Category Archives: Prayers and Encouragement

What’s the Deal with Divine Healing?

Let’s get to the bottom of this controversial topic.

The Bible, God’s gift to each reader, reveals God’s nature and character as a healer. The human body is a marvelous work of God’s creation.

Although we have a new body without sickness or death in eternity, is it God’s will for me to be healed here on earth? Can I ask God to heal me? Why does God heal some but not others? How do I ask for healing?

God created humans from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). The human body’s 11 systems have 37.2 trillion cells. In a lifetime, the heart beats over 2 billion times. Sixty thousand miles of vessels pump blood through the body.

There are 240 trillion connections to the brain’s 100 billion cells. Only God! We say with the Psalmist, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13, 14).

God created all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, thrones or powers or rulers or authorities (Colossians 1:16). Unlimited by natural law, Jesus’ divine authority calmed the raging storm, healed the sick, and cast out demons, and raised the dead.

God’s loving authority rules over life and death. “There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 33:39).

Jesus healed many. “He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick” (Matthew 8:16). “They laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well” (Mark 6:56).

A woman with an incurable blood issue of 12 years touched Jesus’ garment. Instantly healed, she fell at His feet. Jesus acknowledged her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48, emphasis mine).

Someone came from the house of a synagogue leader, Jairus, saying his 12-year-old daughter was dead and he didn’t need to bother the Teacher anymore. Jesus, catching the eyes of Jairus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50, emphasis mine). Jesus raised her from the dead.

A centurion, a commander of one hundred soldiers, came to Jesus to tell of his servant’s paralysis and terrible suffering (Matthew 8: 9).

Jesus, amazed by the centurion’s faith, said no one in all of Israel had such great faith! Jesus said, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would. His servant was healed at that moment” (Matthew 8:10, emphasis mine).

Faith is the work of God. It’s not mustered up in the mind, but a gift of God that persuades us to believe in God’s authority and power for the miraculous. Faith is God’s part. Believing is our part.

Healing Is in the Atonement

Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and their sin ushered in suffering and sorrow. But through Jesus, His death and resurrection conquered sin and death and provided wholeness in soul, body, and spirit.

“He took up our pain and bore our suffering… and by his wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Healing from sin and healing for physical needs were both included in the suffering of Jesus.

1 Peter 2:24 speaks of the spiritual healing of sin. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.'”

And, Matthew 8:16-17 speaks of physical healing. “Many who were demon-possessed were brought to Jesus, and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took on our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matthew 8:17).

Is it God’s nature to heal? Yes! So how do we respond?

Steps to Healing

1. Ask. King Hezekiah, a faithful king over Israel, was near death. He asked the Lord to heal him.

“Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight” (2 Kings 20:3). The Lord added 15 years to his life (2 Kings 20:5).

2. Be persistent in asking. Jesus told this story. Because of unexpected company, a man went to his friend’s home at midnight asking for food. “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything” (John 11:7).

But he got up and gave the man whatever he requested. Not because of friendship, but because of the man’s shameless boldness.

Jesus concludes, “So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9,10).

Like Hezekiah, who walked before the Lord in faithfulness, when we keep the commands and live right in obedience before the Lord, God’s favor is upon us.

3. Fill your mind with God’s Word. Read and recite Scripture. Immerse yourself in God’s Word. Consider how you can apply the principles and promises to your daily life.

The Word opens the door of faith. Faith (persuaded to trust God) comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and results in believing.

4. Pray. “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up” (James 5:14-15, emphasis mine).

Call your pastor and ask others from your church or small group to pray. The work of the Spirit includes “gifts of healing” within the body of the church (1 Corinthians 12:9).

5. Pursue God’s presence with your whole being. Spend time worshipping and loving God. In His presence is fullness of joy. “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory (Psalm 63:2)

What Does This Mean?

Is it God’s will to heal? Emphatically, yes! God heals. Does God always heal everyone? Elijah, the great prophet of Israel, never saw death. A chariot of fire took him to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).

His student, Elisha, who did twice as many miracles, died from an illness (2 Kings 13:14).

Only God knows what is for our good (Romans 8:28). His ways are above our comprehension in light of eternity. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

God’s favor rests on His children. God responds to our cries for help. “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15).

When we need healing, ask! Seek Him through the scriptures. Look up all verses on healing. Meditate and recite them until they fill your thinking. Spend time in His presence. Pray persistently. Know God cares deeply for you and trust His timing.

