Deacon removed from ministry after calling for investigation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A deacon who has questioned the thoroughness of a recently published list of Tennessee priests accused of sexual abuse has been removed from ministry at his local parish. Nashville Deacon Ron Deal confirmed Friday he has been instructed not to minister at the Brentwood parish until his "public disagreement" with the Roman … Continue reading “Deacon removed from ministry after calling for investigation”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A deacon who has questioned the thoroughness of a recently published list of Tennessee priests accused of sexual abuse has been removed from ministry at his local parish.

Nashville Deacon Ron Deal confirmed Friday he has been instructed not to minister at the Brentwood parish until his "public disagreement" with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville diocese is resolved. The Nov. 30 letter was sent from Deal's church pastor, Rev. Joe McMahon.

Deal is one of the many victim advocates who have called for an independent investigation after the diocese earlier this year published the names of 13 priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

"My question to them is how do you propose ending it?" Deal said in a telephone interview. "I would love to find a way to keep this issue front and center, but I'm not sure how we make that (resolution) happen if it doesn't involve speaking openly."

Diocese spokesman Rick Musacchio says Deal has not been suspended and he continues to receive a stipend, but says a resolution could be reached if Deal stops publicly criticizing the church.

"The pastor has asked him to resolve the issue," Musacchio said in a telephone interview. "It's fair to say the public statements are tending to cause the confusion."

Deal was one of the speakers at a November press conference calling for an independent investigation and he has since asked state lawmakers to look into the issue.

The names released in November included priests who served from the 1940s to the 1990s. The list did not include information about when church leaders were made aware of the allegations or estimates of the total number of victims.

However, the quality of the diocese's investigation was called into question by critics when the list was quickly amended after Deal and others pointed out names were missing when it was first shared. When it was eventually published, one of the priest's names was listed as dead when he was really alive.

Deal says the church's initial mistakes with releasing the list proves his calls for an independent investigation are warranted. To date, no law enforcement agency has done so in Tennessee, though Deal has maintained contact with the state's attorney general, U.S. attorneys and district attorneys.

The investigation comes on the heels of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that concluded more than 1,000 children had been abused over a span of decades by about 300 priests. This has led for calls for more independent investigations across the country.

Musacchio says the Nashville diocese is ready to cooperate with any investigation, should one be launched.

"What does it say about transparency and openness when a deacon is removed for trying to assure that the whole truth is coming out from the diocese?" says Susan Vance, one of the leaders of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests of Tennessee. "We have many problems with the dioceses of Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis."

Last minute donation saves Chicago church from auction

CHICAGO – A 120-year-old Chicago church was saved from auction after a midnight call from a group of donors, which one church official said was "a Christmas miracle."

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church held what parishioners believed would be its final service on Thursday. The church was slated to go to auction Friday after facing legal issues and about $8 million in debt when a bank foreclosed on the property.

"A lot of people thought that this was it and it was hard to see," said the Rev. Nicholas Jonas.

But church leaders said they received a phone call around midnight from a group offering a nearly $2 million donation to help the church purchase the property from the bank.

"We prayed for a miracle to happen, and we didn't give up," Jonas said. "A group of guardian angels came forward."

The nonprofit behind the donation hasn't been identified, but church leaders said at least one member of the congregation belongs to the group.

The move will allow the church to file for bankruptcy, which is enough to halt the auction and prevent the building from being demolished by an investment bank firm, according to Parish Council President Stanley Andreakis.

"We feel like kids. You wake up at Christmas and you have a present," he said. "You are like, 'I get to keep my church.'"

Andreakis said services will continue this weekend. He calls it their "Christmas miracle."

"We want to keep the church going for more generations to come," Andreakis said.

Priest criticized teenager who killed himself at funeral

TEMPERANCE, Mich. – The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit says it regrets that a priest officiating at a teen's funeral questioned whether he would get to heaven after killing himself.

Maison Hullibarger's father tells the Detroit Free Press that he asked the priest to stop talking during the Dec. 8 funeral Mass. But Jeff Hullibarger says the Rev. Don LaCuesta continued giving a critical sermon at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Temperance.

Hullibarger says some mourners left the church crying.

The archdiocese released a statement Thursday saying it's sorry that an "unbearable situation was made even more difficult." The archdiocese says LaCuesta will not preach at funerals "for the foreseeable future."

Eighteen-year-old Maison died on Dec. 4. He was an athlete and honors student.

