Engaging in ministry in the Middle East necessitates not only a Gospel-shaped vision and unwavering dedication but also the aptitude and tenacity akin to that of a funambulist—a tightrope walker navigating the precipice that lies ahead.
In such a region, one is compelled to undertake a precarious balancing act, perpetually oscillating amidst competing realities and conflicting emotions, between the realms of hope and despair, realism and faith, anger and compassion.
The art of this tightrope journey becomes even more treacherous when ensnared within conflicts of profound complexity, emotionally explosive in nature, and infused with the smell of bloodshed pervading the atmosphere, as is notably exemplified in the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In an era of pronounced polarization and a media landscape devoid of nuance, one finds it exceedingly challenging to engage in candid discourse concerning this matter, let alone open the subject.
So, what ought we, as ordinary Christians unacquainted with the corridors of power, to do in such a predicament?
How shall we, as an organization, even begin to chart a course for the forthcoming season of ministry, such as we started two weeks ago during the Together consultation, amidst an environment steeped in uncertainty and anguish?
Perhaps, beyond the confines of meticulous planning, what we truly require is a gospel posture—an attitude, if you will—that would help us navigate these turbulent yet rewarding waters of the Middle East.
As we contemplate this formidable task, we must rely upon three walking aids: compassionate tears, graceful truth, and unwavering service.
Given the complexity of this region, its ceaseless tragedies that echo through the annals of history, and the compassion deficit that afflicts it, we must commence with tears.
Tears shed in response to the heart-wrenching sight of a mother who has lost her children. Tears for families who reside under the perpetual specter of uncivilized, and civilized, terror alike. Tears for the children who are being reared in blind hate and driven by despair.
The importance and significance of these tears find expression in the verses of Yohanna Katanacho, Dean of the Nazareth Evangelical College, as recently quoted by our esteemed friend Tony Peck:
“Our tears are the bridge between brutality and humanity.
Our tears are the salty doors that help us see another reality.
Our tears confront soulless nations and dry mentality.
Our tears are the ditch that the rivers of animosity hold.
Blessing those who curse is the way to authentic spirituality.
Shedding tears of mercy and compassion is the true mercy.
Pray with tears to spread equity.
Followers of Jesus: Crying is now our responsibility.
But cry not only for your friends, but also for your enemies.”
However, we must not stop at the shedding of tears; we need truth.
Christians are called to pursue truth, irrespective of how scarce a commodity it has become, and to proclaim truth, regardless of the daunting challenges it presents. For truth will enable us to understand what is at stake rather than blindly justify or excuse.
The crux of the matter is not merely a matter of factual accuracy but rather how these very facts are understood through the lenses of deeply entrenched and conflicting narratives that persist from one generation to the next: what is an-Nakba -catastrophe in Arabic- for some is Independence Day for others.
And the truth is that we desperately need the restoration and the transformation that only the Gospel can offer, for the sword can never provide a sustainable solution. As Scripture tells us, “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Moreover, when we do embark upon the path of truth-telling, prudently discerning the timing and context of this perilous endeavor, our engagement must be marked by both boldness and grace. Silence, often, serves as the enabler for myriad injustices, as individuals opt to remain mute, dreading the possibility of unsettling or disconcerting those who unwittingly harbor false claims or misconceptions.
Finally, in moments such as this, when things are not what they are supposed to be, Christians ought to be recognized for their acts of unwavering service, even to their enemies. Christians should not be problem talkers, but problem solvers within the boundaries of their abilities, talents, and entrusted resources.
The recent conflict underscores that unresolved issues do not simply vanish when brushed under the rug. They have the habit of resurging when we least expect them, and their resolution, when addressed reactively rather than proactively, is usually very costly.
This is why both our actions and inactions carry consequences. What we articulate or withhold, what we undertake or abstain from, carries profound implications.
Our prayer is that the fruits of faith borne of our endeavors, may manifest as sweet Thimar – ie fruits in Arabic -, dripping with justice and compassion, rather than as sour grapes, tainted by bitterness.
While God’s will remains veiled in obscurity upon certain matters, on others, it shines as bright as the sun itself: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8.
It seems as though the initial 25 years of ministry have served as a preparation to walk the tightrope with a Gospel posture that brings glory to His name in a region in which we are committed to stay, serve and bear abundant Thimar.
Pray for THIMAR-LSESD’s Ministry on the Ground
THIMAR-LSESD works towards supporting people who are struggling to afford medications and basic needs, with and through local churches and community-based organizations within their vicinity and beyond.