My human thinking limits God; Peter walked on water until he took his eyes off Jesus. Too often, human understanding and solutions take the place of seeking God. I want to become more like the centurion who amazed Jesus by his believing faith in God’s authority and power.

God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20,21).

Fighting Mental Illness with Faith

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 1-in-5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million people — experience mental illness in a given year, and 21.4 percent of adolescents age 13-18 will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their lifetime.

Mental health problems are more common than we think —even in the church. For all of the things churches do well in loving and serving people, there are a few things we need to understand better. For many families dealing with mental illness within the Christian community, finding any kind of support or spiritual guidance can be challenging.

According to Lifeway Research, most Protestant senior pastors (66 percent) seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.

Because of the way we have ignored mental illness, we are hurting people. We’ve created a stigma, says Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research.

Here are four truths people with mental illness need the church to know:

1. Mental illness is not a character defect or a spiritual disorder.

It is often common practice in churches to treat mental illness differently than other illnesses. A cancer diagnosis is never accompanied by thoughts or questions of causation, yet somehow we immediately assume there is some underlying defect, or deeper spiritual sin causing an individual’s mental and emotional strain. 

Mental illness doesn’t equate with laziness, weakness, or lack of willpower; nor does it automatically imply a demonic attack or spiritual disorder. Mental illness can result from biological factors, such as genetics, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry. It can also be influenced by life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse as well as by a family history of mental health problems. 

What the church needs to know:
People with mental illness love God just like other Christians. They love to read the Bible and are ardent worshippers. They are ministry leaders, Sunday School teachers, and prayer warriors who believe God’s promises and cling to their faith as a source of strength in the midst of their journey with mental illness. The church can begin to embrace a holistic approach to mental health that doesn’t shame those suffering, but instead encourages individuals to pursue spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

2. People with mental illness don’t just need prayer.

LifeWay Research found that a third of Americans— and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians—believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness. There are more than a few anecdotal stories from individuals in the church body who have been discouraged from taking psychotropic medications and/or attending therapy.

Such suggestions trivialize the gravity of suffering many experience and prevent individuals from getting the help they need.

While personal faith (including prayer) is shown to be a powerful component in helping ease symptoms of depression, studies also show that a combination of treatment options including therapy, psychiatric care, spiritual, emotional, and familial support, provides the greatest reduction of symptoms and long-term stability.

We would never encourage someone with cancer to forgo medical treatment in favor of prayer alone, so why would we routinely dismiss treatment for those suffering with mental illness?

What the church needs to know:
By offering shallow, over-simplistic messages, we heap more shame onto what is already an overwhelming and painful experience. Offer compassion to individuals, even when it is difficult to understand what they are going through. Listen, don’t dismiss their stories or their pain. Encourage them to pursue all of their treatment options. Love them right where they are.

3. Mental illness doesn’t reveal a lack faith in God.

Ed Stetzer notes, We can talk about diabetes and Aunt Mable’s lumbago in church—those are seen as medical conditions, but mental illness–that’s somehow seen as a lack of faith.

I’ve heard pastors and teachers tell people with mental illness to, get in the Word for two weeks and their problems will go away. Mental illness has no correlation with levels of faith or spiritual maturity.

Some of the greatest pastors, theologians, and founders of the faith like C.S.Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther among many others, struggled with depression and a host of other mental health disorders.

Thankfully, Scripture is full of broken, hurting individuals who were passionate in their faith and powerfully used by God to accomplish His purposes. He also uses individuals today who are suffering with physical and emotional illnesses.

What the church needs to know:
People with mental illness are some of the strongest individuals around, spiritually speaking —they’ve had to be. Rather than keep them away from their faith, their struggles have drawn them deeper in their faith. Do not judge them. Honor them. Respect them. Offer kindness to them.

4. People with mental illness don’t need to ‘get fixed’ before they can be used by God.

Many churches today often encourage those with mental illness to ‘get fixed’ before they can teach or volunteer. While it is important to make sure that volunteers are stabilized, for many the underlying message seems to be —getting healed is a prerequisite for turning one’s ‘mess into a message’ or their ‘trial into a testimony.’

In the process, the church as a whole misses out on everyday opportunities to see God use people right where they are, and to see the entire body of Christ strengthened.

