Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

Miracle of ropes indicates that God is still in control

In 1978 another couple accompanied my husband and I to pick up a boat windshield. After gently placing it and fastening the trunk down with a ski rope, we happily headed home. I turned around and saw the trunk lid was up. Was the windshield gone? How could we replace it?

After using the same rope to it again (the only rope we had), we continued homeward. Sitting nervously in the passenger seat, twirling my hair, I prayed: “God, please help us. If only we had a rope. If only we had a rope.”

In 1978, there were not stores open on Sundays. Tension, along with suggestions to stop and check, made my agitated husband drive faster. All of a sudden he stopped on a dime, throwing everyone forward. After tightening the loosened rope, our friend got back in.

As I got into the car, my feet moved in a strange way, as if I was climbing upstairs. I told myself not to be silly, but I knew this was not my doing. Shocked, I yelled, “Come here, quick!” At my feet were two pieces of twine, covered with dust and dirt as if they had been there for years. I remembered my prayer –“if only we had a rope.”

God gave us twice what we needed. Some people might say it was a coincidence. No, I know it was a miracle.

Through the years, lots of things have changed, but God is still in control today.

Janice Dail

Crisfield

Wednesday, Jul. 16, 2008

Christian cowboy uses roping, riding to spread good news

For Steve Friskup, roping, riding and religion go together like prayer and praise, horses and sweat, families and fun.

Friskup remembers exactly when he met the Lord.

“It was December 3, 1995, one o’clock in the morning, on the first exit on I-40 at Elk City, Oklahoma, driving my pickup. I pulled over and said, Lord, I need some help,’ and he did.”

Friskup, who now works as a livestock auctioneer when he is not spreading God’s word at the Muleshoe Cowboy Fellowship, was then a cowboy and auctioneer who was adrift with no fulfillment. Even though he was a husband and father, he felt a desperate need to fill his otherwise empty existence with something that mattered. He knew there had to be more to life than always buying the first round at happy hour.

The first two years after Friskup asked for God’s help were the hardest time in his life.

“It’s hard to put old wine in new skin,” he says.

In 2002 Friskup and his wife, Robin, were in Canyon spreading the Gospel when he received a call from Gary Morris asking him to come to Muleshoe to help with a roping clinic and come every Thursday and give a message. Friskup felt drawn to move to Muleshoe and make it permanent. When he told Robin that the Lord wanted them in Muleshoe, she hesitated a minute and said, “Well, go ask him again.”

But move they did, and now neither one of them can envision living anywhere else. In those six years, Steve has seen the Muleshoe Cowboy Fellowship congregation grow to around 250 members. But his other labor of love is the Christian Roping Camp and Horsemanship Clinic that he helped with before moving to Muleshoe. The Cowboy Fellowship has held the clinic now for the past seven years at the Good Times Roping Arena north of Muleshoe.

“This camp could change your life!” declared the headline on the newspaper ad for last year’s clinic, which encouraged families and individuals alike to attend. Each day’s activities began in the Tabernacle, an open pavilion near the roping arena, with a round of prayer and singing to start the day in a positive way. The day always ended on a positive note as well, with supper followed by fellowship in the tabernacle.

Just like last year, families and individuals are welcome, prayer, praise, and meals will begin and end the day, and the roping clinic is still open to all ages and levels of ability and is geared toward team roping. Everyone helps with the ground work and helpful hints on becoming a better roper. Friskup’s two daughters, Kaci Morris and Kelsi Friskup, teach the horsemanship, which is usually geared to the younger riders.

This year the clinic is calling itself by a new name, the Cowboy Camp Meeting, and will focus on daily Bible study interspersed with lots of roping and riding sessions. Gary and Sheryl Morris’ Good Times Arena and the Friskup’s nearby family arena will be in full swing every day.

Friskup sees the roping clinic as the Cowboy Fellowship version of vacation Bible school. They ask $100 per family, but as the ad says, “If you don’t have $100, come anyway.” Friskup says experience has shown him that people tend to get more involved when investment is a factor, so that works in the camp’s favor, but no one has ever been turned away. The money helps with the cost of food and expenses, but making money is not the objective of the camp. The trick, Friskup jokes, is to get people to come for the roping and then introduce them to the word of God.

Last year about 35 families learned about roping and riding, enjoyed meals together, and shared testimonies at evening fellowship. The final service at last year’s clinic witnessed the baptism of a young roper who wanted to commit his life to Christ. An oval aluminum horse trough served as a handy baptismal pool at the arena.

Monday, Jul. 7, 2008

Thousands flock for God and rock

AUSTRALIA’S biggest congregation proved the potency of Christianity with a pop-culture twist by drawing thousands of people to the opening of its annual conference last night with a high-volume pop-rock beat and a call to end poverty.

More than 24,000 Christians from 21 denominations around Australia and 70 other countries will attend the five-day 22nd Hillsong Conference at Acer Arena, taking part in workshops on church leadership, the creative arts and evangelism.

Last night’s opening began with a light show, choirs and the public debut of the soloist Katherine Vassalakis, singing U2’s One against a backdrop of a throbbing red heart.

Bible in hand, Hillsong’s worship pastor, Darlene Zschech, and the Hillsong band brought the stadium to its feet with their brand of energetic worship.

The event served as a warm-up act to World Youth Day, heralded by the arrival on Sunday of Pope Benedict on his first visit to Australia. Although they are miles apart in theology and musical tradition, the Catholic Church is borrowing Hillsong’s headline act for World Youth Day in its own attempt at mass youth evangelism. Ms Zschech and her band will perform at a concert held after the Stations of the Cross on Friday, July 18.

The first winner of Australian Idol , Guy Sebastian, who came from Adelaide’s Pentecostal Paradise Community Church, has written World Youth Day’s theme song.

Hillsong, accused by some of preaching self-absorbed Christianity, focused for the second year on the scriptures’ call for social justice – traditional ground of the Catholic Church.

Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, welcomed conference delegates.

Mr Costello, who has just returned from Burma, praised Bono as a prophet of the movement to eliminate global poverty. “Bono understands we cannot make poverty history unless the church rises up.”

He said Australians had won the lottery of life by being born in a country with ample food, opportunities and universal health.

The senior pastor of Hillsong, Brian Houston, said the word justice and the responsibility it implied was a key message of the conference.

Tuesday, Jun. 3, 2008

Families Count Blessings In Wake Of Tornado

A Hancock County family say it’s a testament to the power of prayer.

When a twister hit the Keefe home, they had barely finished praying a second “our father.”

“You want to know how long a tornado lasts? About to the end of the lord’s prayer, that’s how long,” said Erick Keefe.

Keefe says his mood isn’t horrible, because they survived. His wife and children escaped to the basement early Saturday morning as the tornado cut an eight mile path in northwest Ohio.

A path that includes destroying his dad’s home next door.

Ann Keefe says both families are unhurt as they lookover what remains from the twisters damage.

The insurance company says both farm houses are a total loss.

The tornado threw their belongings to the surround farmlands even nearby trees, and neighbors came to try and help put it all back together, reported ONN’s Dan Weist.

“She’s from my home town,” says Cindy Brooks, who was one person helping.

Brooks like many others over the last few days just came to help. Other neighbors have arrived in droves with offers of assistance.

“I’ll try to keep my composure but they just came out of the woodwork,” said Erick Keefe.

Even after what has rained down on them, both families have hoisted flags and proclaimed their gratitude to those, divine and otherwise helping them to start anew.

Friday, May. 16, 2008

Prayer breakfast brings men together for 50 years

Twenty-one years ago, Tom Allen was recovering for a heart attack and spending his days at home alone.

“I was feeling sorry for myself and wasn’t really doing anything else,” said Allen, 73, of Port Clinton.

Then his neighbor and some friends invited him to the Men’s Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast at Trinity United Methodist Church. The weekly fellowship meeting was the change he needed.

“It gave me an excuse to get away from me,” said Allen, a Trinity United member. “I felt good being there. The people were not there to promote themselves. They were there because it was a religious experience.”

Since then, he has regularly attended the non-denominational gathering. He joined more than 100 locals and clergymen this morning at Magruder Hospital to celebrate the breakfast’s 50th anniversary.

Thursday, May. 15, 2008

Mall ministry celebrates 10 years of helping others

For the past 10 years, thousands of people have sought information, assistance and spiritual guidance at an unlikely location: a shopping mall.

The Burlington Center Mall Ministry, which operates in a storefront next to Sears at the Burlington Center Mall, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

“We are trying to be a positive force in the community, because we think that is what Jesus would do,” said Elsie Nicolette, the ministry’s executive director.

Nicolette said the nonprofit ministry is unlike a traditional church because it does not offer Sunday services and it does not preach to its visitors. She said the ministry reaches out to those who might be reluctant to go to church or who are curious about Christianity.

“We are here to help each person move on in their walk with God,” she said.

That approach seems to work. In the past 10 years, 39,500 people have visited the ministry seeking conversation, and 31,100 have attended support programs or events at the ministry, Nicolette said.

The ministry will celebrate its anniversary Saturday with a music fest. Bands from several churches will perform at the entrance to the ministry from noon to 6 p.m., and children will be invited to make crafts.

Nicolette said the idea for the ministry began when the Rev. Phil Olsen, minister of missions at the First Presbyterian Church in Mount Holly, looked for ways to reach people who do not normally attend church.

“The impetus behind (the ministry) was to reach out and be in a public place,” she said.

Several churches of different denominations came together to start the ministry. In June 1998, they rented the 2,450-square-foot storefront in the mall. The space includes a large common room with a ping-pong table and a small kitchen as well as a prayer room that has religious literature, music and videos. The prayer room has a magnetic poetry wall and a poetry log, where guests can express their thoughts.

Mansfield resident Kelly Steele, a member of the New Life Fellowship in Bordentown Township, said she began volunteering at the ministry six years ago.

“I literally was walking through the mall and was drawn to volunteer here,” Steele said. “I signed up, and that was that. I’ve been here ever since.”

Steele said many people visit the ministry because they want to talk or they need help finding shelter, food or refuge from abuse. She said the ministry’s volunteers are there to listen and provide assistance. They don’t push their faith on the visitors.

“Wherever they are is where we try to meet them,” Steele said. “We are not here to push or offend. We are here to embrace.”

