Migrant Crises in Muslim and Christian Countries

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 63.91 million “persons of concern”, which includes refugees, people awaiting recognition as refugees, and people who have fled their homes but not sought refuge in another country. Of these, 16.1 million are refugees, that is people who fled to a different country in search of safety.

The largest number of refugees registered with UNHCR hail from Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. UNHCR figures do not include Palestinian refugees, who number an additional 4-7 million. The largest numbers of refugees are also living in Muslim-majority countries: Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan, Continue reading

Middle East Immersion: Learn. Serve. Experience the Middle East!

What is the Middle East Immersion?

The Middle East Immersion (MEI) is a six-week intensive practicum designed for students from beyond the region wanting to experience firsthand the opportunities and challenges of Christian service in the Middle East. Under the mentorship of respected scholars and experienced practitioners, students in the MEI program practice intercultural work in a dynamic context and engage in mutual learning between Christian and Muslim communities.

Centered on critically reflective practice, MEI provides students an opportunity to earn academic credit and fulfill practicum requirements while being exposed to the language, peoples and cultures of one of the region’s most vibrant cities.

MEI 2017 begins 19 June in Beirut, Lebanon, and runs through July. Continue reading

Reflections on the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria (Part 2)

By Rupen Das

This week and last week’s posts are based on a plenary presentation made at the ACCORD Annual meeting in North Carolina on Oct. 25, 2016 by Rupen Das to the 70+ Christian US relief and development member NGOs. Presented in two parts, Dr. Das previously described two observations regarding the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, exploring the contemporary state of the conflict as well as the conflict’s overwhelming complexity and the manner by which it has been fought simultaneously on three different fronts – via the military, the media, and the humanitarian sector.

I was asked to share my perspective on the Syrian conflict and the humanitarian crisis and where I see it going. There are times in history when because of the horrors of the events, the international community is forced to take stock. With the Syrian crisis, I sense we are approaching another such time, when we will need to ask ourselves – is there another way of doing things? However, we are not there yet, and probably won’t be for another few years, because the brutality of this conflict has not seeped into our consciousness yet.

Having shared two observations on the present crisis and where it is going, I wish to offer two additional observations and then conclude with a number of reflections. Continue reading

Come Follow the Crucified! An Interfaith Reflection on Easter

By Martin Accad

My father worked for the Bible Society in Lebanon for most of his life, serving as its General Secretary for over 25 years. Growing up, several of my summers were spent in the distribution of Biblical literature and in organizing viewings of the Jesus Film in Christian, Muslim and Druze villages. I have mostly fond memories of drinking icy lemonade and mulberry juice on hot summer days, listening to pleasant conversations about religion and about Jesus in the atmosphere of friendly home gatherings.

Continue reading

Will Our Local Pastors Lead the Fight? The Rampant Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers in our Midst

by Rose Khouri

Two months ago I arrived at the office expecting a normal day. I ended up driving a sobbing Kenyan woman to a shelter for abused migrant workers.

This young woman, terrified, crying, unable to make eye contact, is one of a quarter million guest workers – primarily women from East Africa and East/South East Asia – living and working in Lebanon. The abusive situation she was running away from is neither uncommon, nor surprising.  Continue reading

What Could Christians Learn from the ‘Party of God’?

by Elias Ghazal

If you are familiar with the politics of the Middle East, you might be disturbed by the title of this blogpost.  That’s because the Party of God is not some right wing pro-Christian party that serves a Christian cause in the Middle East.  The Party of God is none other than Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is classified as a terrorist organization in the US, Canada, Israel, and a number of Arab countries.  So is there anything to learn from a “terrorist” organization?

Hezbollah is an exclusively Shiite political party with a military wing, invariably promoted as the Islamic Resistance.  The story of Hezbollah is peculiar once you consider the history and context of Shiites in Lebanon.   Continue reading

The Theology of Living in the Saturdays of Life

By Rupen Das

The IMES blog is meant to be a prophetic voice from within the Arab world. It highlights issues of injustice, as well as challenging non-Arab perceptions of events in the region. Being a prophetic voice, there is often anger at the injustices that we see, and this is undergirded by a sense of sadness in understanding that this is not the way God intended the world to be. However, there is value at times in stepping back from the harsh realities of life and the sense of righteous anger and ask whether there is a theology which explains the realities of the refugee and the poor, and allows the people of God to minister to them.