I’m glad no one stopped C.S.Lewis from writing or teaching, or Mother Theresa from feeding thousands of children until they got better. 2 Cor 12:8-10 (NIV) says, Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Isn’t this the message we preach from the pulpit?

What the church needs to know:
Those with mental illness are not ‘less-than’ Christians and they don’t need to be hidden away. As long as they are stabilized and do not pose a threat to themselves or others, they are helped immensely from the structure and meaning that serving in ministry can offer. In addition, the church gets to witness the power of a living God working through the lives of everyday, hurting people who passionately pursue God in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Learning To Talk Openly About Mental Health

Churches need to become places where people feel welcomed to talk about mental health.

God wants the body to care for the whole person, and our emotional/mental struggles are a significant part of our individual and collective journeys. What those dealing with mental illness need most from the church is for us to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering compassion, love and truth to a hurting world in need. 

In Matthew 11:29 (NIV) Jesus says, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Jesus tells us that He is gentle and humble in heart. If we are to be His hands and feet, perhaps Jesus intends that we the church become gentle and humble in dealing with the mentally ill. He doesn’t intend for those in the body to add a heavier burden, but for us to be a safe refuge where the wounded and weary among us can find compassion and grace to strengthen them on their journey. 

We don’t have to cure those struggling with mental health issues. We shouldn’t feel compelled to fix them. Yet we can surely pray for them. We can walk with them. We can offer a meal, a ride, a cup of coffee, or a listening ear to them. Maybe we could babysit for them while they are at their counseling appointments. We in the church body could even begin a conversation about mental health needs that have been hidden in the shadows for far too long.

God loves all of His children. He has a purpose for each and every one —even those with mental illness. Perhaps God wants to use them right where they are to teach the rest of us about perseverance, about courage, about faith. We would do well to learn and to listen.

Lisa Murray is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a Jesus girl, and a recovering perfectionist. Her passion is to encourage and empower individuals —whether in their hearts, their marriages, or their faith —to cultivate healing and wholeness that will awaken a heart of peace. Her book, Peace For A Lifetime, is available on Amazon. She writes weekly at You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

The Medical Account of the Crucifixion

The word “excruciating” is thought to come from Latin for “out of the cross.” There was no other word to describe the pain Jesus endured at the cross. His agony started with His ordeal in the garden the night before, praying so hard that He sweat blood. The extent of His suffering, before being nailed to the cross, is an important factor in Christ’s death.

Three Major Points

Although we know that Christ died on the cross, a few things need to be made clear:

1. Jesus had been considerably weakened before being crucified.

2. The spikes in His hands and feet were not what killed Jesus.

3. There is a quantity of medical literature explaining why it is virtually impossible for Him to have survived; to have merely swooned, as some cynics suggest.

Prepared to Bleed

Three events caused Jesus to be weaker on the day of His crucifixion than others hung on crosses before, after, or alongside Him. 

Historians note that Jesus died relatively quickly once nailed to the wood, but that was probably because of blood loss and, possibly, shock. 

Several factors exacerbated blood loss: fragile skin following His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane; a particularly furious flogging; and certain props employed to mock Him.

1. Sweating Blood

A 21st-century forensic reconstruction starts with Jesus potentially suffering hematidrosis: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). 

Many readers believe this is either an exaggeration or a supernatural phenomenon, but hematidrosis is medically explained as an “excretion of blood or blood pigments in the sweat” as a result of “severe anxiety […] triggered by fear.”

Jesus knew what was coming (Matthew 20:19), all of the agony of being scourged, of torment on the cross and, worst of all, being forsaken by God (Matthew 27:46). “Hematidrosis […] results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile, which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.” 

His skin would have torn more easily once flogging began, leading, potentially, to more blood loss than normal. Modern doctors also explain that extreme stress strained Christ’s heart prior to being tortured.

2. Flogged with Fury

Jesus was struck with a whip made of “braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them” plus “pieces of sharp bone.” “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare and the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” 

While the objective was to bring a person as close to death as possible without actually killing him, “many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified.”

Jesus’ back was not marked with red welts; the skin was not merely bleeding. His flesh was torn. Sometimes, a victim’s back was “so shredded that part of the spine was […] exposed by the deep, deep cuts.” 

Some writers theorize that Jesus endured the maximum 39 lashings as determined by Jewish law, but there is contrasting speculation that the Roman soldiers probably ignored the law. 

No one knows. He was hated for having threatened the power of Caesar and mocked for having appeared to fail.