The ministry has 15 partner churches of varying denominations that provide volunteers, prayer and donations to pay for the rental space in the mall. The ministry has expanded its services, and now offers a fellowship for the deaf, knitting classes and computer training, in addition to its Bible study, support groups and teen activities.

Nicolette said the ministry provides literature in 27 different languages.

“What is exciting about the mall ministry is that it attracts different denominations and ethnicities,” she said. “We learn about each other and grow from the process.”

Thursday, May. 8, 2008

Miracle: A Story Of Healing

Tyrone Hickman II, 14, said he was healed of a serious disease because of his family’s faith in God.

“Trust in his word and just do what you got to do,” Hickman said.

Tyrone’s amazing story began before he was born. Pat and Tyrone Hickman decided not to have more children after their first child, 19-year-old Tyrah was born with sickle cell anemia.

Despite their plans, Tyrone was born five years later.

The elder Tyrone Hickman has a rare form of the disease that’s hard to detect called sickle cell thalassemia.

“It wasn’t until we had our first baby, we discovered he had the trait,” Pat Hickman said.

Sickle cell anemia is a condition in which red blood cells are sickle-shaped instead of smooth and round. The cells are stiff and clumpy and get stuck in blood vessels. Clumps of sickle cells can block the flow of blood to limbs and organs causing plain, serious infections and organ damage.

The Hicksmans are members of New Horizon church. They asked their pastor, Bishop Ronnie Crudup, to pray for healing for their unborn child.

“At the altar, he laid hands on me, on my stomach,” Pat Hickman said. “I can remember standing there and as he prayed it was if I went into a zone. I could hear I could actually hear this inner voice speaking to me. Saying he’s healed as the pastor was praying.”

The Hickmans said their pastor’s teachings about faith encouraged them.

“He turned out to be a healthy baby. He was hardly ever sick,” Pat Hickman said.

Seven years later, the Hickmans welcomed another surprise: a boy named Tyler.

“Forty years old and there I was, pregnant with another baby,” Pat Hickman said.

Then when Tyrone Hickman II was 11 years old, he had a stroke. Doctors determined that he was born with the same sickle cell trait as his father. Doctors recommended blood transfusions. The Hickmans decided against it.

The only other option was a bone marrow transplant. Their doctor reminded them about the blood saved when Tyler was born five years earlier.

“The doctor suggested we do cord blood collection and store his blood in case we ever want to do a bone marrow transplant for one of our children,” Pat Hickman said. “They could only store the blood for five years.”

Tyler Hickman was already 5 years old and the blood was nearing the end of its usefulness.

The Hickmans said they sought counseling from their pastor.

“He said God heals in different ways, this could be your healing,” Pat Hickman said.

At a Sunday service, the entire congregation prayed for Tyrone. Then he went into the hospital for 30 days to undergo chemotherapy and then the bone marrow transplant.

“Every morning at the hospital we would start off with prayer service,” Pat Hickman said. “Even though (Tyrone Hickman II) didn’t feel like it he would participate.”

After his hospital stay and 100 days of isolation to avoid infection, tests showed Tyrone Hickman II was cured.

“God had already spoken that Tyrone was going to be healed,” Pat Hickman said. “I didn’t know how he was going to do it. God knew and he knew Tyler had to be a part of that plan.”

Bishop Crudup is convinced Tyrone Hickman II’s healing is a miracle.

“It is an intervention typically of God into the affairs of men,” Crudup said.

A God who Tyrone Hickman II believes orchestrated amazing circumstances to heal him.

Monday, May. 5, 2008

The Power of Prayer

Hundreds of people surrounded Fresno and Clovis (California) Saturday offering prayers for a safe and prosperous community.

After eight months of planning, people from about 150 area congregations joined together this week for 4 days of prayer activities including Saturday’s event, where people fanned out to pray in every part of the city.

A van from Fresno’s First Baptist church was just one of the church vehicles that spread throughout Fresno and Clovis Saturday taking hundreds to various spots to pray.

Willie Nolte, First Baptist Church, says “We’re praying for our city. We want God to bless our city. We want our city to prosper, we want our city to be safe.”

The idea of “Pray Fresno/Clovis” was to surround the area with prayer. It began Thursday, the national day of prayer, with a prayer service at city hall.

Saturday, church groups split a 66 mile boundary of the area into six areas. Then they spread out along the perimeter to offer songs and prayer.

Joy Nolte, First Baptist Church, says “We’re not trying to protest anything or to say we’re unhappy with Fresno. We love Fresno and Clovis and the surrounding areas. And we’re just trying to say by our presence we pray for the community.”

Participants could pray for anything, like the needs within specific areas and the community’s needs as a whole.

Along the Herndon corridor some prayed for truck drivers who are battling rising fuel costs. Jacob Hitch, 14 years old, says “The things going on around here, the truckers and the businesses. The truckers bringing in their things and being prosperous.”

Organizers say they hope to turn “Pray Fresno/Clovis” into a movement instead of a single event. Those who participated Saturday say they’re counting on the power of prayer to change Fresno for the better.

Gabe Yanez, 14 years old, says “It makes me feel good. Because I know I’m doing my part. And as much as a can. With everyone else, it can all add up.”

The four day event wraps up Sunday, during regular services at churches throughout Fresno.

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Oil makes for true Hanukkah miracle

Today marks the beginning of the Jewish observance of Hanukkah, a joyful eight-day celebration also known as the Festival of Lights.

As with all Jewish holidays, Hanukkah carries a rich flavor of custom, tradition and symbolic foods. Foods that take center stage at Hanukkah are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

The reason for their starring role stems from the holiday’s origin.

Hanukkah, celebrated in late November or December of each year, commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after it had been seized by Syrian oppressors and the miracle that occurred thereafter. After reclamation, the temple was prepared for rededication, giving rise to the holiday’s name of Hanukkah, which in Hebrew means “dedication.”

When the sacred temple Menorah was relit, there was only enough oil to burn for one night. The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil burned for eight days.

Because of the symbolic importance of oil, members of the Springfield’s Temple Israel congregation explain, foods that are cooked in oil are featured during Hanukkah.

“People traditionally try to cook something in oil because of its significance,” says Mandy Van Ostran of Nixa. “Actually, the most traditional food for Hanukkah is latkes — which are basically a potato pancake — at least for Jews who came from Europe. For Israeli Jews, it would be jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot).”

For those who want to explore the possibilities of creating latkes in their home kitchens, Marla Marantz of Springfield explains that potato pancakes take on all kinds of shapes, sizes, textures and tastes.

“Some latkes are crispy, others are more like a pancake,” Marantz says. “And the key to success is not only in the recipe you use, but in the frying. You don’t want them too crispy — like hash browns — but you don’t want them too soft, either.”

While Marantz uses grated potatoes in her latke recipe, Shelly Simon of Springfield uses a batter with a consistency similar to grainy mashed potatoes.

And while the latke tradition may have started with potatoes, many Jewish cooks like Van Ostran have expanded to other ingredients.

“In my family, we’ve started to have sweet potato or zucchini latkes, as we’re trying to become more conscious about our diet,” she says.

Potato pancake latkes are best served with sour cream and applesauce, Simon says, and can make up a meal unto themselves.

“Usually we do all latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, and maybe make them two or three other times during Hanukkah as a side dish,” Simon explains.

If latkes are only going to be a side dish and you want to create a full Hanukkah meal, the other fare is up to personal preference, local Jewish cooks say.

“Brisket of beef is a classic thing to have, and roasted chicken is very popular,” Marantz says. “And you’ll never go wrong serving a good kugel or vegetable soup along with the latkes.”

For a real traditional Hanukkah dinner, Simon suggests brisket of beef, latkes with applesauce and honey carrots.

“As far as the rest of the meal goes, it’s what the family itself considers festive,” Van Ostran explains. “For example, when the kids were little, we tried to serve something they liked. And to them, at that time, spaghetti was what they considered festive, so that’s what we served.”

Monday, Nov. 12, 2007

Scots Put Their Faith In Prayer

ONE in three Scots still believes in the power of prayer despite a big decline in church attendance, according to a survey.

More than 1.4million adults in Scotland – 32 per cent – pray. But that figure is below the UK average of 42 per cent.

The survey, by Christian relief agency Tearfund, found just under half of those who pray do so at least once a day.

Family and friends are the most popular topic, accounting for 68 per cent of prayers.

Of the 20million adults who pray in the UK, nine million pray every day.

One in three says praying makes them feel better and happier, while one in five believes their prayers will be answered.

Peter Chirnside, head of Tearfund in Scotland, said: “These figures are very encouraging and suggest that people know there is something bigger there that can affect the world.”

However, the popularity of prayer appears to be at odds with church attendance in Scotland, which has dropped to just 11 per cent of the population.

If the current rate of decline continues, only 8.7 per cent will attend church on Sundays by 2010 and 6.8 per cent by 2020.

But experts believe the gap between the numbers of churchgoers and those who pray reflects a greater sense of spirituality outside official faiths.

Psychologist Dr Stephen Kelly, of Strathclyde University, said: “A lot of people don’t agree with those institutions but still believe there is a spirituality out there.”

Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007

When All Was Lost, Hope Was Found

WEST BENGAL, INDIA — “You’ve got one month to live. I’m sorry,” the doctor somberly reported to Paranjoy. After traveling from hospitals to temples in search of a cure, it seemed he had lost the battle. Paranjoy and his wife, Bakul, could not believe his life was over, when it seemed like their life together was just beginning.

Not long before this situation plummeted to an incredible low, Paranjoy had been a healthy, happy farmer with his own small business. He closely followed the traditions of his family’s religion, and worshipped the many traditional Indian gods and goddesses. Living a normal life without many problems or struggles, Paranjoy could not imagine how much his life would soon change.

One day, Paranjoy began feeling weak and tired. The exhaustion made him feel uneasy, but he just kept on farming and continued going about his daily routine. When his parents saw how weary and stressed he seemed, they decided to arrange a marriage so he could share his life. Soon, he took beautiful Bakul as his bride.

Shortly after the wedding, Paranjoy’s health severely deteriorated. He became very sick and experienced unusual bleeding. Finally, he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with blood cancer. When the first doctor could not find a cure, he went to other hospitals, but they could not help either.

Paranjoy and Bakul were devastated. As newlyweds, they were looking forward to many years together. Now, it seemed that all their dreams were lost. When Bakul’s family realized that Paranjoy was going to die, they tried to take their daughter back. In spite of the turmoil, the couple remained devoted to each other, and she stayed by his side.

