One-on-One with Joseph D’Souza on GAFCON

Despite the many severe challenges Christians face, the church is growing in India.

Ed: What are some of the challenges Christians are currently facing in India?

Archbishop D’Souza: Since the time of the apostles, Christians have faced persecution and social and political oppression because of their faith. In India, things are not unlike the early days of the church.

In the past few years, persecution against Christians in India has increased severely. In 2017, Open Doors ranked India as the 15th nation most dangerous to be a Christian. This year, India jumped to number 11 on the list.

Most of this persecution is happening at the hands of radicalized religious groups and nationalist extremists. These groups believe India should become a Hindu state, and label Christians and Muslims alike as anti-national. Even Hindus who do not subscribe to this ideology are attacked and accused of being against India’s national interest. The Dalits (or “untouchables”) and tribals, many who are Christians, are also facing severe violence. Violent mobs have rounded up innocent Dalits and Muslims and publicly beaten and executed them on the rumor that they have harmed a sacred cow.

In the swirl of these growing tensions, Christians must battle the false narrative that Christianity is a foreign religion imported from the West bent on converting people through force or fraudulent means. This misunderstanding might stem from lingering resentment from the time of the British Raj. Unfortunately, missiological language used by Western churches, such as “targeting unreached people groups,” has reaffirmed the belief — however false — that Christians use charity and humanitarian aid to convert people.

Several Indian states have anti-conversion laws which are weaponized against Christians …

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Why Zika, and Other Viruses, Don’t Disprove God’s Goodness

A microbiologist reflects on the problem of evil in human diseases.

It’s been two years since Christian missionaries and aid workers in Zika-infested areas wrestled with whether to stay or go after the virus triggered an international public health emergency. Last week, the CDC released a new report indicating for the first time what happens as babies exposed to the Zika virus grow older—they may face problems when none presented at birth.

Seeing the most vulnerable in our society suffering so cruelly can raise questions about God’s goodness. Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts, a microbiologist and scholar at Reasons to Believe, began thinking about these issues in graduate school.

In the 30 years since, Roberts’s work at the National Institute of Health testing the SARS virus on older mice contributed to an understanding of the pathology of the disease and how it affects older humans. As a postdoctorate scholar at Yale University, Roberts worked on proof of concept vaccines that used the same vector now being used to manufacture the Ebola vaccine.

CT recently asked her to explain how her work affected her view of God and his creation.

What are viruses? Where do viruses come from?

The first virus was discovered in the late 1800s, and it was a virus that infected tobacco plants, the tobacco mosaic virus. The word virus basically referred to a poisonous entity.

Viruses aren’t really living. (Bacteria are actually living cells.) There’s a little bit of debate in the field about whether they’re alive or not, but living things can utilize nutrients for energy and produce waste. Viruses can’t do any of those things. All viruses share the characteristic that they cannot make more virus outside of a living cell.

Where did viruses originate? No one knows. …

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Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse in Catholic Church will list hundreds of accused priests

Catholics on Tuesday were awaiting the release of one of the most sweeping investigations ever on U.S. clerical sex abuse of minors — an 800-page-plus grand jury report detailing 70 years of misconduct and church response across Pennsylvania.

The release is the culmination of an 18-month probe, led by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, on six of the state’s eight dioceses — Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg — and follows other state grand jury reports that revealed abuse and coverups in two other dioceses.

Legal challenges by some of the approximately 300 clergy named in the report have delayed the report, after some said it is a violation of their constitutional rights. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court last month ruled the report must be released, but with some redaction. That ruling came after at least 10 news organizations, including The Washington Post, urged the release of the report.

The report has helped renew a crisis many in the church thought and hoped had ended nearly 20 years ago after the scandal erupted in Boston. But recent abuse-related scandals, from Chile to Australia, have reopened wounding questions about accountability and whether church officials are still covering up crimes at the highest levels.

The new wave of allegations has called Pope Francis’s handling of abuse into question as many Catholics look to him to help the church regain its credibility. The pope’s track record has been mixed, something some outsiders attribute to his learning curve or shortcomings and others chalk up to resistance from a notoriously change-averse institution.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report follows the resignation last month of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a towering figure in the U.S. church and former D.C. archbishop who was accused of sexually abusing minors and adults for decades. Both have further polarized the church on homosexuality, celibacy and whether laypeople should have more power. It has also triggered debate about whether statutes of limitations should be expanded.

“We’re dealing with a long-term struggle not only about the meaning of justice, but about the meaning of memory,” said Jason Berry, a reporter and author who has covered the sexual abuse crisis for decades. “And how honest church has been about this crisis. Most bishops, besides apologies, have not been on the cutting edge of change.”

