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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Rotation

God,

Is Lebanon simply spinning its wheels? Could success come instead by rotating portfolios?

A deadline to form a new government has passed. Agreed by political parties with France, France then said there is no deadline.

Will then the pattern of negotiation return? Will it be months until government forms?

Months in extension of Lebanese suffering.

Following US announcement to sanction their allies, Shiite parties insist on keeping the Finance Ministry.

Sunni parties say all ministries should rotate. No sect should have exclusive claim.

But finance is money, and money is power. Power to place or withhold a signature.

No government policy proceeds without it.

In possession do they dominate, God? In absence are they squeezed?

What is fair? What is right? What is good?

Not the paralysis that stymies formation. Not the insistence that prevents reform.

God, weigh the intentions of all foreign nations. Bless them accordingly, to the degree that they help.

But weigh also each sect in its various politics.

Do they seek domination? Do they need to be squeezed?

From abroad, from the people, from their consciences, God, help them find consensus.

For profit, for power, for patriotism, God, lead them to what is right.

Your principles of service, of sacrifice, of sharing.

Of salvation.

God does Lebanon run, only in circles? Is it only a gear, turned by agenda?

Plant her cedars, make them strong. May the birds of the air come and nest in their branches.

And may the people rest in their shade.  

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

How Lebanon’s First Female Militant Made Her Fight More Faithful

Image: Courtesy of Shiraz Awad

On July 31, Jocelyne Khoueiry passed away mercifully five days before seeing Beirut destroyed, again. A key player in the civil war that once tore the city apart, she spent the rest of her life trying to stitch it back together, and all of Lebanon with it.

The Beirut explosion on August 4 reminded many of the worst days of the 1975-1990 conflict. The Lebanese capital divided into a Christian east and a Muslim west, alternately shelled by militias and foreign armies vying for control.

But though far smaller in scale than the blast at the port, the deaths caused by Jocelyne’s 1976 hand grenade also shook the nation.

Born as one of two daughters in a Maronite Christian family of ten, Jocelyne grew up across the street from the Beirut headquarters of the Phalange.

Originally a Christian youth movement dedicated to an independent Lebanon, the Phalange took great offense at the state-within-a-state formed by the 300,000 Palestinians who were fleeing war with Israel. The 1969 Cairo agreement gave the refugees sovereignty to organize their own communities and continue the armed struggle, with the blessing—though not involvement—of their host nation.

The Khoueiry family provided some of the earliest fighters to the Phalange Christian militia formed in response, and a not yet 20-year-old Jocelyne enlisted with her brothers. In 1975, the civil war broke out in earnest, and several Lebanese Muslim militias sided with the Palestinians.

Jocelyne was not a practicing Christian; she preferred the Beirut nightlife. But on May 7, 1976, on a routine patrol on the roof of the Regent Hotel, she had a vision. She said the Virgin Mary appeared to her, and she saw herself kneeling in veneration. But she was also overcome with a sense of dread, and prayed that God would protect the six other female fighters stationed there with her.

On the way down from the roof, she saw advancing Palestinian militants.

The Regent sat on a dividing line between mixed and wholly Christian neighborhoods of Beirut, and Jocelyne’s squad was completely alone. While the Phalange militia’s men had anticipated defending a different hotel encampment, a 300-strong regiment of Palestinians attacked the female outpost instead.

The battle lasted six hours. Eventually, Jocelyne risked exposure by climbing back to the roof, and threw down a hand grenade that miraculously killed the Palestinian commander. The militia scattered, and the line was held.

Jocelyne became a legend. But in the years that followed, she contemplated…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on September 14, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: More Fires

God,

Lebanon needs a government. Lebanon needs accountability.

In their absence, fires burn.

An alleged welding accident sparked the most recent blaze, retraumatizing many. They opened their windows, fearing a blast.

And in poured the smoke.

Every solution yields a problem.

Those who can, flee to the mountains. Those more able, take refuge abroad.

And some board a dinghy, desperate for Cyprus. Asylum seems their only hope.

But the West complicates also.

The French demand a capable cabinet. Their deadline is looming.

The Americans sanction accused politicians. Their reach is growing.

Every proposal undoes another.