Consequently, Jesus might have endured more lashings than normal. Since “the decision to scourge Jesus was made before it was determined that he would be crucified,” punishment might have been particularly furious. “After Jesus was scourged, Pilate attempted to release him.”

3. Crown and Robe

Another unique aspect of Christ’s experience — being mocked as King of the Jews — further added to the pain and blood loss He endured. He was made to wear a crown of thorns that cut into His now-fragile skin and caused still more bleeding around the scalp. 

Christ was struck several times in the head, driving the thorns further into this area, amplifying both bloodshed and pain. Emergency room doctors and nurses see a lot of bleeding from head wounds due to the “profuse vascularity” of the scalp” and “denseness of the connective tissue [which] tends to hold vessels open when the scalp is lacerated.

For this reason, even small lacerations can cause considerable bleeding, leading to hypovolemia, hypotension, and even death.” Many of the wounds on Jesus’ back would have begun to clot, some while He wore the robe His tormentors forced onto Him. 

Tearing it off of Jesus’ back was like the “careless removal of a surgical bandage” and broke the wounds open once more, as they humiliated Jesus, the soldiers also hastened His death.

Excessive blood loss and dehydration would have sent Christ’s body into shock before the nails were hammered into His wrists and feet. Traumatic pain would have also led to “injury shock” in addition to “hypovolemic shock,” both of which are consequences of the sort of “traumatic event” Christ suffered. 

Shock itself would have added to His pain by causing “pericarditis” or “inflammation of the sac of the heart” which causes “stabbing pains in the chest.”

Having experienced an unthinkable amount of pain already, nails were driven into Jesus’ wrists and feet. The positioning of a person on the cross was devised to create the most discomfort possible, from the way one’s hands were raised to the side to the angle of knees and hips. 

One would have to continually push against the feet in order to breathe but doing so would send pain signals through every nerve. Shock was reducing His blood pressure, meaning oxygen was not getting to His organs and waste was not being removed.

Unable to Exhale

Christ would have had trouble breathing, but inhalation was not as difficult as exhalation. “Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and pulling the shoulders inward. In order to accomplish this feat, all of Christ’s weight would have been focused in His feet, causing “searing pain.” 

Not to mention the agony of His back rubbing against the rough wood as He struggled to exhale and inhale. A build-up of carbon dioxide from inadequate exhalation would have caused further cramping.

The End Verdict 

A spear was thrust from below through Christ’s organs, releasing fluid and blood. If He was still alive at that point (highly doubtful), the spear killed Him. The Messiah was barely alive before being hoisted up for a crowd to watch Him expire in agony and certainly dead when taken down from the cross. 

Theologians suggest that Christ’s 3-6 hours was a relatively short period of time because of the trauma that He suffered prior to being crucified. Inflammation and fluid buildup put his organs under pressure; they could not function properly without blood-waste removal. 

Eventually, Christ’s system shut down. The verdict: “cardiac and respiratory arrest, due to hypovolemic and traumatic shock, due to crucifixion.”

What Does This Mean? 

The resurrection means nothing unless Christ really died but refuting the evidence of His death and suggesting He was hidden somewhere and nursed back to health makes little sense. 

The gospels do not depict a weak, ailing Jesus displaying jagged, oozing wounds so that He could have recovered by the third day. 

“Common complications of hemorrhagic shock include kidney damage, other organ damage, death” plus potentially “gangrene due to decreased circulation to the limbs.”

The disciples saw Christ in good health, holes visible but healed (John 20:27), with energy to continue His ministry for some time. Those who believe that Christ died for their sins naturally feel a sense of guilt and pain when they realize what Jesus went through for their sake. 

But there is triumph here too, for God was able to rescue Christ from Sheol, and if He can do that, He is able to rescue us from our sin if we put our faith and trust in Him.

St. Mary of Egypt: A saint to invoke against sexual promiscuity

The sexual revolution of the 1960s dramatically altered the moral landscape of the Western world. But of course, sexual promiscuity was not invented in the 1960s; it has always been with us, although it may have been more rampant in some places and some periods of history than others.

St. Mary of Egypt was born into a family of Egyptian Christians. At age 12, she ran away from home and went to live in Alexandria, the most cosmopolitan, most sophisticated and in many ways one of the most corrupt cities in the Mediterranean world. She supported herself as a singer and dancer. At some point, we don’t know when, she lost her innocence.

