What the Poor Have Taught Me?

By Rupen Das*

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 2009 study by Tomas Rees on the relationship between poverty and religiousness found that personal insecurity (due to stressful situations, such as poverty) was an important determinant of religiosity.[1] The poor tend to be more religious.

I find the faith of the poor both intriguing and challenging. Intriguing – because I wonder why the poor would turn to God and Christ? Challenging – because they want to know the reality of God made possible in Christ – not a message or a theological proposition.  I would have imagined that they would be angry at God, and blame Him for their circumstances –  for their poverty and the injustices they face. Why would they ask God (or anyone for that matter) for forgiveness, when it would seem that they have been the ones who have been sinned against? From my perspective, it seemed that God has betrayed and failed them.

In a recent project, we asked the poor why they chose to follow Christ.  Continue reading

Middle East Consulation 2017 – The Church in Disorienting Times: Leading Prophetically through Adversity

MEC 2017b Flyer Final

CLICK HERE TO APPLY

Places at MEC 2017 are filling up fast. If you are planning to attend MEC this year, and have yet to apply [or have had your application approved but have not gone on to register] please do so as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

IMES’ Middle East Consultation [MEC] has developed a fantastic reputation for providing a unique context in which the MENA and global church can come together to address the critical issues facing the Body of Christ in the context of the Middle East and North Africa. As always, MEC will include creative presentations from diverse perspectives, practitioner interviews and witness accounts, roundtable discussions, workshops, interfaith encounters with leading Muslims leaders, Biblical reflections, prayer and worship, and an opportunity to visit a local community to see firsthand some of the challenges faced by certain communities in the region.

However, we are changing our methodology slightly for 2017. Continue reading

Social Capital: Seeds of Friendship Growing into a National Symbol for Reconciliation

By Manal el-Tayar

Her voice quivered as she started speaking. One could sense how intimidating it must have felt for a twenty-year-old to address a crowd of religious leaders, politicians, ambassadors, civil society leaders, academicians and other notable delegates about her vision for a united Lebanon. As Alaa spoke, she glimpsed back a couple of times at Jennifer who stood by her. Jennifer’s beaming smile reassured her friend. Slowly, Alaa grew more confident in her speech and her words resonated with the audience.

The contribution of Alaa and Jennifer to the Celebration of the Annunciation[i] in downtown Beirut on Sunday 26th of March 2017 seemed to be the highlight for many in attendance. “You are the hope of the future,” said one ex- combatant in the civil war: Continue reading

A Reflection on Traffic through a Theology of Sin

By Caleb Hutcherson

Have you ever thought about your theology of sin in the middle of being stuck in traffic? That chortling I hear doesn’t faze me. And of course, you are right. My friends and family chuckle, too, at my goofy probing of the everyday with theological lenses. But, I think there is something to be gained when we recognize and reflect on how the actions and practices of everyday life are, in a very real sense, a form of speaking about God. Reflection can be short or long, focused or philosophical. But the practice of reflecting theologically on the everyday can help us to grow to be more mindful of the ways that our speaking about God (in words and actions) shapes and is shaped by life.

This particular reflection burst through the mind-bending frustration that built as I once again sat in traffic in Beirut, trying to get home from work. Continue reading

Re-Reading Our Times

The 1970s were defining for me. Those were my high school years. Growing up between Lebanon and the US gave me the opportunity to experience those formative high school years cross-culturally. I was a mid-western boy living in a Middle Eastern home. Recently, I’ve decided to reread some of my old high school English literature readings to see how my viewpoint has changed over the years.

One book, in particular, which caught me by surprise, was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, written in 1899. Heart of Darkness is considered to be no. 32 on the list of the 100 all-time best English novels.[1] I love Conrad’s evocative use of English, which wasn’t his first language. In an economy of words, he takes us on a journey of the consequences of unbridled Empire. 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 1)

By Rupen Das

This post is 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. It is presented here in two parts.

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. In recent history, the Biafran crisis of the late 1960s was one such time, out of which Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) was formed and a new way of responding to humanitarian crises began to take shape. The Rwandan genocide was another such time. Our collective failure resulted in the Red Cross Code of Conduct and the Sphere Standards.

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. Continue reading

The Changing Seasons of Politics: Coming to Terms with the Aoun-Trump Axis

By Martin Accad

When the global community began to realize that the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ was growing bloody and violent with the turn of events in Syria, many journalists and political analysts – as well as the common pun-lover – began to refer to it as the ‘Arab Winter’ or the ‘Arab Fall.’ But I seriously doubt whether anyone expected that the orange-colored tree leaves of the current Fall season would manifest themselves as they have this month of November from Beirut to Washington, DC. Orange has indeed come upon us – from the orange logo of President Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement to the vastly mediatized orange hair-do of President-elect Donald Trump. Continue reading

Do We Lack the Moral Imagination? Part Two: Seeing the Other

By Suzie Lahoud

 What man. . . if with a scrupulous attention he searches all the recesses of his soul, will not perceive that his virtues and vices are wholly owing to different modifications of personal interest? . . . For after all interest is always obeyed; hence the injustice of all our judgments. -Helvetius[1]

The vision of humanity is inherently myopic. We are barely able to see the needs of our neighbor in the house, apartment, or even cubicle beside us; let alone to recognize the needs of our neighbor across borders. Yet that is precisely what Christ calls us to do.

Humanity’s natural proclivity is to act, and increasingly so at the collective level, primarily in its own self-interest. However, despite our innate failings, there is a means by which this propensity may be transcended. Continue reading

Do We Lack the Moral Imagination? Part One: Demasking the Scapegoat

By Suzie Lahoud

“A common danger unites even the bitterest enemies.” – Aristotle

I was recently having a chat with the water filter guy, who is a fount of information. He was bemoaning the fact that, as a former procurement manager in Dubai, he had not been able to find a suitable job after returning to Lebanon. This, he attributed to the large influx of Syrian refugees who had flooded the job market. Moreover, he seemed none too pleased upon learning that I work for a humanitarian organization serving (though not exclusively) this same refugee population.

What struck me about this encounter was not its particularity, but rather, its seeming ubiquity. Continue reading