NY man finds prayer balloon sent from Pittsburgh

An upstate New York man says his family has been praying for a Pittsburgh boy after finding a note attached to a balloon that says the child needs a new heart.

Chris Kormanyos is building a home in Messena, N.Y., near the Canadian border and about 400 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

He says a green balloon drifted down onto his driveway Saturday. A note attached read, “We love Zach, we want your prayers to bring him a new heart. Please send a prayer to Zach in Pittsburgh. Pass it on.”

Nothing about the boy is known, other than his first name.

Kormanyos told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he and his family have prayed for the boy.

‘Forget the pizza parties,’ Teens tell churches

“Bye-bye church. We’re busy.” That’s the message teens are giving churches today.

Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.

“Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” says Barna president David Kinnaman.

“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ ”

“I blame the parents,”who didn’t grow up in a church culture, says Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kan.

His megachurch would routinely take 600 teens to summer church camp, he says, “and many would be forever changed by that experience. But this summer we don’t even have a camp.

“Remember, 80% of kids don’t have cars. Their parents could be lazy or the opposite — overstressed and overcommitted. If parents don’t go to church, kids don’t, either.”

Don’t forget the overcommitted teens themselves, the recession and growing competition from summer mission trips, says Rick Gage of Go-Tell Youth Camps, based in Duluth, Ga.

Registration fell 22% in 2009 but stabilized this summer with 2,000 middle- and high-school teens at five camps in four states. Attendance peaked in the late 1990s at 5,000 teens, Gage says.

Chris Palmer, youth pastor at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester, Va., says its youth group enrollment slid from 125 teens in 2008 to 35 last winter.

He pulled participation back up to 70 this year by letting teens know “real church, centered on Jesus Christ, is hard work,” Palmer says. “This involves the Marine Corps of Christianity. Once we communicate that, we see kids say, ‘Hey, I want to be involved in something that’s a little radical and exciting.’ ”

Rainer agrees. He says teens today want Scripture, they “don’t want superficiality. We need to tell them that if you are part of church life, you are part of something bigger. The church needs you, too.”

But first, they have to find the kids.

Sam Atkeson of Falls Church, Va., left his Episcopal church youth group not long after leaving middle school.

“I started to question if it was something I always wanted to do or if I just went because my friends did,” says Atkeson, now 18. “It just wasn’t really something I wanted to continue to do. My beliefs changed. I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian anymore.”

Judge rejects demand to censor Christian prayer

A federal judge in New York has rejected a demand from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State that a town board be ordered to change its invocation procedures so that the statements from volunteers on a rotating basis would be more “ecumenical” and “inclusive.”

The decision from U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa said officials in Greece, N.Y., did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause with their tradition of opening meetings with an invocation from local clergy members.

Two plaintiffs represented by the Americans United organization had wanted a court order that the town instruct those who deliver prayers to be “inclusive and ecumenical.”

“The court finds that the policy requested by plaintiffs would … impose a state-created orthodoxy,” the judge said. “The court has also considered the identities of the prayer-givers and the process that the town employed in inviting clergy to deliver prayers, and finds that these factors did not have the purpose or effect of proselytizing or advancing any one, or disparaging any other, faith or belief, within the meaning of the Establishment Clause.”

A federal judge in New York has rejected a demand from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State that a town board be ordered to change its invocation procedures so that the statements from volunteers on a rotating basis would be more “ecumenical” and “inclusive.”

The decision from U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa said officials in Greece, N.Y., did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause with their tradition of opening meetings with an invocation from local clergy members.

Two plaintiffs represented by the Americans United organization had wanted a court order that the town instruct those who deliver prayers to be “inclusive and ecumenical.”

“The court finds that the policy requested by plaintiffs would … impose a state-created orthodoxy,” the judge said. “The court has also considered the identities of the prayer-givers and the process that the town employed in inviting clergy to deliver prayers, and finds that these factors did not have the purpose or effect of proselytizing or advancing any one, or disparaging any other, faith or belief, within the meaning of the Establishment Clause.”