Church officials have already begun bracing for the aftermath of the report. On Monday, D.C.’s archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, former longtime leader of the Pittsburgh diocese, warned his priests in a letter that the probe will be “profoundly disturbing.”

Harrisburg’s bishop Ronald Gainer said earlier this month that he’d remove the names of all accused bishops from diocesan buildings and rooms. Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico last month told PennLive.com, a digital news site based in central Pennsylvania, that the report will be “sobering” and “is rather graphic.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday that one lawyer’s filling suggests “more than 90 ‘offenders’ will be listed” in Wuerl’s former diocese. Wuerl is one of Pope Francis’s closest U.S. advisers, and sits on the Vatican’s bishop oversight committee. The bishop is expected to retire in the next few years.

“While I expect that this report will be critical of some of my actions” in Pittsburgh, “I believe the report also confirms that I acted with diligence,” Wuerl wrote to D.C.’s clergy.

The looming question is who the report will implicate. The Post-Gazette reported that it reveals not just “how bishops handled or mishandled cases of abusive priests, but whether they were aided by community and political leaders in alleged obstruction of justice.”

The investigation took about two years. The report’s length is expected to be from 8oo to 1,000 pages, the Post-Gazette reported. It covers all dioceses except the two already studied — Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown. Pennsylvania is believed to have done more investigations of institutional child sex abuse than any other state.

The report will recommend systemic changes and can be a catalyst for criminal charges, some involved said; two priests have been charged since the probe began.

Some named in the report have already disputed its findings. Two dioceses tried to shut down the investigation last year, the Post-Gazette reported, arguing its contents should be the focus of a local prosecutor. Some of its findings may be challenged.

Yet it comes at a time of new openness among Catholics and even the top hierarchy to serious criticism.

Berry said the report — coupled with the McCarrick scandal and others — shows the church needs a major overhaul in how it polices itself. He said the church needs a “separation of powers, an independent oversight.”

“Canon law is not equipped for this kind of thing. It’s an enormous criminal sexual underground. It’s been surfacing like jagged parts of an iceberg for 30 years,” Berry said.

Yet others fear the progress made by the church since the early 2000s is being overlooked. The number of new allegations is down, and the vast majority took place decades ago.

“The church has done things right since 2002 — Dallas was a game-changer,” said Nick Cafardi, former dean of Duquesne University School of Law, a Catholic school in Pittsburgh, referring to the city where the church passed its crackdown rules on child sex abusers in 2002. “But what was done before Dallas is indefensible.”

Yet the fact that such a small number of high-level clerics — as opposed to parish-level priests — have been held responsible is glaring to many Catholics.

The question of whether the church’s sins have been confronted remains raw. Wuerl in an interview earlier this month with the Catholic station Salt & Light said he doesn’t think “this is some massive, massive crisis.” He then suggested the creation of an oversight board of bishops. Some critics saw his comments as tone-deaf.

That same week, Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said the slew of recent scandals signals a new phase.

“While I am heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelations . . . I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer,” he wrote.

Worldwide, the Vatican is dealing with law enforcement targeting abuse with in the church. In Chile, prosecutors and police are staging raids on church offices, confiscating documents and looking for evidence of crimes that went unreported to police.

As part of the probe, a prosecutor’s office has summoned the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to testify amid accusations that he was involved in the coverup of abuse.

“People are basically revolting against what had been these sacred cows,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean abuse victim who earlier this year spent several days with the pope. “In the 1970s and 1980s, the church was a lighthouse for the country. And it’s incredible to see this 180-degree turn. People who venerated the church, now they actually despise what they’re doing.”

The crisis in Chile is just one case in a new wave of abuse-related revelations that have raised pressure on Pope Francis to deal more forcefully with abuse. In France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is facing an upcoming trial on criminal charges for not reporting sexual abuse. In Australia, one archbishop was recently convicted in a criminal court for concealing sexual abuse, and a top Francis lieutenant, Cardinal George Pell, will soon stand trial on charges related to sexual offenses.

“Accountability from inside the church is not happening,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which that tracks sexual abuse cases. “But secular society is beginning to affect the most change.”

Doyle said the Pennsylvania grand jury report could also lead the way for the state to reform statute of limitations laws related to abuse.

Todd Frey, 50, who says he was abused when he was 13 by a priest in Lancaster County, spoke to the grand jury. He said he told church and law enforcement officials over the years, but nothing was done. The report will be his first opportunity to see if the priest is accused of abusing others, and who in the church knew.

“Who else did he pick?” Frey said Monday, as his lawyer David Inscho listened in. Survivors like Frey, who is unable to work, “know their little part,” Inscho said on the phone call, “what they saw through eyes of a 12- or 13-year-old and now they can see everything. And that is really, really important — the validation of it. The having been heard by law enforcement. Actually caring makes a big difference instead of saying ‘We can’t do anything.’”

