Pastor's Piece

The Senior Pastor writes his Pastor's Piece each week to connect with the St Alban's Community and its Alumni. This section of the website contains the current and past editions.


Deeper, Closer, Further

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Welcome to St Albans today as we change focus from our mission speakers to our mission planning.  The out-working of our listening to God for his direction for St Albans continues.  The Elders have continued to reflect on the prophetic words and congregational contributions to help sharpen our future focus.  Fundamentally we want to remain open to God, to continue seeking God and listening to his Spirit, and not think that God has given us his final word for the next few years!

To give us some tags to remind us of God’s word to us this year, we have arrived at three phrases to summarise what we have heard.  These will be our general goals:

  •   Going deeper with God
  •   Growing closer with one another
  •   Going further into our community

We will invite all our ministries to consider how to express these goals in their area.  And we will measure all new proposals against them, asking:  How will this proposal help us to go deeper with God, grow closer to one another or go further into our community in Jesus’ name, either with new missional ventures or deepening our current ventures?

We have also been challenged about developing new structures to accommodate and facilitate the growth of our church.

In our desire to be more intentional than informal, to be led by teams more than by the minister, to involve ministry leaders in more decision-making, we plan to establish a Ministry Leaders’ Meeting every six weeks or so, comprised of the leaders or coordinators of Worship, Youth, Children, Evergreens, Men, Women, Small groups, Local missions and the Minister, to

  •  Develop goals for each area of ministry to express the general goals
  •  Report progress on implementing their goals and the resulting outcomes
  •  Provide mutual support and encouragement to one another
  •  Reflect on and develop their leadership
  •  Continue to seek God for our church’s direction

We also plan to establish some new teams, including:

  • An extended Sunday Welcome Team to connect with newcomers before and after church, and on subsequent Sundays.  Hospitality gifts wanted!
  • A Connecting Newcomers Team which will follow up newcomers in their homes, connecting them with others and helping them get well established in our church family.
  • And maybe a Discipling Team to oversee and develop the discipling ministries of small groups, alpha, baptism classes, one-on-one mentoring/discipling.

We would also like to employ a half-time staff member next year to give leadership in Discipleship training, Small group coordination and leadership training and overseeing the Sunday Welcome & Connecting Team.

Finally at this time, we are exploring the options for extra worship services and prayer gatherings at St Albans.

My sincere thanks to Jennifer Shaw and Mark Angel for speaking about these matters in the service this morning, when I have been unexpectedly called away to lead the funeral of Christine Lange, wife of Stuart, in Auckland yesterday.

Shalom,

Bringing Hope to Hard Places

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Welcome to St Albans, where we seek to support one another in our living for Jesus and engaging in his mission in our world.  What a wonderful occasion last Sunday when we baptised seven adults after such powerful testimonies.  Today we continue our cross-cultural mission theme with our mission partner of 19 years, Paul Somerville, and a former church member, Stephanie Herron, who did a Vet Science degree at Massey in the mid-1980s.

Steph Herron is the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and started full-time overseas mission work in the Philippines in 1991.  In 1994 she did a nursing course for missionaries at the Africa School of Missions in South Africa and went to Mozambique in 1995 on a Tear Fund project.  In 1997 she helped set up the Bible Training Centre in Mozambique and has been there ever since!  She is associated with World Outreach and seconded to the Bible School.

The Bible School is interdenominational and trains church workers - children and youth workers and pastors.  Their main goal is to see the students’ lives transformed through developing their relationship with God; and to see them totally freed from the kingdom of darkness.  The hope is that as they return to their homes and churches, they can bring a similar transformation there.

Steph supports the students in their daily lives in practical ways, with health care, with wise counsel and by her example.  She also does some teaching, including African Church History, helps prepare visual aids for staff and translates some resources from English to Portuguese for the Mozambican staff.

Paul Somerville is married to Carlie and they have three children.  God gave this Kiwi family a passion for Asia after a visit there, so their family moved to Thailand for 13 years!  In 1990 they established their first discipleship home in Thailand.  They set up these homes for teenagers who know very little about the Christian message and use local Christian leadership, rather than Westerners, to care for, train and develop the young people.  They hope to see these young people go back to their own people to work as professionals and share their faith within their societies, acting as change-agents.

