In the Middle East, enemies become neighbours, who become brothers and sisters

In the Middle East, enemies become neighbours, who become brothers and sisters

Distress is the norm for many Middle Easterners at the moment. Yet the gospel is bringing transformation and beauty into damaged lives.

Most years, I go to Beirut in June, up to the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, where two of our colleagues teach. The seminary hosts the Institute of Middle East Studies consultation, at which students and staff welcome contributors from the region and guests from global churches and agencies.

This year, we faced the realities of suffering for faith, of the emigration which weakens churches, of hopelessness and despair, and of minoritisation (not just small numbers, but pressured and victimised churches). As one speaker put it: “We’re in the age of the unthinkable; the pace of change is faster than the pace of learning.”

Bible readings framed the week, from Psalms 18, 8, 27, 137 and 91, all giving powerful perspectives as we listened and learned from Middle East friends about leading churches in disorientating times.

Psalm 8 struck me. We look up at creation and feel small, but not David - he sees the wonder of the God who delights in us. In a complex, confusing world, “me and God” isn’t enough. God calls us together to be confident in his character and sure that things can change.

And how! A Lebanese pastor spoke about welcoming and serving Syrians, saying: “Enemies become neighbours, who then become brothers and sisters.”

Palestinians from Bethlehem and Gaza’s open prison took us to Jeremiah, the crying prophet, whose salty tears resist hopelessness and whose Lamentations frame their life. A foreigner works with rubbish collectors and finds Godly praise pushes back despair. The cross brings healing and reconciliation.

An Egyptian doctor caught the challenge, saying: “We have this treasure in ordinary vessels. How can we be courageous enough to witness to Christ? How can we reach out and heal our enemies?”

One guest summarised it: “Now, in the lands where things began, we’re seeing the power of the church returning. Westerners have bought into the enterprise/business model. You’ve taken us back to our roots. Thank you.”

Another, who has spent 30 years in the region, put it like this: “The mount of testing is the mount of revelation…I’ve never seen amazing things like those happening now.”

There are many opportunities to serve in the Middle East. Will you join us as on the journey?

By Mike Parker