Priest travels US spreading Gospel 1 good deed at a time

LOS ANGELES – Father Jim Sichko has a 50-state congregation and a simple mandate from the pope: Go forth and do good deeds.

That's why the Roman Catholic priest found himself standing by the drive-thru of a popular Hollywood fast-food joint on a recent windy, rain-swept afternoon buying lunch for everyone who stopped by. The next day he'd be at a gas station in Kentucky, topping off people's tanks. Then it would be on to Arizona where he would — well, he wasn't quite sure what he'd do there, but he'd think of something.

At a Starbucks last Christmas, he tipped each of the baristas $100 after learning the annual brouhaha over whether the coffee chain's holiday cups are Christmassy enough had caused tips to plummet.

Sichko is a papal missionary of mercy, a rarified group of 700 from around the world, including several from the United States, who were appointed directly by Pope Francis in celebration of a "Jubilee of Mercy" that began in December 2015 and has since been extended indefinitely.

Missionaries were assigned to travel the world spreading kindness, forgiveness, joy and mercy to everyone they encountered. Some responded by using their newly granted authority from the pope to perform confession and forgiveness of sins basically anywhere at any time. Others took to radio airwaves or retreats to offer messages of joy.

Sichko, a Kentucky-based preacher, came up with an idea different from the others and got his bishop at the Diocese of Lexington to sign off on it: He'd travel his country performing random acts of kindness in all 50 states.

He's provided groceries for half a year to a man with HIV and paid for medical services for a struggling Muslim family. This Christmas, he's headed to an elementary school in Corbin, Kentucky, where more than a quarter of the population lives in poverty. There he'll surprise the school's 100 second-graders with shiny new bicycles.

"The first question people ask is, 'Why are you doing this?'" Sichko says between bites of his double-double cheeseburger at the crowded In N' Out restaurant down the street from the Hollywood Walk of Fame where he'd just bought lunch for everybody.

"My question," the balding, bespectacled 51-year-old cleric adds with a smile, "is why not?

"My approach is not so much speaking about the word of God, although I do a lot of that, but showing the presence of God through acts of kindness that kind of shock the individual and kind of cause them to, maybe cause them to stop for a little bit," he said. "Or maybe, which I hope, to again bring kindness to others."

He is candid in saying the church itself has much work to do in restoring its image after years of priestly sex and pedophilia scandals that he calls "horrific and tragic and disgusting."

"We have a lot of atonement to be doing," he says, adding that shocking people with random acts of kindness can be a first step in that direction.

To say he shocked his lunchtime In N' Out crowd would be a bit of an understatement.

One woman, overlooking his white clerical collar, asked Sichko if he was a politician.

"No, I'm not a politician. I'm a priest," he replied, nearly doubling over with laughter.

"How did this happen," a stunned Hardy Patel asked.

"Just decided. I'm in a good mood."

"Early Christmas?"

"You got it. Pay it forward."

"I will do, I will do," Patel told him before driving off with his cheeseburger, then circling back to thank Sichko personally and take a selfie with him.

"Here's my selfie with the pope," Sichko told Luis Tostado a few minutes earlier as they posed for one by Tostado's Chevy Silverado.

Shichko's selfie shows him standing next to Francis as the pontiff cradles a bottle of 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Kentucky bourbon the priest gave him during a visit to the Vatican. He isn't sure if the pope is a bourbon man, but if not, the smile on Francis' face indicates he does have a sense of humor.

Sichko says he still doesn't know why the pontiff, who had never met him until 2015, chose him as a papal missionary of mercy. Ordained 20 years ago — "I always wanted to become a priest, ever since I was a little kid" — he was the pastor at St. Mark Catholic Church in Richmond, Kentucky, when he got the call.

Now he spends five days a week on the road paying for burgers and bicycles and handing out hundred-dollar bills, like the one he slipped 17-year-old Nicholas Vadi when he learned the teenager and his mom were celebrating Vadi's birthday at the fast-food restaurant.

"I raise my own salary, living expense, insurance, everything," Sichko says, adding he sends out "appeal letters" twice a year to parishioners and raises the rest from paid inspirational speaking engagements.

"And then I give it away," he says, laughing.

Recently he's started marketing "Miss Marie's All Natural Spaghetti Sauce" online and hopes to get it into stores shortly. But even the money from that goes to help others. It's divided among a Texas hospice that cared for his late mother, for which the sauce is named, and a church program to benefit the poor in Appalachia.

