GATHERING OUR STRENGTH TO BELIEVE IN CHANGE FOR MID-EAST CHRISTIANS
As turmoil continues across the world, Phil Hilditch, Faith and Development Specialist with the SAT-7 International team, shares his reflections on our role as Christians and the everlasting encouragement and call to action we have been given by God.
Martin Luther King Jr. is famously quoted as saying, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Like the German pastor Martin Niemoller in his poem “First they came”, the American minister and civil rights leader appealed to his listeners to speak out and take a stand.
Today, a cacophony of voices ring out across the Western world, unpacking a host of important and highly emotive matters such as systemic racism, police brutality, climate justice, and abuse and exploitation in the movie industry, in sports and indeed, even in the Church. And all of this against a backdrop of a worldwide pandemic, global food insecurity, crumbling economies, mass displacement, and geo-political tensions boiling on multiple fronts.
Amid all of this, how should the Church respond to the plight of their brothers and sisters in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)? July 2020 marks one year since “Truro”, the United Kingdom Government’s Review into persecution of Christians that found the persecution of Christians is “coming close to genocide” in the Middle East. But is there space for another voice? Is there any point in adding another decibel to the white noise?
Faced with these competing needs, are we emotionally and physically exhausted to a point where our capacity for empathy has been spent? Perhaps we would much rather scroll past and switch off.
It was in such a daze and state of despondency that the prophet Ezekiel found the People of God while in exile in Babylon. In Ezekiel 37:1-14, the Sovereign Lord bizarrely tells the prophet to command a valley of dry bones to live. Ezekiel does – and even more bizarrely, they do. This vision is recounted in aid of convincing the people of God to expect the unexpected and accept the plausibility of the absurd – that change can happen. That moving beyond mere survival is possible.
For those of us living on this side of the empty tomb, we also have the passages of Matthew 5:3 and John 16:33 to propel us on. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 5:3 highlights nicely the hope we find in the midst of trouble: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and His rule.” And the words of Jesus urge us to regain our courage. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Therefore, when we hear of the disappearing Christians of the Middle East, we need not be overwhelmed by this and the many other competing needs. Our job is to be faithful, leaving the success up to God. When met with the stark realities of Christians living in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, and the like, we must encourage the Church in MENA to press on, as it has always done, in the face of adversity. Likewise, we, the Church outside of the MENA must energetically participate in the story of our brothers and sisters in through prayer, advocacy, financial support, and any other means at our disposal.
In this way, though we may feel at the end of ourselves, because of Christ we may be able to answer affirmatively when asked, “Did you defend the weak? Did you uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed and rescue the weak and needy?” (from Psalm 82).
We can take on the cause of others, speak out against injustice, and accept the plausibility of the absurd – that change can happen, even when the situation feels as hopeless as a valley of dry bones – so that life in all its fullness may be breathed into the people of God, in the MENA and everywhere.