Chico Harlan contributed to this report. 

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Late cloud over Keith Ellison’s bid for Minnesota attorney general

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The allegation surfaced the weekend when the son of Ellison’s former girlfriend, Karen Monahan, posted on Facebook that he had seen angry text messages from Ellison to his mother.

The post Late cloud over Keith Ellison’s bid for Minnesota attorney general appeared first on Religion News Service.

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Is This Unhealthy Lie Holding You Back From Encountering God?

Throughout the Bible, we find some of the greatest altar calls taking place outside the physical church building, yet many of us today are stuck in the mindset that God will only move inside the walls of a church. We plod along in our Christian walk, frustrated and discouraged, thinking that in order to receive our healing, deliverance or freedom we have to wait for the next church service or the next altar call. We spend week after week hoping our moment will come the next Sunday or in the Monday night prayer meeting or the Wednesday gathering.

We are constantly looking to tomorrow for that mighty encounter with God while squandering today. Appointed times for gathering with other believers are important. The Bible tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25). However, it is unhealthy for us to approach the altar or press in to God’s presence solely at these gatherings. We cannot go from Sunday to Sunday having only one conversation with God a week. Living like this is akin to eating one meal on Sunday and wondering why you are starving and lacking in health and strength the rest of the week. Too many of us spend our week just surviving, trying to make it to our next Sunday "meal," instead of thriving in Christ. But the good news is that we don’t have to wait until Sunday or some other special day to encounter God. We can encounter God anywhere, anyplace, anytime. All it takes is being desperate for His presence.

Abraham encountered God on the top of the mountain when he put his hope and trust in God instead of his own dreams and desires. Instead of building an altar to what he wanted, he built an altar and gave God what He wanted (see Gen. 12:1-8). In Joshua 22, when the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh dishonored the Lord by building an altar facing the land of Canaan, the entire congregation of Israel went to them and said, "What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the Lord this day?" (v. 16). They knew the power of the altar. It wasn’t to be a once-a-week experience; it was to be a lifestyle of pursuing what God wants of us and not merely what He can do for us.

Is it time for your altar to become about what God wants from you instead of what He can do for you? Don’t wait until next Sunday or even tomorrow to meet God at the altar. Tomorrow can be the thief of today’s miracles. What is keeping you from having your altar experience today? Are you waiting for your circumstances to change? Are you waiting for the right sermon or right worship song? Is today convenient? Do you really think tomorrow will be more convenient? Let today be your tomorrow—choose to meet God at the altar wherever you are right now. The altar is not a pile of wood or stone; it is an encounter with the living God that takes place in our hearts and marks a change in our lives. It is where we surrender ourselves fully to God, allowing old habits and ways of thinking to die so new life can begin. If you are waiting on tomorrow to meet God at the altar, then likely you are missing your moment. God desires to meet you today. He has something for you right now. {eoa}

rebuilding the altarAdapted from Rebuilding the Altar—A Bold Call for a Fresh Encounter with God by Pat and Karen Schatzline, copyright 2017, published by Charisma House. If you long for a closer walk with God, but although you attend church and read the Bible, His presence eludes you, then this book is for you. It will challenge you to return to the altar where you can encounter Him. To order your copy, click on this link.

Prayer Power for the Week Beginning Aug. 12, 2018

Make a point this week to draw closer to God through Christ, who is our altar. As you encounter Him there, let the Holy Spirit set you ablaze for Him again. Seek the Lord’s face and feel His presence as you worship Him. Continue to pray for worldwide revival beginning in your own church, city and nation. Remember the persecuted church but keep asking for more laborers to expand His kingdom. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem so that Israel would fulfill God’s purpose in this season. Pray for our president and those working with him to ensure peace, prosperity and protection. Pray for our children and their educators as they return to school. Ask God how you can help the victims of natural disasters, such as the California fires, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes and excessive heat. Read: Genesis 12:1-8, Hebrews 10:25.

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Deadly Indonesian Earthquake, Second in a Week

“Indonesian Government officials are trying to coordinate a massive relief effort for residents and tourists on the island of Lombok with the death toll from Sunday’s earthquake standing at 105, and many more missing.” More than 120 aftershocks were recorded after Sunday evening’s (August 5) quake. The island was further rattled by a magnitude-5.2 earthquake the next day. More than 10,000 people have evacuated from the island.

“The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said it expected the death toll to rise once the rubble of more than 13,000 houses was cleared away after two powerful quakes in a week.
“Power and communications were severed in some areas, hampering the search for missing people, with landslides and a collapsed bridge blocking access to areas around the epicenter in the north.