Paranjoy even turned to his religion’s temples in a final attempt to find healing. The priests conducted many rituals in an effort to relieve him of his illness, but his condition only worsened. Finally, the doctors told Paranjoy that he only had one month to live.

About this time, the sister of a Gospel for Asia missionary, Saubal Milit, heard about Paranjoy’s condition. She told his family that when her brother prayed for people, they were often healed. Desperately wanting Paranjoy’s health restored, they immediately asked for Saubal to come.

Saubal journeyed 12 hours and arrived to find a gaunt and pale Paranjoy. After sharing the Gospel with Paranjoy, Bakul and Paranjoy’s family, Saubal fervently prayed for healing. Then, returning home, Saubal went to all the churches in his area and requested prayer for Paranjoy. Many missionaries and believers lifted his need to the Lord.

Continuing to pray for more than a month, Saubal did not hear any news. Then, one day he answed his phone to hear Paranjoy’s cheerful voice.

“I am still alive. It has been more than a month, and I am still alive,” Paranjoy exclaimed. “Also, I am regaining my strength !”

Although Paranjoy had not completely recovered from his illness, he was encouraged by his improvement. Rejoicing in God’s Word, he and his entire family trusted in Jesus. Now, they host a Bible study and prayer group in their home each week.

Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007

‘Master of the sea’ watched over us, rescued skipper says

The skipper of a crew that narrowly escaped a fast-moving fire aboard a fishing vessel off Newfoundland’s east coast Wednesday says all hands feel lucky to be able to describe their harrowing encounter.

“We had someone looking after us,” Harold Stokes told CBC News on Thursday, describing how flames quickly engulfed the Nautical Legacy about 130 kilometres off St. John’s.

“He was certainly the master of the sea,” said Stokes. “And he watched over us.”

After a fire was discovered aboard the 19-metre vessel, which was heading to port with a load of crab, the crew had only moments to prepare for a plunge in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic.

A mayday call was issued at 12:22 p.m. NT, but the vessel lost all contact only seconds after sending it.

“The flame was right through her, most everywhere,” said Stokes, who lives in Bareneed, Conception Bay. “Wherever you looked, there was smoke and flame.”

A crew member collected the survival suits, but one of them was inadvertently left behind, meaning one man among the six-member crew would be forced to jump in the water without protection.

Michael Petten, 18, the last on deck, was wearing only shorts and a T-shirt when he jumped in the water.

“As soon as I hit the water, the air went out of my lungs,” said Petten, who also lives in Bareneed.

“It’s just like someone hit me with a sledgehammer, like I had no more air left in my lungs … just gasping for air, is what it was.”

The crew spent well over 90 minutes in the water, without knowing if anyone else was even aware of their plight.

“We didn’t know if they got the mayday … we were hoping and praying,” said Stokes, who was not able to trigger an emergency beacon that could have helped lead rescuers to their position.

As seconds slipped by, Stokes said his thoughts turned constantly to his grandchildren. He and the others also fretted about Petten, whose body became numb as hypothermia set in.

What was going through my mind was Michael … There’s no way any human body, I say, can stand that cold,” he said.

“We were starting to feel the cold through our feet and our back, through the survival suits,” Stokes said. “It’s the Lord’s will that he stayed alive.”

The crew’s fears that they might die unnoticed proved unfounded, as the mayday call had been heard.

Search and rescue had dispatched a Cormorant helicopter from Gander, although a private fixed-wing aircraft arrived on the scene first, providing valuable information to the rescue crew on how to respond as soon as they reached the fishermen.

A technician plunged into the ocean with a rescue basket, and — starting with Petten — brought each member of the vessel’s crew aboard the Cormorant.

Stokes had nothing but praise for the rescue crew. “They should get a medal,” he said.

All of the fishermen were brought to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s for observation and treatment.

The crew do not know what caused the fire.

Both Stokes and Petten said that while they were shaken by the incident, they are keen to take to the water again, and resume their fishing careers.

Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007

Web site for prayers clicks with believers

NAZARETH, Israel — Dressed in his embroidered robes, the Rev. Andreas Elime steps from the altar of St. Gabriel’s Church and into the view of the Web cams on the church’s marble pillars. His voice fills the empty 250-year-old sanctuary with a Greek Orthodox hymn, while a computer on a nearby pew transmits personal blessings to three Americans thousands of miles away.

Christian pilgrims have long traveled to the boyhood town of Jesus to seek blessings. Now the Internet can save them the trip.

A service recently launched by Modefine Ltd., a Cyprus company, enables worshippers to log on to www.mirezo.com and watch as a priest utters a prayer for them.

“This takes things to a new level,” said James Martin, a Jesuit priest and associate editor of the Roman Catholic magazine America, who has watched religious trends develop on the Internet. Martin said in a telephone interview that the technology also gives believers a new way to carry out an old practice: asking others to pray for them in sacred places.

“Going to Israel is quite expensive,” said Martin. “So for people who can’t afford it but can afford their monthly (Internet) bill, this is one way to do it.”

Since opening May 1, the site has fielded hundreds of requests, some 70 percent from Americans but also from Hong Kong, India, Mexico and Australia, said Said Salem, Modefine’s Holy Land representative.

“We have something special here,” he said. “Mary lived here. Jesus grew up here. This is a holy town. This is the basis of Christianity.”

St. Gabriel’s Church stands over the spring where Greek Orthodox tradition says the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Catholic tradition holds that this event took place about a mile away, under the modern Basilica of the Annunciation.

Martin’s only concern was the fee: $10 per prayer. Salem said it covers system costs, not the prayer, which is free.

“If you come from Jerusalem to get the priest to pray for you, you don’t expect the priest to pay for the taxi,” Salem said. “We are the taxi.” He said he hoped the service would eventually raise funds for the Nazareth Christian community.

After the opening hymn, Elime prays for mercy, health, peace, forgiveness and salvation. He does services in English, Greek, Arabic and Russian, he said, depending on the request. He reads the first names on that day’s list, lighting a candle for each. A benediction closes the service, which lasts about four minutes.

Sitting in the stone-walled courtyard of his nearby monastery after the service, Elime said four priests do two services a day, seven days a week, praying for five to 10 people daily.

“There are some people who can’t come to the church to take Communion, so we go to them,” he said, citing the sick and elderly. Praying for people through the Internet serves the same purpose, he said.

Elime mentioned one American man who orders prayers over the Web weekly. Another woman recently placed an order after her daughter disappeared. The daughter was found three days later, Elime said.

The Web site lets people select a theme for their prayer, but Elime says the same prayer for each person.

Metropolis Kyriakos, the Archbishop of Nazareth, said he would prefer people visit the church in person, but that he saw nothing wrong with the online ceremony. “If I even smelled that something was not right, I would cancel it all,” he said, tapping his nose.

For Robert Jeffords, a frequent user of the site, online prayer was the only way to reach the Holy Land.

“I’m 66 now and almost immobile,” Jeffords said by phone from Hollywood, Fla., citing diabetes and leg infections. “So a trip to the Holy Land would be impossible.”

After reading about the service on a Catholic Web site, Jeffords ordered two prayers for his family and was impressed with what he saw.

“I was actually part of it,” said Jeffords, who is Catholic but says he has Greek Orthodox icons on his wall. “I was there.”

Jeffords has since ordered two more prayers, one for the anniversary of his mother-in-law’s death, another for his son and his son’s fiancée.

“Thank God for my Internet service,” Jeffords said. “There’s a lot of good stuff on there. There’s trash, too, but you can find good stuff if you look around.”

Friday, Jul. 6, 2007

Rescue an act of God

CURRUMBIN girl Chantelle Cowham has been dubbed a hero by lifeguards after dragging 15-year-old surfer Jake Miller from the water in what she called an act of God.

“God sent me there,” said the 20-year-old hairdresser, who dragged the teenager from the surf after spotting him floating lifelessly in the shallows yesterday about 5pm.

“It was totally weird, it was fate.

“I never go for a walk along Currumbin Beach. I usually always go to Burleigh headland and I was on my way there when for some reason I decided to go to Currumbin instead.”

Ms Cowham said when she first spotted Jake floating face down in the water she ‘thought it was a kid playing some kind of a joke’.

But she soon realised the situation was serious when she saw he was still attached to the leg-rope of his Mt Woodgee surfboard.

“I looked around me and I just thought ‘oh my God, there’s no one else on the beach’ so I ran in to the water,” she said.

“He was so heavy and I just kept trying to drag him up.

“There was no pulse and he wasn’t breathing, he was dead and I was freaking out.”

It was then that Ms Cowham believes God really stepped in when nurse Sonya Swann came running to her aid and began performing CPR.

Mrs Swann, a nurse for 22 years, had just finished booking a dinner reservation at Currumbin Surf Life Saving Club when she said a man came running up asking her to call an ambulance.

“I’m on holiday here with my family from Coolum Beach and I just dialled 000, gave him the phone and ran to the girl who was with the surfer,” she said.

“I didn’t have much hope for him so I just did what I could.

“The girl was saying ‘he felt dead, he was so heavy’ and then the lifeguards came and I continued using their equipment.”

After working on him for 10 minutes with lifeguards Steve Madden and Chris Maynard, Mrs Swann said Jake’s vitals returned with the ambulance officers administering the final lifesaving treatment.

“I reckon it’s a miracle. He’s a really lucky boy,” she said.

“I would like to catch up with him and see if he’s all right.”

Mr Maynard, who is the lifeguard superintendent, was one of the first lifeguards on the scene and said the passers-by who came to Jake’s rescue were ‘heroes’.

“We were not sure if he would make it for a while there but we found a slight, weak pulse and just kept going,” he said.

“He was surfing by himself and the shore break was dumping pretty hard.

“There were not a lot of people around, so luckily he was seen and that there was a nurse and lifeguards on hand to help.”

Southern lifeguard controller Peter Miller said the family lived across the road from the beach and Jake’s grandfather rushed to the scene after seeing a news flash about a near-drowning incident and realised that his grandson had not returned home.

It is believed Jake was hit on the head by his surfboard.

Mr Miller said Jake had regained consciousness as he was taken from the beach by ambulance officers.

He was in a stable condition at Tweed Heads hospital last night.

