Category Archives: People

World Outreach global workers minister, monitor coronavirus locally

 
PhilLinton

Phil Linton

by Phil Linton
Director, EPC World Outreach

As WWII drew to a close, a young Russian soldier-mathematician was arrested and condemned to imprisonment and permanent exile for privately criticizing Stalin. Imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp, later suffering from cancer and given just weeks to live, it seemed that all the plans, hopes, and dreams of his life were shattered. But what Stalin meant for evil, God used for good, and the arrest changed the course of Aleksankr Solzhenitsyn’s life so that the soldier-mathematician became one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering many of our plans and dreams, but how is it affecting EPC World Outreach? It is causing us, like you, to be on heightened alert. We are talking with and listening to government sources, other mission agencies, and our own colleagues around the world to try to keep up with changing situations. But, above all else, we keep in mind that God is in control, and there is no virus that can do anything without God using it for His good purposes.

The EPC World Outreach staff in Orlando is doing the same things that many of you are—working from our homes, canceling all but essential travel, postponing events, and changing meetings to video conferences. We have stepped up text, audio, and video calls to stay in even closer communication with our global workers to pray with them and help them think through their responses.

World Outreach is neither requiring nor forbidding any of our workers to return to the States. We believe these decisions are best made at a team level by those most aware of local situations. Two of our workers, in exceptional circumstances, have returned to the States in the past week. The rest are heeding local medical advice, postponing travel, and adopting social practices to inhibit spreading the disease. As they have long prayed for spiritual breakthroughs in their communities, they are now waiting in hope for opportunities to be God’s ambassadors to neighbors in need.

The message that our global workers tell their neighbors is the same message they tell themselves: in a global pandemic the only safe place to flee to is the arms of God.

Thank you for remembering our missionaries even as you face your own challenges. Thank you for praying for them as you pray for your own families; thank you for giving to support them, even as you deal with your own financial reverses. Please continue to pray.

  • Pray for our missionaries’ health and stamina, especially for those working with the poor and providing health care in difficult settings.
  • Pray for World Outreach leaders to be full of grace and truth as we respond to our colleagues’ questions and needs.
  • Pray for all of us to be radiant ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, sharing the good news that brings life to the dying.

Looking back at the surprising course of his life, Solzhenitsyn wrote this prayer:

How easy for me to live with you, Lord!
How easy to believe in you!
When my mind casts about
or flags in bewilderment,
when the cleverest among us
cannot see past the present evening,
not knowing what to do tomorrow—
you send me the clarity to know
that you exist
and will take care
that not all paths of goodness should be barred.
At the crest of earthly fame
I look back in wonderment
at the journey beyond hope — to this place,
from which I was able to send mankind
a reflection of your rays.
And however long the time
that I must yet reflect them
you will give it me.
And whatever I fail to accomplish
you surely have allotted unto others.

Let us live these days of the COVID-19 pandemic so that, when it has passed, you and I will look back at it in wonderment as a time where God’s glory was most radiant.

EPC chaplain for Christian school requests prayer as coronavirus infects 40+ community members

 
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Matthew Sullivan

Matthew Sullivan, an EPC Chaplain for a Christian school in Nashville, Tenn., is requesting prayer as more than 40 members of the school community have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) following a school fundraising event held earlier in March.

Sullivan, 52, has served as chaplain of The Covenant School for 10 years, where he is the Director of Campus Life and Bible teacher. The school is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in the affluent Green Hills area of southern Nashville. Sullivan is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Central South.

“We could use prayer here in Nashville. We have been hit very hard by the coronavirus, with over 30 positive cases recorded thus far in our little school,” Sullivan said by email on March 18. “Needless to say, there is a lot of ministry being done and still to do, as there is a lot of anxiety.”

In a follow-up message on March 22, he wrote that “we’re now looking at well over 40 positives” among adult staff, faculty, and parents at the school of about 160 students ranging from age 3 through sixth grade.

“We are all self-quarantining, as was recommended by the Metro Health Department,” he said, adding that “tons of texting, sharing of prayers, Scriptures, and encouragements” are being shared between students and their families, staff, and other supporters.

“Our social media is extremely active, too. We’ve created a hashtag #covenantstrong to help bind our community together.”

Sullivan reported that as of March 22, none of the individuals who has tested positive has become seriously ill.

“Our people have been amazing in their faith and resilience. Thank the Lord, no one has had serious symptoms,” he said. “Because of our size, our families are very well-connected and have banded together to not only take care of each other but to be a resource to their non-believing neighbors and friends. It is having an impact on our community.”

Sullivan noted that the school and church community had already mobilized for ministry efforts following recent tornadoes that inflicted widespread damage in and around Nashville.

“We were already working on recovery efforts that actually parlayed well into bracing for and creating avenues of care as the pandemic approached,” he said. “Pray for the Spirit of the Lord to bring peace to our families, and for us to be an example to the city of Nashville of the Body of Christ at work to soothe, heal, and bring wholeness.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

A virtual minister tries to tend a missing flock during the coronavirus crisis

 
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David Swanson, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., has been preaching to an empty church during the coronavirus crisis. His sermons are live-streamed to the congregation. (photo credit: David Whitley)

On a normal Sunday morning, David Swanson will shake hundreds of hands. On an abnormal Thursday afternoon, there were only 20 hands in the building. No ushers, no bulletins, no offering plates, no choir, and no congregation. Swanson took the stage, and all he saw was 60 empty pews stretching to the back of sanctuary.

“Good morning, First Presbyterian Church of Orlando,” Swanson said to a camera.

For the next hour, the senior pastor played virtual preacher. When his recorded sermon was over, Swanson didn’t scurry to the foyer to greet a virtual line of members.

The non-virtual reality is that coronavirus has closed just about every church, so many are now streaming their services online. But technology giveth, and it taketh away. Computer glitches knocked last Sunday’s live service offline, so Swanson wasn’t taking any chances this week. He taped the service Thursday. It was just him, Senior Associate Pastor Case Thorp, a singer, an organist, two guitarists, a drummer, two video technicians, and a camera operator.

