Westminster Presbyterian Church
94 tindall road,
middletown, new jersey 07748
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PRAYER SERVICE FOR OPPRESSED CHRISTIANS
Middletown service honors Christians targeted by ISIS
Inside of Westminster Presbyterian Church during the Service of Prayer for Persecuted Christians.(Photo: Submitted Photo)
Twenty-one young men, clad in orange prison jumpsuits walked up the aisle of a packed Westminster Presbyterian Church in Middletown.
They knelt down in front of the altar reciting the words "Lord Jesus Christ" while the audience of more than 300 prayed as many wiped away tears during the June 28 ceremony.
The men represented the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS members on a Libyan beach earlier this year. The words the men repeated were the last words of the victims.
"It was very moving," Rev. Joseph Hein of Westminster Presbyterian said, "It was a celebration of those whose faith meant so much more than life, that they were willing to give it to their captors."
The ceremony was part of the Service of Prayer for Persecuted Christians hosted by Westminster Presbyterian Church. The purpose was uniting local congregations in solidarity with Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and around the world.
Four congregations were represented at the service: Westminster Presbyterian, Saint Stepanos Armenian Orthodox Church in Elberon, St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Holmdel and St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Middletown.
Five pastors delivered sermons; attendees sang, prayed and donated money. Hein said the service collected $1,391 which will be donated to a charity that helps Christian refugees.
'First holocaust of the 21st century'
Hein decided to organize the event after hearing news coverage of ISIS attacks on Christians in Mosul, Iraq last summer and the beheadings in Libya.
"We are witnessing the first holocaust of the 21st century," Hein said, "And the world is ignoring it. We all feel a moral obligation to speak out and raise awareness."
Each attendee received a bracelet with the Arabic letter "N," the first letter in the word "Nasrani," a derogatory term for Christian in Arabic. When ISIS took over Mosul last summer, they issued an ultimatum for all Christians to convert to Islam, pay a fine or be put to death.
The militants marked Christian-owned homes and business with the symbol, and it was quickly taken up around the world as a symbol of solidarity with Iraq's threatened Christian population.
Father Abraham Wassef of St. Mina Church said it has been difficult watching what is happening to Christians in the Middle East.
"I react with a broken heart and a mouthful of prayers," he said.
Coptic Orthodox is the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East; Wassef said there are about 20 million members in Egypt alone.
Open Doors, a non-profit organization that monitors Christian persecution worldwide, estimates that 332 Christians worldwide are killed each month because of their faith and 140,000 Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes because of ISIS.
Hein is also troubled by reports of ISIS destroying holy sites in areas that they control.
"Not only are they displacing and exterminating Christians that have been there since the beginning, but they're also trying to destroy the memories of those people. Our Christian history is being ripped away from us."
Outside Westminster Presbyterian, a giant mural gives a one-word message to passers-by: "Pray."
It wasn't only Christians being prayed for.
Hein said there were also prayers for Jews, Muslims and people of all religions who are being targeted around the world.
"We always pray for respect," Wassef said, "That we can live peacefully side by side, respecting each other's beliefs as members of the human race."
Westminster Presbyterian church is a vibrant Christian congregation guided by the holy spirit. in partnership with god, we are engaged in the work of transforming people in light of the good news of Jesus Christ. we exist to make disciples of Jesus by leading individuals and families to come to know god, to develop a spiritual life, and to find meaning and healing in a community of acceptance.
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