the book are Jeff Jeremiah, Leith Anderson, Tim Keller, Mark Noll, and Carmen Fowler LaBerge.

“(Whitlock) makes a simple argument,” said Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, “that it’s time for evangelicals Christians to focus more closely on what they hold in common, especially in the face of increasing cultural opposition to the gospel.”

Divided We Fall explains how we got to where we are—with an amazing mix of tears, anger, and hope,” said Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals.

“At a time when Christian leaders are almost obsessed about the culture,” said Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, “this book rightly argues that we will shape the broader society only to the degree that we make the Christian church what it should be.”

“Biblically rooted, historically informed, and pastorally helpful, this book gracefully fulfills its purpose of strengthening unity and community in Christ’s church,” said Noll, Research Professor of History for Regent University in Vancouver, British Columbia, and plenary speaker for the third annual Leadership Institute at the 37th General Assembly in June.

LaBerge, President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, said the book is “a must-read for all those interested in the church’s bearing a unified witness to the world.”

Others endorsing the book include David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, and Don Sweeting, President of Colorado Christian University.

Whitlock served as president of Reformed Theological Seminary from 1978-2001, and currently is executive director of the CNL Charitable Foundation and the JMS Foundation. He also served as Executive Director of The New Geneva Study Bible and a major revision, published as The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. He and his wife, Mary Lou, have three children and eleven grandchildren.

Turkey levels charges against Andrew Brunson


Andrew Brunson

Andrew Brunson

Turkish media is reporting May 19 that EPC teaching elder Andrew Brunson is being accused of being a “Kurdish sympathizer” and a “Gülenist.” The timing of the media reports potentially reveals Turkey’s response to President Trump and Vice President Pence’s pleas to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 16 to release Brunson from prison and allow him to return to the United States. Brunson has been held since October 2016.

“I cannot stress enough how significant these accusations are,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “In fact, the Turkish government views them as nothing less than treason.”

Hurriyet, the leading English-language news outlet in Turkey, reported that prosecutors are citing Brunson for “delivering sermons to the Kurds with a ‘special purpose’”—wording that implies support for an ethnic group that Turkey is waging a military campaign against. The Kurds are a minority group in Turkey (primarily located in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country, as well in Iran, Iraq, and Syria) and for many years have unsuccessfully pressed for more autonomy.

Yeni Şafak, a pro-Erdoğan news outlet, published an article yesterday under the headline “FETO Chaplain” that condemned Brunson for supporting Islamic cleric Fethulah Gülen, who has lived in the United States since 1999. Gülen leads a loose organization involved largely in education but also in other areas. Gülen and Erdoğan are former allies, but in 2015 the Turkish government labeled his movement the Fethullahist Terror Organization—or FETO—and classified it as terrorist. Erdoğan blames Gülen and FETO for leading a coup attempt against him last summer that ultimately failed. Gülen has repeatedly denied the charge.

“It is time to redouble our prayer efforts,” Jeremiah said in a statement to the EPC. “Please take time in your worship services this weekend to plead to the Lord on Andrew’s behalf.”

Trump, Pence press Andrew Brunson’s release to Turkish President Erdoğan in White House meetings


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In meetings held on May 16, U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence appealed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for Andrew Brunson’s release. Brunson, an EPC teaching elder, has been imprisoned in Izmir, Turkey, since October 2016.

The EPC received reports from two different sources that both Trump and Pence advocated for Andrew’s freedom.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said that one of these individuals “told us that Mr. Pence asked him to reach out to the EPC directly. I know I speak for the Brunson family in expressing our most sincere appreciation to the President and Vice President for their efforts today.”

Jeremiah noted four items that occurred in the meetings:

  1. Pence met with the Turkish leader first, and pleaded that Andrew’s case be expedited and resolved as quickly as possible.
  2. At the lunch that followed, Trump raised Andrew’s case at both the beginning and end of lunch. His plea was very similar in language with the Vice President’s.
  3. After the lunch, Pence raised it a final time.
  4. Pence was personally engaged in this with Erdoğan, and Trump spoke knowledgeably about Andrew’s situation.

“We are all very grateful for the prayers of so many people in the days leading up to today’s events,” Jeremiah added. “Please keep praying in the aftermath of this meeting.”

Brunson’s situation has garnered attention from news organizations across the theological and political spectrum, including ABC News, CBS News, The Christian Post, Fox News, International Christian Concern, Jewish News Service, National Catholic Register, National Review, Presbyterian Lay Committee, Slate, Time Magazine, USA Today, World Watch Monitor, and others. Links to many of these reports are available on the EPC’s Andrew Brunson resource page at www.epc.org/forgottenamericaninturkey.