With all due glory to Silicon Valley, technology is not providing the miracle pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams an are looking for in this abnormal new world.

“I will tell you,” Swanson said, “this past week has been one of the most challenging ever.”

A minister is like an NFL coach. The public sees the team’s performance on Sundays, but most of the work is put in during the week.

It’s visiting hospitals, counseling members, leading meetings, directing outreach programs. At the core of it all is interacting with people. Swanson is more hard-wired for that than most.

“My goodness,” he said. “I don’t think I realized what a touchy-feely person I am.”

As a kid in Dallas, Swanson sat in Catholic mass and was mesmerized by the priest. He went to a Bible study at a Presbyterian church when he was 17.

“It was like a light came on,” Swanson said.

He had found his calling.

He’s been at First Presbyterian 15 years. The church celebrated its 144th anniversary Wednesday. Like many downtown churches, the flight to suburbia has been a challenge.

With about 4,000 members, First Presbyterian has tried to stay relevant by changing with the times. It’s safe to say none of the 11 original members who gathered at Prof. Benjamin Gould’s house on March 18, 1876, envisioned outreach programs powered by Facebook and Instagram.

But a virtual flock still needs a real shepherd, especially in a crisis. Swanson can’t go to Westminster Towers, the senior living facility, for his weekly lunch lecture.

He had to call four brides this week to inform them First Presbyterian can’t host their wedding ceremonies. Two decided to go ahead and be married in an empty church.

Swanson conducted a graveside funeral and couldn’t hug any mourners. He went to a hospital to visit sick members and was turned away.

“I thought they’d say, ‘Well, pastors can come in, but not average citizens,’” he said. “You’re caring for people. I think that makes us an indispensable part of health care, but we’re not. I understand that, but I do feel a little bit at loose ends.”

He’s in the hand-holding business, and hands are now off limits.

Swanson is trying to make up for that by starting daily online devotionals. He and his staff plan to call every church member.

“Do you need food? Do you need medicine,” they’ll ask. “Is there anything we can do?”

But there’s only so much a virtual ministry can do. Swanson acknowledged that in his Thursday/Sunday sermon.

“Trust me, I’m so grateful we can do this today,” he said. “But please, don’t get lulled into believing this is always going to sufficient, because it’s not. We’ve been created to be in relationships, face-to-face, in each other’s presence.”

So why has God taken that away?

Perhaps, to make us realize what we’ve lost in a world that now revolves around Facebook, Instagram, and socially isolating media.

“The incredible irony of this season is that God has removed from us the very thing we as a culture, as a nation, had started to take completely for granted,” Swanson said. “The privilege of being able to gather together for worship.”

When he finished speaking Thursday, the bright lights illuminating the pulpit shut down. The afternoon sun beamed through the stained-glass window, casting long shafts of light over the empty pews.

As the musicians quietly packed up their instruments, Swanson took off his coat, loosened his tie, and took a seat on the front row.

What he’d have given for just one hand to shake.

by David Whitley/Orlando Sentinel
Reprinted by permission

EPC pastors, churches in California adapt amid statewide lockdown

 
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Shawn Robinson, Pastor of Clayton Community Church in Clayton, Calif., leads a virtual men’s Bible study on March 19 using Zoom, a popular online video conference tool. 

Having an entire state on mandatory lockdown as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents unique challenges for state and local government, businesses, and 40 million residents of California.

For pastors and churches accustomed to gathering in groups and striving to meet the needs of their members and communities, the challenges take on a spiritual dynamic.

“COVID-19 has impacted our church the most by preventing us from gathering for Sunday worship and midweek community groups, creating isolation, and forcing new ways of maintaining community, fellowship, and worship,” said Andrew Ong, a ministry resident at Christ Church East Bay, which has campuses in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif.

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Andrew Ong

Ong said about 20-25 percent of the church’s congregation is older than 50, with some of its senior members living alone.

“This is leading to much anxiety and loneliness,” he said. “We have a team who is almost done personally contacting all our seniors to make sure they know that we are here for them, and to identify any ways that we can serve them spiritually, materially, and emotionally.”

On March 16, San Francisco-area residents received a directive from Gov. Gavin Newsom to “shelter in place.” Three days later, Newsom announced the dramatic step of requiring all 40 million residents of the state to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Scott Farmer, Transitional Pastor of Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church in Moraga, Calif., laughed during an interview above the screams of grandchildren.

“I’m good. I’m on grandpa duty right now,” he chuckled. “I’ve got a four- and six-year-old that are definitely ready to go to the park.”

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Scott Farmer

Like Ong and other ministry colleagues around the country, Farmer said he and his church are doing their best to adapt to “the new normal.”

“There’s no normal,” Farmer acknowledged. “This is nowhere near normal. We’re adjusting. Last Friday we got one directive from county health not to have gatherings of more than 50, and we adjusted to that until Sunday night when the governor gave us a new directive. So we were gathering Monday morning to adjust to those. At one o’clock we got a new directive to shelter in place. All the schools were closed and all non-essential services. So that’s how rapidly it has been changing.”

Farmer said the church is doing its best to keep people connected.

“We send out an e-news update every week. I tell them what time of day that I send it out because information is changing so fast,” he said.

“All of our ministries: children’s, youth, men and women’s, missions—everyone is all remote now. So we’re all asking the questions, ‘How do you live as a church in a sheltered-in-place environment? How do you care for one another, and how do you care for the community?’”

He added that the church, like many, is broadcasting their worship online and holding Bible study classes online.

“All of our small groups and community groups are virtual now. We have activities for the children that are video-based online, with exercises and things like that.”

Farmer said as the church has increased its video and social media capacity, it has made it a priority to train older members on how to use it.

“They aren’t used to getting online, among other things. We are calling everyone in our congregation who are in their 70s, and we have a whole system of runners who are committed to doing their errands for them by going to the grocery store and anything else for those who are vulnerable,” he said.

“We’re also asking the congregation to think of ways we can serve one another and the community to let us know, and we’ll try to evaluate and respond.”