Over the past several years as I have talked with Syrian refugees, I am struck by the fact that most do not wonder why God is allowing the unbearable suffering that they are enduring. All have lost their homes; many, if not most have seen members of their families killed or disappear, and now they are living in poverty and near destitution. They are terrified by their experiences. They seem to clearly understand that their suffering is caused by the war. Yet in the midst of all of that, whether they are Christian or Muslim, many are seeking a God who will comfort and deliver them. I have seen similar reactions as I have interacted with the desperately poor in other parts of the world.

I find this intriguing, as many in the western world (particularly Christians), when they go through times of trial and suffering, invariably ask the question, why is God doing this to me; why is God allowing this to happen to me?

I have wondered how much of this difference in understanding suffering and who God is has to do with one’s worldview, and for the Christians, their theology. The Creeds, which have defined our faith and set the parameters for the Church’s doctrines seem to have a blank spot when they review the key milestones of salvation. Cyril of Jerusalem writing around 350 A.D. about the role of the creeds states, “This synthesis of faith was…to present the one teaching of the faith in its totality, in which what is of greatest importance is gathered together from the Scriptures…[which] brings together in a few words the entire knowledge of the true religion which is contained in the Old and New [Testaments].”

So the “faith in its totality” that the creeds focus on is the incarnation, the Cross, the resurrection, and the ascension. They seem to imply that this is all that a Christian needs to know. They articulate the victory of Christ over evil and of a triumphant God, but are silent on what that triumph means and how we are to live and understand spiritual reality in the “in-between times” that we live in, when the Kingdom of God has come but not yet manifested in all its fullness. They don’t teach us what to believe about this present world and the reality of evil, which is only too real. They have missed the importance of the darkness and disillusionment of the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Does this exclusive focus on the victory of Christ set up expectations that His victory protects me from all evil and suffering now in the present? Maybe this is the reason for my challenges to God as to why He allows suffering in my life when supposedly He has conquered sin, suffering and death? Our scientific and technological worldview expects instant solutions to every problem we face. So if Christ has won the battle over evil and suffering and I still suffer, then maybe His victory was not real, or maybe God and the spiritual world are irrelevant to my daily life.

This focus on victory and the sense of triumphalism has little relevance to the Syrian refugee who has lost everything, or the migrant worker who is abused and treated like a slave, or the desperately poor Lebanese whose government ignores him. The Good News that Christ has conquered sin and death and offers forgiveness, and that they need to repent, has little meaning for them when they in fact feel that they have been sinned against and experience the full brunt of evil in society.

I have lately been reading Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall (The Cross in our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World) and American theologian Alan E. Lewis (Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday). Alan Lewis brings a certain poignancy to his writing as he lost his battle with cancer while writing about living in Holy Saturday and not experiencing the reality of Easter Sunday and the healing and new life promised in the Kingdom of God. He died believing in the promise of a future healing and resurrection.

On that first Good Friday the disciples had no knowledge that there was going to be an Easter Sunday, as their teacher, whom they had come to know as the Lord, died on the cross. With His death, their dreams and hopes of a better world and the coming of the Kingdom shattered. It is only later that they understood the meaning of the Cross as being the means of redemption and forgiveness of sins. That first Saturday after Good Friday was a time of desolation and mourning. It is only in this context that the unexpected, stunning, astounding, and unbelievable experience of the resurrection for the disciples on Sunday morning can be understood.

So a starting place for a theology for the global south and even parts of the Arab world is the realization that most of life is lived in the Saturdays of the salvation narrative, when dream, hopes and much of life have died. Unlike the disciples on that first Saturday who felt abandoned, God identifies Himself in Christ as being with us (Immanuel) and says that He will never leave us or forsake us. This is what the refugees, the migrant workers, and the poor understand the Good News to be, that there is a God who cares. It is only as they experience this, do they begin to dream and hope again. Unlike the disciples who did not know that there would be an Easter Sunday, we know that there is a future because of the resurrection. It is only at this point that the promises of Easter Sunday for new life and a new beginning come into focus, that one day in the social, economic and political order of society there will be justice and peace – the promise of the Kingdom of God. They look forward to the day when, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

This is not a theology of triumphalism but one of brokenness and deep humility, where out of the smoldering ashes of life God brings a new beginning.