Mary’s sexual appetite took over her personality. She cruised the streets of Alexandria, looking for partners. Her favorite diversion was to corrupt innocent young men. But many years later, as she told St. Zosimus — the monk who wrote down her autobiography — she never accepted money from the men she slept with, she never became a prostitute.

Once, while walking along the wharves at the harbor, she saw a group of men boarding a ship. She asked one of the sailors who the men were, and where were they going. He said they were all pilgrims, heading to Jerusalem to celebrate there the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. On impulse, Mary decided to go, too. By the time the ship reached the Holy Land, Mary had seduced every pilgrim and every member of the crew.

In Jerusalem she continued her usual routine of looking for new partners. On the holy day, a throng of pilgrims made their way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Mary, out of curiosity, joined them. But when she reached the threshold of the church, some invisible force held her back. She could not enter. All at once the wickedness of her life overwhelmed her, and she began to cry.

Near the door was a carving of the Blessed Virgin. Turning to the sacred image, Mary prayed for the first time in years, “Help me,” she begged Our Lady, “for I have no other help.” With that, the power that had kept her from entering the church withdrew and Mary went in. She found a priest and made a full confession.

After the Mass and veneration of the Holy Cross, Mary left Jerusalem, crossed the Jordan River and headed out into the desert. There she became a hermit, living a life of prayer and penance for nearly 50 years.

Toward the end of her life she encountered the monk Zosimus, to whom she told her story. Then she begged him to return to her on Holy Thursday with the Blessed Sacrament — it had been decades since she had been able to receive holy Communion. Zosimus returned, as he had promised, but he found that Mary had died. He buried her, then went back to his monastery and began to make known the story of Mary of Egypt.

A “call from God” prevents a suicide attempt.

One Saturday night, a pastor was working late and decided to call his wife before he left for home. It was about 10:00 PM, but his wife didn’t answer the phone.
The pastor let it ring many times. He thought it was odd that she didn’t answer but decided to wrap up a few things and try again in a few minutes.
When he tried again, she answered right away. He asked her why she hadn’t answered before, and she said that it hadn’t rung at their house. They brushed it off as a fluke and went on their merry ways.
The following Monday, the pastor received a call at the church office, which was the phone that he’d used that Saturday night. The man that he spoke with wanted to know why he’d called on Saturday night. The pastor couldn’t figure out what the man was talking about. Then the man said, “It rang and rang, but I didn’t answer.”
The pastor remembered the mishap and apologized for disturbing him, explaining that he’d intended to call his wife. The man said, “That’s okay. Let me tell you my story. You see, I was planning to commit suicide on Saturday night, but before I did, I prayed, ‘God if you’re there, and you don’t want me to do this, give me a sign now.’
At that point, my phone started to ring. I looked at the caller ID, and it said, ‘Almighty God’. I was afraid to answer!” The church that the pastor attends is called Almighty God Tabernacle.

The Bible in 50 Words

God made.
Adam bit.
Noah arked.
Abraham split. Jacob fooled.
Joseph ruled.
Bush talked.
Moses balked. Pharaoh plagued.
People walked.
Sea divided.
Tablets guided. Promise landed.
Saul freaked.
David peeked. Prophets warned.
Jesus born.
God walked.
Love talked. Anger crucified.
Hope died.
Love rose. Spirit flamed.
Word spread.
God remained.

Rabbi Sponsors an Afghan Refugee Family. Gets Help from a Mosque and a Church.

Adam Raskin, a rabbi at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., knew how difficult the situation was for Afghan refugees in the Washington region.

Since the historic airlift out of Kabul last year, more than 3,700 Afghan evacuees have been resettled in the District, Maryland and Virginia, overwhelming social service agencies and leaving some refugee families waiting for housing and in limbo.

Raskin and his congregants decided to help by sponsoring a refugee family.

“We thought it was very much in line with our values,” Raskin said. “For Jews, many of whom were refugees from places of persecution, there is a special sensitivity for this issue.”

As members of the congregation began researching the resettlement process, they quickly learned how complicated it can be, and how many resources are required.

“We could do this on our own,” Raskin recalled thinking to himself, “but wouldn’t it be amazing to collaborate with a Christian and Muslim congregation?”

His idea was to “demonstrate to the family what kind of country they’ve relocated to.”

“This is a country where religions don’t have to be at odds with each other, but actually where religious communities collaborate and find common ground,” Raskin said.