It was his mother and her sauce, Sichko says, that likely ingrained in him the desire to help others. Every Tuesday she'd whip up a batch and serve it over pasta for lunch to the hungry garbage collectors who worked the route in their neighborhood.

Now he's using it to keep her memory alive and to help spread the Gospel to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

"This is not just a Catholic thing," he says. "This is a human event."

‘Perfect love’ leads NY woman to open her apartment to homeless couple

New York City entrepreneur Sarah Lee says she has been called a "little crazy" for letting a homeless man stay in her small, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, but after a series of signs it became apparent to her that it was meant to be.

“There is a Scripture in the Bible that says ‘Perfect love casts out all fear,’ 1 John 4:18, which I believe to be true and choose to live by and I felt like I needed to offer him my place to shower, get cleaned up and stay,” said Lee, 33, the daughter of missionary parents from South Korea who reside in Nairobi, Kenya, where she grew up. Lee started helping homeless people in February, but she told Fox News that Nick Long was "the first person to receive the help and love I poured out."

It all started on August 5, when Lee headed to church, like any other Sunday morning, and met Long, a 29-year-old homeless man, panhandling on the sidewalk.

Nick and Sarah met on August 5, 2018, on a sidewalk in the Financial District. (Sarah Lee)

“I asked him how he was doing, gave him some money, and he began to tell me that his grandfather had just passed away,” Lee explained, “and I felt it in my heart to invite him to church.”

To her surprise, Long accepted the invitation, quickly hopped up and joined Lee and her friend.

“He was so moved at church, we both just cried together," Lee said. "He just felt God’s presence. We both did.”

Afterward, she decided to take him to lunch, and while they were walking they noticed they have matching cross tattoos on their hands.

Sarah and Nick noticed they have matching tattoos on their way to lunch the day they met, and Sarah told Fox News she knew it was a "divine orchestration." (Sarah Lee)

"We just looked at each other and we knew we were meant to meet that day," she said.

Long and his wife, Alexandra Kourkine, had traveled to New York from West Virginia, fell on hard times and had been homeless since May. Alexandra, who goes by Lexi, was receiving inpatient care when Lee met Long, and the couple's two children were in the custody of ACS because a family member was unable to care for them. The couple were not New York residents long enough to qualify for residence in a family shelter.

Lee was moved by Long's story, and decided to buy him dress shoes from Century 21 so he could attend his grandfather’s wake. Then she reactivated his phone at AT&T and gave him some cash. Lee said she Googled Long and verified enough information about him to trust that he was telling the truth. The two exchanged information.

“After Nick got back from his grandfather’s funeral, I really felt it in my heart to extend longer-term help and let him crash on my couch for however long was needed for him to get back on his feet. And he, of course, accepted my invitation," she said.

Another sign came when Lee’s dog Toto — a Yorkie named for the Swahili word for "child" — who normally doesn't like men, was different around Long.

When Sarah’s dog, Toto, didn’t bark at Nick like most men, she said it gave her more assurance that he was a good guy. (Sarah Lee)

"My dog didn’t bark at all," she said. "That gave me so much peace that this is okay."

A week later Lexi joined them and the couple ended up staying with Lee for about a month. Nick Long described Sarah as an "Asian nun," a label that Sarah laughs about now.

And the next week, Long got baptized and Kourkine accepted Jesus.

“I never really trusted nobody, didn’t really feel like I had love for anybody, and then one day Sarah saw me sitting on the street, and she said, ‘Hey, you wanna go to church?’ and something said, ‘Get your butt up.’” Long said. “It kind of felt like God was hugging me.”

Lexi and Nick with Sarah’s dog, Toto. They both now have jobs and are trying to get permanent housing. (Sarah Lee)

Life Center Church NYC, a ministry of JHOP, adopted Long and Kourkine into their church family and helped the couple with temporary housing.

Now Long and his wife, who have been married since 2013, have been pursuing help each week through the church, as well as professional counseling and social services.

“God’s literally taken all the hurt, pain, suffering,” Long said. “It’s gone.”

Now Long and Kourkine both have jobs as servers in New York City and are trying to raise enough money — aided by a GoFundMe Lee started —  to get permanent housing for themselves and their two kids, who are currently in foster care.

"Just to see people come around them and show them what family looks like has been awesome to see," Lee said. "Because it really takes a village; because other people had to just come around them, and the GoFundMe is a reflection of that."

Earlier this year, Lee was inspired by a minister who came to her church and shared about how she would always open the door, regardless of who the person was.