“Tiffany Law from the Red Cross said the regional areas were hit the hardest. “The city itself does not look too badly affected, however the further you go, the more remote areas, that’s where you start to see damage,” she said. “You see landslides, you see homes with roofs destroyed. Also where structures are completely damaged or completely collapsed. We’ve also seen families living in makeshift tents.”

“Several hundred foreigners spent a second night with no electricity or water on the Gili Islands, off the northwest coast of Lombok, after rescue boats ran out of fuel.

“BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said emergency units in its hospitals were overflowing and some patients were being treated in parking lots. The main hospital in the town of Tanjung in the north was severely damaged, so staff set up about 30 beds in the shade of trees and in a tent on a field…

“Lombok had already been hit on July 29 by a magnitude-6.4 quake that killed 17 people and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.

“At magnitude 6.9, Sunday’s quake released more than five times the energy of the earlier one, the United States Geological Survey website said. The tremor was powerful enough to be felt on the neighbouring island of Bali, where BNPB said two people died.

“Despite it being a popular tourist destination, no foreigners were recorded among the dead, BNPB spokesman Nugroho told a news conference. More than 230 people were injured and more than 20,000 displaced, he said.

British-based charity Oxfam said it was providing clean drinking water and tarpaulin shelter sheets to 5,000 people, and planned to intensify aid delivery.

Among those displaced were residents of a northern village called Mentigi, who fled to nearby hills. Blue tarpaulins dotted the landscape as people prepared to spend the night outdoors because of aftershocks or because their homes were destroyed.

Sengiggi, a seaside tourist strip on Lombok, looked abandoned. Amid collapsed homes, most hotels seemed to have shut and beaches were deserted. The few restaurants left open were rationing food.

Long lines formed at the airport of Lombok’s main town, Mataram, as foreign visitors cut their holidays short. BNPB said 18 extra flights had been added for leaving tourists.

“And there shall be… earthquakes in divers places.” Matthew 24:7.


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These 4 Biblical Prophecies Are Playing Out in Israel Right Now

When President Donald Trump moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem many people of faith quickly recognized the biblical significance of such a move. Trump, like King Cyrus before him, fulfilled biblical prophecy, by recognizing that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state and that the Jewish people deserve a righteous, free and sovereign Israel.

However, this was not the first time in the modern State of Israel’s short 70 years that it has played a role in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Many of the miracles we are witnessing in Israel today were promised in the Bible long ago.

The Ingathering of the Jewish Exiles From the 4 Corners of the World

It says in Ezekiel 34:13a, "And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them."

This month, for the first time, Israel has overtaken America to become the world’s largest Jewish population center. The surge in the Jewish community is thought to have been fueled by returning members of the diaspora.

In addition, the total Jewish population has reached 6 million, which carries added significance as this was the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Spiritual Partnership Between Jews and Christians

The State of Israel, however, was not born through Jewish toil alone. Rather, as prophesied in Ezra 6:14: "And they built, and finished it, according to the decree of the God of Israel and according to the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia." The state of Israel was birthed out of a spiritual partnership between Jews and non-Jews.

In biblical times, it was Cyrus’ edict that allowed the people of Israel to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the Temple. In 1917, it was the British government’s Balfour Declaration that turned the tide for the Jews in exile. Similarly, in 1948, when U.S. President Harry Truman recognized the state of Israel, he said, "I am Cyrus." In the cases of Cyrus, Balfour, Truman and now Trump, it was non-Jews serving as God’s agents who facilitated the return of the Jewish people to their land. {eoa}

Click here to read the rest of this story from our content partners at CBN News.

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Bethel Staffer: ‘The Carr Fire Stole Our Home, But It Can’t Steal Our Hope’

Editor’s Note: This article comes from the author’s personal blog and is not intended as a statement from Bethel Church.

Furthermore, if you want to help those affected by the fires, you can give through Charisma’s non-profit partner Christian Life Missions. One hundred percent of your donation will go to those affected. We have already sent $5,000 to Bill Johnson and Bethel Church since they know where the needs are. Send a check to Fire Disaster Fund, Christian Life Missions, 600 Rinehart Rd. Lake Mary, Florida 32746. Or give through PayPal at christianlifemissions.org. or call 407-333-0600 during business houses to give by phone.

It was 4 a.m. when I woke up, groggy and feeling strange. As I looked around my house, I realized it felt much darker than usual, and the smell of smoke surrounded me. I woke my husband up, trying not to panic, thinking I must be overreacting.

The night before, Drew and I had learned of a wildfire being fought by firefighters miles away from us in a national park. While it was eerie to see the horizon filled with smoke, we took solace in knowing that it was miles and miles away. We would be fine. We would be safe.

We weren’t.

Drew and I tried to turn on the lights. The power was out. He went outside to check on things, and when he came back inside I began to feel nervous because of how silent he was being. He researched where the fire was, and found out that our area was under evacuation.

I’ll never forget the moment when my husband, who is normally cool and collected, looked at me with fear in his eyes and said, "I think we have to get out of here."

We held each other in our living room for a moment, both in total shock and disbelief. It was the last time we would ever be inside that room.

The next hour was a blur as we ran through our house with flashlights in hand, trying to pick out the items we could not live without. Thankfully, because we travel often, important items like passports and other documents were easy to find and not left behind. What did not come as easily was having to choose what few objects from my house would be coming with us. I took our wedding vows and beaded necklaces we were given on our honeymoon from Hawaii. I took some sentimental photos and art pieces off the wall. We took some clothes. We brought our dog and our cat.

Then, just like that, we left our house. We didn’t know at the time that we would never step foot inside our beautiful home again.

The sun rose and Drew and I waited for any news throughout the day, constantly checking reports of the fire. It felt surreal. Did that just happen? Were we really evacuated from our own home?

Being from Florida, wildfires are a completely new concept for us. We’re used to hurricanes and the occasional flooding, but this was so different. In my inexperience, I remember thinking that the fire would certainly be out within 24 hours or less. In my mind, firefighters and law enforcement would be able to get a handle on whatever fire might be looming and put it out with ease.

As the days went by, I realized how naive I was. My perspective couldn’t have been further from the truth. I spent days not knowing anything about the state of my home — and even a week later as I write this, the fire is still only 40 percent contained, raging on and destroying whatever is in its path.

As we waited to hear any news on our neighborhood, floods of phone calls and text messages came in from friends and family. Some of them were kind and incredibly supportive. Others were wildly unhelpful and, dare I say, insensitive.

The waiting felt like purgatory. Every day, Drew would tell me he couldn’t guarantee our home was still standing. I felt confident it was — somehow wanting to hold on to any hope I might have. I had heard stories of neighborhoods completely destroyed, with one or two houses miraculously surviving. It felt like luck of the draw, but I was choosing to cling on to any kind of belief until I heard for certain that our house was gone.

We spent the days in Sacramento, then Los Angeles, with other evacuated friends, some new and some old, and actually had a beautiful time of community during it all. Then, we received confirmation. A picture taken by a reporter revealed that there was nothing left. Our home was gone.

The grief hit me like a wave. All of the false hope and denial that I had been clinging to broke in that second, as I realized that everything was destroyed. Our beautiful, peaceful home that overlooked the mountains of California, that housed many friends, family, artists and visitors, that hosted holiday parties and friends’ pregnancy announcements, was completely and utterly no more.

Until that moment, I had never experienced anything quite like this. The word "calamity" was something I had never truly understood before, but now it felt like I had a real grasp. We were homeless. As a victim of abuse, I had felt some of these familiar feelings before — something coming for me in the middle of the night, unexpected, unwanted, violating.

What was heartbreaking about this was not necessarily losing objects in our home, but losing the memories that were made there. In this fire, I lost my beautiful and cherished childhood piano. We lost our freshly remodeled bathrooms. We lost furniture that had moved with us cross-country from Florida to California, pieces that reminded us of our Tampa Bay home. We lost a memory box filled with ticket stubs, pictures and letters that went back to when we were dating. We lost dozens of art pieces and decorations we had acquired from adventures all over the world. In my worst moments, I visualize those valuables burning. The materials weren’t the valuable part; it was the history of who we are that was stored inside of each of the components.

After we learned the news, my husband held me, and we both cried. We grieved together.

Then, we began to pick up the pieces.

I don’t really understand how we can grieve but feel the comfort and closeness of God nearby in the midst of it all, but we do. I can say with such confidence that He is near to the broken-hearted. While I have felt fear, there has been this unshakable hope that the story is not quite over, but just beginning. We will have the final word, and God will literally create beauty from the ashes.

The craziest part about the timing of this wildfire was that just a month before the fires came through our city, Drew and I lived perhaps one of the dreamiest months of our entire lives. As we settled into this city where we’ve lived for almost two years now, I began dreaming about creating a "boutique hotel" that we could rent out to those visiting Redding. We looked at a few options over a few months, and though some were very promising, nothing quite fit.

What I saw in my head was a building with a coffee shop or restaurant attached to it, thinking about how beautiful it would be to create a space that both locals and visitors could call home. Then, a friend of ours called to let us know that a local coffee shop, "Coffee Bar," was for sale, along with the building it was in, with two beautiful apartments above the cafe.

At first, the idea of having a coffee shop intimidated me because it wasn’t something I originally wanted to have my hands in. But, as I processed with friends, I realized how perfect it could be. I began to dream about remodeling the coffee shop and turning the apartments into hotel rooms, and my love for interior design began to get me excited about the undertaking.

But I needed more than that. I needed godly confirmation that this was something that had purpose and that we were called to do. As I began to wonder and pray about this, I felt a prompting to think about the street names that Drew and I lived on. In Tampa, we lived on Forest Avenue. When we moved to Redding, our house was on Highland Circle. I looked up what street Coffee Bar was on, and laughed to see it was on Pine Street. Immediately, I was reminded of an image God gave me years ago, of Drew and me worshiping atop a massive pine tree, looking up to the heavens. As we sang, other trees began to sprout up from the ground, worshiping as well.

I began to research trees in the Bible, and I learned about how strong and beautiful they are. I found one passage in particular that moved me to tears:

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongues fail for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them, I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together, that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it (Isa. 41:17-20).

As I read this Scripture, the name "Evergreen" flashed across my mind. I teared up thinking about what these trees represent symbolically in Scripture as well as how they speak to the beauty of Northern California. It resonated with me that these trees are symbols of hope for the poor. My desire is to use my life to work with women who have been sex-trafficked and abused, and I was moved to tears to think that through this coffee shop, I might be able to create a place filled with community and laughter for the oppressed. A place where perhaps we’d be able to one day provide jobs for those in need. A place where I could dream about starting something in our city that was a place of belonging for all.

As we came back to Redding, we were homeless, but we closed on the coffee shop anyway, filled with grief for what we had just lost but equally filled with excitement for what we had just gained. Though some of our land was taken from us, God has generously given us new land. Though the enemy came to fill us with despair, God has graciously filled us with an abundance of peace and joy. Though there have been and will continue to be moments of intense heartache and grief, we feel miraculously held and cared for by the goodness of God.

The name Evergreen now means even more than it did just a week ago. These wildfires came to burn away all of our trees and land, but in the middle of downtown Redding, we are planting something new.

The fire stole our home, but it can’t steal our hope. The fire could steal our past possessions, but it can’t steal our future. The fire can’t take anything that’s to come: It can’t take our creativity, our resolve, our community, our love.

Though I hate that we and our city had to go through something so horrific, we feel so honored to be a small part of bringing restoration and hope to what will become the new Redding.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Redding is a special place with special people. While we have faced tremendous tragedy, we have looked it in the face as a whole and have remained strong and courageous. How beautiful.

So, we stand with this city that we love and look forward to the beautiful days of redemption to come. {eoa}

Kristine Coffman is the outreach administrator at Bethel Church, leading strip club outreaches and ministering to the poor. When she’s not running her new coffee shop or leading an outreach, you can find her at the dog park with her pit mix and husband, enjoying the beauty of Northern California.

If God leads you to support this family in their rebuilding efforts, check out their GoFundMe page, created by a friend: gofundme.com/HelpCoffmansRebuild

This article originally appeared at selahliving.co.

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Bethel Staffer: ‘The Carr Fire Stole Our Home, But It Can’t Steal Our Hope’

Editor’s Note: This article comes from the author’s personal blog and is not intended as a statement from Bethel Church.

Furthermore, if you want to help those affected by the fires, you can give through Charisma’s non-profit partner Christian Life Missions. One hundred percent of your donation will go to those affected. We have already sent $5,000 to Bill Johnson and Bethel Church since they know where the needs are. Send a check to Fire Disaster Fund, Christian Life Missions, 600 Rinehart Rd. Lake Mary, Florida 32746. Or give through PayPal at christianlifemissions.org. or call 407-333-0600 during business houses to give by phone.

It was 4 a.m. when I woke up, groggy and feeling strange. As I looked around my house, I realized it felt much darker than usual, and the smell of smoke surrounded me. I woke my husband up, trying not to panic, thinking I must be overreacting.

The night before, Drew and I had learned of a wildfire being fought by firefighters miles away from us in a national park. While it was eerie to see the horizon filled with smoke, we took solace in knowing that it was miles and miles away. We would be fine. We would be safe.

We weren’t.

Drew and I tried to turn on the lights. The power was out. He went outside to check on things, and when he came back inside I began to feel nervous because of how silent he was being. He researched where the fire was, and found out that our area was under evacuation.

I’ll never forget the moment when my husband, who is normally cool and collected, looked at me with fear in his eyes and said, "I think we have to get out of here."

We held each other in our living room for a moment, both in total shock and disbelief. It was the last time we would ever be inside that room.