Wednesday, Jul. 4, 2007

Mandy’s Miracle

Joni and Friends is a Christian organization that, among other things, donates thousands of wheelchairs to over thirty different countries.

Charlene and Ernest Stevens of Knoxville were recently inspired to go on a mission trip with Joni and Friends to Guatemala this past February.

Their daughter, Mandy, died in 2000 after living life in a wheelchair as a result of cerebral palsy.

“She was exuberant. She loved life, loved people and had a sense of humor that was out of this world,” says Charlene.

After Mandy passed away, the Stevens donated her first wheelchair hoping someone could use it.

Little did they know, they would witness the fruits of their generosity first hand in Guatemala.

“I was taking a break, and a therapist rolled up a wheelchair that he said still needed some work.” says Charlene.

The wheelchair looked incredibly familiar to this mother, who had lost her daughter almost a decade ago.

“I told some ladies sitting with me that I thought it was Mandy’s.”

Charlene knew if there was a scratch in the shape of a “f” under one of the arm pads, she was right.

“When I lifted that pad and saw the scratch, I was overwhelmed. I can’t even describe it.” says Charlene.

Her husband, Ernest, recognized the chair by two screw holes he had drilled almost thirty years earlier.

“We have seen a lot of signs like this concerning our daughter. It’s been pretty cool,” says Ernest.

Rhoni Standefer, who runs the Knoxville office of Joni and Friends, was also there.

“The chances of this happening are one in a million, and this was their first trip to Guatemala. It was amazing.”

The Stevens, who said the little girl who received the chair was a lot like Mandy, are now going to donate the chair Mandy used as a young adult to Joni and Friends.

“Since this happened, I don’t have that heavy feeling when I think of Mandy, just peace,” says Charlene.

Friday, Jun. 29, 2007

Ministry provides food for the body and soul

Every community wants something to benefit its citizens help them grow. That is just what Angel Food Ministries at First Baptist Church of Trumann is doing.

Angel Food Ministries has existed for about 11 years. The ministry started with a husband and wife team in Good Hope, Ga. The couple just wanted to create a type of supplement grocery program to help families. Since that time, it has become nationwide. Trumann’s First Baptist Church has been doing this program since December of last year.

“The only requirement you must have is that you eat,” said Peggy Rathbun, one of the coordinators of the ministry in Trumann. “You eat, you qualify!”

Rathbun said the program is non-denominational and everyone is welcome to participate. Things such as income and number of children are not considered. Participants are not required to attend a church to join either.

The program is simple. Participants order a box of food for $25. Each box is filled with a variety of foods valued at $50 – $75. All orders are pre-paid.

“You are not locked in,” Rathbun said. “You can come in and order every month or just do it ever so often.”

A sample menu includes one package of chicken nuggets, four eight-ounce hamburger steaks, four six-ounce pork chops, one and half pound of thick bacon, one dozen eggs, two pound bag of frozen French fries, five bagels, two pound bag of onions, four apples, five bananas and one gourmet pie.

In addition to help families save on grocery costs, participants are also able to bless others. For every 50 boxes of food the ministry sells, one box of foods is given away free to someone in need. This is what they call a “Blessing Box.” The volunteers ask different churches to see what families are in need at that time, and the families in need receive a “Blessing Box.”

Because the ministry utilizes volunteers, Trumann First Baptist is always looking for more people to join the 30 volunteers already in place. Volunteers go to Jonesboro pick up food and then help sort it out to the families.

“All volunteers are welcomed,” Rathbun said. “You do not have to be a member of the church or of the Trumann community.”

Since it began, Angel Food Ministries ahs reached over one million families nationwide. Now, it is reaching residents of Trumann and Poinsett County who will benefit from the program in great ways.

“We are just hoping to bless the county and allow them to see God working through us,” said Rathbun.

Monday, Jun. 18, 2007

Church makes prayer bears for needy children

For a church that’s involved in mission work, it seemed a natural extension for its Vacation Bible School to carry the same philosophy.

That’s why the children of the Vacation Bible School operated by St. Peter’s Church in Uniontown recently made Prayer Bears – cute, cuddly and colorful stuffed animals just waiting to be loved by a child. With the help of volunteers, the church plans to make about 1,100 Prayer Bears by the time the project is completed.

“It’s a really nice thing to do because it helps kids learn about God and how good he is to us,” said Rachel Dileo, 11.

Debra Rhodes, director, said the Vacation Bible School has done mission projects since starting in 1999, but last year, they began doing projects on a big scale.

“Usually every child made one item or a group made an item. But last year, we made Friendship Blankets,” Rhodes said, later showing off a couple of these no-sew, fleece blankets that say “Jesus Loves Me.”

“It started with my VBS crew saying we can make more than the 13 we’re supposed to. We had the idea of doing 450 but we went to the congregation and the community for donations,” Rhodes said. “The congregation and community gave us support.”

So between the Vacation Bible School youths, volunteers and the congregation, St. Peter’s Church produced 450 Friendship Blankets in 2006. Rhodes is proud of this accomplishment coming “from a church the size of ours. Our attendance between two services is between 90 and 100. We usually have six to eight kids in Sunday school but our Vacation Bible School enrollment is 87. We have 65 today but we’ll have more towards the end of the week.”

Rhodes spoke Wednesday during the recent Vacation Bible School called “Avalanche Ranch: A Wild Ride Through God’s Word” on the night the youths were making the Prayer Bears.

Each child was to make one to keep and one to give to another child. They worked diligently in the basement in a section decorated to look like a general store in a Western town. Their table was covered with a black-and-white Holstein-looking tablecloth. The children stood around the table as they worked with green and purple fabrics that said “Jesus” cut into bear shapes. They filled them with stuffing and placed a heart-shaped paper in a pocket on the tummy with a special note. They place the bears in a barrel when finished.

Over the summer, children and other volunteers will make the remaining bears.

Last year’s Friendship Blankets were distributed to local children through Fayette County Children and Youth Services and Domestic Violence Services of Fayette County. Others were sent to a missionary in Honduras and the remaining went to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“We learned that a third of the kids in Central Elementary School in New Orleans are still homeless,” said Rhodes. “We were so glad they were able to make use of our blankets.”

This year’s Prayer Bears also will be distributed to local children and also sent to the missionary in Honduras who works with a hospital that has a cancer ward for children. Rhodes said the missionary would like to start his own Vacation Bible School and is excited about the possibility of the children creating their own Prayer Bears – one to keep and one to give away. St. Peter’s is working to send a mission team there next year to teach them to do their own Vacation Bible School.

Rhodes said St. Peter’s is able to make 1,100 of these Prayer Bears after receiving donations to help offset the cost from members of the congregation as well as businesses, such as Wal-Mart, which donated most of the stuffing.

More than 70 volunteers have been involved in this project with work beginning in March. Thirty-six volunteers have been on site at VBS with one couple came from to spend the week. Additional volunteers will help to complete the Prayer Bears.

Why tackle mission projects during Vacation Bible School? Rhodes said the church believes it’s important for the children to learn about giving of themselves.

“A lot of times, children will run to the store and get something or give mom and dad’s money, but it’s not something of themselves. We wanted to teach an attitude of servanthood,” she said.

The children seemed to have fun while learning this lesson.

“I think it’s good that they have a bear and it tells them about Jesus,” said Micah Sickles, 14. “If you’re in a bad mood, you can hug it and it makes you feel better.”

“I like that it’s going to go to needy people,” said Katryna Rhodes, 9, daughter of Debra Rhodes. “It gives somebody something to hug when they go to sleep. I still hug a teddy bear.”

Baron Hatalowich, 7, said the bears “are fun” and that the children will like to “play with them.”

Cody Fairbee, 9, said he wants to “give them to children to play with them.”

Volunteer Carolina Buddemeyer said she likes the project.

“I think it is great, especially in countries where children have nothing,” she said.

She also thinks the project is special to the youths because “it’s something they have made and something they can give.”

Wednesday, Jun. 6, 2007

Take a short prayer break

Years ago a priest friend showed me some daily schedule pads that he had made up for himself. At the top was a line for the date and the heading “To Do Today” and then 15 lines for the various things he wanted to accomplish. The basic difference from similar pads was that on lines 1, 5 and 10 it had “Pray” and on line 15 it said “Thanksgiving Prayer.”

The first time I saw the pad I commented that it would be interesting to market it, and suggested that he let me “borrow” the idea as a premium for the diocesan paper where I worked at the time. He was okay with that if I didn’t tell anyone where the idea had come from. He didn’t want credit in any way. The pads were his way of reminding himself each day of God’s primary place in his priesthood and his life. Line 15, he said, was the most important because it reminded him to thank God for the gifts of the day and – some days – for the help God had given him to make it through the day.

He said that the idea came to him soon after his ordination, following his first months assigned to a parish. Filled with the excitement and self-importance of his new work, he got so caught up in his parish ministry that at the end of too many days he realized that, other then presiding at Mass, he’d taken little time during the day for prayer and reflection as he regularly did in the more structured seminary life. The pads were his way of making sure prayer was always on his schedule and on his mind.

As one who gets caught up in my own daily “To Do” list, it was good for me to hear that a priest had to remind himself to take a few minutes during a day to put things into a prayerful perspective. I thought it was just me!

For many of us, it seems our schedules are not just filled, but jammed, with commitments, appointments and “absolutely-have-to-do” projects. I leave it to the social scientists to explain why this happens, but I know I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my schedule. Even getting a bite to eat, let alone a meal, is a challenge. Take a few minutes for prayer or meditation? I’ll get to that later or tomorrow!

I find that when it gets that way the healthiest thing I can do is take even five minutes for a “prayer break” right at my desk. I have a couple of resources I use to help me in this quiet time. Obviously and honestly, the day’s reading in our Christopher book Three Minutes a Day helps me focus on the good in the world around me.

In this computer age I can also go to Sacred Spaces, a Web site of the Irish Jesuits that has a short reflection, scriptural reading and prayer. To my surprise one of my own brothers recently told me that when he turns on his computer in the morning he listens to “Christopher Minutes” on our Web site (www.christophers.org). Even though he has to listen to me (his words!) he says that it helps him at least start the day in a positive perspective.

I’m sure the short prayer breaks I take during the day help me to slow down a bit, and that makes them mental-health breaks too. Yet I know that first and foremost the breaks help me put all the busyness into perspective – and remember to make my work a prayer.