It was a rare victory for prayer over the general rulings in recent years that often have restricted, limited or censored prayers that are offered at the openings of various government meetings, such as town and county boards and commissions.

Hard times for Christian aid groups in Afghanistan

Days after the murder of ten international medical aid workers in Afghanistan, Christian-affiliated humanitarian groups continue to walk a tightrope reaching the weakest of humanity.

Another reminder of the difficult balancing took place on Monday, when World Vision was forced to shut down operations in south central Somalia, after their aid workers were accused of spreading Christianity.

Local members of an Islamic insurgency group, Al-Shabaab, disarmed guards protecting World Vision property and for a time occupied the offices.

The excuse of stopping outsiders from proselytizing is also being used by the Taliban while claiming responsibility for the murders last Thursday of ten volunteers from the International Assistance Mission, a non-profit Christian organization.

They had been providing eye care for Afghans when the medics were ambushed in the remote Badakhshan province.

Officials heading their mission, as well as the families of the slain workers, deny they were trying to preach.

Such agencies work around the world under self-imposed or international aid agreements that forbid them from pushing religion.

But a spokesman for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief in Kabul told the Christian Science Monitor Monday they fear new risks for such groups.

While World Vision is also a Christian-based organization, their Canada president Dave Toycen told QMI Agency they have specific policies against proselytizing.

Whether in Somalia, where they have been for 18 years, or in Afghanistan, where they set up an office in 2001, Toycen says their work is not political or intended to convert.

“(We’re) there to show that someone cares,” he explained.

“To express humanitarian concerns.”

World Vision’s mission continues in Afghanistan, but has been suspended in Somalia, where locals have staffed their offices.

“The message is we’re not wanted,” Toycen added.At least one Canadian agency, Food for the Hungry, is reevaluating early-stage plans to return to the embattled country. The Christian based group left Afghanistan in 2003, and has been sending supplies such as medical equipment — another container leaves next week — into the country through the military and other NGOs.

For Indonesian Christians, Gatherings Bring Tension



Sitting in the shade of a tree in an empty lot, the congregants raised their hymn books and, in response, the police, lined up in a ragged cordon, raised their riot shields. Sunday service was starting for the local Batak Christian Protestant Church and, for the third time in three weeks, the local authorities prepared for a clash.

Across the barricade, enraged young Muslim men in white skullcaps surged forward as the first song in praise of Jesus Christ chimed out. Using their own speakers, they tried to drown out the hymn with their own Arabic chant, “la ilaha ilallah” — there is no god but Allah.

Scenes such as this have become an increasingly frequent sign of religious tension across the Indonesian capital and its urban sprawl, home to more than 20 million people.

In recent months, there has been a surge in forcible church closures, attacks on prayer meetings and violent protests by Islamist vigilante groups against perceived plots to “Christianize” Muslim neighborhoods.

The standoff on Sunday in Bekasi, an ethnically mixed city of factories, slums and private housing estates on the edge of Jakarta, illustrates what many fear is a crisis that has been willfully ignored by thegovernment and could boil up into violent religious conflict.

For Luspida Simanjuntak, the Christian congregation’s leader, the problem is simple: Her flock of 1,500 has no church, and no one here will let her build one. In Indonesia, houses of worship can be built only with permission from the surrounding community. This is a measure that critics say contributes to a tyranny of the majority and forces minorities to hold services in private homes, hotels, shopping malls and streets.

“We’ve been worshipping for 15 years, more or less, moving from house to house because every time we try to build a church, we’re faced with mobs who won’t let us build,” Mrs. Simanjuntak said.

Pakistan city tense after Christians shot

Clashes broke out in the city, home to a large Christian community, after the brothers were gunned down.

Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and Sajid, 24, were accused of writing a pamphlet critical of the Prophet Muhammad; a rights activist said they were framed.

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law carries the death penalty.

A police officer who was escorting the brothers from a district court on Monday was critically wounded when the unidentified gunmen opened fire and then escaped.

At least 10 people were reportedly injured as stone-throwing and rioting broke out in a Christian neighbourhood of the city afterwards.