The Great Omission: How Christian Missions Transformed the World – IMES Special Event

E-Inv_MEC2014 final

Event Description

It has become commonplace, and all too easy, to malign the efforts of the early protestant missionary movement with accusations of colonialism and shocking examples of cultural insensitivity. Whilst there have been terrible abuses in the name of ‘mission’, Robert Woodberry’s ground breaking research has provided a solid foundation for a different narrative, a narrative which cannot now be ignored.

Published in the American Political Science Review in May 2012, and based on some of the most extensive research ever conducted in this field, Dr. Robert Woodberry has been able to clearly demonstrate that ‘areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations’.

Dr. Robert Woodberry

Dr. Robert Woodberry

His extensive article ‘The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy’ is a game-changer in the study of mission history, and economic development. Woodberry suggests that perhaps we should try to learn why missionaries seem to have been so effective at promoting economic development, even though that was not their primary goal’.

The Institute of Middle East Studies is pleased to announce that it will be hosting an event in which Dr. Robert Woodberry will be presenting elements of his research. The event will take place on Tuesday 17th June at 7:30pm at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Mansourieh.

What has been the impact of protestant missionary activity in Lebanon? Protestant pastor and Church historian, Rev. Dr. Habib Badr, and Orthodox priest and Church historian, Fr. Dr. Rami Wannous, will be providing a local response to Woodberry in what promises to be an important opportunity to reflect on the role of mission within the Lebanese context and more widely.

إقصاء الإرسالية العظمى في الخطاب العام عن مفاعيل الإستعمار: كيف غيّرت اللإرساليات المسيحية العالم

لقد بات شائعاً، وسهلًا للغاية، الإساءة الى الجهود التي بذلتها الحركة الإرسالية البروتستانتية الأولى وتوجيه اتهامات الاستعمار لها وربطها بأمثلة مروعة من عدم الحساسية الثقافية. في حين أنّ ثمة انتهاكات فظيعة حدثت بإسم “الإرسالية”، فلقد قدم بحث روبرت وودبري أساسًا متينًا لروايةٍ مختلفة، وهي رواية لا يمكن تجاهلها الآن. نُشر بحث وودبري في مجلة العلوم السياسية الأمريكية في آيار/مايو 2012، وقد استند فيه إلى بعض البحوث الأكثر شموليةً التي أجراها في هذا المجال. وقد تمكن أن يُثبت بوضوح أنّ المناطق التي تواجد بها المرسلون البروتستانت في الماضي هي عامة أكثر تطورًا اقتصاديًا اليوم، وتتمتع بصحة أفضل نسبيًا، وتجد فيها نسبة وفيات الرُّضّع أقل، ونسبة الفساد اكثر انخفاضًا، ونسبة محو الأمية مرتفعة، وارتفاعًا في التحصيل العلمي (لا سيّما بالنسبة للنساء)، وعضوية أكثر قوة في الجمعيات غير الحكومية. إنّ مقالته المطوّلة “الجذور الإرسالية للديمقراطية الليبرالية” قلبت المعادلة في دراسة تاريخ الإرساليّات، والتنمية الاقتصادية. ويشير وودبري أنه ربما ينبغي لنا أن نحاول معرفة لمَ ييدو المرسلون فعالين جدًّا في تعزيز التنمية الاقتصادية، على الرغم من أن ذلك لم يكن هدفهم الأساسي

يسرّ معهد دراسات الشرق الأوسط أن يعلن استضافته الدكتور روبرت وودبري حيث سيقدّم أجزاءً من بحثه وذلك يوم الثلاثاء 17 يونيو/حزيران في تمام الساعة 7:30 مساءً في كلية اللاهوت المعمدانية العربية  في المنصورية.

ما هو تأثير النشاط الإرسالي البروتستانتي في لبنان؟ يعقّب على محاضرة وودبري القس الدكتور حبيب بدر، والأب الدكتور رامي ونّوس. سيشكّل هذا اللقاء فرصة هامة للتفكير في دور الإرسالية في السياق اللبناني وكما على نطاق أوسع

Alternate Light: Christian Witness in Imitation of Christ

This is the fifth post in the ongoing series: Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World. Follow the links to read the first, second, third, and fourth posts.

By Jesse Wheeler

Principle 2 of the Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct document states:

  • Imitating Jesus Christ. In all aspects of life, and especially in their witness, Christians are called to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ, sharing his love, giving glory and honor to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

With regard to Christian Witness, perhaps few other passages are as instrumental in shaping my personal understanding as are Christ’s own words in Matthew 5: 13-16:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built upon a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Salt

This seemingly simple statement has long mystified readers. What does it actually mean to be the salt of the earth? Yet when you think about it at its most basic, salt has a powerful, distinctive and at times overwhelming taste to it.