Wednesday, May. 23, 2007

Prayer answered via a golf cart

Three years ago, Cass Forkin, who is in the job of granting “twilight wishes” to frail elderly people, visited the home of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem.

About 90 nuns live there, more than half of them retired, some extremely old and frail and living in the infirmary. In their walkers and wheelchairs, they could no longer see the beautiful grounds, the flowering rhododendrons.

The nuns really wanted a golf cart, to transport their frailest around the campus, but asking for one was deemed, well, inappropriate.

“They didn’t want to seem greedy,” said Marie Bradley, activities director at the infirmary, St. Michael Hall. “They wanted to be unselfish.”

Two years went by, and a new administrator was named for the 57-acre campus founded by Mother Katharine Drexel. This was Sister Lorraine, 72, who has a bad back and doesn’t get around so well.

She thought the golf cart was a terrific idea and sent a letter to Forkin, who founded and runs the Twilight Wish Foundation in Bucks County, seeking “a four-seat golf cart for 56 retired nuns.”

Forkin tries to fulfill all sorts of requests from older people, but this one was surprisingly difficult. Most country clubs lease their carts and need to return them.

Her brother knew a man in Philadelphia who was head of the Mayfair Civic Association and known as a can-do guy. Turns out that guy, Scott Cummings, knew a guy in the Poconos who lost 400 pounds after having his stomach stapled and no longer needed his golf cart to get around.

So Cummings bought the cart for $500 out of his own pocket, rented a trailer and drove to the Poconos in February, right after the huge snowfall.

The man with the stapled stomach hadn’t shoveled or plowed his driveway, which was under 18 inches of snow.

“I looked up, and I said, ‘Well, sisters, if you want the golf cart, I’m going to need a little prayer,’ ” Cummings recalled. “I looked up the street – and here comes a giant plow.”

Cummings polished the cart, put air in the tires. He and his wife, Vicki, clipped a guardian angel to the sun visor, which all the nuns thought most appropriate because Mother Katharine Drexel’s favorite expression was “Holy Angels.”

The couple also put a picture of Pope John Paul II on the steering column – covering the operating instructions, although Sister Lorraine insisted yesterday that she had read them carefully. Cummings also taped a bumper sticker to the front: Don’t let this car fool you, my treasure is in heaven.

The sisters were all lined up Saturday when he arrived.

“I pulled up, and I never saw so many women, so many Catholic nuns, happy to see me,” said Cummings, who went to St. Matthew’s parish school and Father Judge High. “I was a Catholic boy, used to getting my knuckles rapped with a ruler. Their faces were so excited. I actually started crying. I lost it.”

The nuns have spent the weekend and every day since driving around the campus. They have a little stool to help the weakest get on board.

“The chief of maintenance is getting seat belts for the back,” Sister Lorraine said. “I want to make sure they’re safely on and can’t fall out.”

The cart can hit a top speed of 15 m.p.h., according to the manufacturer, but nuns tend to be conservative drivers.

“This is where we all started,” said Sister Loretta, vice president of the order. Many of the older nuns joined and trained here more than 60 years ago. Most were teachers and went on to poor communities and reservations all over the country. Back at their order’s home, many are too frail to see the buildings and grounds they strolled long ago.

“Now, they can go anywhere they want to go – with an approved driver,” Sister Loretta said. “It’s opening up the world to them.”

Sister Claire, for instance, went down to the cemetery on Saturday to see the grave where her natural sister was buried. She hadn’t been able to get there since her sister died.

Yesterday, Sister Lorraine was giving several nuns rides.

“You’d better hang on,” she said to Sister Therese, in the front passenger seat, her walker folded in her lap.

“Don’t worry about me,” Sister Therese replied. “Watch out for the tree.”

Sister Lorraine was driving across the grass, heading toward the cemetery, when she stopped the cart at a four-inch drainage ditch. She decided it was too perilous to cross.

“This will be my first time in reverse,” she said, switching gears. “Let’s go. . . . That-a girl.”

Sister Anne Regina, who is in her 80s, got her first ride yesterday and took great joy seeing spring in all its glory.

“To think people thought of us, to do something like this for us, especially the older sisters,” she said. “You just don’t know what that means.”

Tuesday, May. 15, 2007

Police Week begins with outdoor prayer service

With help from Houston’s religious leaders, members of the Houston Police Department bowed their heads in prayer Monday at the start of National Police Week.

“This is a very heartfelt event and very encouraging to have the community of faith coming together with us,” said officer Barry Curtis. “I hope we can spread this unity across the city.”

Today is National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, and this week marks the 45th National Police Week since President John F. Kennedy signed the day of remembrance into law on Oct. 1, 1962.

The law designates the week containing May 15 as one meant to honor fallen police officers and their survivors.

Monday, May. 7, 2007

Detective: “God’s in the miracle business”

Detective Jeff Hidy breathes deeply from the one and one-third lungs he has remaining and declares this “a blessed day.” He utters the phrase at every opportunity from a mouth that never loses its delighted grin. Blessed day, indeed. For Hidy, every day on earth feels like a bonus.

The lung cancer? “It’s like I had a cold,” he says.

The brain tumor they found 30 days later? “Big as a fist,” he says. “Want to see the scar?”

The pain in his leg that turned out, six months ago, to be bone cancer?

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” the first doctor told him.

By this time, owing to history, Hidy had learned a certain cautionary skepticism. He’d worry, all right. Two years ago, when he had a soft, annoying cough that wouldn’t go away, the doctor told him, “Jeff, I guarantee you don’t have lung cancer.”

“Just the same,” said Hidy, “I’d like to get a chest X-ray.”

The X-rays said the doctor was wrong.

“It doesn’t look good,” the doctor said.

“Trust in God; he’ll take care of it,” Hidy said.

A month later, when he was getting chemotherapy for the lung, he told a doctor, “I feel a little spacey. Something’s not right. The cancer couldn’t be in my brain, too, could it?”

“No,” said this doctor. “But why don’t we get an MRI, just to make sure?”

They operated on Hidy’s brain the next day and removed a tumor the size of a small fist.

“See the scar?” says Hidy. He takes off his uniform cap and displays an 18-inch scar quite visible amid a recovering sprinkle of hair.

“Spot balding,” Hidy says. “My wife calls me Spalding. Like the tennis ball, yeah.”

A 15-year veteran of the Baltimore City Police Department who lives with his wife, Karen, in Middle River, Hidy utters every syllable with sheer joy. He beat the lung cancer, and he beat the brain tumor, and he’ll beat the bone cancer, too, he says.

“A blessed day,” he declares again. “All credit to the Lord. He just keeps carrying me. Satan gave me the tumors, but the Lord carries me through. Plus, I give some credit to the doctors, too.”

He is an upbeat man in a profession that can play decidedly downbeat. The cops see the worst of human nature, and deal with it. Sometimes, it’s all about approach.

“I’ve always been blessed,” Hidy, 50, was saying the other day. He sat in the lobby of police headquarters, near the base of the Jones Falls Expressway, and greeted almost all police employees walking past by their first names.

“In 10 years on the street,” he said, “I never had to shoot at anyone, never had to use my nightstick, never even used Mace. My partner used to say, ‘If Jeff locks somebody up, there shouldn’t even be a trial.’ I treated people the way I’d want them to treat my mother. And I got respect 95 percent of the time.”

Then there was that other 5 percent.

“Well, one time a woman came at me with a knife,” Hidy remembers. “I was responding to a domestic call. She came down the stairs at me with a steak knife. She could have hurt me. I didn’t want to shoot her. She just needed to be calmed down, and I just talked calmly and said I’d try to help her. I was really happy that I could.

“See, every threat level’s different. Anyone’s a liar who says they’re not scared out there. But, as a police [officer], you work your way through your fears. One time this girl hit me with a flashlight. It was Christmas. She was scared, and she went right into a corner and huddled in fear.

“I told her, ‘Listen, my Christmas present to you is, I’m not going to arrest you. But I want you to go to a hospital for help.’ And we got her treatment. That was a blessed day, a very blessed day.”

The phrase tumbles out of him reflexively. He is a deeply religious man at a highly vulnerable time of his life, and this is his comfort.

“I tell people,” he says, “ ‘If the Lord could look out for a bonehead like me, imagine what he’ll do for you.’ I tell this to people all the time. Don’t be scared.”

It is a fact that not everyone who prays gets healed. Hidy’s a man of faith, but he’s not blind.

“But God’s in the miracle business,” he says.

Hidy feels he’s been the recipient of two miracles so far: in his lung and his brain. Now, on his off days from work, he’s getting chemotherapy for the bone cancer. The smile never leaves his face, nor the phrase from his lips: a blessed day, he says.

It’s a blessing just to be around such optimism, and such a man.

Thursday, May. 3, 2007

The Psalms are good for troubled times

Most of us have had occasions where we cried out to God, “Why?” It may be an illness, the suffering or loss of a loved one, financial problems or another issue that is difficult to endure.

Perhaps in the midst of times such as this, some do not find it helpful to have someone else tell them that they understand or empathize. But many times, it is indeed comforting to have another come alongside you and share that they also have walked through hard periods and have come through the other side.

The book of Psalms is known as a book that individuals run to in times of distress.

It encompasses such songs as community and individual laments, songs of thanksgivings, hymns and royal psalms. The most common Psalms are individual laments. Almost half of this book is filled with cries for help: “We can’t cope!”

Communal laments are natural catastrophes or military invasions. However, individual laments are different. They are individual people in trouble who are asking, “Why?” In Old Testament times, people were suffering. At times, there was no law or justice. Many people would simply fall between the cracks, no justice or help arriving. Perhaps they suffered from an illness.

These people needed laments to cry out to God of their woes. So the temple provided them. Laments were absolutely necessary in Old Testament times. And yet their purpose transcends to us today. We find comfort in knowing that others have walked where we walk.

Psalm 13 is a unique Psalm. It is one that cries out, addressing God, describing the trouble, giving a petition, speaking of trust and hope, and finally gives the psalmist identity in his prayer. David calls upon God, perhaps suffering from a physical illness. He cries out to God to be restored:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him, and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:1-6, Holy Bible, New International Version).

We have all had times where we suffered to the point of wondering where God was. Has he forgotten us? In moments such as this, we need him to show us his face, restore our fellowship with him and heal our troubles. It is in our continued prayer and trust that he will indeed answer, that his love is shown as unfailing, that we can find a measure of comfort in our trials.