"That gave me the courage to open my door for anyone because, like, perfect love really casts out all fear — which is God," Lee said. "I think that believing that Scripture was how I was able to open my doors to Nick and Lexi."

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

Dozens of Chinese Christians detained in raid on underground church, group says

BEIJING – Chinese authorities detained at least 80 Christians in a raid on a prominent church that operates outside the umbrella of the Beijing government's official Protestant organization, an advocacy group said Monday.

Texas-based ChinaAid said the pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church and his wife were among those detained in the southwestern city of Chengdu starting Sunday night.

China has cracked down heavily on independent church groups this year as part of a move to suppress all religions. The government requires that Protestants worship only in churches recognized and regulated by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Even within that framework, the officially atheist ruling Communist Party has been seeking to rein in religious expression, including removing crosses from official and unofficial churches.

Early Rain is believed to have several hundred members who meet in different locations around Chengdu, a sprawling city with a population of nearly 15 million.

Many of those detained, including church pastor Wang Yi, were seized from their homes overnight Sunday, ChinaAid said.


"The massive overnight attack against members of the independent, renowned Early Rain Covenant Church represents a major escalation of religious persecution in China," Bob Fu, ChinaAid's founder and president, said in a statement on the group's website.

The crackdown, which extended into international Human Rights Day on Monday, shows the administration of President Xi Jinping is "deliberately making itself the enemy of universal values, such as religious freedom for all," said Fu, who is a close friend of Pastor Wang.


Tens of millions of Chinese identify as Christians, most of them Protestant, and their ranks have been increasing rapidly despite the Communist Party's efforts to limit them. Their numbers rival the membership of the ruling party, which stands at around 90 million.

Polygamous group lets go of sprawling Arizona worship center

SALT LAKE CITY – A polygamous group based on the Utah-Arizona border is letting go of the sprawling building where its members worshipped, in the latest sign that the sect run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs is crumbling and losing control of the community it ruled for a century.

The group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, now has nowhere to gather for worship services after the nearly 53,000 square-foot (4,900 square-meter) building was taken over last week as part of government-ordered evictions that have taken away about 200 homes and buildings from members who refuse to pay property taxes and $100-a-month occupancy fees.

The meetinghouse with capacity for several thousand people is valued at $2.8 million and sits on about 7 acres (2.8 hectares) in the remote red rock community, on the Arizona side of the border.

The building has a stage, a church-like setup for services and classrooms for religious education but has not been used for at least six months, Jeff Barlow said Monday. He is the executive director of a government-appointed organization that oversees a former church trust that has properties in the sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.

The FLDS doesn't have a spokesperson to comment about the development.

The sect is experiencing a major leadership void with Warren Jeffs serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides and his brother Lyle Jeffs serving nearly a five-year sentence for his role in carrying out an elaborate food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial.

Members have said they have been worshipping at home on their own.

The lack of local leaders meant nobody stepped up to take responsibility for the building when Barlow's organization warned an eviction was imminent, said Christine Katas, who lives in the community and serves as an intermediary between Barlow's organization and the FLDS. Rank-and-file members don't believe they have the authority to do so, she said.

"It's very sad for the FLDS. I've seen people cry over it," Katas said. "Both sides are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Everybody wishes there was a different outcome."

The evictions have led many FLDS members to take refuge in trailers around town or move away, while former members have purchased the homes and buildings and moved back. Group members don't believe they should have to pay for what belonged to a communal church trust that the state of Utah took over more than a decade ago amid mismanagement.

The evictions are part of the shifting demographics in the sister cities of about 7,700 people. Non-sect members last year won control of the mayor's office and town council in Hildale, Utah and nearly did the same in municipal elections in Colorado City.

The town government and police are being watched closely by court-appointed monitors after a jury found past town and police leaders guilty of civil rights violations. Sprawling homes that used to belong to Warren Jeffs have been converted into beds and breakfast and sober living centers.

Members of the group still consider their leader and prophet to be Warren Jeffs, even though he has been in jail in Utah or Texas continually since 2006.

Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.

The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the eviction of the meetinghouse.

Barlow said the board of the organization he runs, called the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, will meet on Jan. 5 in a public meeting to discuss what to do with the building, constructed in 1986, Barlow said. One possibility is converting it to a civic center, though that would likely require seeking grant funds, he said. The UEP board will make the final decision.

