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Pastor Andrew Brunson desires return to Turkey despite imprisonment; thanks USCIRF

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Even after being imprisoned for two years, Pastor Andrew Brunson is hoping to return to Turkey.

Convinced of God’s love for the Turkish people,

At a small gathering in the Senate Welcome Center at the Capitol Wednesday, the North Carolina pastor who was jailed in Turkey for two years thanked the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for their tireless work to secure his release. It was especially encouraging, he said, to hear from those who visited him while in prison that the U.S. government had not forgotten him.

“I don’t know how many countries have this kind of emphasis on religious freedom, not just in their own country but trying to advocate for it around the world. I think this is something very unusual, very admirable,” about the United States, Brunson said.

Brunson’s wife, Noreen, also thanked USCIRF staff, saying, “We’re aware that not all stories end the way ours did, so just keep up your work.”

“And we have to give glory to God,” she added.

Commissioners who were present include: Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Gayle Manchin, vice chair of the commission, an educator and the wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Gary Bauer, president of American Values; Nadine Maenza, founding executive director of Patriot Voices; along with USCIRF’s newest member, Anurima Bhargava, a civil rights attorney and founder of Anthem of Us.

“I think there is going to be more difficulty for the church in Turkey,” Brunson added.

“There are more restrictions coming right now. There have been a number of missionaries who have been deported from the country. There has been a real dampening effect on the Church; in some ways because a lot of what the [Turkish] media put out about me, which was government supported or initiated, which was painting a very negative picture of Christians, through me, saying, for example, that I’m a terrorist or that Christians support terrorist groups and we want to divide the country,” Brunson added.

But the truth is the opposite, he said, emphasizing that Christians are praying for their nation and desire to be a blessing to their country.

While Christians are undoubtedly facing increased opposition from their government, much of the hostility is directed toward the Fethullah Gülen movement, a transnational Islamic social movement inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish imam who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, Brunson noted.

Brunson often shared a cell with people who were accused of being part of that movement and as far as he could tell they were innocent of the charges against them and were not involved in any activity that would undermine the state.

“I have many friends in prison in Turkey now who should not be in prison. Many families have been destroyed,” he said.

Yet despite his ordeal, Brunson maintains that he loves the Turkish people, and that God sent them to that nation 25 years ago.

“If we could we would go back, but USCIRF probably doesn’t want us to go back,” he said, eliciting laughs.

“We would love to go back, we love the people, because we believe God loves the people there. And we want to show God’s love to them. … Some day we hope the conditions will be right for us to go back.”

Perkins praised the couple for rallying the nation around the important principle of international religious freedom. “we were excited and yet there was this sort of trepidation.”

“Throughout these two years that he’d been in prison there would be these moments that you thought ‘Oh, we’ve progressed a couple of steps’ and then it was to no avail.”

When Brunson was put on house arrest they were encouraged because they thought it meant he would soon be released. That did not turn out to be true, and the disappointment was compounded by fear that rogue people in the country could harm him while he was on house arrest.

“When he was really released, I think everyone just held their breath until he was on that plane and out of their airspace,” Manchin said.

“If I was feeling that way, I can only imagine how they [Brunson’s family] felt having these ups and down through these two years.”

Manchin stressed that religious freedom is an important American right even for those who practice no religion.

“What I would say to these individuals is that you live in country where you don’t have to practice a religion. You can be vocal about a nonbelief. And there are many countries that you would go to that you would not be given that right,” she replied, when asked about how USCIRF plans to promote its cause in a country where self-described “nones” — those who do not identify with any particular religious affiliation — are rising.

Other nations care what the U.S. thinks and want to try to prove that they are better, she added. That USCIRF continues to home in on prisoners that are being held unjustly — because of their religious beliefs — is important human rights work regardless of one’s religious views or lack thereof, she said. Manchin is now advocating for a prisoner being held captive in Iran for his spiritual beliefs.

Brunson, who was freed in October, famously prayed for President Trump in the Oval Office days after returning to the United States. He is presently working on a book about his experiences which will be published in the fall.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is a federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. USCIRF commissioners are appointed by the president and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools

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An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.

In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.

‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’

The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.

While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.

The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.

He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.

Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.

But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.

John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.

‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.

They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.

They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.

This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.

He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.

The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’

He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.

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China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service

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The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.

An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.

The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”

China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”

“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”

While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.

The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.

In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.

Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.

In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.

The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.

“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”

“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”

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