Free at Last: Andrew Brunson Released by Turkey After Two Years

American pastor was imprisoned on false charges of terrorism.

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been released after being detained for two years in Turkey.

At a hearing this morning, a Turkish court freed him from judicial control, which lifts his house arrest and travel ban.

Despite a guilty verdict sentencing him to 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days in prison, Brunson may return home to the United States as soon as today due to good behavior and time already served.

NBC News broke the news yesterday of the expected deal between Turkey and the United States over Brunson, a North Carolina pastor who had worked in Izmir for decades and was arrested on terrorism and espionage charges in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016.

US officials and religious freedom advocates considered the charges against Brunson to be erroneous, and multiple witnesses retracted their testimonies against him during today’s hearing.

Trump administration officials were optimistic but cautious that Turkey would follow through on the deal, reported The Washington Post. The deal would likely lift recent US sanctions in exchange for Brunson’s release by being sentenced today to time already served.

Officials expect Brunson to “be handed back his passport and put on a plane to the US,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

World Watch Monitor was with Brunson and his family and lawyers in Turkey at 8 p.m. local time (1 p.m. eastern time in the US). He was expected to leave for the airport at about 9 p.m. local time/2 p.m. Eastern.

Facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted, Brunson flatly denied all charges. He had declared in court, “I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’ name.”

After being held in a number of different …

Continue reading…

Why Does the Red Planet Call to Us?

What space exploration tells us about human curiosity, from Eden to Mars.

Blue is the color of Mars at sunset. From the surface, the cold, dim light of the setting sun comes in from the horizon as it competes with the ever-present dust, thick in the air. The plains of graveled hematite that were once shades of ochre and umber by day are now jet and onyx.

In the darkness, Mars may seem to be a dead planet. But in Gale Crater, there is human movement, as NASA’s Curiosity rover slowly treks its way up the shoulder of Mount Sharp.

Mars is not the dying planet sprung from the imagination of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury. Mars is more alive than ever—increasingly populated over the last two decades with the robot explorers of an emergent humanity, propelled by a sense of curiosity that infects our species.

Ecclesiastes 1:13 calls humanity’s curiosity about the universe both a “heavy burden” (in the NIV), but also a gift “given to human beings” by our Creator (in the NRSV). Everyone loves, but God calls us to a higher love. Everyone is curious, but God calls us to a higher form of curiosity.

Last month, after nearly two years of testing and repairs, the Curiosity rover is again drilling into Martian rock in its bid to discover whatever secrets may be hidden within. One of the keys to unlocking those secrets is an instrument the car-sized vehicle carries called the ChemCam, an onboard spectrometer that uses a laser to vaporize Martian rock and then, by reading light waves, can measure the rock’s chemical and mineral makeup.

“Exploring the universe around us is a very God-given activity—to follow our curiosity and to continue the work of exploring God’s creation that has [already] begun,” explains Roger Wiens, a scientist …

Continue reading…

We Interviewed 20 Christians Who Traveled to North Korea. Now They Can’t.

About 70 faith-based groups must surmount legal hurdles to engage the restrictive nation.

It’s been a year since the Trump administration banned Americans—including most humanitarian workers—from North Korea, following the death of Otto Warmbier, an American university student whose imprisonment left him in a vegetative state. Last month, the administration renewed the ban for a second year. Since its implementation, the State Department has granted a special travel passport only in “extremely limited circumstances.”

While containing Pyongyang’s military ambitions, taking a normative stand against human rights violations, and protecting Americans abroad are commendable policy objectives, the travel ban limits humanitarian and economic projects that connect North Koreans with the outside world. Particularly impacted are nearly 70 faith-based organizations (FBOs), most of them Christian, which during the past two decades have legally channeled hundreds of (mostly volunteer) workers and thousands of tourists to North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). They originate from the United States (e.g., Christian Friends of Korea), Canada (Reah International), Finland (Fida International), Germany (Christliches Missionswerk Joshua), and South Korea (Eugene Bell Foundation Korea, Green Tree International), among other countries. As a Korean American political science professor, I (Yi) interviewed more than 20 workers and tourists, mostly US citizens, linked with faith-based organizations.

The FBO workers and volunteers, whom I interviewed, acknowledge the complications of international tourism to the DPRK and urge would-be tourists to exercise prudence and follow applicable laws. At the same time, they also highlight many positive developments in North …

Continue reading…

A Dying Child and a Living Hope

How prayer and friendship helped an expecting mother through a devastating fetal diagnosis.

Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian is a profoundly moving and wise book. In it, author and historian Sarah C. Williams tells the story of welcoming her daughter, Cerian, after a routine, 20-week ultrasound discovered a severe skeletal disorder typically resulting in stillbirth or neonatal death. Beginning with the initial diagnosis, Williams sketches a portrait of a family that loves, suffers, and endures in faith.