He reached out to St. Francis Episcopal Church and the Islamic Community Center of Potomac to gauge their interest in an interfaith initiative, and both congregations were enthusiastically on board.

“We definitely wanted to get involved,” said Sultan Chowdhury, who was one of the founding members of the Islamic center, and currently serves as its trustee. “God gave us an opportunity to truly learn about each other. It is wonderful to see how close we are.”

Kathy Herrmann, the parish life coordinator at St. Francis, agreed.

“I have felt such a kinship with them and such a warmth and love emanating from the other two,” she said. “We all have the same goal to help this family become acclimated and feel the love that we have for them.”

The three houses of worship have collectively sponsored the Wahdats — an Afghan refugee family that resettled in College Park, Md., at the beginning of the year.

The Wahdat family — a 36-year-old father, a 30-year-old mother and their 19-month-old daughter — was not able to participate in an interview with The Washington Post because of a language barrier. Before arriving in Maryland, the Wahdats, who speak Pashto, were at Fort Dix, a U.S. Army post near Trenton, N.J.

The congregations have recruited volunteers to collaborate, including Stew Remer, who has been a member of Congregation Har Shalom since 1982 and has spearheaded the effort.

“We created an informal partnership where we are working together to provide support for the family,” Remer said. “It’s amazing that we’re doing this with other organizations.”

He started by contacting various resettlement agencies to learn more about how to sponsor an Afghan family. He got in touch with the Immigration and Refugee Outreach Center, which connected him with the Wahdats.

For the past month, the congregations have divvied up responsibilities to support the newcomers. The church has taken on a health-care advocacy role, identifying doctors and dentists willing to provide pro bono services for the family. The mosque, meanwhile, has been helping with translation services and assisting with cultural needs, such as providing traditional Afghan clothing. The synagogue has been organizing transportation, legal and financial support, as well as helping the family to apply for food stamps and Medicaid.

“Everybody is putting their heads together and strategizing and discussing what contacts and leads they have,” Raskin said. “It has been an outpouring of effort and generosity from all three congregations.”

The family is awaiting work authorization and Social Security cards, Remer said. Next steps will include helping the Wahdats enroll in English classes, find job opportunities and eventually register their daughter for school.

While each house of worship has taken on separate duties, they have all fundraised within their respective communities, collecting hundreds of dollars’ worth of gift cards for the family. The congregations have scheduled regular meetings to discuss how the Wahdats are adapting and to determine what other supports are needed along the way. They are also planning to start a card-making project for children and teenagers from the three faith groups to write welcome letters to Afghan families.

Remer, who has visited the Wahdats in their one-bedroom apartment several times, said they have been deeply touched by the interfaith effort as they transition to their new life in America.

“Each and every time we brought something to their apartment to help furnish it, or donated clothing to them or clothes for their daughter, or took them shopping with gift cards we provided, the father was very thankful to us,” Remer said. “I recall him placing his hand over his heart and nodding.”

The Wahdats are just three of the more than 124,000 civilians who were evacuated from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August. As of late December, 25,000 Afghan refugees were still living in American military installations.

Sasha Chanoff, chief executive and founder of the nonprofit organization RefugePoint, said there is critical need for more support as resettlement agencies are struggling to manage the influx of Afghans.

People are stepping up to fill the void, in part through an effort the State Department launched in October called the Sponsor Circle Program, which recruits families and other volunteers willing to help Afghan refugees secure homes, jobs and other support.

The volunteer sponsor circles serve as a “primary anchor” in the lives of Afghan families, said Chanoff, who is a lead partner in the program. Although the three religious congregations are not technically a sponsor circle, their efforts are similar.

“It’s so cool to hear that a mosque, a church and a synagogue are coming together to do this,” Chanoff said. “This kind of engagement can help to soften America’s very polarized stance on immigration and around refugees in some way.”

Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all considered Abrahamic religions that view Abraham, a prophet, as the patriarch of their faith. The Bible highlights Abraham’s hospitality and his willingness to welcome strangers.

“That is perhaps the original bond between Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” Raskin said. “We are kind of living out that legacy by collaborating in this way. I think the fact that we’re doing this together is a beautiful example of what the best of this country can be.”

“We have enjoyed the privilege of being together, trying to understand each other better and propagate peace,” Chowdhury said. “It’s eye opening for all of us, and it’s a blessing.”

“This isn’t a short-term project. We are in it for the long haul,” said Herrmann, adding that the congregations plan to continue interfaith collaborations.