In my research,[1] I came to discover that salt had long been a metaphor for covenant faithfulness. So, when God rescued the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt, he made a covenant, a contract, setting them apart as his own holy people. They were to be distinct from the other nations. They were to act different, look different, and be different. They were to show the world that there was a different way to live, neither as slave nor slave driver, a way defined by love for God and love of neighbor.

And, this is exactly what Jesus is telling his disciples to be. Disciples of Christ are to offer an alternative, a new way to be human not conformed to the destructive, violent, and sinful patterns of this world. We are to be a community defined instead by self-sacrificial love. We are to be a community defined by the cross of our messiah.

We are to be salt. Yet, what happens when salt loses its saltiness? It loses its very purpose for being. It loses that which makes it distinct.

It becomes dirt.

We may construct as many colossal monuments to our own sectarian self-importance upon as many hills as we like, but if we in no way stand distinct from the destructive patterns of this world then what’s the point? We might as well keep our mouths shut and our witness to ourselves, because our faith “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Light

Yet at the time of Jesus, many contemporaneous religious groups began to take the idea of being salt to the extremes, with some groups completely withdrawing themselves from society. They were distinct. They were “holy.” But, as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 5:14, they were “holy” to the point of worthlessness.

So, Jesus tells us in verse 14:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” 

Simply imagine the sublime power of a single candle piercing, shattering the darkness of a pitch-black room. Yet if you cover the candle up, it goes dim. What’s the point?

Sometimes we religious people get so focused on holiness, on separateness that we no longer have a viable, credible witness for our communities or the world. We become so fearful of that which is different, of that which doesn’t have a “Christian” label on it, or of that which isn’t securely within our “Christian” neighborhoods and behind our “Christian” walls. We construct defenses, both ideological and concrete, to safeguard us from God’s beautiful world and the beautiful people living within it, beautiful people we have conditioned ourselves to fear (and at times even hate).

As the followers of Jesus, we are to be the light of the world. So, we mustn’t fear “the dark.”

It is imperative for us to tear down the walls, to cross the barriers, and to be present and active in our neighborhoods and cities. Having been washed clean once and for all by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have no need to fear being “contaminated” by the so called “uncleanness” of our world. We are called to fully embrace the other, those not like us, in love.

To be the light of the world is not to condemn, withdraw or shy away from the world, but to actively pursue the dark places, to willingly enter into places of pain, poverty and injustice, of sickness, of violence, and of sin…in imitation of Christ himself…in order to bring the light, love, justice, and peace of God to those people and places where it is needed the most.

As followers of Jesus, this is our mission. This is our witness.

Deeds

So in verse 15, Jesus tells us:

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Most simply, we are to hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice. We are to imitate Jesus, such that when we hear his words and put them into practice, people will see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven.

Our salt, therefore, stays salty only so long as we practice the good deeds we do in imitation of Christ, shining the light of God in and amongst our community and before the watching world. For as the watching world watches us, it is our hope that they cannot help but be drawn to the overwhelming light, justice and love of our King and savior, Christ Jesus.


[1]Key exegetical insights found in: Glen Stassen and David P Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Contexts, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 467-491, N.T. Wright, 12 Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings – Year C, (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 2000) Kindle Edition, and Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) Kindle Edition.

Christ-Centered Witness and the Proper Use of Power

By Jesse S. Wheeler

In a world busy with the misuse of power, I am continually drawn to the example of Christ who, by consistently rejecting the dual temptations of imperial compromise and armed rebellion, models for us the narrow path of self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing love.

This dual temptation is very much a universal experience, faced by millions across the world. And, it has recently been the choice presented to millions of Middle Easterners in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and beyond:

Imperial Compromise or Armed Rebellion.

For their part, Christian communities in the Middle East have not been immune, with Martin Accad, Wissam al-Saliby, Rupen Das, and Elie Haddad each presenting excellent insights as to an appropriate Christ-centered response to the crisis facing this region. The issues and insecurities involved are complex and in many respects understandable, but the manner by which Christians respond to this crisis concerns the very essence of who we are as followers of Christ and what it means to live and work as Christians in the Middle East.

When it comes to the appropriate use of power, followers of Christ should therefore be willing to:

1)     Forfeit the State

As the infinitely quotable N.T. Wright puts it, “The kings of the earth exercise power one way, by lording it over their subjects, but Jesus’s followers are going to do it the other way, the way of the servant.”[1] To align ourselves with the dictators or ruling powers of the day in exchange for communal well-being, to support drone strikes or racial profiling in the name of national security, or to support a political system that insures the sectarian dominance of one particular faction at the expense of another, or the widespread marginalization of refugee populations, is to become guilty ourselves of a regime’s tyranny or the persistent injustice of the status quo.

As Accad asks, “Can I, as a [Middle Eastern] Christian, support a dictatorial regime simply because I fear the negative consequences that might derive [for] my Christian community?” Or can I, as an American Christian, support targeted assassinations and torture simply because it “protects my freedom?”[2] Though circumstances may be complex, the answer is no.

2)    Lay Down the Sword

While the religious leaders of his day were proclaiming their undying love for their “one and only king” Caesar, Jesus was executed a traitor’s death as a political insurgent. In reality, however, Jesus consistently modeled non-violent, enemy-embracing love throughout his life, even declaring before Pilate, the regional representative of Roman imperial might, that his Kingdom is not like those of this world otherwise his disciples would fight.[3]

As human beings, Christian or not, our visceral response is to fight back when ill-treated. Yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer observes in The Cost of Discipleship, “Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.”[4]

As followers of Christ, violent conflict is NOT an option.

Nor, however, is it effective.

As recent sociological studies indicate, “the argument that using violent resistance is the only effective way to win concessions from a repressive adversary simply does not stand up to the evidence. [By a margin of 2-1, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that] nonviolent resistance has the strategic edge.” As based upon the message of Jesus AND empirical observation, “violent resistance is not only morally unjustifiable but also relatively ineffective both in the long and short run!”

3)    Engage with Politics at Every Conceivable Level…as Servants!

To reject, however, the dual temptations of imperial compromise and armed conflict does not in any way involve the denunciation of worldly affairs. We must instead be willing to engage with political systems at every conceivable level. And in the model of Christ, we must do this as servants. In the words of Christian ethicists Glen Stassen and David Gushee, “Jesus taught that his disciples are to be salt and light and can only be this as they obey him—through doing the personal, ecclesial, social and political deeds that he taught.”[5] As salt, we model for the world an alternative social ethic based upon self-sacrificial love. Yet, as light we work publicly to expose darkness wherever it’s found.

We have every obligation to abide by the prophet Jeremiah’s injunction to “seek the peace of the cities to which we are sent.” To serve God is to serve those cities, countries and regions within which we have been placed. Yet following the example set forth by Nathan we must also be willing to speak truth to power when necessary, often at great personal cost. Through it all, we Christians living in the Middle East (be we native or foreign born) have every obligation to strive toward the actualization of God’s Reign, a reign marked by justice, peace, and great joy![6]

(FYI, this is an excellent post on 5 five misunderstood political teachings of Jesus.)

4)    Acknowledge, Repent and Make Amends for Past Wrongs

Finally, we must acknowledge, repent and make amends for past wrongs. One of the most striking messages of the New Testament is to make amends with our brother or sister before even coming to God in worship. Furthermore, we are charged with examining the planks in our own eyes before condemning the speck of dust in another’s.

As human beings, we are quick to find fault in another and quick to take up arms. As followers of Christ, however, it is our duty to be self-critical and to repent, to not only acknowledge and apologize but to truly make amends for our past misuses and abuses of power. And when we do so, we have a tendency to find the violent option much less appealing. When injustice has been carried out in our name or with our tacit approval, we must repent. We must make amends. And as it turns out, this is central to my own calling as an American Evangelical living and working in the Middle East.

Conclusion:

With the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, an instrument of imperial domination becomes in biblical imagination the ultimate symbol of Divine Love and the power-reversing means by which God reigns. To follow Jesus, to take the narrow path, is to both surrender our claim to earthly domination and forfeit our right to vengeance, as we trust in the ultimate Lordship of Christ. In doing so, we offer the world a new way forward, the narrow path of self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing love.

For when we love them, our enemies cease to exist.


[1] Wright, N. T. (2012-03-13). How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (p. 139). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[2] It doesn’t.

[3] Wright, N. T. (2011-10-25). The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (Kindle Locations 5401-5402). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[4] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-04-15). Discipleship: DBW 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition.

[5] Glen Stassen and David Gushee. Kingdom Ethics. Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003) 491

[6] Ibid. 25