Their mission, EmpowerAsia, endeavours to go to difficult places and live amongst ethnic groups who have been historically resistant to the Gospel.  They have established homes in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Kolkata (India) and Nepal.

Paul and Carlie now live in Kingston, Central Otago, from where Paul makes regular trips to Asia throughout the year.... and the occasional one to the North Island!

The Next Presbytery Central Gathering will be held at St Albans on Saturday August 30th, featuring Singer/Song-writer Rev Malcolm Gordon and Past Moderator Rev Peter Cheyne, plus workshops on Children’s Ministry, Working with Vulnerable NZ Children, Evangelising by telling stories, Becoming a Strength-focussed Church, Ministering to the Poor, Why are teens crazy... and how to help them? and Transformation 101.  See last Friday’s email Update, our Noticeboard, or contact Steve.

Shalom,    

 

A Baptism Party!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A warm welcome to the family and friends of Alice, Jonathon, Ally, Julia, Lynette, Sunita and Surya who are being baptised today.  Through this ceremony, these people are publicly declaring their trust in God and their intentions to live as friends and followers of God’s son Jesus Christ.

Jesus said that there is a party in heaven

when this happens, so we can party too!  This is a celebration day for these young people and also for our church family.  Jesus said that God rejoices about every individual who turns away from

doing-their-own-thing in life, from what they know is wrong, and who turns to God’s Son Jesus as the forgiver of their sins and the leader of their lives.

All this is symbolised in the ceremony of baptism by immersion.  When a person goes under the water they are burying their old life and sharing in Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of their sins.  When they are raised out of the water, this symbolises being raised to a new life with Jesus, who was raised from death and lives as our constant companion and leader.

Baptism is an outward sign of an inner response of love and commitment to God.  A person never baptises him/herself but is baptised by others.  This reminds us that baptism is primarily about what God has done for us and is doing in our lives.  We simply say a wholehearted ‘Yes’ to God’s invitation to become his friends and followers.  This invitation comes to all people through the good news (gospel) message of Jesus; and there is nothing we can do personally to earn it or deserve it.  We cannot gain God’s approval or acceptance, or entry into heaven, through our own efforts or abilities.  It is God’s gift to us.  Our response is to accept it or refuse it.

Prior to their baptism, these people have explored the meaning of baptism and being followers of Jesus.  Before being baptised today, they will be asked to declare their trust in and commitment to God, and to tell us something of their personal journey of faith.

When people are baptised, they are baptised into a relationship with Christ and his body, the universal church, both those here on earth and those already in heaven.  When we are born again into a new life with Jesus, God gives us a family that will love, support and help us on the Christian journey.  During the service we will join together in affirming the faith of the church throughout the past 2,000 years by saying together the Apostles’ Creed.  This is one of the earliest statements of Christian faith which candidates for baptism had to affirm.

What an awesome thought - baptised into the community of God’s people which numbers over two billion currently on earth and countless millions throughout history since Jesus walked this earth.  These people will be seven of many being baptised throughout the world today.  We cheer them on and welcome them into God’s family!

Shalom, 

Mission Month

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Welcome to St Albans!  What an exciting month ahead!

This Sunday we have Pastor Tony Won from Vanuatu speaking about his work in leading and training local Christian people for Bush Mission among the Kustom (traditional) Villages in the rainforest of South Santo, not far from where the Levy family live. 

Tony is living in Palmy with his wife Nanjoo and teenage sons Justin & Christopher, while he has a sabbatical year.  Tony came to NZ from South Korea in 1991 and trained at Laidlaw College in Auckland.  He was later ordained as a NZ Presbyterian minister and moved to Vanuatu as a missionary in 2006 with his family.

Next Sunday August 10 we have a Baptism Service for eight adults and teenagers being baptised by immersion.  This will be our total service and their brief testimonies will take the place of a sermon.  Please come and support them in this important event in their lives; and be prayerful for any prophetic words or Scriptures that God may want you to bring for the candidates.  It will be an exciting service!

Sunday August 17 we have guest speaker Paul Somerville, our mission partner of 19 years, whose mission Empower Asia runs the 3T Boy’s Home we support in Yangon, Myanmar.  Paul is a Kiwi, living in Dunedin, whose mission runs numerous homes for accommodation, education and training for young people throughout Asia.