“I have felt that we are not even different communities,” she said. “We are all one.”

Egypt releases Coptic Christian activist after 2 years in pretrial detention

Religious freedom advocacy organizations are praising the Egyptian government for releasing from detention a Coptic Christian activist who has spoken out against the mistreatment faced by Coptic Christians in the country.

Ramy Kamel was released from prison Saturday after spending more than two years in detention for what the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the advocacy group Coptic Solidarity described as “spurious” charges.

Specifically, Kamel was accused of joining a terror group and broadcasting false information and receiving foreign funding. But supporters say he was jailed because of his journalism and human rights activism.

Advocacy groups, including In Defense of Christians and International Christian Concern, expressed gratitude for his release while maintaining that Egypt has a long way to go to ensure equal treatment of Coptic Christians under the law.

“We applaud the Egyptian government for the release of Ramy Kamel,” said IDC Executive Director Richard Ghazal in a statement. “While the Egyptian government of President Sisi, in recent years, has demonstrated incremental progress through constitutional reforms, there is still much more work to be done to afford Coptic Christians equal citizenship in their native homeland.”

ICC President Jeff King said in a statement that the organization welcomes Kamel’s release after years of advocacy. 

“Despite this victory, we cannot ignore the fact that Egypt has a long record of pursuing superficial human rights changes in an attempt to manage its international reputation,” King said. “But Egypt’s human rights record is equally clear: the situation is very bad. And for Christians, who are already forced to live on the edge of society, the consequences can be devastating.”

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the human rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch, reacted to Kamel’s release on Twitter.

“Great that President Sisi’s Egyptian government finally releases Coptic rights activist Ramy Kamel after wrongfully forcing him to spend two years in detention. He never should have been jailed. There are tens of thousands of imprisoned Egyptians like him.”

Great that President Sisi’s Egyptian government finally releases Coptic rights activist Ramy Kamel after wrongfully forcing him to spend two years in detention. He never should have been jailed. There are tens of thousands of imprisoned Egyptians like him.— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) January 10, 2022

Ned Price, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, issued a statement to Al-Monitor State Department Correspondent Elizabeth Hagedorn encouraging “the government of Egypt to continue additional releases of long-term detainees.”

“We welcomed the release this weekend of activists Ramy Kamel and Ramy Shaath from pre-trial detention in #Egypt,” @StateDeptSpox says.

“We encourage the government of Egypt to continue additional releases of long-term detainees.”

— Elizabeth Hagedorn (@ElizHagedorn) January 11, 2022

According to the Jubilee Campaign, a non-profit organization that “promotes the human rights and religious liberty of ethnic and religious minorities in the most oppressive countries,” Kamel’s arrest occurred “directly after he applied for a Swiss visa to attend the UN Forum of Minority Issues in Geneva as a speaker on the forced displacement of and discrimination against Coptic Christians.” 

“Kamel was ambushed and arrested in his home on 23 November 2019 after he had been documenting attacks on Coptic Christian churches and houses of worship in Egypt,” the Jubilee Campaign reported. “Upon his arrest, which was carried out without a warrant, police also confiscated personal information documents, his computer and cellphone, and even his camera.”

The Jubilee Campaign said it is believed that “Kamel [had been] physically assaulted by the police as a means of acquiring his passwords for his electronic devices, and that he [had] faced other means of cruel treatment in detention, including being denied medication for his asthma and high blood pressure conditions.” Additionally, Kamel reportedly received “extraordinarily few visits from his family or legal counsel.”

Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, ranks Egypt as the 16th worst country in the world for Christian persecution on its 2021 World Watch List.

Egypt is home to more than 16 million Christians, who account for a little less than one-sixth of the total population.

Open Doors USA attributes the adverse treatment of Christians in Egypt to “dictatorial paranoia.” The most common acts of persecution against Christians in the African nation include “Christian women being harassed while walking in the street” and “Christian communities being driven out of their homes by extremist mobs.”

A “lack of serious law enforcement,” combined with the “unwillingness of local authorities to protect Christians,” compounds the danger faced by the religious minority in Egypt.

Pope calls for dialogue, justice to end unrest in Kazakhstan

Pope Francis called on Sunday for dialogue and justice to put an end to violent unrest in Kazakhstan, adding he was saddened by news about deaths occurred in the country.

“I have learned with sorrow that there have been victims during the protests that have broken out in recent days in Kazakhstan,” the pope told hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square for his noon blessing and address.

“I pray for them and for their families, and I hope that social harmony will be restored as soon as possible through the search for dialogue, justice and the common good,” the pope said.

Kazakhstan authorities said on Sunday they had stabilised the situation across the country after the deadliest outbreak of violence in 30 years of independence, and troops from a Russian-led military alliance were guarding “strategic facilities”.

Russia’s Sputnik news agency cited Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry as saying a total of 164 people, including two children, were killed in Kazakhstan over the last week.

Demonstrations began a week ago against a fuel price rise before exploding into a wider protest against the government.

Is Your Near Year’s Resolution about God?

Health, faith and finances are the three most common topics of New Year’s Resolutions, according to a new Lifeway Research survey that examined what Americans focus on when the calendar turns.

The poll found that 44 percent of U.S. adults say they’ve made a resolution about their health in the past, while 29 percent say they’ve made a resolution about their relationship with God, and another 29 percent have made a resolution about their finances. About one in four adults (26 percent) say they’ve made a resolution about relationships with a family member.

“New Year’s resolutions reflect the changes people aspire to make,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced or encouraged more people to make changes outside of the annual reminder a new year brings. But a New Year’s resolution is still something most Americans have made at some point in their lives.”

About half (48 percent) of Christians who attend a worship service at least four times a month say they’ve made a resolution about their relationship with God, while 20 percent of those who attend less than once a month have done so. Such a resolution about God is more popular among those ages 18-34 (35 percent) and 35-49 (35 percent) than those 50-64 (25 percent) and over 65 (17 percent). Among the religiously unaffiliated, 14 percent say they’ve made a resolution about their relationship with God in the past.

Meanwhile, about half of Christians (48 percent) who attend a worship service at least four or more times a month say they’ve made a resolution about their health – a percentage that is higher than those who attend church less than once a month (38 percent).

Among all Americans, other popular resolution topics include the use of time (22 percent), work (18 percent) and relationships with a friend (15 percent).

“Making a New Year’s resolution doesn’t reveal who or what a person is relying on to make that change in their life, nor how successful such resolutions are,” McConnell said. “But higher numbers seen among younger adults, those who attended at least some college, and church-going Christians indicate they have higher motivation to make such changes at least in the form of New Year’s resolutions.”

The poll involved questions with 1,005 U.S. adults.

Kurt Warner: God Is Not a ‘Spare Tire’

Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner says in a new video that his Christian faith soared after he met his wife Brenda, who he says challenged him “early and often” about what he believed about God.

As a child, Warner studied at a Catholic school and went to church every Sunday. Yet, his faith “was never really personal for me until after I met my wife,” he says in the new video released by I Am Second, an organization that interviews well-known individuals about their faith.

Warner’s story is the subject of the new movie American Underdog (PG).

When they were dating, he said, Brenda was always “talking about Jesus.”

“She challenged me early and often in our relationship about what I believed – and why I believed it. I think before that I always felt faith was kind of, well, God was out there, and whenever I needed Him, He was like my spare tire – that when I get a flat, I’ll go and pop the trunk and pull out the spare and God, You know, I need this.”

When he read the Bible closely and in “context,” he said, he realized he had his view of God backward.

“I had this mixed up. … God’s not just here for me …. [T]he goal is that I’m here for Him. I’m here to give my life for Him as Jesus did for me,” Warner said. “And it started to become real. I started to understand and take a different perspective on what life was all about. And it took some crazy moments to really understand that.”

One moment that impacted him, he said, was the tragic death of Brenda’s parents in a tornado – a subject that’s confronted in American Underdog.

“I remember how she didn’t have all the answers,” Warner said. “She was angry. And she was willing to call out to God and ask God why and yell and scream – but never lose her faith. It was never one of those things where, ‘Oh, God, you allowed this to happen to us. So now I’m going to walk away from You.’ That’s what a relationship is to me. It’s about being able to disagree in moments, to be angry in moments, but not allow that to stop the relationship. And, to me, that was when I kind of stepped back and [thought], everything that she’s been talking to me about, ‘This is what it looks like, this is what it’s supposed to be.’ And it was in those moments where I came to realize, ‘Okay, I’ve never had that. And that’s exactly what I want.’ And it was at that time where I really committed my life to Jesus.”

Warner won a Super Bowl and played in two others. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.