Politicians jockey over portfolios. Donated tea is given to guards. Protesters rally against all complicit.

An audit of central bank finance begins.

God, the nation needs your cooling water. The nation needs your fiery rebuke.

Help Lebanon listen. Help Lebanon heal.

So many issues require consensus. Bring leaders together to do what is right.

They differ substantially over the vision. Keep sectarian interest from making them blind.

And of personal interest, God, hold them accountable.

Every sin compounds, corrupting the whole.

Be righteous. Be just. May the intersection spare the people.

But no one is innocent before you, God. Let each repent of their fair share.

Be merciful.

Let it not be too late, God. A fire consumes without discrimination.

You are a consuming fire.

Refine, but do not devour.

Remember the beauty here you have created. Remember your image stitched into each soul. Remember the freedom enjoyed by so many.

Let every heart burn, but only for you.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Satellite Ministries Cross Boundaries. That’s Their Promise and Peril.

Image: Illustration by Nicole Xu

GOD TV celebrated too soon.

The 25-year-old Christian broadcasting corporation was granted a license for a new Hebrew-language channel in Israel, and the CEO wanted to praise the Lord.

“God has supernaturally opened the door for us to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people,” said CEO Ward Simpson, former director of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, in a video posted online. “They’ll watch secretly. They’ll watch quietly. . . . God is restoring his people. God is removing the blindness from their eyes.”

It was a public relations disaster. An outcry from Orthodox Jews and anti-missionary groups led Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council to reconsider GOD TV’s seven-year license. Council chairman Asher Biton claimed the company had misrepresented the channel as something that offered content for Christians when it was really programming designed to convert Jews.

GOD TV scrambled to take down Simpson’s video and clarify its purpose. GOD TV would not try to convert Jews to Christianity. But it would preach Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, consistent with the beliefs of Israel’s approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews. It wasn’t enough. Eight weeks after GOD TV was awarded the license…

Additional reporting by Jeremy Weber.

This article was originally published in the September 2020 print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Old Scars and New Wounds: Christians Comfort Lebanon’s Trauma

To a traumatized child, a teddy bear can make a big difference.

But as the handful of Lebanese evangelicals trained in counseling are emphasizing in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion, so can an ordinary individual.

“I don’t think the sit-with-a-psychologist model works with a communal culture,” said Kate Mayhew, country representative for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Lebanon.

“A lay person might be fearful of doing harm. But there is a lot they can do.”

There is a lot that needs to be done.

An impact assessment conducted by Strategy& in the worst affected neighborhoods of Beirut found that 3 in 4 respondents were suffering anxiety two weeks after the blast.

Nearly 7 in 10 were experiencing disturbing dreams, and 6 in 10 reported difficulty doing household chores.

And according to UNICEF, 50 percent of its respondents said their children were showing signs of trauma and extreme stress. In the poverty-stricken Karantina district directly in front of the port, one child clutched a bag of distributed bread to his chest, rocking back and forth. Though by then…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 9, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Sudan Agrees with Rebels to Remove Islam as State Religion

In signing successive peace deals with entrenched rebel movements last week, Sudan drew upon the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

“The constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’” read the text of an agreement between the North African nation’s joint military-civilian transitional council and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM–N).

“The state shall not establish an official religion.”

The declaration of principles further cements Sudan’s efforts to undo the 30-year system of strict sharia law under President Omar al-Bashir, during which Islam was the religion of the state.

The agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, four days after a more inclusive peace deal was signed with a coalition of rebel groups in the Sudan Revolutionary Front in Juba, South Sudan.

The Juba agreement established a national commission for religious freedom, which guarantees the rights of Christian communities in Sudan’s southern regions.

Sudan’s population of 45 million is roughly 91 percent Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Open Doors’s World Watch List ranks Sudan No. 7 among nations where it is hardest to be a Christian. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) interpreted the agreement even more widely: to protect…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 5, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Pulse

God,

Can there still be life?

One month since the explosion, a search and rescue team from Chile believes it found a pulse.

Buried deep under the rubble of a collapsed building in Beirut, the dig requires utmost speed and all precaution.

Just like the rescue of Lebanon.

One month since the cabinet resigned, a reform or sanction president from France believes he has a plan.