The next hour was a blur as we ran through our house with flashlights in hand, trying to pick out the items we could not live without. Thankfully, because we travel often, important items like passports and other documents were easy to find and not left behind. What did not come as easily was having to choose what few objects from my house would be coming with us. I took our wedding vows and beaded necklaces we were given on our honeymoon from Hawaii. I took some sentimental photos and art pieces off the wall. We took some clothes. We brought our dog and our cat.

Then, just like that, we left our house. We didn’t know at the time that we would never step foot inside our beautiful home again.

The sun rose and Drew and I waited for any news throughout the day, constantly checking reports of the fire. It felt surreal. Did that just happen? Were we really evacuated from our own home?

Being from Florida, wildfires are a completely new concept for us. We’re used to hurricanes and the occasional flooding, but this was so different. In my inexperience, I remember thinking that the fire would certainly be out within 24 hours or less. In my mind, firefighters and law enforcement would be able to get a handle on whatever fire might be looming and put it out with ease.

As the days went by, I realized how naive I was. My perspective couldn’t have been further from the truth. I spent days not knowing anything about the state of my home — and even a week later as I write this, the fire is still only 40 percent contained, raging on and destroying whatever is in its path.

As we waited to hear any news on our neighborhood, floods of phone calls and text messages came in from friends and family. Some of them were kind and incredibly supportive. Others were wildly unhelpful and, dare I say, insensitive.

The waiting felt like purgatory. Every day, Drew would tell me he couldn’t guarantee our home was still standing. I felt confident it was — somehow wanting to hold on to any hope I might have. I had heard stories of neighborhoods completely destroyed, with one or two houses miraculously surviving. It felt like luck of the draw, but I was choosing to cling on to any kind of belief until I heard for certain that our house was gone.

We spent the days in Sacramento, then Los Angeles, with other evacuated friends, some new and some old, and actually had a beautiful time of community during it all. Then, we received confirmation. A picture taken by a reporter revealed that there was nothing left. Our home was gone.

The grief hit me like a wave. All of the false hope and denial that I had been clinging to broke in that second, as I realized that everything was destroyed. Our beautiful, peaceful home that overlooked the mountains of California, that housed many friends, family, artists and visitors, that hosted holiday parties and friends’ pregnancy announcements, was completely and utterly no more.

Until that moment, I had never experienced anything quite like this. The word "calamity" was something I had never truly understood before, but now it felt like I had a real grasp. We were homeless. As a victim of abuse, I had felt some of these familiar feelings before — something coming for me in the middle of the night, unexpected, unwanted, violating.

What was heartbreaking about this was not necessarily losing objects in our home, but losing the memories that were made there. In this fire, I lost my beautiful and cherished childhood piano. We lost our freshly remodeled bathrooms. We lost furniture that had moved with us cross-country from Florida to California, pieces that reminded us of our Tampa Bay home. We lost a memory box filled with ticket stubs, pictures and letters that went back to when we were dating. We lost dozens of art pieces and decorations we had acquired from adventures all over the world. In my worst moments, I visualize those valuables burning. The materials weren’t the valuable part; it was the history of who we are that was stored inside of each of the components.

After we learned the news, my husband held me, and we both cried. We grieved together.

Then, we began to pick up the pieces.

I don’t really understand how we can grieve but feel the comfort and closeness of God nearby in the midst of it all, but we do. I can say with such confidence that He is near to the broken-hearted. While I have felt fear, there has been this unshakable hope that the story is not quite over, but just beginning. We will have the final word, and God will literally create beauty from the ashes.

The craziest part about the timing of this wildfire was that just a month before the fires came through our city, Drew and I lived perhaps one of the dreamiest months of our entire lives. As we settled into this city where we’ve lived for almost two years now, I began dreaming about creating a "boutique hotel" that we could rent out to those visiting Redding. We looked at a few options over a few months, and though some were very promising, nothing quite fit.

What I saw in my head was a building with a coffee shop or restaurant attached to it, thinking about how beautiful it would be to create a space that both locals and visitors could call home. Then, a friend of ours called to let us know that a local coffee shop, "Coffee Bar," was for sale, along with the building it was in, with two beautiful apartments above the cafe.

At first, the idea of having a coffee shop intimidated me because it wasn’t something I originally wanted to have my hands in. But, as I processed with friends, I realized how perfect it could be. I began to dream about remodeling the coffee shop and turning the apartments into hotel rooms, and my love for interior design began to get me excited about the undertaking.

But I needed more than that. I needed godly confirmation that this was something that had purpose and that we were called to do. As I began to wonder and pray about this, I felt a prompting to think about the street names that Drew and I lived on. In Tampa, we lived on Forest Avenue. When we moved to Redding, our house was on Highland Circle. I looked up what street Coffee Bar was on, and laughed to see it was on Pine Street. Immediately, I was reminded of an image God gave me years ago, of Drew and me worshiping atop a massive pine tree, looking up to the heavens. As we sang, other trees began to sprout up from the ground, worshiping as well.