Dozens of faith leaders arrested at San Diego ‘Love Knows No Borders’ protest

SAN DIEGO – U.S. authorities Monday arrested 32 faith leaders marching in California toward the Mexican border during a protest organized by a Quaker group. One activist was charged with assaulting an officer and remains in custody.

More than 300 people, many the leaders of churches, mosques, synagogues and indigenous communities, took part in the demonstration at San Diego's Border Field State Park, which borders Tijuana, Mexico.

Activists have demanded the U.S. government pull the military from border communities, “respect” the human right to petition for asylum and end deportations of illegal immigrants. The group also is calling on Congress to defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection.


The rally, held on a beach divided by the border wall, was the second confrontation for U.S. agents since a caravan of more than 6,000 migrants, predominantly Hondurans, reached Tijuana last month. A confrontation with rock-throwers from Mexico led to U.S. agents firing tear gas into Mexico on Nov. 25 and a five-hour closure at the world’s busiest border crossing.

On Monday, the agents were dressed in riot gear, waiting in front of the border wall.

Protesters detained near the border with Tijuana, Mexico, on Monday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

“Step back behind the caution tape! That is where you can peacefully demonstrate,” agents announced to those who showed up to demand a more “humane” border.

“Let us give (migrants) the resources they need,” Rev. Pamela Anderson said. “We don’t need military. We need judges.”

Women detained during the protest. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The Federal Protective Service arrested 31 people while Border Patrol arrested the demonstrator accused of assault.

Daniel Burns, a protestor who made the trip from Maine, told KGTV the agents were professional.

“I sat down when they started walking toward us… they were professional,” he said.

Members of various faith groups walking on the beach toward the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The demonstration Monday was meant to launch a national week of action called "Love Knows No Borders: A Moral Call for Migrant Justice," which falls between Human Rights Day — on Monday — and International Migrants' Day on Dec. 18, the group said.


"Showing up to welcome and bless children, mothers and fathers seeking asylum from very difficult and dehumanizing circumstances is the right and humane thing to do," said Bishop Minerva G. Carcano from the United Methodist Church. "How we act in these moments determines who we will become as a nation."

U.S. police and Border Patrol holding the line at the protest near the border. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Thousands of migrants are living in crowded tent cities in Tijuana after undertaking a grueling journey from Central America to the U.S. border. Many face waiting weeks or months in Mexico while they apply for asylum. The U.S. is processing up to about 100 claims a day at the San Diego crossing, which is creating a backlog.

Earlier Monday, U.S. officials announced Monday they will start withdrawing many of the active-duty troops that President Trump ordered to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the caravan. About 2,200 of the active duty troops are set to leave before the holidays. The move by the Trump administration to beef up the military just before the midterm election was viewed by some critics as a political stunt and a waste of military resources.

Members of various faith groups showing support for Central American asylum-seekers who arrived in recent caravans. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)


Col. Rob Manning said there are currently 2,200 active-duty troops in Texas; 1,350 in Arizona; and 1,650 in California.

“Some units have completed their mission and they have already started to partially redeploy. Other units have been identified to rotate home and will be returning home over the next several weeks,” Manning said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

You can find Barnini Chakraborty on Twitter @Barnini.

Notorious gang leader now preaches Jesus: ‘I’m a radical soldier for God’

Rene Martinez spent the majority of his life in and out of jail, breaking into homes, stealing guns, dealing drugs, and getting into fights.

But today, the former gang leader, 44, better known as "Level" found a new calling preaching, praying, and baptizing others in the name of Jesus as he seeks to save them from the life he once knew all too well. The Miami Dade County native has traveled from Los Angeles to the Bronx, and he's just getting started.

“I lived a very crazy life, I did some horrible things in my life that I know it’s only by the grace of God and His mercy that I’m alive and free,” Level told Fox News. “I was gang affiliated from the 80’s to 2012, I’ve seen a lot of people die in front of me and I’ve been through a lot."

From early on, Level was plagued by demons. His mom was part of a religion that sacrificed an animal over him. “It’s just demonic. I started seeing demons when I was a kid. They haunted me my whole life.”


Rene "Level" Martinez has a documentary called "The Warrior Level" about his life from promoting violence to preaching the gospel. (Rene "Level" Martinez)

And at one point, he found his mom trying to commit suicide one night, but after she went to the hospital and got better, she accepted Jesus at a church retreat. She stopped drinking alcohol, smoking weed  and she started praying for Level but he just thought she was crazy.

As a young teenager, Level joined a gang, and on Halloween night 1989 he started what became a notorious gang known as the Latin Syndicate that grew to 300 members.