With a schedule full of specific details, his roadmap requires difficult consensus and political sacrifice.

And to welcome his efforts, political leadership rallied to appoint a new prime minister.

Like the one before him, he is a political novice without popular backing. He pledges swift formation of a small cabinet.

Can he rescue Lebanon?

The protest movement rejected him as the next desperate patchwork solution of a discredited political class. But as their street mobilization wanes, they celebrated a civil society victory.

The World Bank pulled back funding for a controversial dam. Dismissing their fears over environmental impact, a politician lamented that Lebanon would one day need the water.

God, is Lebanon’s pulse at the level of thirst?

As inflation and poverty continue to plague, give each man his daily bread.

Give wisdom to the new prime minister. Increase his authority, as he follows your roadmap. Help him judge how it fits with the French.

And may Chile discover someone alive. But it now appears the pulse has faded. No survivors.

Thank you for hope, God, however fleeting. You rallied so many Lebanese behind them.

They long for a miracle. Give them living water. Give them new life.

Utmost speed with all precaution, God. Difficult consensus and personal sacrifice.

Keep Lebanon alive.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Controversial Religion Law Tips Montenegro Election

For the first time in his life, 82-year-old Bishop Amfilohije voted in an election.

His example led record numbers of citizens in Montenegro to do the same this past Sunday.

Spurred by what he perceived as government attacks on his beloved Serbian Orthodox Church, he launched an “anybody but them” campaign against the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which held power in the Eastern European country for the last 30 years.

“[Vote] for the saints, and against the lawless,” said Amfilohije one week before the August 30 election, according to Balkan Insight. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic is accused of running a corrupt government.

Preliminary results indicate a razor-thin victory for the bishop.

The opposition coalition won 41 out of 81 seats in parliament.

The DPS claimed the largest solo share with 30, but will find itself out of power for the first time in Montenegro’s 14-year history if all coalitions hold.

“This is the freedom that so many have long been longing for,” pastor Sinisa Nadazdin told CT. His Gospel of Jesus Christ Church is located in the capital city of Podgorica, and is one of the nation’s five registered evangelical churches.

“The myth of Djukanovic’s invincibility is finally broken.”

Montenegro is the 6th-least evangelical country in Europe, according to the Joshua Project. Believers were not united behind any particular party, but many welcomed the democratic message. “This is an opportunity to get some new blood into the system…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 3, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million

Missiologists have long spoken of the explosive growth of the church in Iran.

Now they have data to back up their claims—from secular research.

According to a new survey of 50,000 Iranians—90 percent residing in Iran—by GAMAAN, a Netherlands-based research group, 1.5 percent identified as Christian.

Extrapolating over Iran’s population of approximately 50 million literate adults (the sample surveyed) yields at least 750,000 believers. According to GAMAAN, the number of Christians in Iran is “without doubt in the order of magnitude of several hundreds of thousands and growing beyond a million.”

The traditional Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Iran number 117,700, according to the latest government statistics.

Christian experts surveyed by CT expressed little surprise. But it may make a significant difference for the Iranian church.

“With the lack of proper data, most international advocacy groups expressed a degree of doubt on how widespread the conversion phenomenon is in Iran,” said Mansour Borji, research and advocacy director for Article 18, a UK-based organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom in Iran.

“It is pleasing to see—for the first time—a secular organization adding its weight to these claims.” The research, which asked 22 questions about…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 3, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Many Consultations

God,

When there are crises, it is good to confer. In the abundance of counselors is victory.

But Lebanon has so many—crises and counselors—and Job was not helped by his friends.

Promote the friends of good advice, God. Establish the leaders of decisive discernment.

Men who understand the times, and know what Lebanon should do.

There are consultations on the border. The UN peacekeeping force will stay, with mandate to inquire of tunnels. But can they monitor infiltrations? Can they curb airspace surveillance?

Can they stop the conflict?

There are consultations on the outskirts. An Arab tribe versus Shiite elements. Can they quiet the friction of religious identity? Can they satisfy families for the blood that was spilt?

Can they forge a peace?

There are consultations on the cabinet. The French president comes with a possible roadmap. Can they distribute positions to honor their sects? Can they agree on reforms to unlock the aid?