Police reinforcements from nearby districts have been called in to restore order.

The brothers, from the Waris Pura area of Faisalabad, were arrested earlier this month.

The complainant in the case, a local trader, Khurram Shehzad, alleged that one of his employees was handed a pamphlet by someone at Faisalabad’s general bus stand.

He said the paper contained disrespectful remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.

Police told the BBC the pamphlet had apparently been signed by the two brothers, whose addresses and mobile phone numbers were also given.

But Atif Jameel, spokesman for the Pakistan Minorities Democratic Foundation, told the BBC: “No-one in his right mind would issue a derogatory pamphlet against the Prophet and put his name and address on it.

“This appears to be a conspiracy against peace and religious harmony in Faisalabad.”

Earlier this month, several hundred demonstrators marched to the Waris Pura slum, which is home to nearly 100,000 Christians, and demanded the death penalty for the two accused.

Although no-one has ever been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, about 10 accused have been murdered before the completion of their trial, according to a BBC Urdu correspondent in Lahore.

Dozens more are living in exile to avoid punishment under the legislation.

Human rights activists want the law repealed as they say it is often exploited by Islamist extremists or those harbouring personal grudges.

First Century Synagogue

Archaeologists in Israel discovered an ancient synagogue in Galilee where Jesus might have taught his disciples.

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

Church of England takes major step towards women bishops

The Church of England’s ruling body has said that women bishops should be allowed, paving the way for their ordination despite objections from traditionalists.

Members of the Church’s national assembly, the General Synod, rejected calls on Monday for further delays in the progress of a draft law following a marathon 12-hour debating session.

Local Church of England assemblies will now consider a scheme where women bishops would be able to make arrangements for objectors.

Providing most approve the idea, the legislation would return to the General Synod in 2012 for further drafting and final approval.

“We have decided to send to the dioceses a number of suggestions, proposals, by way of draft legislation about which the feelings of many people in this hall are still very mixed,” said Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the meeting in York, northern England, the head of the Church of England conceded the issue was divisive, saying that “holding together” was proving “desperately difficult”.

Christina Rees, a leading campaigner in favour of women bishops, described the decision to press ahead with the legislation as a “wonderful outcome”.

“In one sense I am not surprised but I am delighted, it is very, very good news,” she said.

But the Reverend Prebendary David Houlding said: “The more this goes on in this manner, the more it seems as if the door is shutting.

“The scope for remaining in the Church of England is getting more and more narrow and the options are rapidly closing.”

Archaeologists Uncover Goliath’s Hometown

An ongoing archaeological excavation in Tel Tzafit continues to unearth the ruins of what was once the city of Gat – described in the Bible as the hometown of Goliath. Professor Aren Maeir, who is directing the dig, spoke to Arutz Sheva’s Hebrew-language news service to discuss the latest finds.

Recent finds from the Tel Tzafit excavation are “fascinating,” Maeir said. The site, inhabited at times by Canaanites and at other times by Philistines, has remnants from many periods of history. “We are focusing on the Canaanite period, the Philistine period, and the Israelite period, and for now we’re primarily in the Philistine period,” he said.

One of the most interesting finds was a piece of writing containing, among other things, Philistine names, some of which were similar to the name “Goliath.”

“We’ve found a rich variety of artifacts” showing that Gat was a major city at that time, he continued. “We are now discovering remnants from metal craft and bronze, and from the destruction of the city at the hands of King Chazel of Aram as described in the second books of Kings.”

Findings show that Chazel and his army laid siege to the city until its residents had exhausted their food supply, then attacked. Dozens of buildings were found that were demolished by the invading army.

Other buildings appear to have collapsed in an earthquake, possibly the one mentioned at the beginning of the book of Amos, he said.

The relationship between the nation of Israel and the Philistines was more complex than people tend to assume, Maeir revealed. “The Philistines… were often more than just enemies. We can see this in the Bible as well, for instance, in the fact that Samson married a Philistine woman,” he said. There appears to have been crossover between the two cultures – for example, findings show that elements of Philistine cooking became common among the Israelites as well.