Also with us that day is our former member, Stephanie Herron, who works at a Bible College - Volta à Bíblia - in Mozambique, southern Africa, training church leaders.  This was the only day that both Paul and Steph could come!

Thursday August 28 brings an outstanding missionary woman to Palmy, Libby Little.  She served God in Afghanistan for nearly 35 years, until her husband Tom and nine other overseas aid workers were murdered in 2010.  Libby and Tom were teacher and doctor and served Afghanistan under Russian occupation, civil war, Taliban rule and the NATO invasion.  She will speak at All Saints Anglican Church at 7.30pm.

Sunday August 31 we will have Rev Malcolm Gordon speaking and singing.  Malcolm is a young Presbyterian minister and gifted singer/song-writer.  He has recorded a number of CDs and his music is played on Radio Rhema and Life FM.  He has a national role as the Worship, Music and Arts Enabler for the Knox Centre for Leadership and Ministry of the Presbyterian Church.

Building Matters

Now that our mortgage has been cleared, the Finance Committee has set up a Building Maintenance Fund into which we will put $1500 each month.  This will accumulate funds for repairs, maintenance and replacement of items such as chairs, carpets, kitchen appliances, heat-pumps, painting etc which will arise in the future.

There was a surplus of $2900 from the Clear the Mortgage gifts which we will put into this Fund.  The original mortgage taken out in 2004 was for $400,000 and over the repayment time we paid $160,000 in interest.  And this was at cheaper than commercial interest rates!

 

Moderator Designate’s Opinion Poll of Presbyterians

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The next Moderator of our Presbyterian Church, Rev Andrew Norton, who will take office at October’s General Assembly, is holding an online poll of those who attend Presbyterian churches about Sexuality and Leadership in the church.  He says that, “Many people, inside and outside the Church, are tired, wounded and disillusioned by the continual conflict over the issue.”  To hear the heartbeat of the Church he is using the poll “to gauge support for different options....and explore some ways forward.”  Five Options are presented to be ranked in order of preference, by August 31st.

Presbyterian AFFIRM, the evangelical network of the Presbyterian Church, which I co-lead with Rev Dr Stuart Lange, has written a response to the M-D’s Letter and Poll, summarised below.

Hardcopies of the full letter and poll, plus AFFIRM’s response, are available at our St Alban’s Office. 

You can see the online poll at:  tinyurl.com/l6573tb

AFFIRM questions “Opinion Poll” on several grounds:

The Process

  • An unscientific, non-random poll with no proper controls cannot provide accurate information or a basis for sound discernment.
  • Results are distorted when people are forced to rank options they don’t agree with.

Principle

No new way forward is required as the decisions of General Assemblies, and a national vote by Presbyterian members in 1997, strongly rejected the possibility of practicing homosexuals in church leadership.

Assumptions and assertions in the covering letter

  • We don’t agree that the Church’s teaching and the majority view in every General Assembly, is one of the two “poles” driving the debate.
  • The letter doesn’t say that all alternative options have been consistently rejected by previous General Assemblies.
  • Many Presbyterians also feel “violated” by these debates because the PCANZ is not living by its own declared biblical standards.
  • There is no middle position between upholding biblical standards and compromising them.

AFFIRM’s view of the five options in the “Opinion Poll”

“Set clear standards”

This is the only option we support.  It alone has biblical integrity and majority support of General Assembly decisions in 1985, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2010 & 2012.

“Do not debate further”

We are weary of repeated attempts to overturn the 2006 Ruling on Sexual Morality and Church Leadership.  People have a right to bring such proposals but Assembly debates should be brief.

“Rescind our church's current position”

Why?  This option has been strongly rejected by every recent Assembly.

“Allow for local policy”

This would mean rescinding our current standards and letting each church make its own policy, compromising those churches with the opposite view.  ‘Presbyterian’ is a national church with national standards.  Assembly has always rejected this approach.  It could lead to a significant split in the PCANZ.

“Seek a national way forward”

  • We now have a clear national standard that is faithful to the Scriptures.
  • Genuine “social justice” always reflects biblical ethics.
  • Two Special Committees which reported in 1995 and 1999, plus over 20 years of debate, have led to the current national ruling.
 

Connect Conference 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014
It’s often inspiring to glimpse a bigger picture.  Not only does it give a greater context for what we are doing but it allows us to glean inspiration and ideas from others.  CONNECT ’14 provided such an opportunity for our youth leaders and I was grateful to God that all 11 of our leaders were able to accompany Maria and I to this national Presbyterian youth gathering in Christchurch last weekend.
 
The weekend was a mix of general inspirational sessions and more practical workshops covering a range of issues of pastoral and practical value to youth ministry.
 
It came at an ideal time for our youth ministry as we are in the process of building on the foundation Jeff laid by expanding the team and becoming more focussed on pastoral care and discipleship through LIFE groups – groups divided according to age and gender that meet regularly on Friday nights.  These LIFE groups are led by two (ideally) young adults who lead Bible studies and provide pastoral care for our young people.  This role not only benefits the youth but also is a great way in which to disciple and grow these young adults and to that end I have begun meeting with them fortnightly for training and encouragement.
 
As valuable as these young adults are, healthy youth ministries need older adult involvement and to that end I have been gradually putting in place a team of mentors each of which meet with a LIFE group on Friday nights, providing that extra level of care, insight and life experience.  This term we will be working to provide an extra level of care through a “praying grandparents scheme” in which older people in the church can adopt a LIFE group and pray for the leadership and young people.  Watch out for more on this.
The changes we’ve implemented are in line with what it seems God is doing in the wider church.  We recognise that practical changes are required and so we have restructured for growth to the point that if we were to double in numbers overnight we could handle it comfortably.  LIFE groups are becoming places where young people can share honestly and at depth while learning to pray for each other.  Friday nights are also a place where each week the gospel is presented to young people in a way that fits the theme of the night.
 
There are a number of ways in which the CONNECT ‘14 experience will help us move forward.  We were challenged to be a youth group with an outward focus and each LIFE group will be working on how to implement this so that new people are invited and welcomed.  Already some are planning their own social activities which young people will invite friends too, as a step toward coming on Friday night.
 
As we commence the new term there are exciting opportunities and possibilities ahead.  Please pray for us as we seek to hear from God and move ahead according to His timing as He leads the ministry.
 
Murray Brown, Youth Pastor
 

Shining On and Off the Pitch

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Adapted from a Breakpoint Commentary by Eric Metaxas on July 9, 2014

With the Football World Cup happening, millions are watching the football.  And one player’s faith is making headlines.

Moments after Brazilian defender David Luiz scored what turned out to be the winning goal versus Colombia in the World Cup quarterfinals, my friend looked up his bio on Wikipedia.  He knew that Luiz, like several of his teammates, was a Christian who often speaks about his faith.  And sure enough, Luiz’s Wikipedia photo showed him wearing a t-shirt which read “Deus é fiel” - “God is faithful.”

But the sight of David Luiz on his knees praying was too much for one Wikipedia user, who had added the following comment:  “He is another one of those people with limited intelligence who do not know that 'god' does not exist.”

Thankfully the negative remark was quickly removed.  I’m sure Luiz has learned to ignore such attacks.

Luiz isn’t the only committed Christian shining brightly on the biggest stage in the world.  Perhaps the most extraordinary story of faith has its origins not in Sao Paolo but in New Jersey.

That’s the hometown of the American team's goalkeeper Tim Howard.  On July 1st, 22 million Americans watched Howard put on an outstanding goalkeeping display in the USA’s 2-1 loss to Belgium.  He set a World Cup record with sixteen saves and cemented his place among the world’s top goalkeepers.

It’s a status that no one would have predicted when he was in the sixth grade.  That’s when Howard was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by physical and vocal tics.

As you can imagine, that condition is very isolating due to the stigma and the low self-esteem that goes with it.  This makes Howard’s success even more remarkable.  If there’s one thing a world-class goalkeeper has to have, it’s confidence.

And where does Howard get his confidence?  His Christian faith!  In a piece for Athletes in Action, Howard wrote that he didn't experience much peace while growing up.  The one exception was in the presence of his grandmother, whose peace and strength came from “her faith in the Lord.”  “Through her, God revealed His love for me as well.  It wasn't long before I was following in her footsteps.  I wanted the same kind of faith and peace she had, and that is exactly what God gave me.”

While he acknowledges that life with Tourette’s “is not easy,” God also blessed him with athleticism and that has provided him with a platform to help others with Tourette’s.