Can they form a government?

God, when the world is swirling there is need for conviction. Not certainty. Not even consensus.

Lebanon needs men of courage. Of decency. Of character. Of insight.

Find a solution to the threats in the south.

Make humble relations between every faith.

Empower a cabinet to serve Lebanon’s interest.

Lighten the burden on the national soul.

God, in your mercy, hear the cries of the Lebanese people. In your sovereignty, call forth more.

Wisdom is proved right by all of her children.

In consultation, be fruitful and multiply.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Zimbabwe Evangelicals Defend Catholics from Government’s ‘Genocide’ Accusations

Never Muparutsa

Zimbabwe, in its 40 years of independent history, has “never enjoyed life.”

And as the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) stands in solidarity this week with maligned Catholic bishops accused of fomenting genocide, its president, Never Muparutsa, told CT the Southern African government is failing to honor its biblical responsibility.

There are too many poor, amid official repression.

An excerpt from the interview:

On June 1, we called for 90 days of prayer. On the 15th day, the president called for a national day of prayer, and we supported him. We don’t necessarily blame the president for all the problems, but there is a lack of leadership to bring everyone to the table.

And this is why you stood with the Catholics?

The Catholic letter was trying to provoke discussion, not give an insult. It pointed out problems like all of us were doing. But it received such a strong backlash.

We felt that given the situation in the country, if we just stand by and watch, we don’t know what will happen. We have journalists and activists in prison. There have been abductions with perpetrators unidentified, making us all vulnerable.

So this prompted us to stand with the Catholics, because an insult to one is an insult to all.

The 90 days of prayer will end on August 29. What are your hopes for Zimbabwe, in how God might move on behalf of the church and country?

We need a better future. We have suffered enough over 40 years, having never really enjoyed life. Zimbabwe has been given many natural resources and riches, and if our leaders are gifted enough, they can exploit these for the benefit of the people.

We are praying that the church will raise up disciples, who in the future will be good politicians. We blame ourselves. We have what we deserve, because we have not done a good job.

We want God to help us achieve the Zimbabwe we want, with freedom of speech, access to the wealth of the nation, and an uprooting of corruption.

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 24, 2020. Please click here for the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Special Tribunal

God,

Fifteen years, waiting for justice.

A verdict: One guilty, three acquitted. No conclusion on the powers behind them.

Who assassinated the former prime minister? He did. But who else? Investigations proved a wide conspiracy.

And he is not talking. He is not even here. A Shiite party shields him from trial.

A Shiite party called it politicized, and would ignore the outcome.

A Shiite party—with Syria—were the powers of ‘no conclusion’.

So is it concluded? A Sunni party of the murdered prime minister vowed not to rest until the guilty are punished. Finally, there is a guilty.

They called on the Shiite party to make unspecified ‘sacrifices’.

Many in Lebanon have moved on, God. There have been numerous tragedies since then.

But what hope does the verdict in the last big explosion, give to this one?

Many are resigned. Many are leaving. Many say, ‘This is Lebanon’.

But is this time different? America says no aid until reform. Is it right to starve into solution?

Or is this time the same? Certain parties scuffled in political disputes. Is it right to scare into submission?

Fifteen years is a long time.

Thirty years since the civil war.

One hundred since existence.

What do you wish to summon from the Lebanese? Hope is hard to conjure.

Resolve? Fight? Wrath?

Is lament too passive? Is contrition too hard?

God, can you invite blessing? So many cannot even contemplate.

But so many are not needed. Let two or three agree.

Then loosen.

Shake free their chains, for three or four.

Let four or five plead on behalf of the nation.

Then five or six can pour out grace on them all.

Maybe six or seven can be healed.

Perhaps seven or eight can heal someone else.

Eight or nine could confront injustice.

Nine or ten could sweep the streets.

Ten or eleven might make a difference.

Eleven—or twelve—can change the world.

Even if one betrays. Even if one denies.

There are those who betray Lebanon, God. They choose their selfish interests. Restore them in repentance.

There are those who deny Lebanon, God. They trust only their own sect. Remove their fear, and reconcile.

Their numbers are many.

Let the few, bless.

And then multiply blessing, to draw many more.

God, twelve can be a tribunal. Lebanon is in the dock.

It is guilty, of course. All are, every nation. Evidence is overwhelming.

But your trial is not political. It is merciful.

Let these twelve proclaim your forgiveness.

Then God, loose in heaven.

Lebanon is a paradise of your creation. Let the people live it so.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Turkey Turns Another Historic Church into a Mosque

The Turkish government formally converted a former Byzantine church into a mosque Friday, a move that came a month after it drew praise from the faithful and international opposition for similarly turning Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia into a Muslim house of prayer.

A decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published in the country’s Official Gazette, said Istanbul’s Church of St. Saviour in Chora, known as Kariye in Turkish, was handed to Turkey’s religious authority, which would open up the structure for Muslim prayers.

Like the Hagia Sophia, which was a church for centuries and then a mosque for centuries more, the historic Chora church had operated as a museum for decades before Erdogan ordered it restored as a mosque.

The church, situated near the ancient city walls, is famed for its elaborate mosaics and frescoes. It dates to the fourth century, although the edifice took on its current form in the 11th–12th centuries.

The structure served as a mosque during the Ottoman rule before being transformed into a museum in 1945. A court decision last year canceled the building’s status as a museum, paving the way for Friday’s decision.

And as with the Hagia Sophia, the decision to transform the Chora church museum back into a mosque is seen as geared to consolidate the conservative and religious support base of Erdogan’s ruling party at a time when his popularity is sagging amid an economic downturn.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the move, saying that Turkish authorities “are once again brutally insulting the character” of another UN-listed world heritage site.

“This is a provocation against all believers,” the Greek ministry said in a statement. “We urge Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”

Protestant believers agree. “The Hagia Sophia is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on August 21, 2020, in cooperation with the AP. I contributed additional reporting. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

A Beacon of Hope in a Broken Beirut

Image: P. Clarkson

Sitting at his desk in the second-floor office adjacent to the historic National Evangelical Church of Beirut, Habib Badr calmly filled out the wedding registry. It was a ritual the almost 70-year-old had performed countless times over the course of his 35-year ministry.

The next day, there would be a funeral. A stalwart member of his congregation, the former head of reconstructive surgery at the American University of Beirut hospital during the years of civil war, had passed away of natural causes.

It seemed there were more funerals than weddings these days, Badr thought. But the nostalgic church would always draw young people ready to exchange their vows, even from the scattered Lebanese diaspora, in imitation of their parents a generation before.

There was something special about the lighting. On a clear day, parishioners could see the distant snow-covered peak of Mt. Sannine, towering over the capital below. Three years ago, the church replaced its eight ordinary windows. Bracketing the sanctuary pews with translucent glass depicting the three crosses of Calvary above colored stones, they aimed to remind worshipers of the ever-present Rock of Ages, upon whom the church is built.

Lebanese evangelicals don’t prefer stained glass windows with human imagery, Badr said. This serves to distinguish them from original Catholic and Orthodox heritages.

“To the missionaries, we say, ‘Go home,’” a Lebanese Greek Orthodox bishop had publicly proclaimed a generation earlier. “And to the Protestants we say, ‘Come back home.’”

But for Badr and his congregants, they were already home. The National Evangelical Church, the oldest Arabic-speaking Protestant congregation in the Middle East, was formed in 1848. Badr’s grandfather Yusuf was the first native pastor, installed in 1890.

And as if to emphasize, the circular window high above the pulpit—installed in 1998—pictured a cross above Mt. Sannine, with an image of the church in the foothills below. Originally constructed in 1869, the architecture was a blend of Scottish and Lebanese styles.

Every Sunday, the symbolism would resonate: A Reformed church, nestled like any other Lebanese home into the rugged mountainous terrain.

Badr’s wedding thoughts were abruptly shaken by a small tremor. Small earthquakes periodically rattle the small Mediterranean nation two-thirds the size of Connecticut, so the pastor stood and prepared to momentarily take refuge underneath his office doorframe. It was not a moment too soon…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 20, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christian Century Published Articles Reconciliation

The Redemption of Interfaith Dialogue

Image: Ozgurdonmaz / Getty / Ben White / Lightstock

The Egyptian delegation of Muslim sheikhs settled in for the opening session of the interfaith conference. Their mainline Protestant hosts welcomed them to the hallowed halls of a historic New York seminary with pleasantries and platitudes about shared humanity and common values.

Then the moderator startled the senior scholars from Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, with what sounded like an ultimatum: “Anyone who believes their religion is the only way is not welcome here.”

Quietly, the Muslim men rose to leave. Their impromptu translator, Joseph Cumming, a delegate from Fuller Theological Seminary, quickly intervened. “No, no, don’t be offended,” he told them. “He is not referring to you—he is speaking about us.”

Cumming is an American evangelical who has been ministering in the Islamic world since 1982. Many evangelicals, he explained to the Muslim guests, have been very critical of interfaith dialogue. They argue it cedes too much ground, reducing religion to the lowest common denominator and undermining any commitment to absolute truth. Peace is made too high a priority with so much focus on agreement, avoiding the crucial differences over salvation.

Yet Cumming was there anyway. Despite what the moderator said, he believed it was possible—even important—for evangelicals to participate in interfaith dialogue without losing any of their passionate commitment to the truth of the Bible.

The Muslim scholars, reassured, sat back down. And the conversation continued. It continues still. That conference was nearly two decades ago, and Cumming has remained engaged in interfaith dialogue. He has dedicated the second half of his Christian ministry to maintaining respectful dialogue with Muslims and overcoming stereotypes between Christians and Muslims while remaining as passionate as ever about bearing witness to his faith in Christ. Cumming didn’t always think this way. He had to be converted to the possibility of interfaith dialogue. At first he thought it was just…

This article was first published in the July/August print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full article.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Can ‘Abraham’ Bring Peace to the Middle East?

In forging the first Arab-Israeli peace deal since 1994, President Donald Trump paid homage to a patriarch.

He named the historic normalization the “Abraham Accord.”

The familiar Bible character “is referred to as ‘Abraham’ in the Christian faith, ‘Ibrahim’ in the Muslim faith, and ‘Avraham’ in the Jewish faith,” explained David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel.

“And no person better symbolizes the potential for unity, among all these three great faiths.”

In signing the accord, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab nations to make peace with Israel. Telephone lines are already being connected between the Gulf nation and the Jewish state, with preparations underway to exchange embassies.

It may open a new era. Fellow Gulf nations Bahrain and Oman signaled their support, while Saudi Arabia did not oppose it.

“This is a once-in-a-generation diplomatic achievement, but I predict it will be the first, not the last,” said Johnnie Moore, an evangelical leader engaged in behind-the-scenes advocacy. He and bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg led an evangelical delegation to the UAE in October 2018 (as well as two delegations to Saudi Arabia), and Moore has personally visited three more times.

“The Abraham Accord,” he said, “will prove to be the moment when the grievances of the past no longer overpowered the promises of the future in the Middle East.” A hero of faith to both Christians and Jews, ‘Ibrahim’ is already a central figure in the UAE. The nation…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 17, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: State of Emergency

God,

The nations encircle. The government falls. The army entrenches. The investigation begins.

Beirut still smolders.

There is great need for leaders, and Lebanon has many. Bless and guide them all.

The Christian president will not cede sovereignty, to allow outsiders assigning blame for the blast.

The Shiite speaker of parliament increases military jurisdiction, to quiet the streets.

The Sunni prime minister resigns his post, to protest corruption preventing reform.

But each sect has alternatives.

A Christian in opposition calls for early elections.

A Shiite in support accuses some of stoking civil war.

A Sunni in waiting backs an international probe.

There is another probe pending. A UN tribunal will soon give verdict on who killed his father.

While fallout continues over international peace. Two regional powers normalize ties.

God, the lines are sharpening. Too many crisscross the cedars.

Let truth be made known, whoever pronounces it.

Let order prevail, in each disciplined heart.

Let protest find outlet, till transparency comes.

God, shield the nation from foreign agendas. Welcome the aid, with all expertise.

But let every decision come from consensus. Let every decision conform with your will.

Hold accountable the guilty. Marginalize the manipulative. Redeem all repentant long given to cheat.

Lift up the nation through prayer and humility. Bring forth her leaders to do what is right.

At every level of leadership, God, give clarity. Give courage. Give conviction.

Give compassion.

Lebanon is truly a state of emergency.

Be its healer. Be its rescue.

Be its God.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Why Many Christians Want to Leave Palestine. And Why Most Won’t.

In Bethlehem—the little town of Jesus’ birth—only 1 in 5 residents today are Christians (22%). A decade earlier, more than 4 in 5 were believers (84%).

The steep decline is reflected in other traditional Christian cities in the Holy Land. In Beit Jala, the Christian majority has fallen from 99 percent to 61 percent. In Beit Sahour, it has fallen from 81 percent to 65 percent.

When the Ottoman era ended in 1922, Christians were 11 percent of the population of Palestine—about 70,000 people. According to the 2017 census by the Palestinian Authority (PA), they now number 47,000—barely 1 percent.

There are competing explanations of what—or who—is to blame. Some identify the Israeli occupation. Others describe Muslim chauvinism.

The overwhelming answer, according to a new survey of local Christians by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), is economics.

Nearly 6 in 10 respondents identified this as the main reason they consider emigration (59%).

The poll, commissioned by the Philos Project, a US-based initiative promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, surveyed 995 Christians in 98 Palestinian locations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in January and February.

Compared to the economy, other cited reasons paled in significance.

Security conditions were named by 7 percent. Another 7 percent cited better education. And another 7 percent blamed the political situation.

Only 4 percent blamed corruption, while 3 percent gave a religious explanation.

But this particular question measured the primary driver of desire to leave the Holy Land. What secondary factors might be involved? Philos “affirms the right of all Christians to…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 4, 2020. Please click here to read the full text, and here for the Arabic translation.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Three Explosions

God,

The city is reeling. And with it the system?

Whether from negligence or sabotage, hundreds of thousands are hurting.

You are a God of truth. If the reasons behind the massive explosion are not yet known, reveal them.

You are a God of justice. If the people behind the terrible suffering are not yet identified, expose them.

But you have not been idle.

You are a God of compassion. Beirut is healing through an explosion of kindness.

You are a God of righteousness. Beirut is heaving in an explosion of anger.

To what end?

For neither has evil been idle.

Dozens are dead. Thousands are injured.

A spirit of paralysis grips too many. A spirit of division seeds mistrust. A spirit of destruction animates several. A spirit of accusation seeks protection from fault.

Manipulation. Self-interest. Revenge. Hatred. Greed. Fear. Sin.

Me.

Everyone is guilty, God. All can be redeemed.

Some are more guilty than others. Bring forth the men who will lead with repentance. Promote women of principle who honor their charge.

But beyond individuals, there is something that binds them.

Is it the system? Must Lebanon sideline its sects, or are they its strength?

You are a God of order. Keep the nation from chaos and guide to consensus.

You are a God of freedom. Inspire authority to let loose inspiration; create an environment that honors its gifts.

Let there be a fourth explosion, God.

An explosion of blessing—of hope and of life.

And then, let it settle in quiet humility.

Bandage Lebanon’s wounds.

Build up its strength.

Sweep up its glass.

Imagine the message if all come together.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

How I Explained Beirut’s Explosion to My Kids

Credit: Julie Casper

Our family was sitting down to dinner when the walls rumbled.

Assuming it was just an unusual surge of electricity preceding one of Lebanon’s frequent power outages, we readied to say our prayers.

And then came the boom, and the whole house shook.

“An earthquake?” I wondered, as we rushed our four children, ages 7 to 13, outside to presumed safety. But there we found neighbors, anxiously skimming through Twitter on their balconies, shouting out the news.

Beirut had just suffered one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in human history.

My nerves for my family’s security settled when I learned it was not an earthquake. But then the political nerves took over.

Was it an assassination? An Israeli strike?

Reporting for Christianity Today from Cairo during the Arab Spring, our family had become somewhat accustomed to instability. But that was my realm: attending demonstrations, visiting attacked churches. Yet there was always a sense that life carried on, like the ever-calm waters flowing in the nearby Nile River, where we would often board a felucca boat and float in peace.

Our year in Lebanon has been much different. Within two weeks of our arrival…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 7, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.