Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008
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.
Wednesday, Jul. 16, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2007
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?
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.