At 14, he was in a coma and almost died. Two years later he was in jail for attempted murder.

When he had his daughter, he wanted to be a good father but didn’t know how, so he started fighting to provide for his family.


Rene "Level" Martinez walking through the streets in Nicaragua before defeating Ricardo Mayorga in a fight. (Rene "Level" Martinez)

He turned to bare-knuckle fighting and became a professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, which is how he earned the name “Level,” and he defeated three-time world champion, Ricardo Mayorga, in Nicaragua.

He’s faced death numerous times, and he said in 2013, when he was recording gangster music in his garage, he heard Jesus speak to him, saying: “I spared you for such a time as this.”

“I saw my whole life flash before my eyes – when a gun was jammed in my face, when a bullet whistled by my ear – I almost died five or six times – and all my friends that died. God set me free for a reason. I repented right there.”

Rene "Level" Martinez praying with others on the streets of Los Angeles with his ministry "One Accord." (Rene "Level" Martinez)

But it wasn’t until he was baptized that everything changed in an instant.

“When I went in the water, this was April 10, 2016, that day shifted my life,” Level said. “I ain’t never been the same. Something incredible in my life happened that I can’t explain. It was Jesus, only Jesus can do it.”

And he’s been doing street ministry ever since.

He had the opportunity to lead one of his friends, Corey, out of gang life in Latin Syndicate to the Lord.

Rene "Level" Martinez baptizing his friend, Corey, who used to be in the gang Latin Syndicate with him. (Rene "Level" Martinez)

“I gave him the Word and he got baptized and I started discipling him. He’s on fire for God right now. He grew up in the projects, but now he’s in Washington State praising God in the mountains.”

Now Level has a documentary, “The Warrior Level,” on his life and ministry.

“People used to call me the Notorious Level. No, I’m the Warrior Level. I’m a warrior Level for Christ,” he added. “I was on the road to Damascus and Jesus showed up – Saul to Paul – that was me.”

He’s in the process of starting a church and looking at other ministry options to help disciple people from prison and out of gangs.

“No matter what situation you’re going through, no matter how hard you think life is, there’s a way out,” Level said, “because there’s a lot of people that didn’t wake up today, that are dying right now, and you have a chance to come out of the darkness right now and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

Largest pro-Israel group membership swells to 5 million thanks to Evangelicals

The largest pro-Israel organization in the United States just got even bigger.

Christians United for Israel, led by Pastor John Hagee, now boasts 5 million members strong.

“CUFI's growth is a direct result of the widespread support Israel enjoys amongst the tens of millions of Evangelicals in America,” Hagee told Fox News. “With God's blessing, and the hardwork of our lean but dedicated staff, we have been able to reach one million new members just in the past 10 months.”

Hagee, the pastor of Cornerstone Church, a megachurch in San Antonio, and the founder of CUFI, believes Christians and Jews are “spiritual brothers” and the relationship, mandated by God and conscience, carries eternal significance.

“I believe that the relationship between Christians and Jews is stronger than at any point in history and grows stronger every day,” Hagee said. “This relationship is vital – we worship the same God and share the same values. If a line has to be drawn, let it be drawn around Christians and Jews together.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are joined by Holocaust survivors, as they attend a Hanukkah reception, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Last night, Hagee, who was chosen to give the closing blessing at the opening the of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, celebrated Hanukkah at the White House with President Trump, whom he calls a “true friend to Israel,” alongside several Jewish leaders.

“As the story of Hanukkah tells us, the answer to darkness is light,” Hagee said, "Israel is a light unto the nations, and CUFI now has five million people in America amplifying that light.”

The pro-Israel organization is currently going after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for holding the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, a bill that provides military aid to Israel, and the Combatting BDS Act, which would penalize countries and companies that boycott doing business with Israel, a move that has received criticism from both sides of the aisle.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley received the "Defender of Israel Award" Monday night at the 13th annual Christians United for Israel D.C. summit. (USUN)

“As rockets rain down on our ally Israel, will Rand Paul stand with Israel, or will he stand in the way?” read ads in Kentucky from CUFI’s Action Fund.

While CUFI is focused on the threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations, Hagee said, “the biggest challenge we face here in America is the ignorance that enables anti-Semitism to hide in plain sight.”


He added: “BDS and so-called anti-Zionism are nothing more than anti-Semitism masquerading as legitimate political movements. We will continue to fight this anti-Semitism every day and at every turn.”

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke