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Still no Budget

WGRC News - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 2:45pm

Budget talks occurred in the state capitol in Harrisburg this week with lines still drawn in the sand. Republican leaders say they have agreed on the majority of spending lines in the budget including $400 million dollars in new education funding, but they say the Governor remains unwilling to accept any comp-0romise to his plan which calls for billions of dollars in higher taxes. The Republican legislative leaders say they have presented another compromise plan but continue to wait for word from the Wolf Administration. Another meeting scheduled for yesterday was cancelled by the Governor.

Categories: Local News

Williamsport one of the easiest places to sell your home

WGRC News - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 2:45pm

SmartAsset, a New York based financial technology company recently released results of a study ranking citiies in the U.S. by the number of days that homes spend on the market, and the Williamsport area is amongst the easiest places in the state of Pennsylvania to sell your home. The study shows that the Average days on the market for a home in Williamsport is a little over 62 days, ranking it 10th amongst state cities. State College leads with an average of 32.4 days on the market.

Categories: Local News

South Sudanese pastors home at last

Mission Network News - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 5:00am
South Sudan (MNN) -- It’s been 8 months since South Sudanese pastors Peter Yein Reith and Yat Michael were arrested during a visit to Sudan. The men were arrested for several crimes including undermining the government, waging war against the state, and disturbing public peace. After a grueling ordeal of trials, imprisonment, and a travel ban, both men have finally made it home. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs USA says, “They are out of the country now. As I understand it, the judge lifted their travel ban, but then the intelligence police immediately appealed that decision.” Intervening days between their release and the delay getting home caused some anxiety. Nettleton says, “If I understood the report correctly, they left by another way. I think it probably means they didn’t go directly to the airport but they got out some other way; but my understanding is they got out, they are back in South Sudan.”

(Photo courtesy Morning Star News)

The report by Morning Star News said that the pastors were able to attend South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Juba. The church held a thanksgiving service for the two men, who expressed their gratitude to the congregation. Both men have been reunited with their families and are thankful for the Christians around the world who prayed for their safety and release. In December 2014, Rev. Michael was arrested after urging members of a Sudanese church to stand firm and advocate their religious rights. When Rev. Reith went to check on him a month later, he was also arrested. Both men were faced with serious charges, some of which resulted in the death penalty. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedoms, they weren’t allowed access to lawyers until March 1. Now, both men are safe at home, thanks to the prayers of believers around the world. Thank you for your support! Thank God for what He has done in the lives of these two pastors.
Categories: Mission Network News

Redeeming Hurricane Katrina

Mission Network News - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 5:00am

A plea from the Ninth Ward.
(Photo credit: Laura-Jean Watson. Caption: Danielle Bartholic)

USA (EFCA) -- In New Orleans, many people are not fond of calling August 29th the “anniversary” of Hurricane Katrina, as though it were something to be celebrated. But 2015 marks 10 years since the hurricane tore through their city, causing immeasurable devastation and heartache, and raising untold anguished questions. Even today, and especially in the poorer neighborhoods, more than 10,000 homes bear witness to Katrina’s wrath, meaning that more than 10,000 families are still awaiting recovery. Yet New Orleans’ pain has not been without some redemption. EFCA Crisis Response was birthed out of that tragedy. And from lessons learned there, the growing Crisis Response team has spent the ensuing 10 years responding to other devastating hurricanes worldwide, as well to earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, fires, floods, tsunamis, and nuclear disasters. In the storm’s eye

Hurricane Katrina regional imagery, 2005.08.28 at 1515Z. Centerpoint Latitude: 26:13:59N Longitude: 88:08:03W.
(Photo courtesy NASA via Wikipedia)

It all began with a tropical storm on August 24, 2005, headed for the panhandle of Florida. Picking up momentum, the storm graduated to a Category 2 hurricane and shifted toward Louisiana. Voluntary evacuations were recommended but many people stayed, assuming this would be just another nuisance storm. More than one-third of those living in New Orleans’ poorer neighborhoods likely had no vehicles, making complete evacuation impossible. Pastor John Gerhardt of Castle Rock Community Church (EFCA) was one of those who took action, using church vans to evacuate 70 church members and their families. His caravan headed first to Jackson, Mississippi, and then to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where they took sanctuary at Village Bible Church (EFCA). All they could do was watch the news in horror. Back in Louisiana, the water on either side of the Industrial Canal rose as Hurricane Katrina came barreling onto the coast of New Orleans. Within a day, more than 80% of New Orleans was underwater (over 10 feet in depth in some places). Many lost everything: materially, in terms of home and possessions; relationally, as families and friends were displaced all over the country; and emotionally, as everything they knew as normal was turned upside-down. Some traveled back to their homes six months later, others took six years. Still others have never returned.

Random storm destruction in one neighborhood, still unrepaired in 2007.
(Photo: Laura-Jean Watson, Caption: Danielle Bartholic)

It has been said that Hurricane Katrina revealed New Orleans “dirty little secrets”--systemic injustice, racial inequities, and generational poverty. Many of the poorest neighborhoods were those most affected by the storm. Even after government resources were attained, unscrupulous contractors routinely took advantage of residents. Other families with limited resources and with aging, sickly, and displaced relatives had to ask almost-unanswerable questions: Do we use our funds to care for our family members or to rebuild our home? Hurricane Katrina’s winds and water cracked open the city, exposing the poverty, the discrimination, and the gaping physical needs. Ten years later, families are still facing those needs, on top of the hurricane damage. Yet there is hope, even amid the wreckage. Engaging physical and spiritual needs Before the hurricane, despite the area’s deep Catholic roots, most New Orleans residents would not even engage in a spiritual conversation. EFCA church planter Bobby Tinner points out that New Orleans was--and in many ways still is--a bohemian city, meaning “do whatya wanna,” he says, and “God is left out of the process.” At its launch, the Crisis Response ministry sought to shift that spiritual perspective by focusing on intentional disciple-making in addition to physical rebuilding. Volunteer teams from EFCA churches around the country poured into New Orleans--helping to gut and rebuild homes, yes, but also standing beside homeowners as they wept over their losses.

Crisis Response teamed with the homeowner and others to build this home in Central City New Orleans in June 2007.
(Photo: Laura-Jean Watson, Caption: Danielle Bartholic)

These sustained outreach efforts and the continued relational presence has helped darkness begin to lift and has opened doors for spiritual conversations. Nearby Trinity Church--an EFCA congregation 40 miles north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain--became “command central” for the EFCA recovery ministry, which immediately adopted the mantra: It’s about the people, not the project. “I don’t know how many homes we’ve worked on, but I do know how many families we’ve connected with,” says Crisis Response director Mark Lewis. In fact, his team has kept a spreadsheet of ministry contacts and families who have been served, which now surpasses 5,000 (with another 300+ on a waiting list). The most significant training regularly given to volunteer teams is the most simple: Pray.
  • Pray before you leave the church.
  • Pray at the work site with the homeowner before you start work.
  • Pray when things come up in conversation.
  • Take a prayer walk daily to connect with more people in the community.
  • Pray before you leave the work site.
And prayer has yielded longed-for spiritual fruit, including individuals coming to faith and others walking more closely with Jesus. The Crisis Response team has also helped launch several church plants in the New Orleans metro region, in partnership with local Evangelical Free Churches and the EFCA’s Southeast District. Fundamentally, Crisis Response has four foci when it comes to discipleship, both in New Orleans and in its work worldwide:
  1. restoration of the local church body
  2. outreach, evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting in the affected community
  3. life transformation in the lives of volunteers serving
  4. transformation in the volunteers’ own communities
In other words, there’s a ripple effect in ministry, according to Mark Lewis.

Teams from Jesus Children's Fellowship in Philadelphia and Hershey (PA) EFC worked together to help paint a homeowner’s house in August 2007.
(Photo: Laura-Jean Watson, Caption: Danielle Bartholic)

“When people come to volunteer, we believe God called them here for transformation in their lives,” he says--a transformation that continues when they return home and disciple others. Ten years after Katrina, life has not yet returned to normal. Yet part of the new “normal” is a heightened sense of God at work, in a multitude of ways, through His Church, bringing redemption from the pain. Be part of EFCA Crisis Response’s next decade of powerful ministry worldwide with your financial gifts, prayers, and hands-on service. Teams are still needed in New Orleans as well, to bring healing to that community. Read the original article on EFCA’s Web site.
Categories: Mission Network News

Keys for Kids needs your help

Mission Network News - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy Keys for Kids)

USA (MNN) -- Are your kids in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? Maybe they’re too little right now to have that conversation with them, but one day you will. Having resources like the ones from Keys for Kids Ministries will be a huge help. “That’s what Keys for Kids Ministries is all about: pointing kids to the Gospel,” says Keys for Kids’ new executive director, Greg Yoder. “Every single day, that’s what you get through our devotionals and even if you listen to our drama series.” Yoder has some big plans in mind for continuing Keys for Kids’ mission: reaching children and their families for Christ. Why do kids matter? As any pastor knows, connecting with the Next Generation is vital for a church’s survival. It’s true for Christianity in general, too.

(Photo credit: Zaneology via Flickr) cc2.0

But in today’s tech-savvy world, more and more voices are vying for kids’ attention and decisions. “We have two worlds that are colliding,” says Yoder. “We’ve got the Christian worldview, which obviously is biblically-based, but then we have all these other worldviews. “Keys for Kids Ministries is needed more than EVER before, because of that very [reason].” Keys for Kids hasn’t stopped proclaiming Christ’s Good News to children in its 73 years of existence. They plan to keep it up for another 73 years, but they'll need your help to get it done! What’s Keys for Kids doing right now? Keys for Kids Ministries has “spoken the language of kids” in a myriad of different ways over the past several decades. From radio to TV to print, Keys for Kids has utilized changing media. But they’ve never changed their core message, Yoder explains.

(Photo courtesy Keys for Kids via Facebook)

“You’re getting that in every single thing that we do: the Gospel,” he says. Today, children can read and listen to Keys for Kids devotionals and dramatized programs online. Or, with parents’ approval, kids can download the Keys for Kids mobile app. “Keys for Kids Ministries does have an app, [and] I want to make that app the most incredible thing that young people can come to,” says Yoder. According to a 2013 study from Common Sense Media, 72% of U.S. kids under the age of 8 use a mobile device at least 15 minutes a day. “We want to be there for kids who don’t know Jesus,” Yoder says. “We want to make sure it’s a safe place for them, too, [where] they can get to know God, get to know who Jesus is, so they can come to that saving knowledge of Jesus and then begin in that walk with Him.” How can I help move it forward?

(Photo courtesy Keys for Kids via Facebook)

Keys for Kids needs your help to reach the Next Generation for Christ. Click here to join their team. “We’re just one generation away from losing our Christian heritage,” notes Yoder. “So we want to make sure that Keys for Kids isn’t only here, but that it’s actually effective. And the only way to be effective is to invest in what we’re doing, so that we can get the technology that we need to be in front of kids.”
Categories: Mission Network News

Ethiopian youths persecuted for evangelism

Mission Network News - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Ethiopia (MNN) -- [EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an article from Open Doors USA about a group of Ethiopian youths who were persecuted for sharing Christ. You can find other ways Open Doors is supporting persecuted believers around the world by clicking here.] When a group of 15 Christian Ethiopian youths decided to join an evangelistic outreach to another town, they never anticipated that the journey could result in physical assault, arrest, incarceration, and restrictive penalties imposed on the local Christian community. But that is exactly what happened to the Christian youths who traveled 267 miles from the capital of Addis Ababa to visit the eastern Ethiopian town of Karamile in a Muslim-dominated area of Oromia state last week to fellowship with other youths and engage in outreach. Trouble started on the first day of their visit when a group of local people opposed their evangelistic efforts and physically assaulted two of the female members of the group. Police quickly intervened, but instead of taking action against the aggressors, they arrested and jailed all 15 of the visiting youths. Thankfully, the officials released them later in the day, after local church leaders intervened on their behalf and advocated for their release. However, the local church leaders learned the next day that this incident would have much broader impact. Town administrators and security officers summoned all church leaders in Karamile to a meeting and ordered them to stop all evangelistic activities outside of the church. The officials said the Christians could no longer talk to anyone about religion outside church premises. They also said that although the Christians had the right to pray privately in their homes with their families, they were not allowed to invite other people to such prayers. These regulations are in conflict with the constitution of Ethiopia, which guarantees freedom of religion and protects freedom of expression without interference. Church leaders in Karamile have asked Christians in the West to pray for them:
  • For wisdom for the church leaders as they consider how to respond to these restrictions.
  • That the town administrators and security officers would come to see that these restrictions are in conflict with the constitution and rescind the restrictions.
  • For the youths who were attacked and jailed. Pray that these developments will not cause them to become fearful, but that they will remain steadfast in the faith.
  • For full recovery of the two women who received bruises in the attack.
Ethiopia is ranked #22 on the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List (www.worldwatchlist.us) of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians. *Representative photo used
Categories: Mission Network News

‘Anti-conversion’ laws in Burma a nail in religious freedom coffin

Mission Network News - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo Burmese Parliament courtesy Wikipedia)

Burma (MNN) -- Burma’s Union Parliament is at it again. They just passed a controversial religious conversion bill. It’s one measure in a package of “race and religion bills” which a group of nationalist Buddhist monks (the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion--also known as Ma Ba Tha) have advanced, and it isn’t popular with the outside world. In fact, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns it. Dyann Romeijn is a spokeswoman for Vision Beyond Borders. She explains, “For anybody to convert to another religion, they would have to get government approval so they’d have to go through a long process and apply to change religions and that it would be another means of discrimination against anyone who is non-Buddhist.” USCIRF is quick to note that the target is likely Muslims, women, and other non-Muslims. Romeijn specifies, “The Rohingya group is Muslim, and so there has been a longstanding conflict between the Muslims and the Buddhists. There’s a lot of persecution of the Muslims within Burma as well as the Christians.” “This measure is discriminatory, period. It is gravely wrong for the government to presume to dictate whether an individual can change their religion or belief,” said Chairman George. “We call on President Thein Sein immediately to reject this ill-conceived measure.” Romeijn agrees. “It does increase the amount of discrimination and the government’s ability to discriminate legally against them.” Burma’s government not only failed to implement meaningful protections for religious and ethnic minorities, but they adopted a population control law and interfaith marriage law.  It’s a pattern, says Romeijn. “Burma has just had a long period of human rights violations, religious discrimination, a lot of basic human rights and genocide going on there, and ethnic cleansing. So, to see them try to restrict freedoms further is not very surprising coming from this government.” Vision Beyond Borders serves the indigenous Church by providing the necessary tools and training for the local people to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission. This is done by supplying them with native language Bibles, training materials, seeds, clothing, medical supplies, prayer teams, and evangelism to children. That said, Romeijn is quick to note that right now, the new law “doesn’t affect our work that much. It does affect the people more. It makes it more difficult, it increases the persecution that they already face; but in reality, any Christians or minority groups in these countries are going to face a lot of persecution anyway.”

(Map courtesy Wikipedia)

USCIRF again recommended in 2015 that Burma be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act for its particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The State Department has designated Burma as a CPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014. Does it change anything? “We see this little bit of opening up and then clamping down again, and I think that we will continue to see that process. But I do think that the United States speaking out does help.” For now, Romeijn says it’s a "wait-and-see" approach on the practical impact of this new law. After all, it’s only 6 days old, plus Burma has "bigger fish to fry," so to speak.  “They just face a lot of different difficulties right now in Burma. There’s a lot of flooding; they dealt with Cyclone Nargis, and still they’re rebuilding. They’re one of the 50 poorest countries in the world, so there’s a lot of poverty there--a lot of difficult situations.” But while the opportunities exist to help local Christians, Romeijn asks, ”As people pray for Burma, pray for God’s truth to penetrate the country. Really, without spiritual change, there is no hope.”
Categories: Mission Network News