Sometimes we simply have to sing and praise him in faith, not feeling; for the answer is not visible. But the time will come when we look back and testify to the goodness of the Lord. And then we can share with another at a future time the story of our suffering and answered prayer — and it will perhaps comfort them.

For God is faithful even when we can’t feel him.

This is why the Psalms are consoling to us as mere humans when we suffer. We see that others have endured and finally received their much-needed answer to prayer.

Wednesday, May. 2, 2007

A Prayer for a friend with cancer

I get lots of e-mails from sick people and from the friends and families of sick people asking me to pray for them, and I always do. They are strangers to me but they are not strangers to God. Perhaps that is why praying for strangers does not seem foolish or odd or difficult to me. Really I am just praying for a friend of my friend. I just received such a request from my daughter Mara, whom I always call Moochie. Henry is a friend of Moochie’s who has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It may be treatable, but he does not know yet. This is my prayer for Henry.

Dear Henry,

I am praying for you, and I thought I might tell you what I am praying so that you could add it to your prayers—or so that, even if you stop praying for yourself, you know that I am among the many people who will not stop. I am praying for you to get well and become whole again.

I pray that your doctors might be the hands of God. They are not the only way that healing may come to you, but they are a good and proven way. I am praying that your doctors might find a treatment for your cancer—forever or for a little while. I am also praying that you might have the hope and courage to be their partner in the work of healing you. Hope mixed with medicine makes both the medicine and the hope stronger.

Henry, I am praying that you use your fear rather than submitting to your fear. Those who tell you not to be afraid are well-meaning fools. It is natural and normal for you to be afraid now. However, I pray that you might find a way to transform your fear into fuel for your fight. You are not a victim and you are not condemned. You are a living man who is deeply loved, and you can fight this thing with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Use your fear now to fight for your life.

And finally Henry, I am praying that you might smell the scent of water. Job (14:7) wrote about the hope he saw even in a felled tree. “If its roots are deep in the earth, at the first scent of water it will send forth new green shoots and grow again.” I pray that you will be like that tree, Henry. I pray that despite your prognosis, you will walk again soon on the beach with nothing on your mind except the colors of the water and the feeling of the wind on your face and the sand between your toes. Henry, you can do this. You can beat this. You can find strength of spirit and a resolute courage to fight this disease within you. What I have learned from the sick people who have been my teachers is that such strength and such courage looks more like hope than anger, more like serenity than combativeness. The secret of this fight is to know the feeling of being rooted in the love of family and friends and, for some, God. I am praying for you Henry. I am praying that beyond the smell of antiseptic and crappy hospital food that you might catch a whiff of something fine and bracing and beseeching and incantatory. I am praying that you can catch a scent of water. No matter what tomorrow might bring, Henry, I pray that today your new leaves will begin to sprout.

May God bless you and heal you,
Marc Gellman (Newsweek)

Thursday, Apr. 26, 2007

Faith can help people cope with stress

My 81-year-old grandmother taught me the verse, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends us all, understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” from Philippians 4:6.

She told me to escape to a quiet place and softly recite it followed by a prayer, if I ever feel “anxious about anything.” Since then, I have always done so.

Whether it is taking a moment to count slowly to 10 or relaxing in a secluded area to hear nothing but your own breathing pattern, every individual has a tactic they rely on to help relieve stress.

In the South, it is often religion or a chosen faith that we rely on to relieve stress.

When asked if she believed faith can relieve stress, Debra M. Bass, pastor of Trinity African Methodist Church, said, “I believe in prayer and communication with God, because he is in control. It’s just like going to therapy and leaving it there. Trusting that the problem will be worked out no matter how it turns out, and trusting that He will take care of it is the most important thing one can accept.”

Exercise mixed with spirituality is also a great way to relieve stress. Bass suggests, “yoga and meditation on God’s word, especially Psalms, because they provide a lot of stress-related statements, is the most powerful stress reducer.”

Bass also said her church provides aerobics classes, which are a combination Bible lesson and workout in one.

In her article “How to Use Spirituality for Stress Relief,” About.com writer Elizabeth Scott says, “while there are many paths people use to find God, research shows that those who have made the journey find greater relief from stress and enjoy better health and happier lives.”

Not only does becoming involved and well-acquainted with a church help reduce mental stress, but it can also lead to a healthier and more energetic life.

# Scott’s article includes six spiritually based stress reduction techniques:Pray. Leaving your stress with God, and the feelings of a connection with him, can leave you more collected and calm, not to mention decrease blood pressure and improve your health.
# Be thankful. One way to approach it is to keep a daily “gratitude journal” to record all the things you feel thankful for. Adding to and going back over the journal can provide a sense of purpose a quick “pick-me-up.”
# Explore your faith. There are two ways to approach religion: intrinsically, a more personal approach, and extrinsically, meeting others needs to help your own. An intrinsic approach can offer more benefits to you and your experience.
# Be optimistic. Research shows that having optimism, the knowledge that there is always an alternative, can increase your ability to positively attribute things in your life.
# See the situation as test of faith. Those who see stressful situations as a test of their faith are less likely to feel physically and mentally overthrown by stress.
# Use the law of attraction. “What you focus on is what you attract.” If you focus of the good things in life, you will look for or focus on these ideals in every situation.

Monday, Apr. 23, 2007

Can Prayer Influence Health?

Historically, science hasn’t embraced the connection between faith and health, but today an increasing number of studies show spiritual practices, including prayer influence our health.

Millions of Christians around the world are participating in religious activities during this holy week.

And an increasing amount of research shows those spiritual practices, including prayer, worship and service to others could influence our health.

“Historically, science and religion have been fairly separate, although recently, there’s been a lot of interest in the role of religion, or faith in a person’s health,” says Cherokee Health Systems Psychologist Dr. Parinda Khatri.

Today, many medical professionals and religious leaders believe it’s a blend of the scientific and the spiritual that prove to promote health and reduce disease.

“Prayer is very powerful. Prayer is very positive. We don’t know all the ins and outs about prayer, except we know that it works,” says Revered Bill Fowler from Church Street United Methodist Church.

“The exact connection is a bit of a mystery, but when we think about health today, we think about mind, body and spirit,” explains Dr. Khatri.

There are a range of theories to explain the faith-health connection, healthy behavior, social support, self esteem and coping skills, but most studies focus on the frequency of church attendance and prayer.

“There’s one pretty compelling finding that shows people who attend church regularly have mortality rates that are 25% better than people who don’t attend church regularly,” Dr. Khatri says.

The belief is religious activities may also lead to positive emotions, which have been shown to influence your immune system, health and well-being.

“A lot of life is accepting every day as a gift from God, and we’re to make the very best of what we’re given,” Reverend Fowler explains.

One study found evidence participating in a religion can promote healthy behavior.

It found nearly 75% of female church members had a mammogram in the past two years, compared with only 60% of women in the community.

Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2007

The Power of Prayer

Walk through any bookstore, and you’re likely to run across one of author Stormie Omartian‘s runaway best-sellers—The Power of a Praying Wife, The Power of a Praying Parent, The Power of a Praying Husband, The Power of a Praying Nation, and her most recent, The Power of a Praying Woman (all Harvest House), as well as Praying God’s Will for Your Life (Thomas Nelson). Stormie dominates the Christian booksellers’ best-seller list; her books have ranked in the top 5 for more than 27 consecutive months. And they’re used in countless church small groups and Sunday school classes around the world.

But what’s amazing about Stormie is that she blushes when someone calls her an expert on prayer. “A lot of people think because I’ve written books on prayer that I know something special. But you know what? The truth is, I’m just desperate for God,” she insists. It’s that desperation that seems to be the theme through Stormie’s. … well, stormy. … life.

Raised by a mentally ill mother who verbally and physically abused her, Stormie, 59, spent her childhood locked in closets trying to avoid the rats that lurked there. She spent much of her teens and twenties searching for the love and acceptance she never received at home, which led to suicide attempts, heavy alcohol and drug use, and a failed marriage. Nothing helped her insecurity and pain—until a friend took her to church. There Stormie discovered the love and acceptance she’d longed for through a relationship with Jesus Christ. But calm still didn’t enter Stormie’s life. Although she met and married Michael, a fellow Christian, Michael’s tendency toward verbal abuse brought back all the pain and insecurity of her childhood. Not until 15 years into their marriage did Stormie finally discover the secret to successful living: desperate prayer and total obedience to God.

It was prayer that helped her forgive her mother, strengthen her marriage (Stormie and Michael have been married now for 28 years), heal her insecurities, and learn parenting skills to raise her three children, Chris, now 26, John David, 22, and Amanda, 21. And it brought her through a year-long recovery after she nearly died recently from a burst appendix.

While other people might have turned to bitterness and anger, Stormie turned to God, who’s shaped her into a gentle, genuinely lovely woman. “That’s the Lord,” claims Stormie. “He’s spared me so many times. I found a way out of my suffering, and I want to share that with other people, to let them know there’s hope.” Here’s what Stormie had to say about the power of prayer in this exclusive TCW interview.

When did you first realize prayer’s power?

When I brought my first child, Chris, home from the hospital 26 years ago. Because of my mother’s mental illness, I didn’t have a positive role model for parenting. When Chris would cry and I couldn’t get him to stop, I’d lose it and get angry. I realized that if someone didn’t intervene, I could abuse him as my mother had me. That realization terrified me.

I prayed, “God, help me raise this child. I have no idea how to do it. I don’t want to live with this horrible anger that makes me want to beat him to stop his crying.” I’d put Chris in his crib, go in my room, and cry to God, “Lord, you’ve got to transform me because I can’t change myself. But the Bible says you can. Heal me.”

Every time I felt anger, I went to God in prayer. The more I prayed, the more God lifted it from me. By the time my daughter, Amanda, arrived, I didn’t struggle with anger anymore.

Did prayer help you overcome your traumatic past?

Definitely. My journey from brokenness to wholeness didn’t happen overnight; in fact, it took 14 years from the time I began the process until I was able to help others with the same problems. When I was a new Christian, I thought once you received Jesus into your life, that was it—no more problems. The truth is, while I’d secured eternal life, my life here on earth still needed work!

But my best friend since high school came to Christ the same year I did, and we started attending the same church. Because we had similarly dysfunctional families, we understood each other’s prayer needs. We began praying regularly together over the phone several times a week. Through each low time of discouragement, each difficult decision, our prayers for each other were instrumental in our spiritual growth and emotional healing.

As I matured in my faith, I knew I wanted to forgive my mother. I learned, however, that unforgiveness as deeply rooted as mine must be unraveled one layer at a time. Whenever I’d feel any anger, hatred, and unforgiveness toward her, I had to learn to take charge of my will and deliberately pray, “Lord, my desire is to forgive my mother. Help me to forgive her completely.”

Over several years of doing this more often than I can count, I suddenly realized I no longer hated her; I felt sorry for her instead. Being in touch with the heart of God through prayer for my mother brought such forgiveness in me that when she died a few years later, I had absolutely no bad feelings toward her.

How did you learn to pray so effectively?

It was because I was desperate for God—for his help in overcoming the scars of my past. Every time I read something in the Bible about prayer, I did what it said. For example, the apostle James says we don’t have because we don’t ask (4:2), so I thought, I might as well go ahead and ask! But James 4:3 adds, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. … ” I realized I have to be obedient to God if I expect him to answer.

Is praying specific prayers important?

I think it is. There’s nothing wrong with telling God what you want, but you’ve always got to pray, “God, more than anything else, I want what you want.”

I try to be honest with God about how I feel, what I need, what I long for and don’t have. But first I go to God in confession to make sure my attitude’s right. For example, if I harbor unforgiveness toward my husband, it puts up a wall between God and me. Only confession clears the channel between us and God.

What if a woman feels her prayers don’t sound “good enough”?

Oh, I feel that way, too. I’ve often thought, I’m nobody. Why would God answer my prayers? But thank God he’s not impressed by eloquence; he’s impressed by our longing for him.

How do we get that longing?

Everybody has longings—for a husband, a child, close companionship, a better job, a bigger house. However, most of the time what we’re really longing for is God’s presence in our life. We just misinterpret the longings.

For instance, nine years ago my family and I moved to Tennessee. Michael was working long hours, and my kids, who were in junior high and high school, didn’t need me as they used to. I was alone most of the time and so lonely.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I burst into tears and prayed, “God, this feeling in me hurts. Take away this loneliness.” Suddenly, I felt his presence so strong in my heart that the loneliness lifted. God helped me recognize my loneliness as a call to be with him. So every time I felt lonely after that, I’d pray, “Lord, I’m lonely for more of you.”

You could have fallen into self-pity.

That’s exactly what I did at first! I felt sorry for myself and thought, I’m going to be lonely all my life. But when I looked to God instead of someone else to fulfill my needs, he took my loneliness away. When I do what Jesus says to do in Mark 11:24—to ask him for something—God actually answers! I’ve been blown away by God’s answers to prayer. Once I started to receive answers like that, I thought, If I prayed about this and he answered, what else might he answer?

But what about when God doesn’t seem to answer?

I have a family member for whose salvation I pray. … a wonderful person who’s closed off to the gospel. When I think of this person’s background, I understand the reasons. But I wonder, Lord, I’ve been praying for this person to come to you for 25 years. How much longer do I have to pray for this? But I can’t stop praying even though I don’t see an answer.

Sometimes I think God allows things to go on and on so our roots grow strong in him. It requires us to lay down our desires and say, “Not my will, God, but yours be done.” When we’re burdened about something, God either will change the situation—or our heart.

I’d like to be able to quit praying about my husband’s anger, but apparently that’s a prayer I’m going to have to pray for the rest of my life. I don’t get it! I don’t know why certain prayers seem as though they never get fully answered. Michael’s gotten so much better; it’s nothing like it was before. But I don’t understand why there has to be any anger. So I’m still praying, because a wife’s prayers for her husband are more powerful than anybody else’s.

Why do you say that?

Because God’s made the husband and wife one. So when you pray for your husband, you essentially pray for yourself. What happens to my husband happens to me. If he’s had a bad day, I guarantee I’ll have a bad one, too. So it’s to my benefit if I pray for him to have a good day.

Is that why you started praying for Michael?

I started praying for my kids first. Up until 13 years ago, it never occurred to me to pray anything more than “protect Michael” kind of prayers. But Michael brought anger into our marriage. Whenever he was upset about something, he’d lash out at me and the kids. After 15 years of marriage, the verbal abuse got so bad, I couldn’t take it anymore; I wanted out. I had no option but to pray a desperate prayer: “God, this situation’s killing me. Everything in me wants to take the kids and leave.”

After one particularly rough week, Michael went on a business trip and my kids spent the weekend with some friends. The empty house only magnified how empty I felt. So I told God, “I need answers. I’m not eating until I hear something from you.” I stayed in my bed, read my Bible, prayed, journaled, and fasted.

Why did you fast?

The Bible’s filled with references to prayer and fasting as the way to receive God’s wisdom and power. I knew if I wanted to see a breakthrough, fasting was the way to do it.

So it’s going to the next level?

Yes. It’s about putting God first. Every time I felt a hunger pang, I’d pray about my marriage. I’m sure God had been speaking to me about my marriage for years, but it wasn’t until I began to fast that I really heard him.

And what did he tell you?

That instead of praying, “God, make Michael more this, less that,” I was to pray, “God, change me to become the person you want me to be—and change Michael to become the person you want him to be.”

That doesn’t seem fair!

You’re right. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took me several hours just to come to the point of saying, “Okay, God, I’ll stay in the marriage and do things your way.” I sobbed. I felt as though I was dying inside. But I stayed—with no guarantee our life together would change. I didn’t start praying that way for Michael because I felt like it, but because I wanted to obey God.

Did you ever think, Why am I the one who has to pray?

Oh, I asked that many times. That’s when God would say, “I’ll work with whomever is willing. You’re willing—you start.”

But wasn’t it difficult to pray for Michael when he got angry?

I’d have to start by confessing I didn’t want to pray for him! I’d hold onto some hurt, some anger for the things he’d say. But the more honest I became with God, the more he showed me that while I may have forgiven an incident, I hadn’t forgiven Michael. I had to confess that and then pray for help. Once I did, I was shocked at how quickly God started answering my prayers.

What started changing?

Instead of confronting, pleading, ignoring, debating, or giving him the silent treatment, I’d withdraw from Michael and go pray for him: “God, what is this anger? Where is it coming from? How can I pray about it?” God gave me insights into the reasons for Michael’s misplaced anger, such as his being raised by an overbearing, overcritical mother. As my reactions changed, Michael softened.

I started to pray for his relationship with our kids, and was amazed when I watched it dramatically improve. For example, Michael began taking father-son golf trips with our son Chris. They’re doing all this stuff together they didn’t have a chance to do years ago because Michael spent so much time at work when the kids were young. Our family’s really tight now.

Michael has a heart for God. He really wants to do right. He’s not so strong-willed that he won’t change, that he won’t say he’s sorry. Things are so much better between us than they were before. I feel as though God’s redeemed our relationship because of my being able to pray for it. And my recent near-death experience from a burst appendix transformed Michael into a praying husband.

What do you say to the woman who no longer feels anything for her husband?

I’ve been there. At one point, I told my husband I didn’t love him any more. I didn’t say that to hurt him; I said that to let him know how badly he’d hurt me. I didn’t feel anything, not love, not tenderness. But God restored that.

Are you saying God can resurrect a marriage?

Yes, he can. I’ve seen it. I’ve gotten so many letters from women who’ve said they were separated or divorced, but when they started to pray, their marriage was restored. Some of these stories are astounding.

Only our God is a God who transforms us from the inside out. All you have to say is, “God, I’m willing to open my heart to you.”

But that’s no guarantee prayer will transform a “D” marriage into an “A” marriage.

Right. You’re still dealing with individuals who have free will. It always takes two people. If a husband’s so strong-willed he won’t change, God won’t violate a spouse’s free will.

I recently received a letter from a woman who’d been praying for her husband for a year after he left her to live with someone else. He’s had a kid with this other woman. She was tearing herself up, thinking she was supposed to keep praying for him to come back even though she didn’t feel the Holy Spirit asking her to. I wrote back, “You prayed. You’ve done everything you can do. Be released from him. He’s chosen his life. Unless God puts it in your heart to keep praying, don’t feel as though you’re doing wrong by letting that go. Just pray, ‘God, I release this relationship into your hands. If you want to restore it, restore it. If not, release me.'”

What about the married woman who suffers physical abuse?

I have zero tolerance for that. I don’t advise a woman to stay and pray; I tell her to get out and get counseling. Pray from afar. The Lord never condones physical abuse.

Were you involved in a women’s group while you struggled in your marriage?

Oh, yes. We met every Tuesday, and I shared with them what was going on. They prayed about it for me every week.

Did you tell Michael what you shared with the group?

Yes, I told him. He even wanted to share some of our struggles with the group himself! We trusted these women. And we knew they weren’t going to betray our confidence.

Where would your marriage be had you not been involved in this prayer group?

There wouldn’t be a marriage. There would have been a divorce.

Even if you’d prayed on your own?

I didn’t get to the point of being able to pray effectively on my own without the aid of what these women gave me. They helped me develop my walk with God. When you’re accountable to each other and you all share with and pray for each other, that matures you.

What other advice do you have on prayer?

I challenge women to think, What could I accomplish today if I allowed God to work through me? What would I like to see? Think of something you want to do beyond what you can do, and pray for that.

So you’re advocating praying big prayers.

Yes. Too often we underestimate prayer’s power. When you realize that power, you realize you can’t afford not to pray. The more you have to do, the more time you should spend praying. And that, in turn, blesses what you’re doing.

I also want women to know they can pray blessings into their life.

Is that why you wrote The Power of a Praying Woman?

It’s because I realized women are often so busy praying for others, they neglect to pray for themselves. I want to teach women how to pray for their life in a way probably no one else does for them.

Jesus said, “I came so that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NASB). That’s the kind of life he desires for us! But our best efforts to break out of our self-defeating cycle of bad habits or negative patterns can’t happen without God’s power. And that can’t happen without prayer. I want women to move into powerful praying for themselves.

But that almost feels. …

Selfish that we’re praying for ourselves? Exactly. But it’s really not. It’s okay to say, “Bless me, Lord.” I discovered that in my prayer group. I’d just written The Power of a Praying Wife. I knew God had worked in my marriage, and I wanted God to work in other women’s marriages, too. So I asked God to let that book be a breakthrough. I didn’t feel as though I was praying a selfish prayer; I knew this book had a powerful message, and I wanted it to go all over the world. I felt I was praying in line with what God wanted.

So when this book took off right after that, I was filled with awe. So far it’s been translated into 15 languages. Every time I get copies of a translation for another country, I break down and cry. I mean, why would that book go to places such as South America and Nigeria? Only God can do that. It certainly isn’t anything I’ve done.

The Bible’s full of passages in which someone prayed, “Bless me, Lord.” We need to know it’s okay to pray, “God, bless my life today. Bring into it what you want. I’m open to whatever blessings you want to give—and whatever correction you want, too.” You ask so you can be a channel for what God wants to do through you, no matter if you’re single, married, old, or young. Every woman can pray over her life. I think it’s essential.

How can a woman get her husband to pray for her?

It’s funny you ask that. One woman asked me, “How can I get my husband to read your book The Power of a Praying Husband?” I said, “You pray!” There’s no other way you can get your husband to pray for you other than to ask him to—and then pray yourself.

And keep at it?

Definitely.

Some day, when we get to heaven, I hope we’ll see all the ways God answered our prayers even when we didn’t know about it! That’s why I really want to encourage women to pray. Sometimes it feels as though our prayers aren’t heard, that we’re babbling into space or that our words hit the ceiling. But if you pray in Jesus’ name, they are powerful. Those prayers are heard, and they are doing something—even if you don’t see God’s answers this side of heaven.

Friday, Apr. 13, 2007

Prayers can help the sick, caregivers

Are health care professionals (HCPs) spiritual? Spirituality is defined here as an ongoing relationship with God regardless of whether one is healthy, chronically stressed out, or sick. I encourage fellow HCPs to pray for, and with, their patients. Regardless of their belief system, HCPs have the ability to grow in practice depth, humility and compassion toward their patients, and model the concept of abundant wellness to those who are interested.

Research supports that prayer benefits our patients in the areas of depression management, as well as coping with serious medical illness. One study reported that 44 percent of patients surveyed experienced healing through prayer at some time in their lives. A meta-analysis of 42 studies found that the odds of survival were 29 percent higher for individuals involved in spiritual practice.

Studies regarding the medical effectiveness of intercessory prayer offered on behalf of others began to evolve in the 1960s. Results have been mixed. Yet, I have witnessed medical miracles over the past nine years as intercessory prayers were offered for my father during his chronic illnesses, including remission from multiple cancers. His healing defied logic and science.

If our perceptions of our patients’ need for prayer are not synchronized with their spiritual assertions, here are some tips to help us close the gap. First, we can create a spiritual wellness journal and write our own spiritual history through sickness and health, then share it with other interested HCPs. We can invite our patients to seek out HCPs who are equally focused on spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. We should believe that God guides HCPs in the healing process whether or not this notion is articulated in their presence. Next, we might partner with our patients, asking open-ended questions like: “Sounds like you are trying to cope with a lot of health issues right now. Would you mind if I pray with you?” or, “Do you have a spiritual support community/system (i.e., chaplain, pastor, rabbi)?” Intuitive HCPs will take their patients’ lead for next steps.

Spiritual practice demonstrates gratitude for our gifts and humility in our relationships with our patients. Imagine health systems employees praying daily, from accounting, to housekeeping, to pharmacy, to nurses and physicians. For me, these scenarios represent a whole relationship with God on Earth. I, and many other HCPs, believe that faith-based prayers to God are important instruments for healing for all of us. Spiritual HCPs may wish to consider integrating prayer into their professional practice.

Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2007

Study Shows More Doctors Mix Faith & Medicine

You give them credit when you overcome an illness or disease. But more and more doctors say they don’t deserve all the praise.

A new study conducted by the University of Chicago, shows a majority of American doctors believe God or another supernatural power intervenes in their patient’s health.

Nearly two in five doctors say religion or spirituality can help prevent negative outcomes such as infections, heart attacks and even death.

Dr. Thomas Lavelle, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center says, “I’m surprised it was actually that high. I think I would go along with those numbers and I think a lot of physicians feel that way. There is something beyond us. Taking care of patients we treat, God heals, and physicians who feel they’re healing people, that’s not correct.”

The nationwide study of 2,000 physicians also shows 85-percent of doctors believe the influence of religion and spirituality is generally positive.

The power of prayer – does it really have a healing effect?

Praying over her husband Niles, it’s where you’ll find Linda Stickler on a daily basis.

Linda DeHahn, Chaplain says, “We know how much you’ve been with Niles.”

Niles continues to fight for his life after complications from open heart surgery.

Linda Stickler says, “People that don’t even know him are praying for him.”

And Stickler believes those prayers are helping her husband heal.

Linda Stickler says, “We wouldn’t have made it this far if we didn’t have our faith.”

Patients and their families aren’t the only ones relying on that faith.

Dr. Thomas Lavelle says, “It helps us immensely in caring for people who are very very ill and have to face a lot.”

Dr. Thomas Lavelle found himself having many conversations with God during his 28 years as a physician.

Dr. Thomas Lavelle says, “There’s an old expression physicians treat and God heals.”

He’s seen some of the sickest make amazing turn arounds.

Dr. Lavelle says, “There are a lot of things in medicine we cannot explain.”

Linda DeHahn, Chaplain says, “The mystery of God is at work and I see it everyday.”

DeHahn, a Chaplain at St. Joe Regional says even those who don’t have a religion lean on her.

Linda DeHahn says, “This we pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.”

She recalls an open heart surgery patient whom she prayed with before he went in.

Linda DeHahn says, “By the time he went to surgery he was feeling much more relaxed and so was the family. I think it played a big part in the good outcome that came for him.”

It’s the same positive outcome Linda Stickler knows her husband will experience. Until that happens.. she’ll call upon her spirituality for strength.

Linda Stickler says, “He said God would take care of him and he has.”

Linda DeHahn, Chaplain says, “We were grateful for the healing that has happened.”

Now some critics say religion and spirituality can actually give some patients a false sense of hope. 45% of doctors say religion and spirituality can cause guilt or other negative emotions that could lead to an increase in patient suffering.

Dr. Lavelle says there is some validity to that argument, especially if a person is just going to rely on prayer to treat their illness.

Don’t doubt miracles’ existence

The Bible is full of accounts of miracles. Some say they are just metaphors to explain a truth, while others say otherwise that they truly are miracles. And of course there are those who say there is no such thing as a miracle.

One such story is that of the young boy who had two fish and five barley loaves. It was from this small lunch that Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with an abundance left over. Was this a miracle, or was it a metaphor, or did it simply not happen?

I read a story this week of a poor young girl from a small, inner-city area of Philadelphia. It was many years ago when the little lass wandered into a small, crowded church. She was turned away because there was no room for her.

Sobbing, the little girl slowly walked away. “I can’t go to Sunday school,” she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place.

The little girl’s life ended shortly thereafter, and as her body was being removed from one of the poor rundown tenement buildings, a small red purse was found. Inside the purse was 57 cents and a crumbled note with childish handwriting on it that read, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school.”

When the pastor read this note to his congregation the following Sunday, he challenged them to add to this donation and to enlarge the building.

As the story was circulated, a wealthy individual donated land for the new building, checks from across the country poured in and within a shot time a new building, seating more than 3,000, was built.

If you are in Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church and Temple University, and then go to the Good Samaritan Hospital where in one of the rooms you may see the sweet face of a little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history.

Could a poor traveling preacher feed thousands of people from a small lunch, or could he make the lame to walk or the blind to see? Could a poor little girl’s small change help build a great university? Do miracles really happen?

For those who doubt I would suggest they take a trip along the Elkhorn and see nature at its best or on a clear night observe the stars or a morning sunrise or better yet the miracle of a newborn baby.

When we consider all these things – the heaven, the moon and stars, even the birds of the air and the fish of the seas – can there be any doubt that there are miracles?

Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2007

Hospital nuns go online with God

When Sister Chaminade Kelley needs to make a prayer request, she can now do it with the click of a mouse.

Kelley, who works in the adult psychiatric unit at St. Mary’s Hospital, is a frequent user of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis prayer request Web site. She submits prayer requests she receives at the hospital online.

“I feel it’s an opportunity to do a holistic mission for health care,” said Kelley, 79.

She also is gradually informing others about the Web site.

“They can click on the site, put in their prayer request and don’t even have to put in a name. All the information is anonymous,” she said. “If someone is suffering from cancer, they don’t have to use their name because God knows who they are.”

The motherhouse of the American Province of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield set up a prayer request feature on its Web site, www.hospitalsisters.org, Dec. 8.

Brian Blasco, director of communications, said it was started on that particular day because of the Roman Catholic Church’s observance of the Feast of Immaculate Conception, which is a holy day to commemorate the conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The sisters not only pay homage to her but devote their prayer life to her.

Blasco said anyone can post a prayer online simply by clicking on the prayer request icon on the Web page. A box pops up to enter information. When they submit it, they get an automatic response saying, “The Sisters will keep you in their prayers.”

A secretary at the St. Francis motherhouse retrieves all the prayer request messages and prints them on a list to be posted on a board outside the chapel where the sisters pray.

“The prayer request online is just an addition of what the sisters have been doing for years. People have always called the convent with their prayer requests,” Blasco said. “But we found in the age of computer technology, it’s almost therapeutic for them to get whatever it is off their mind. A person may be going through a crisis, and this gives them an opportunity to respond to someone.”

He added that Sister Angelus Gardiner, 95, at the motherhouse is completely deaf, and computers are her only means of communicating with others.

Employees at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield were always sending their prayer requests online to Gardiner. So in a way, she was already leading the online revolution of praying for others.

Internet prayer circles have grown over the past decade, ever since the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and the death of Princess Diana, according to an article on Crosswalk.com, a Christ-centered corporation that puts out biblical-based content online.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans go online for faith-related reasons, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project. And based on a survey, about 7 percent of the nation’s 128 million Internet surfers have responded to online prayer requests.

Blasco said the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis’ Web site has received 850 prayer requests since it began in December.

As for Kelley, entering online prayer requests has made her more composed behind the computer, something she didn’t like to deal with before.

“It’s a wonderful resource,” she said. “At first, I thought it was cold and an impersonal way of doing it (prayer requests). But it’s new technology and the age we live in.”

Inside Good News Blog