It would be a mistake to characterize this book merely as a grief memoir. Williams shifts seamlessly between intimate reflections on love in the midst of tragic loss and incisive commentary on the social structures that framed her experience of receiving an adverse in utero diagnosis. She sees with the loving gaze of a parent and the disciplined mind of one trained to wrestle with difficult questions. “What does it mean to be human?” she asks. “This is the question our daughter Cerian raised for me, and this is the question that lies at the core of this book.”

But it is not enough for her to raise questions about the pressures families face after a life-limiting diagnosis. She writes honestly about her own faltering attempts to comprehend Cerian’s value. She confesses that ethical and religious principles alone could not give her family the courage and hope they needed to fulfill this work of love. What they needed, they received in disciplines of prayer and the mercy of friendship. In prayer, they discerned a call—a vocation to receive Cerian as a gift to be loved. Through friendship, they received the grace to answer this call with unflinching fidelity.

The choice to welcome Cerian opened Williams to a deeper understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God. …

Continue reading…

Time Doesn’t Heal Sexual Assault If Victims Are Silenced

How churches can help victims decades after assault.

Christine Blasey Ford’s recent testimony added fuel to an already heated discussion on how we should respond to abuse allegations. Regardless of politics, pastor and author Ed Stetzer called for caution in how we speak about abuse so that we don’t harm victims within our own communities. Research confirms that victims stay silent because of a negative community culture toward abuse and often don’t receive emotional support. According to therapist Connie Baker, herself a sexual abuse survivor, our response as a church community can make tragic situations worse or they can help with the healing process.

Rachael Denhollander, the attorney who spearheaded the fight to take down Larry Nassar for sexually abusing hundreds of young female gymnasts, experienced both damaging and healing responses from her church communities. Before she came forward, she recalled the kind of church culture that had previously silenced her.

During a youth group discussion, Denhollander remembers a student asking whether they could consider King David’s misuse of power toward Bathsheba as sexual assault, and their teacher said no, opening the floor for others to give their opinions. (You can read why it is assault from a theological viewpoint here.) A friend of Denhollander’s raised his hand to share: “I think it had to have been her fault, because she could have chosen to die rather than have sex with him.”

“This immediately told me I would be better off dead than a rape victim. And if I didn’t fight to my death, it’s my fault,” Denhollander recalled.

The Impact of Silencing

Research indicates that when abuse victims feel like they can’t or shouldn’t talk about their experiences, …

Continue reading…

Nobel Peace Prize Goes to Christian Doctor Who Heals Rape Victims

Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege is on a crusade for women’s dignity.

A Christian gynecologist who has dedicated his career to caring for victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been awarded a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

Denis Mukwege, nicknamed “Dr. Miracle” for his specialized procedures, was a co-recipient for the annual honor alongside Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist who survived rape and kidnapping by ISIS in Iraq. The Nobel committee said both winners modeled “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.”

Over the past 20 years, Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of women in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, many of who had been gang raped by militants in the midst of the country’s conflict, left scarred and stigmatized.

His faith influences his approach to caring for patients holistically, “not only to treat women—their body, [but] also to fight for their own right, to bring them to be autonomous, and, of course, to support them psychologically. And all of this is a process of healing so women can regain their dignity,” he told NPR.

Mukwege is the son of a Pentecostal minister and was inspired to pursue medicine after traveling with his father to pray for the sick. Panzi Hospital, which he founded in 1999, is managed by the Pentecostal Churches in Central Africa (CEPAC).

If Christians do not live out the practical implications of their faith among their communities and neighbors, “we cannot fulfill the mission entrusted to us by Christ,” he said at a keynote for the Lutheran World Federation last year.

Further, the 63-year-old doctor advocates out of a Christian understanding of men and women as equal in dignity before God. He wears a button on his lab coat that says, “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resources, …

Continue reading…

One-on-One with Jana Magruder on Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith

What are the top five things parents need to do to raise children in the Christian faith?

Ed: Your new book is based on some research done on key factors that helps us raise kids who are strong in their faith. What was the heartbeat behind this research?

Jana: Most of my team and I are in the parenting journey with kids of multiple ages still in the home. There is a sense of urgency we feel every day to seek out best practices for discipleship where we KNOW our time is best spent.

The research was designed to extract these best practices by interviewing over 2,000 protestant parents who have grown children and asking them to look back at what they did to disciple their kids at home, while at the same time evaluating how their adult kids are doing now spiritually.

Ed: What is the number one issue the research tells us about parenting?

Jana: When we got the research back, the top two answers felt so obvious that for half a second we wondered if we should have spent the investment of time and resources to do the study! The number one thing parents can do is Bible reading. This indicator from the research is so off the charts that it stands in a category all alone as THE number one thing.

If you do nothing else as a parent, read your kids the Bible and help them read it on their own as they get older. Because this was the biggest finding, we named the research and the book Nothing Less, which is taken from the A.W. Tozier quote, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

Ed: What are the other indicators from the research that parents need to know?

Jana: Next on the list is prayer. It’s another obvious one, right? Parents need to model Bible reading and prayer from the beginning and then help their kids take these on in their own time with God.

After that, the list is less predictable. …

Continue reading…

Making Peace with Change

Transition is part of God’s original design. So is his peace in the midst of it.

We’ve been shopping for a new home. It’s tiring and exciting, a roller coaster of emotion for all of us. My young son, for example, is sentimental about every tiny imperfection in our 90-year-old house. “It’s time for a new season,” I tell him. But looking into his eyes by the dim reading light on his bedside table, I feel as though I’m looking into a mirror. I was change averse, too, when I was young.

I still feel small sometimes. And in moments like this, my empathy and emotion threaten to scramble my own inner compass, making me want to hang back in fear. Resistant, I don’t want to let out the sails. I’d rather stay put.

Jennie B. Wilson’s gospel song has been a theme for me lately: “Life is full of swift transition, naught of earth unmoved can stand. Build your hopes on things eternal, hold to God’s unchanging hand.” Change is part of God’s original design for the world, part of the fall of man, and part of God’s ultimate restoration. Making peace with change is a matter of the heart, of spiritual posture.

Psalm 84 puts it this way: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (5, ESV). In this case, Zion is the pilgrimage where our hearts find rest while we’re in motion. While we follow him and follow the call on our lives, our souls find rest in God (Ps. 62). The peace of God is active within us, even as we journey on into the unknown.

We don’t have to be strong-armed by our emotions. We can keep on, knowing that ultimately the changes will not knock us off course. In every change, we are held secure. By faith, God holds us steady. Grace takes the external circumstances of …

Continue reading…

How Evangelicals Do Ecumenism

The World Evangelical Alliance explains why it’s engaging more with Rome.

During last year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many asked: Is it finally over? The loudest “no” came from some of the Protestants closest to Rome.

In December, national evangelical alliances in Italy, Spain, and Malta charged the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) with “moving away from its historic position” of holding the line against Catholic and liberal Protestant theology. They worried about a purported statement of “greater oneness” between the WEA, the Vatican, and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

“These are serious charges, but they bear no resemblance to what [we are] actually doing,” replied the WEA, which represents 600 million evangelicals across 129 national alliances and 150 member organizations. It explained that the dissident groups “conflated two reports from two different meetings.”

But it recognized their concerns. “Beneath this specific misunderstanding lies a deep-seated, ongoing concern about the WEA’s intra-faith relations,” the WEA stated. The southern European alliances “fear that too close a rapprochement and collaboration with the Catholic Church could undermine our ability to articulate the historic evangelical faith in an uncompromised way.”

That’s not an unusual fear for people who watch their leaders engage in such talks, said Brett Salkeld, ecumenical officer for a Catholic archdiocese in Canada and a participant various Catholic–evangelical dialogues. “We imagine the people having discussions are papering over our differences and selling the farm.”

This gets tricky when ecumenism is done at a global level. Evangelicals in Spain, Italy, and Malta have faced years of …

Continue reading…

Cover Story: God of the Second Shift

The theology of work conversation is thriving. Why are most workers missing from it?

Our group was white, college-educated, and passionate about helping people find meaning in their careers. We looked at Josué “Mambo” De León, pastor of a bilingual working-class congregation called Westside Church Internacional, eager to hear his thoughts on a recent “faith and work” conference.

“For us, work isn’t about thriving,” Mambo said. “It’s about surviving.”

Between bites of salad, it slowly became clear who the man in a red baseball cap, World Cup T-shirt, and jeans really was: an emissary from another world.

“You start with the premise that you have a job and that you feel a lack of purpose,” he said. “But that doesn’t resonate with us. How are you supposed to find purpose and flourish when you don’t even have opportunities?”

On my way home from the office of the nonprofit I run, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I stewed over Mambo’s comments. They reminded me of a similar conversation I’d had with Nicole Baker Fulgham, president of an educational reform group called The Expectations Project. Baker Fulgham, an African American working with low-income kids, asked me bluntly: “So when do we start talking about faith, work, and life for fast-food employees?”

In the past decade, the faith and work movement has exploded. Hundreds of new conferences, books, and organizations have sprung up from San Diego to Boston. But there’s a growing anxiety among Christian leaders that our national vocation conversation has a class problem.

A hundred years ago, partnerships between clergy and labor unions flourished. Yet as the forces of industrialization transformed the trades in the late 19th …

Continue reading…