Howard has reached the pinnacle of his sport by playing in England’s Premier League, joining legendary Manchester United.  A year later Howard was named “Goalkeeper of the Year."

Football is a religion in England and players are role-models, whether they want to admit it or not.  Howard, a Christian at the top of his game, has used the opportunity to witness to his faith.

Once the World Cup is over, most will ignore “the beautiful game.”  But the rest of the world will still be watching, which is why I’m thankful for the faithful witness of men like David Luiz and Tim Howard.

 

What God is saying to St Albans?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Our elders met last Saturday to share our discernments on what God was saying to us through the 19 A4 typed pages of prophetic words and scripture passages that people shared during our Month of Prayer to seek God’s direction for our church.  There were four main themes, although the first was the primary one, and these themes were strongly reinforced by many different words.

1.  To draw closer to God

God is our source; the heart of our faith.  First and foremost we are worshippers.  God invites us to engage in a deepening personal relationship with Him through prayer, Bible reading and worship.  Everything else in our life, witness and service will flow out of our passion for Jesus.  This theme has reinforced our vision statement developed two years ago, that the most important thing our church can accomplish is to see people passionate for Jesus.

God calls us to draw closer to him and to move away from apathy, complacency, sinful attitudes and behaviours that undermine our relationship with him.

To help this, we are considering starting some extra worship and prayer occasions for our congregation.

2.  To draw closer to one another

To strengthen our ‘faith community life’ and build community; to get to know one another better as sisters and brothers in Christ.  This was a positive spin-off from the month of prayer - meeting others in our church whom we did not know.

Related to this is the importance of helping each other to identify and express the spiritual gifts that we each have.  Next term, instead of running an Alpha Course, we will run a ‘Discovering Your Gifts’ course for 6 weeks on a Wednesday or Thursday night, to identify our God-given gifts & passions.

3.  To extend stronger ropes into the wider community

The rope image comes from a picture of two tents - extending  the guy ropes and tent pegs further out into the wider community as we engage in further local mission.

4.  We are moving into a new season

There’s a strong sense that a season is ending here at St Albans - that we are to honour the past and let it go - and then to move forward into the new things God has for us.  We don’t yet know what that looks like.  But we need an attitude of openness to where God may lead us and a desire to keep our hearts rightly focussed, drawing closer to God.

Some structures we have had will need to change to accommodate the new.  There may be some pain in the change but we are assured that pain is part of any new thing, even good things.

The summary picture for us was a picture of our church - a heart of God’s love that is bursting at the seams inside the church with love for one another and our wider community.  Here is an image of blood circulating around a body, coming back to the heart and lungs to be replenished and equipped, in order to be sent out again to serve the body.  We are to encounter God’s heart at St Alban’s in worship, prayer and teaching, where we are refreshed and equipped to go out into our daily lives and work in mission with Jesus.

We want to invite you to a Church Forum on Saturday July 26, from 3pm-5pm, to help us consider how all this may translate into the life of St Albans.

Shalom,

 

A Brief History of St Albans

Sunday, June 29, 2014

St Albans became a separate parish of the Wanganui Presbytery on Sunday March 1st, 1959.  In February 1954, St David’s Presbyterian Church, in Main Street, Terrace End, began an outreach into the new suburb of Hokowhitu.  Bible Study groups and Sunday School classes met in private homes and garages until a new Hall (which was the worship centre until 2003) opened on December 11th, 1955.

Under the oversight of the St David’s minister, Rev Ian Purdie, two deaconesses, Sisters Valerie Brooker and Reita Wilson ministered among the new congregation.  When the new parish was established, the assistant minister of St David’s, Rev Earnie Johnston, became the first minister of St Albans, on March 17th, 1959, until 1966.  He and Evelyn lived in the manse in Ross Place.  The Anderson property and house at 337 Albert St, on the corner of St Albans Ave, was acquired and used for Sunday School.

The first Session (Church Council) included Claude Holyoake and Allan Smith.  Betty Crawford was a founding member of St Albans & later became an elder.

The second minister was Rev Rymall Roxburgh (1967-75) who with his wife Betty and family had just returned from missionary service in India.  The church continued to grow, requiring significant extensions.