I began to research trees in the Bible, and I learned about how strong and beautiful they are. I found one passage in particular that moved me to tears:

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongues fail for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them, I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together, that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it (Isa. 41:17-20).

As I read this Scripture, the name "Evergreen" flashed across my mind. I teared up thinking about what these trees represent symbolically in Scripture as well as how they speak to the beauty of Northern California. It resonated with me that these trees are symbols of hope for the poor. My desire is to use my life to work with women who have been sex-trafficked and abused, and I was moved to tears to think that through this coffee shop, I might be able to create a place filled with community and laughter for the oppressed. A place where perhaps we’d be able to one day provide jobs for those in need. A place where I could dream about starting something in our city that was a place of belonging for all.

As we came back to Redding, we were homeless, but we closed on the coffee shop anyway, filled with grief for what we had just lost but equally filled with excitement for what we had just gained. Though some of our land was taken from us, God has generously given us new land. Though the enemy came to fill us with despair, God has graciously filled us with an abundance of peace and joy. Though there have been and will continue to be moments of intense heartache and grief, we feel miraculously held and cared for by the goodness of God.

The name Evergreen now means even more than it did just a week ago. These wildfires came to burn away all of our trees and land, but in the middle of downtown Redding, we are planting something new.

The fire stole our home, but it can’t steal our hope. The fire could steal our past possessions, but it can’t steal our future. The fire can’t take anything that’s to come: It can’t take our creativity, our resolve, our community, our love.

Though I hate that we and our city had to go through something so horrific, we feel so honored to be a small part of bringing restoration and hope to what will become the new Redding.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Redding is a special place with special people. While we have faced tremendous tragedy, we have looked it in the face as a whole and have remained strong and courageous. How beautiful.

So, we stand with this city that we love and look forward to the beautiful days of redemption to come. {eoa}

Kristine Coffman is the outreach administrator at Bethel Church, leading strip club outreaches and ministering to the poor. When she’s not running her new coffee shop or leading an outreach, you can find her at the dog park with her pit mix and husband, enjoying the beauty of Northern California.

If God leads you to support this family in their rebuilding efforts, check out their GoFundMe page, created by a friend: gofundme.com/HelpCoffmansRebuild

This article originally appeared at selahliving.co.

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South Carolina Woman Arrested After Allegedly Giving Birth in Car, Leaving Baby in Trash Bag on Floorboard

LEXINGTON, S.C. — A South Carolina woman has been arrested and charged with homicide by child abuse after allegedly giving birth in her car, and then leaving her baby in a trash bag on the floorboard to die.

Brennan Geller, 21, is believed to have delivered the baby in her car on the night of Aug. 3, and then placed the newborn in a trash bag and drove home.

She went to the hospital the following morning, where she was treated for blood loss.

“We became aware of this tragic case after Geller was treated at the hospital Saturday morning for blood loss,” Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon outlined in a statement. “The medical team caring for Geller told investigators she never told them the baby was in her car.”

The baby was found in Geller’s car hours later.

She was arrested on Aug. 6 and charged with homicide by child abuse for failing to provide medical care for her newborn. Geller faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted, according to reports.

South Carolina has a safe haven law that allows mothers to leave their newborn babies, up to 30 days old, at a hospital, fire station, police station or church without prosecution.

“A distressed parent who is unable or unwilling to care for their infant can give up custody of their baby, no questions asked. They must simply bring the infant to a safe haven location and make sure they locate a person to give the child. As long as the child shows no signs of intentional abuse, no name or other information is required,” a website dedicated to the state’s safe haven law outlines.

Read the law in full here.

As previously reported, a woman in Texas was most recently charged with attempted capital murder after she gave birth at her place of employment, and then put her newborn son in a garbage bag and disposed of him in the dumpster. The child lived as the woman’s supervisor quickly called police. Texas also has a safe haven law.

In an introductory lecture to his course on obstetrics in 1854, Philadelphia doctor Hugh Lennox Hodge lamented that even the mothers of his day were lacking of natural affection toward their own children and sought out means to kill them.

“They seem not to realize that the being within them is indeed animate, that is, in verity, a human being—body and spirit—that it is of importance, that its value is inestimable, having reference to this world and the next,” he said. “They act with as much indifference as if the living, intelligent, immortal existence lodged within their organs were of no more value than the bread eaten, or the common excretions of the system.”

“[S]he recklessly and boldly adopts measures, however severe and dangerous, for the accomplishment of her unnatural, her guilty purpose … that she may be delivered of [a child] for which she has no desire, and whose birth and appearance she dreads.”

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