Shawn Robinson has served as Pastor of Clayton Community Church in Clayton, Calif. for 23 years, and said the lack of weekly gatherings has his ministry team working to create an online learning environment that keeps people connected. The congregation normally meets for worship in a local middle school.

ShawnRobinson

Shawn Robinson

“Everything is online now,” Robinson said. “We are having a regular Sunday morning service that you can click on at the regular time. We recorded it, and this last Sunday (March 15) was our first one.”

Robinson said his staff recently called on him to prepare several weeks of messages ahead of time.

“We heard Monday morning that come midnight, the shelter-in-place was going to be in effect. So my worship team leaders came to me and said ‘Hey, can we record your messages today?’” Robinson laughed. “Well, OK, so we’re told to be ready to preach in and out of season—that became very real. I had maybe an hour to prepare but I think it went OK. Our executive pastor was going to do the next week, so basically we’ve got three weeks of messages ready.”

Robinson applauded the response of the church staff and ministry teams.

“They just all came together during this amazing time. We’re realizing that we’re not a megachurch, but what we send out we want to do with quality. Funny thing is, we have some recording equipment but if you have one of the newer iPhones the recordings on one of those are probably even better quality.”

He added he has been encouraged by the way people are engaging with the church—sometimes in unexpected ways.

“One of the interesting things that just cracks me up is that just before this happened, our office manager ordered a couple of cases of toilet paper,” Robinson recalled. “When we realized that we weren’t going to be able to get to our office, they brought it to my house. So I just went online and said, ‘Hey do you need toilet paper?’ I got so much response from that! We can say our motto is ‘We’ve got your backside!’”

In addition to dealing with the situation with hope and humor, Ong said the pandemic presents a unique opportunity for the Church to testify to the truth of Jesus and Scripture.

“We need to embody a countercultural community of selfless sacrifice, taking care of the least of these, first amongst ourselves, but also amongst our neighbors,” he emphasized. “We need to bear witness to our hope by not acting out of fear. Our hope is not ultimately in the markets, the government, or even in medical science, but in Christ—and we seek His Kingdom.”

Robinson has witnessed some surprising ways his church has been able to minister to people, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

“I’m just watching our people really reach out to their neighbors, offering prayer, asking if they can go get groceries for the neighbors,” he said. “In that regard, it’s quite encouraging. It’s funny, but I’m kind of excited right now. It’s forcing us out of complacency.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

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The staff of Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif., participate in an online video conference staff meeting on March 17.

Nashville EPC church plant mobilizes for tornado relief

 
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All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., set up a portable kitchen in the front yard of a parishioner and fed nearly 2,500 people over four days in the wake of the March 3 tornado outbreak.

All Souls Church, an EPC church plant in Nashville, Tenn., received $5,000 from the EPC Emergency Relief Fund on March 4 for its ministry to its neighbors in the wake of a devastating tornado outbreak on March 3 that took the lives of at least 25 people. The church holds its worship services in a school near the hard-hit Germantown area of North Nashville.

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Kirk Adkisson

Kirk Adkisson, Pastor of All Souls Church, said most of the congregation escaped the worst of the destruction.

“Thankfully no one in All Souls was injured, but two households are still without power and unsure when it will return,” he said. “My home didn’t have electricity for four days, but we didn’t have any damage. But six blocks south of us is a path about three-and-a-half miles long that is devastated.”

Adkisson reported that the initial relief funds were used to feed people in the area.

“We spent four days feeding about 600 people a day,” he said. “We served breakfast tacos in the morning, then from about noon until about 5:00 when we had to stop because of darkness we would cook burgers and hot dogs.”

He said their team served meals to both local residents and relief volunteers.

“Many people were just walking around because thousands have been displaced,” he explained. “We also were feeding the volunteers who were in the area—it was amazing to watch how many volunteers are helping.”

He said the feeding station was set up in the front yard of an All Souls parishioner whose home was damaged.

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The home next door to the feeding station set up by All Souls Church was heavily damaged.

“Although this man had no power—and still doesn’t—and had some damage to his house, he allowed hundreds of local residents and volunteers working in the area to walk into his house and use his bathroom. He invited hundreds of strangers in.”

Adkisson said that they know many of the volunteers “are going to have to leave soon, but we will continue to serve the community as it recovers. We know we want to pay attention to single moms and the elderly.”

These efforts include providing tarps and grocery store gift cards to local residents.

He also said that the mayor’s office approached him about leading a longer-term effort to stem the threat of developers seeking to take advantage of residents of the historically African-American community.

“We were working in the front yard the other day and a developer approached a guy six times whose home was destroyed about buying him out,” Adkisson said. “This is happening all over North Nashville. Developers are walking up to homes and offering lowball numbers for people to sell their property.”

He noted that in many cases, the offers are attractive because insurance deductibles can be beyond the means of the homeowners.

“That includes African-American churches here,” he said. “Many were damaged, and they also have deductible costs. Many of their parishioners are struggling.”

Adkisson emphasized that the recovery is in its early stages.

“It feels as if most the moves we make at this point are reactionary,” he said. “However, we are here and all-in for the long haul. We have begun the process of planning how to love and serve over the next month, 3 months, 6 months, and even a year.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said he was thrilled to be able to disperse relief funds within 24 hours of the storm.

“Due to the amazing generosity of EPC churches and their members following a series of disasters in recent years, we had funds available to send immediately,” Jeremiah said. “I also am thankful for our churches’ faithful support of Per Member Asking, which allows us to have the infrastructure in place to help in emergency situations when they arise. I expect that we will provide additional funds as Kirk and his congregation continue to assess the needs in their community.”

Secure online donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief.

Church Pivot podcast features church planting discussion with Tom Ricks

 
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Tom Ricks

The third episode of Case Thorp’s “Church Pivot” podcast features the Moderator of the 39th General Assembly talking with Tom Ricks, leader of the EPC Church Planting Team.

In their discussion, Ricks reflects on his years in church planting and explains what it takes to plant churches in a connectional denomination like the EPC in the 21st century.

Click below to listen. The 61-minute recording also is available on the EPC’s Podbean channel, or search “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” on Spotify or iTunes.


A veteran EPC church planter, Ricks serves as Lead Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo.

Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

“Church Pivot” is a series of articles and audio podcasts in which Thorp focuses on issues of pivoting toward a robust future of ministry, spiritual growth, adult conversion, and more.

Chaplains Work and Care Committee reviews resources, interviews chaplaincy candidates

 

CWCCMeeetingFebruary2020Meeting at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando February 24-25, the EPC Chaplains Work and Care Committee (CWCC) discussed a variety of topics related to its oversight of the EPC’s chaplaincy ministry. More than 60 EPC-endorsed chaplains currently serve in a variety of military and civilian contexts.

Among other items on its agenda, the CWCC reviewed plans for this year’s Chaplains Workshop, to be held as part of the Leadership Institute at the 40th General Assembly; reviewed several resources provided for EPC chaplains in both the endorsement process and active ministry; and interviewed two candidates for EPC chaplaincy endorsement.

“Ordained, professional chaplains serve in some of the most challenging environments imaginable, such as hostile locations, palliative care for children facing serious or end-of-life conditions, and mass-casualty events,” said Mark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser. “They also provide support in more joyful occasions like baptisms, worship, weddings, organizational invocations, and so much more—not to mention all the care and ministering that volunteer chaplains provide. It is truly an honor and joy to provide the avenue, guidance, support, and care to our chaplains in the field, as well as for those who are seeking to become an EPC chaplain.” Ingles is a Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West.

Members of the CWCC are Ted Tromble (Chairman), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Bruce Alexander, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Karen Bolte, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Tim Foster, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Glen Holman, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Jennifer Prechter, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; David Snyder, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Richard Swedberg, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; and Brad Yorton, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.

For more information on EPC chaplaincy ministries, see www.epc.org/chaplaincy.

Dean Weaver featured speaker for Jubilee student conference

 
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Dean Weaver

Dean Weaver, Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., and Moderator of the EPC’s 37th General Assembly, is a featured speaker for the Jubilee 2020 Conference hosted by the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO). Jubilee is CCO’s annual conference designed for college students; this year’s event is February 21-23 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. The theme for Jubilee 2020 is the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Weaver will address the topic of redemption with “The Moment that Changed Everything” at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 22.

“The conference is a life changing and transforming experience and it is exciting to be a part of engaging 4,000 college students with the gospel,” Weaver said. “It is one of the closest things on this earth to experiencing the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”

The EPC has partnered with CCO since 2007 to help local churches engage in campus ministry in their communities. Among the EPC congregations with CCO partnership college ministries are Memorial Park Presbyterian Church; Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh; Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.; First Presbyterian Church in Orlando; and many others. In addition, CCO’s Partnership Coordinator for Western Pennsylvania, Jen Burkholder, currently serves as chair of the EPC’s Next Generation Ministries Council.

For more information on Jubilee, see www.jubileeconference.com.

16 months post-prison: an interview with Andrew Brunson

 
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Andrew Brunson

In October 2016, Andrew Brunson was arrested by Turkish authorities—along with tens of thousands of Turkish military personnel, civil servants, educators, journalists, and dissidents following a failed coup. Brunson, an EPC pastor of a small Protestant church in Izmir, became a pawn in a geopolitical chess game. He spent two years in a Turkish prison before he was released in October 2018.

After his release, Brunson became the focus of worldwide media attention. He was honored at the White House and invited to the United Nations when President Donald Trump delivered a speech on religious freedom. Brunson has written a book about his ordeal, God’s Hostage, (Baker Books) that was published in late 2019. In this interview conducted by EPConnection correspondent Peter Larson, Brunson reflects on his life and ministry in the 16 months since leaving Turkey.

First of all, how are you and Norine doing?

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Andrew and Norine Brunson participate in a question-and-answer session at the 39th General Assembly, held June 2019 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver.

To be free is just amazing. It’s the small things that I missed while I was in prison—just normal life. Things like having breakfast with my wife or being able to sit on a park bench. It’s been good to see my children. My first grandchild was just born, and my son just graduated from basic training in the Army. It was a miracle just to be there for that!

Have you been able to heal since your time in prison?

Actually, a lot of the healing took place while I was in prison, when I was able to surrender fully to that. I went through a period when I had a lot of nightmares. I had a psychiatrist examine me who has worked with the U.S. State Department on a lot of trauma cases. He said I had Post Traumatic Stress, but not a disorder. Writing the book was cathartic, going through the pain and hardship again. There was a healing process in that.

In your book you are very honest about the faith struggles you experienced in prison. It was really a “dark night of the soul.”

The missionary biographies that I had read did not prepare me for the experience of imprisonment. Many of them are triumphalist and focus mainly on victory. Prison was a lot tougher than I expected. It really broke me. I prayed, “Lord, if I get out of this I pledge to be very open about this.” The encouragement I want to give people is to keep going in spite of your discouragement and trust in the Lord.

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At the invitation of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis (left), Brunson delivered the opening prayer for the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., on October 15, 2019.

You grew up in Black Mountain, N.C. Are you living there now?

Actually, I’ve been traveling a lot this year. We’ve been in Kansas City, but most of the time we’ve been living out of suitcases. Because of our high profile, we cannot do the kind of work we used to do. We cannot establish ourselves in a Muslim country and do church-planting work. So, in this season the Lord is going to use us in a different way.

One thing we want is some continuity in our lives. We want to have a home base we can work out of and establish a normal life.

What is the focus of your ministry now?

Our focus is still on the Muslim world and we have a number of trips ahead related to that. In the old Ottoman Empire—the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. Our desire is to see church planting in those places. We want to help the next generation to go into those places and equip local believers. For example, in March we’re going to be at a meeting in the Middle East with Muslim-background believes from many countries. Out of that we may be able to visit some of those places to train leaders, but we cannot live there long-term; they would probably kick us out or attack us.

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Upon Andrew’s release from prison in October 2018, he returned to his apartment in Izmir for a few hours before leaving the country.

How is your church in Izmir doing?

There’s really been a change in Turkey right now, a lot of oppression and missionaries being kicked out. But also, there is a growing interest in Christianity. People are coming to our church and asking questions. We are handing out 1,500 New Testaments every month. Younger people are being turned off by Islam. A lot of people are saying, “I don’t know what I believe anymore, but I don’t want to be a Muslim!”

Why do you think this change is happening?

Before I went to prison, I felt the Lord was telling me to prepare for the harvest. When I was in prison, I felt that assignment had been cancelled. Then, I began to realize that my imprisonment was an assignment from God. I was like a magnet that was drawing prayers to that part of the world.

So you are feeling hopeful about the church in Turkey?

What we need is a wave of the Holy Spirit to sweep through Turkey and the Middle East. In Iran, this has been happening for years—ever since the Islamic revolution. Any place where there are Iranians, they are coming to faith. I believe God is setting things in place for that to also happen in Turkey. In two of our locations in Turkey, they are maxing the building out.

What are some of your other ministry goals right now?

We are feeling a real burden to strengthen the next generation of Christians in the United States. There is increasing hostility in our nation to the Christian faith, and we are really not prepared for this. So when we have the opportunity to speak at colleges or conferences, we want them to be ready to stand firm, because it will be costly to be a Christian.

You are also engaged in ministry to the persecuted church, is that correct?

Yes, we want to highlight the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. Some of them are historically Christian groups that have been decimated. Some of these churches have not done a lot of evangelism; they are just trying to survive. This summer, we will be doing something with Open Doors. We have also worked with Voice of the Martyrs and groups like that. Recently, an Egyptian brother asked us to help him minister to Arab communities in Spain. There are so many opportunities and doors God has opened to us.

After your release from prison, the EPC launched a financial support fund to help with your transition back to the United States. How did that bless you?

The churches of the EPC contributed more than $150,000 to help us, and it came in very quickly. Jeff Jeremiah led that and there was a tremendous outpouring. We are so grateful for that. It helped us during the transition so I didn’t have to go out and raise support.

For 23 years you were an unknown missionary serving in Turkey. Now, your name is known worldwide. How does that feel?

I believe the Lord has kept us hidden this past year to a high degree. We were at the White House and the United Nations, but the rest of the time we were hidden away. We don’t feel like celebrities at all. It’s more that when we meet people who prayed for us, we are deeply grateful. Obviously, the Lord was using that prayer to sustain me, but He was doing so much more than that. I believe there will be a massive movement of God in the Muslim world. I think God is setting things in place for that.

If churches or individuals want to be involved in your ministry, how can they help?

We are setting up a 501(c)(3) non-profit for our ministry. People can contact me at andrewnorine@yahoo.com if they’d like to know more.

Andrew, thank you for taking time to update all of us on what you are doing. May God richly bless you, your family, and your future ministry!

Thank you very much.

by Peter Larson
EPConnection correspondent
Larson serves pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio

‘Fired Up Friday’ sparks church revitalization

 

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If you stop by Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church on the first Friday of the month, you are sure to encounter a lot of commotion…and a building full of kids. Ten years ago, the church began inviting children from the community to an event called “Fired Up Friday.” For two hours, kids move freely between rooms that offer games, prizes, snacks, crafts, and laser tag. The only required activity is a Bible study.

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Ashley Gardner

Ashley Gardner, Mt. Lebanon’s Director of Children’s Ministries, started the program to help a young girl—who was new to the Pittsburgh, Pa., suburb—make friends.

“The family moved here from Minnesota,” Gardner said. “And their daughter, who was in 2nd grade, wasn’t connecting with the other children. So God put it on my heart to host a smaller, more intimate fellowship outside of our regular programming. I wanted it to be a time when the kids could study the Bible but also be able to just hang out together.”

Thirteen kids attended that first event, and Gardner sensed God calling her to continue the ministry. Soon it became a regular monthly event. The numbers grew quickly, and in two years the room where they met was beyond capacity. The activities now take place in much of the church campus and nearly 200 children attend—most of whom are not from families in the church.

“Our ministry team looked around and realized that most of these kids were coming in from the community,” Gardner said. “Less than ten percent were our church kids. About a third of them had no church background at all.”

Carolyn Poteet, Mt. Lebanon’s Lead Pastor, says the church has a long history of outward focus, and Fired Up Friday is helping take the congregation back to its roots.

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Carolyn Poteet

“This church has historically had a vision for reaching people,” Poteet said. “It was founded in 1804, and in 1929 they constructed a beautiful gothic church. The sanctuary was designed to hold 1,000 people, even though the entire population of Mt. Lebanon was around 3,000 at the time.”

The opening of the Liberty Tunnels through Mt. Washington in the mid-1920s provided easy access between Pittsburgh and the Southern Hills suburbs, which caused the population of Mt. Lebanon to explode. With this new growth the church thrived, and soon become one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the region.

But by the time Poteet came to Mt. Lebanon EPC in 2017, the congregation had been shrinking for several decades. With the new leadership came intentional efforts at revitalization. They began to pray, listen, research, and conduct interviews to determine how to better reach their community and reverse the decline. It quickly became evident that children and their families, which included the Fired Up Friday program, would be a key component of the revitalization process.

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Fired Up Friday participants enjoy volleyball in Mt. Lebanon EPC’s Fellowship Hall.

“Once we compiled all our data and prayed and listened more, it became clear which part of God’s mission He was giving to our church,” Poteet noted. “Children needed to hear about Jesus, and we were good at ministering to children. Our new focus became ‘Reaching kids and their families for Jesus.’”

Poteet participates in Fired Up Friday in the “Stump the Pastor” room, in which the children interact with her and are free to ask her anything. No questions are off limits, she said.

“My favorite moment is when a child asks when God was born,” Poteet said. “The idea of infinity blows their mind every time!”

“Some of the kids get really deep and ask great questions,” Gardner said. “One boy, who was not a member of the church, spent an entire evening in that room. Another asked for a Bible at the end of the evening and told me he couldn’t wait to start reading it.”

In January 2019, Mt. Lebanon added a “Family Fired Up Friday” on the third Friday of each month, which is open to parents as well as kids. One year after launching, adult attendance has been as high as 120.

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Matt Dolphi is one of many volunteers who make Fired Up Friday happen each month.

“As Fired Up Friday has grown, we realized that while we were reaching kids, they had a much better chance of growing in faith if we reached their parents too,” Poteet said. “This smaller outreach has given us more time to build relationships with parents. Out of these relationships we are seeing incredible spiritual growth in people who had never even owned a Bible before.”

Nicole Parker, who has four children between the ages of five and ten, has been attending Family Fired Up Friday since it started.

“It’s really nice to be able to invite friends to participate in an event that is free, faith-based, and family-oriented,” Parker said. “Even with a range in ages, everyone can find activities that they enjoy.”

Sam Kudumula and Bindu Nallepogu, another family who regularly attends Family Fired Up Friday, saw the event as an opportunity for personal evangelism. They are originally from India, and have invited their Hindu neighbors to join them on Friday nights.

“They were so interested and touched by the experience,” Nallepogu said. “We were amazed that they showed up to listen to the Bible stories and wanted to come again. Our prayer is that God would open their hearts to the truth. We want to know their needs and minister to them.”

Gardner noted that a key to the success of Fired Up Friday has been the volunteers who give their time to make the program run smoothly and share the love of Christ.

“Without them we could not do this,” she said. “They have really connected with the children and their families, and are so committed to this ministry.”

FiredUpFridayDThe church is seeing growth in other areas as a result of the Fired Up Friday program.

Gardner recently started a Bible study in her home on Monday evening with some of the mothers. She continues to think about how to build deeper relationships.

“A lot of these families are not comfortable with church and do not have good memories with church,” she said. “We’re breaking down the walls and showing them that church can be fun and can be a safe place to learn about Jesus.”

Poteet and the Mt. Lebanon staff continue to explore ways to reach the community. They are considering a “Theology on Tap” group that would meet at a local restaurant, parenting classes, and a prayer and worship time that parents could attend while their children enjoy Fired Up Friday.

“The outside world is coming to us,” Gardner emphasized. “We’re being called to leave our walls and get to know our community. God is blessing us by bringing families to us, so we’re going to swing the door wide open and welcome them.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

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Mt. Lebanon’s Associate Pastor, Steve Aguzzi, delivers the message during “Family Club” at Mt. Lebanon’s monthly Family Fired Up Friday event.

Networking, sharing best practices highlight EPC pastors gathering

 

500-999Pastors2020Fifteen pastors of EPC churches with membership of 500-1000 discussed a variety of topics relevant to their ministries and settings at their annual gathering, held January 15-17 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando. The group meets each year for networking, fellowship, community, and sharing best practices.

Evangelism in a post-Christian culture, campus security, church planting, adult spiritual formation, worship design and staffing, self- and staff care, and a variety of other topics stimulated healthy discussion.

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Michael Flake

Michael Flake, Pastor of Lake Forest Church in Davidson, N.C., attended the meeting for the first time and said the peer group provided “a lot of encouragement.”

“We brought our questions and batted them around together,” he said. “I leave here with a lot of great ideas to be more effective in ministry.”

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Carolyn Poteet

Carolyn Poteet, Pastor of Mt. Lebanon EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa., said the gathering is a “high priority” on her annual calendar.

“I always get great advice, but more than that it’s a community that’s supportive and prayerful and intentionally seeking to help the Church flourish and to help each other flourish,” she said.

Others attending were Jeff Chandler, First Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, Calif.; Scott Farmer, Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, Calif.; Mark Fuller, Trinity Church in Plymouth, Mich.; Bryan Gregory, Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.; David Henderson, Covenant Church in West Lafayette, Ind.; Rob Hock, Southport Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Ind.; Scott Koenigsaecker, Sequim Community Church in Sequim, Wash.; Peter Larson, Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio; Tony Myers, St. Paul’s EPC in Somerset, 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.

Colorado Springs media help EPC Chaplain Endorser spread Christmas cheer for local food bank

 

For the sixth consecutive year, EPC Chaplain Endorser Mark Ingles has leveraged his home Christmas display to benefit the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado. Local media outlets have taken notice. KOAA News5, KKTV 11 News, and Fox21 News all broadcast Ingles’ efforts, and he will appear live on Fox21’s “Living Local” program on December 26 at 9:00 a.m. MST.

To watch “Living Local” online, go to http://www.fox21news.com/live.

Ingles’ initiative to help local families through the food bank has grown significantly—in his first year of collecting non-perishable food in 2014, 165 pounds were dropped off. By 2018, the haul was nearly 1,650 pounds. His goal this year is 2,000 pounds.

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Philadelphia-area churches collaborate to relieve medical debt

 

A group of churches in Delaware County, Pa., recently joined forces to provide an extraordinary Christmas gift for their neighbors. Together they raised more than $21,000, and working in partnership with the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt, eliminated more than $2.2 million in medical debt for 584 local families.

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Paul Bammel

Paul Bammel, Pastor of Bethany Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Stefan Bomberger, Pastor of Manoa Community Church, have been the driving force behind the initiative. Both men are relatively new to the area. Bomberger became pastor of Manoa in June of 2018, with Bammel following seven months later to serve at Bethany. About a mile and a half separate the two churches in the western Philadelphia suburb of Havertown.

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Stefan Bomberger

“When I arrived, Pastor Stefan invited me to attend a group of evangelical pastors who regularly meet together for prayer and encouragement,” Bammel said. He had been part of a similar group in Kansas, where he served as Associate Pastor for Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita for nearly eight years. That group had grown from a gathering of church leaders into a citywide prayer movement. “I wondered if the Lord might do something similar here to draw churches together to pray for our city and county.”

Around the same time, a group of churches in the city had decided to come together for a worship gathering they called “Havertown United.” Bammel and Bomberger liked that name and the idea of congregations in Delaware County teaming up for a shared purpose, so they began to call their unified prayer group “Delco United Church.”

The partnership with Delco United Church and RIP Medical Debt came about after Bammel saw a Facebook video, in which a Kansas church held an “RIP Medical Debt campaign for Easter” in lieu of spending money advertising their Easter services. Bammel brought the idea to the Delco United Church prayer group, who enthusiastically embraced it.

“We had been talking about being proactive in our community and looking for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors,” Bomberger said. “So often as the church we sit waiting for people to come to us, rather than going out and finding the problems that exist right around us. My hope for my own church was that we could learn to recognize those problems and look for meaningful solutions.”

Bammel called RIP Medical Debt about the possibility of partnering together.

“They told me that here in Delaware County there’s about $500,000 in medical debt that’s available for purchase,” he noted, “and in Philadelphia there’s about 16 or 17 million dollars of medical debt that can be purchased.”

Since 2014, RIP Medical Debt—a New York-based 501(c)(3) founded by two former debt collection executives—has worked with donors to abolish more than $1 billion in medical debt. The organization is able to purchase qualifying medical debts in bundled portfolios for pennies on the dollar, so the philanthropic impact is unparalleled. One dollar donated relieves an average of $100 of medical debt.

Bammel learned that a group or organization would need to contribute at least $15,000 in order to participate. Then a letter would be sent on behalf of those who donated to inform the recipients that their medical debt had been paid in full.

The pastors were excited about the possibility of sending letters to the families who received the gifts.

“We wanted the campaign to have a connection to the gospel,” Bomberger noted. “This was a way for us to demonstrate how Jesus had paid our debt for sin, and as a reflection of that, we were going to pay it forward by canceling their medical debt and relieving them of their burden.”

So on September 20, Manoa Community Church hosted the inaugural Delco United Church worship and prayer gathering. More than 200 people from ten different churches of various denominations attended the service, and Manoa’s deacons served as hosts.

An offering was received for the RIP Debt campaign, and participants gathered into groups to pray for the families whose debt would be relieved. An organization called Chosen People Ministries provided drinks and desserts for a time of fellowship after the worship service.

“The Delco United Gathering was a very special time,” said Dave Woods, who attended the service. “I immediately felt a bond with those in the pews I didn’t know because we share together in God’s grace.”

Bethany member Leslie Rindone said her favorite part of the service “was talking and praying with several Villanova University students sitting behind me. Their enthusiasm was infectious for this kind of community outreach, and they expressed their love in such a joyful way.”

The goal for the offering was $15,000, which Bammel and Bomberger hoped would cover the debt relief package for all of Delaware County. But by the time the campaign ended, they had raised more than $21,000—enough to relieve debt in their own county and in a portion of Philadelphia as well.

“As a lifelong Presbyterian, I haven’t seen a whole lot of ‘playing well with others’ among us,” Bammel noted. “But this was a wonderful way for Presbyterians to unite with the capital-C church and do something well together. I loved getting to meet so many brothers and sisters in Christ and I look forward to building those relationships.”

Bammel and Bomberger hope that this is just the beginning for Delco United Church. They are already looking toward having another night of prayer and worship.

“It will be interesting to see where the Lord takes this thing,” Bammel said, “Really, we need to all get on our knees and seek the Lord’s leading.”

They also hope that more churches will follow their example and help their neighbors who suffer under the bondage of medical debt. Information on starting a campaign to eliminate medical debt is available at www.ripmedicaldebt.org/contact. Select “Start a Campaign” to initiate the process.

Daniel Lempert, Director of Communications for RIP Medical Debt, emphasized that debts of necessity, like medical, are plaguing hard-working Americans. “No one chooses to get sick or have an accident,” he said. “This campaign is helping to make things right.”

He added that the most rewarding aspect of the Delco United Church campaign has been “hearing from those whose debts have been relieved about how this act of charity has renewed their faith after years of being hounded by debt collectors.”

“This was a big win for us, and a shot of encouragement for our churches,” Bomberger said. “Instead of just dreaming about possibilities, we came together and actually made it happen.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

Bellefield Presbyterian Church partners with University of Pittsburgh to feed hungry students

 

BellefieldChurchby Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

When Pastor Josh Brown looks out of the window of his office at Bellefield Presbyterian Church, he can see eight of the dormitories on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, commonly known as Pitt.

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Josh Brown

“I believe that God strategically placed us here to be a light to the college community,” he said. “In fact, even though our church is primarily made up of young professionals and families, many of them are here because someone at Bellefield invested in them when they were in college.”

So in the fall of 2014 when the university’s Dean of Students, Kathy Humphrey, approached Brown with a partnership proposal, he was eager to listen.

“The leadership at Pitt had become aware of a problem with food insecurity among their student population,” Brown said. “Many students were paying for school on their own but still living with parents, so they didn’t qualify for financial assistance.”

That left many of the university’s nearly 34,000 students choosing between paying for books and tuition or buying food—and much of the food that they could afford was lacking in nutritional value.

So Humphrey decided to set up a food pantry through PittServes, the university’s community service arm. That’s when she approached Brown and asked if they could house the pantry in Bellefield’s basement.

“At the time there wasn’t a suitable on-campus space, and retail spaces weren’t economically feasible,” explained Ciara Stehley, who serves as the Pitt Pantry Coordinator. There also was a concern that the stigma of being food insecure might keep students from coming to a location on campus.

Brown took the idea to his congregation, who welcomed the idea with open arms. Church members pitched in to clean out the basement, which was being utilized as a youth space, and Pitt Pantry officially opened during the spring 2015 semester.

At first, the pantry was stocked only with non-perishable items, but soon grew to include meat, dairy, and fresh produce. The university purchases most of the food from the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, and the rest comes from charitable donations by members of the community.

Pitt Pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Appointments also are available every weekday for anyone who cannot get there during its open hours. The pantry is staffed entirely by volunteers, and any Pitt student, staff, or faculty member whose income is less than 150 percent of the poverty line is eligible to shop at the pantry. As many as 80 people visit the pantry each month, which Stehley said was an increase of about 50 percent since the pantry opened in 2015.

Jason Ong, President of the Pitt Pantry Student Executive Board, says that volunteering at the pantry has opened his eyes to a hidden issue on his college campus.

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University of Pittsburgh students collected donations for the Pitt Pantry at the annual “Pitt Make a Difference Day” in October.

“I have learned that food insecurity does not have one face,” he said. “Any individual could face choosing to purchase a mandatory textbook over a meal. Beyond this, I am grateful to have met such a welcoming community at the Pantry.”

Brown occasionally encounters pantry shoppers who are curious about why the church is willing to help.

“I never want anyone to feel like the food comes with strings attached,” Brown said. “When someone inquires why we are doing this, I ask them if they were hungry that morning. And when they tell me they were, I say, ‘Then we want you to have the food you need so you won’t feel that way tomorrow.’”

Students receive food from the pantry with no obligation, though Brown hopes those who participate will recognize that Bellefield is a church that cares about students.

“We post information about our services and let them know that they are always welcome,” Brown said. The church recently added a third worship service at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays with acoustic music and a relaxed, reflective format in hopes that it would be an additional draw for students.

“Our congregation has been very supportive of the pantry,” Brown said. “We want to be aware of opportunities to reach out and connect with the community and be sensitive to the Lord’s leading through the channels that He creates.”

Brown believes the Pitt Pantry is one of those channels. He and another Bellefield member serve on Pitt Pantry’s board, and several student leaders in their Cornerstone ministry for college-aged young adults serve as volunteers.

In return, the university has also reached out to Bellefield. A few weeks ago, more than 40 PittServes students showed up at the church for a day of weeding and cleaning.

The Pitt Pantry also has brought regional awareness to the issue of food insecurity and prompted other universities to begin similar programs for their students. Stehley emphasized that being able to influence others is an exciting part of her work.

“Getting to share our successes and challenges at conferences across the country and support other schools as they improve the food needs of their students is one of my favorite things about my role,” she said. “As we move toward a holistic and proactive approach to supporting our students, we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. But we realize that we have a continued responsibility to strive for creative and systems-focused solutions.”

Brown hopes that Bellefield will continue to play a significant part in helping to find those solutions. He said the partnership with Pitt has enabled them to meet the needs of their community more effectively together than either could have done individually.

“I believe it’s a blessing for those around us to see a local congregation and a large university working together like this,” Brown said. “Our hope going forward is that we can continue to find ways to partner with the university to care for students in ways that reflect the love of Christ and model an effective, collaborative partnership.”

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Erie, Pa.) launches ministry relationship in Monterrey, Mexico

 

Through the EPC’s fraternal relationship with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM), Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa., has formed a ministry relationship with Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd National Presbyterian Church) in Monterrey, Mexico. The northeastern Mexican city of more than 4.5 million residents is about 200 miles west of Brownsville, Texas.

The seeds of the relationship were planted in November 2018, when Redeemer Pastor Douglas Kortyna and his wife, Sara, were visiting Monterrey.

“We wanted to worship with fellow Presbyterians while we were down there visiting family,” Douglas said. “We found El Buen Pastor and connected with their pastor, David Cruz.”

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From left, Douglas Kortyna (Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa.), David Cruz (Pastor of Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor in Monterrey, Mexico), and Jim Moelk (retired Presbyterian pastor from Erie, Pa.). 

Through their new-found friendship with Cruz, the Kortynas began a dialogue about potential future mission trips to Mexico. After discussing a variety of possible ministry opportunities, the pastors agreed that the best fit for a first mission trip would be theological education.

“It is a universal truth that Presbyterians throughout the world love their theological education!” Douglas exclaimed.

In November 2019, the Kortynas and a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Erie area, Jim Moelk, and his wife, Jaye, traveled to Monterrey and taught on a variety of topics.

“I taught on trinitarian worship and Reformed sacraments,” Douglas said. “Jim taught through the pastoral epistles with special attention to ‘guarding your conscience,’ while Sara taught the woman’s group at El Buen Pastor on the topic of trinitarian prayer.”

In addition, the group from Redeemer learned how their Mexican counterparts were engaged in church planting.

“The church has started what they call ‘five in five,’” Douglas said. “They are working toward planting five churches within a five-year time period.”

Cruz led the Pennsylvania contigent on tours of three of the Monterrey congregation’s five current church plants.

“We were blown away,” Douglas said. “What church plants five churches in five years? Yet every time El Buen Pastor hits a certain threshold of members, they plant a church, commission the team they establish, and commit to supporting them financially.”

He explained that the El Buen Pastor congregation has “a Kingdom focus and is not interested in just building up one congregation. I couldn’t help but think we should host pastors from Mexico to help teach future EPC church planters some of their strategies!”

Kortyna hopes the November trip is just the start of a fruitful partnership.

“We would love to host a team from El Buen Pastor,” he said. “There is much to learn from our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ while mutually serving one another, and I firmly believe we should participate with them in the missional work of church planting in Monterrey. Anyone interested in joining us is welcome to contact me at pastor_kortyna@rpcerie.org.”

Church Pivot podcast features Richard Mouw

 
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Richard Mouw

The second episode of Case Thorp’s “Church Pivot” podcast features the Moderator of the 39th General Assembly talking with Dr. Richard Mouw, President Emeritus and Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary. Mouw currently teaches courses on Christian Worldview and Contemporary Culture, and Perspectives on Christ and Culture.

In their discussion, Thorp and Mouw explore the topics of civility, gentleness, and respect—and how those qualities relate to the past, present, and future of the American evangelical church.

Click below to listen. The 42-minute recording also is available on the EPC’s Podbean channel, or search “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” on Spotify or iTunes.


Mouw served as President of Fuller Theological Seminary from 1993–2013. He has been an editor of the Reformed Journal and has served on many editorial boards, including Books and Culture. He is the author of more than 20 books, including The God Who CommandsThe Smell of SawdustHe Shines in All That’s FairCulture and Common GraceUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil WorldThe Challenges of Cultural DiscipleshipTalking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals, and Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground.

Mouw served for many years as a panelist in the online forum “On Faith” offered by the Washington Post. In 2007, Princeton Theological Seminary awarded him the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life. Mouw also served for six years as co-chair of the official Reformed-Catholic Dialogue, and is a leader in interfaith theological conversations—particularly with Mormons and Jewish groups.

Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

“Church Pivot” is a series of articles and audio podcasts in which Thorp focuses on issues of pivoting toward a robust future of ministry, spiritual growth, adult conversion, and more.