Rev John Niven was the third minister, with his wife Ann, serving from 1976-86.  John introduced the ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars and encouraged the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The congregation grew, the worship area was expanded and three Sunday services were held.  The Brent-Smith property and house at 339 Albert Street was acquired for office space, the St Albans Ave manse was purchased, and plans were drawn up for a new worship centre (to be located where we are now!) which did not eventuate.  The Nivens left for Tung Ling Bible School in Singapore in Dec. 1986.

The fourth minister, Rev Rob Yule, and his wife Christene and family arrived in September 1987.  The Manawatu Branch of the Bible College of NZ had commenced in our buildings in that February and new buildings were added, including a pre-fabricated building and Tremain Hall was added to the Brent-Smith house.  The Anderson house became the Cornerstone drop-in-centre and used clothing shop.

Rob Yule became Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in October 2000 and Rev Steve Jourdain, with his wife Shirley and family, came to serve as Associate Minister during Rob’s two year term.  Rob moved to Greyfriars Presbyterian Church, Auckland, in December 2002, and Steve was inducted as minister in February 2003.

In 1994 a ‘Year 2000 Building Fund’ was established to build a new auditorium and offices in such a way as to link with the existing buildings.  This plan, submitted to the City Council in early 2000, was rejected but through an appeal to the Environment Court and further negotiations with Council and neighbours, a completely new plan for the current building was approved.  This building was opened in July 2004 and has been used extensively by community groups and to host major conferences and seminars.  The new building has enhanced St Alban’s role as a regional church.

St Albans has seen many people go on into ministry and mission service, both at home and overseas.  In its first 50 years, 20 have become ordained ministers and 41 have served as overseas mission workers for more than a year.  This does not recognise the many that have gone on to serve God’s Kingdom through the church and mission agencies in other capacities.  St Albans has a fine record of exporting gifted members all around the world!

Shalom,

 

Thousands Flee Iraq's Christian Heartland

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Posted by Ruth Moon in Christianity Today’s Online ‘ Gleanings ’ on 16.6.2014.

Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul (pop. 1.8 mil) as an Islamist terror group takes control over Christianity's main stronghold.  The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), is an Iraq and Syria-based Sunni offshoot of al-Qaeda.

Most of Mosul's remaining Christian population of 3,000 fled for safer areas according to World Watch Monitor.  Mosul is in a state of "anarchy," with armed patrols on the streets and families holed up in homes.

"Things are so bad now in Iraq, the worst they have ever been," writes Canon Andrew White, ‘vicar of Baghdad’ [St. George's Anglican Church]. "The Islamic terrorists have taken control of the whole of Mosul which is Nineveh, the main Christian stronghold. The army has even fled. We urgently need help and support. … We are in a desperate crisis."

ISIS, which wants to overthrow the Iraqi and Syrian Governments and establish a Sunni Caliphate in the Middle East, took military advantage of a political power vacuum as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki struggles to form a government after recent elections.

Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh plain is the traditional heartland of Iraq's Christian communities. Many Christians fled to this region when forced to leave Baghdad and other areas in recent years.  The ISIS take-over of Mosul, will further accelerate the decline of the Christian presence in Iraq.

Iraq's Christian population has shrunk in recent years from 1.2 million in the early 1990s to an estimated 300,000 before the most recent attacks. Christian refugees are fleeing to surrounding areas and as far away as Europe. Displaced Christians within Iraq face high unemployment, poor housing and difficulty finding education and medical care, according to Open Doors International's 2014 World Watch List.

Christians are fleeing the severe violence targeting them, including church attacks, killings, robberies, and rapes, and the Christian population in Mosul shrunk from 35,000 to 3,000 in the past decade. In the last week, the remaining Christians fled.

In late February, ISIS invaded Raqqa in northern Syria and demanded that Christians pay a "jizya" tax and accept a list of regulations, including not ringing church bells or worshipping in public, and adherence to Islamic commercial, dress code and dietary regulations....in exchange for "protection," the BBC reported. That memory makes Christians even more wary now.

CT reported how an impressive array of 175 American religious leaders recently urged the United States to support Christianity's historical heartland. Noted U.S. Republican Congressman Frank Wolf said,

"The faith leaders … recognise that unless the American church begins to champion this cause, the foreign policy establishment will hardly lead the way. They are committing to be their 'brother's keeper,' whether in Nineveh, Cairo or Homs."

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