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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Moroccan Christians Welcome End of a Decade of Islamist Government

Man walking past voting wall, Marrakesh, Morocco

For the first time in his life, Rachid Imounan cast a vote—and overturned Morocco’s Islamist-oriented government.

He is not alone.

Turnout surged to 50 percent as liberals routed the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which led the North African nation’s parliament the past 10 years. Its share of the 395-seat legislature dropped from 125 to 13.

The PJD finished eighth overall.

“We thank Jesus, the Islamists are gone,” said Imounan, a church planter who lives in the southern city of Agadir. “God answered our prayers, and now we have the government we wanted.”

Aziz Akhannouch of the National Rally of Independents (RNI) was sworn in as prime minister by King Mohamed VI on September 11, after his party captured 102 seats. He is tasked with forming a coalition government to guide Morocco through its current economic downturn.

A constitutional monarchy, Morocco has held multi-party elections since its independence in 1956. But to stave off protests during the Arab Spring, in 2011 the king instituted reforms and transferred significant power to the prime minister.

Mohamed VI retains final say over several government positions, however, and is revered as “Commander of the Faithful” as a direct descendant of Islam’s founding prophet Mohammed.

Christians described “liberal” parties as those that favor freedom—excepting challenges toward the person and position of the king, whose authority is respected by all political entities. Islamists, meanwhile, wished to impose sharia law, cover women, and remove pork and alcohol from neighborhood supermarkets.

“Akhannouch is a businessman. Whether you worship the sun or the moon, he doesn’t care,” said Youssef Ahmed, one of Morocco’s few second-generation Christians.

“He won’t persecute anyone.” Open Doors ranks Morocco…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on September 21, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Asia Christianity Today Published Articles

Dari TV Host: Afghanistan Will Now See ‘Pure Christianity’

Shoaib Ebadi

Afghanistan and its neighbor Iran share the Persian language. Now that the Taliban will rule from Kabul again, might the countries begin to also share a spiritual trajectory?

In 1979, the shah of Iran was overthrown in an Islamic revolution. The crackdown that followed ended the Western Christian presence in the nation. Yet today the Iranian church is one of the fastest-growing in the world, as the ruthlessness of the mullahs led many to sour on Islam and some to find new faith in Jesus.

Satellite TV ministry played a great role in spreading the gospel in Iran, and continues today across the border in Afghanistan. Christian ministry SAT-7 began broadcasting in 2002 in Farsi, the Persian dialect spoken in Iran, and in 2010 Shoaib Ebadi began its first prerecorded programming in Dari, the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan. His show Secrets of Life went live in 2014, and today is accessible across the whole nation.

The 55-year-old Ebadi was born in Afghanistan but became a Christian in 1999 as a refugee in Pakistan. The following year he emigrated to Canada, and today heads Square One World Media, producing Christian media in various languages around the world.

He told CT about the history of the Afghan church, the impact of the US military upon it, and his hope that “pure Christianity” might now gain a hearing in his homeland.

Some statistics put the number of Christians in Afghanistan at 8,000. Can you give us a brief history of the church?

There was a Protestant church building constructed in 1970 in Kabul during the time of the shah, but it was destroyed when the monarchy was overthrown in 1973. The Catholics had a church in the Italian embassy since 1933. But these churches were only for foreign nationals, not Afghans.

There were a handful of believers in the 1950s, as American professionals came to Afghanistan and opened an eye hospital and a technical college. Later on, in the 1990s, tentmaker missionaries came as English teachers and NGO workers. And I was in a fellowship of about 30–40 Afghan believers in Pakistan. Most eventually went to the West.

These are probably the first Afghans to know Christ in the modern era, but God only knows.

So how did the Afghan church develop after the Americans came in 2001?

Some of the believers from Pakistan, as well as other refugees who fled to Iran, went back to Afghanistan after…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on August 30, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Do Flags Belong in Churches? Pastors Around the World Weigh In.

Image: Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images: Anthony Choren / Karl Fredrickson / Joseph Pearson / Unsplash

This year, July 4 falls on a Sunday. As American churches consider how to recognize the holiday during the service, we decided to revisit a question CT posed to American church leaders back in 2013. Here’s what their counterparts from 11 different countries have to say in 2021. Answers are arranged from yes to no.

Egypt: Sameh Maurice, senior pastor, Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church, Cairo

Yes, I agree in displaying the flag of my country in the church, the flag of my country only and not other countries, as it is a spiritual and not a political orientation.
The purpose of raising the flag is to keep my heart united with my people in prayer for the salvation of their souls. It’s to remember that I must stand in the gap for my people that they may know the Lord and see the light of the gospel, and to tell my country and my people how much I love them and pray for them.

Jordan: Hani Nuqul, pastor, Evangelical Free Church in Jabal Al Hussein, Amman

I strongly believe that each church building should post the flag on the building and in the sanctuary. As an elder and pastor, we made this decision a few years ago to do so in order to show our loyalty as citizens to the country of Jordan. We believe that by doing so, we are a good example and testimony to others and also following the teachings of the Bible.

As the Evangelical Free Church council, we have taken the decision to put the Jordanian flag in all local churches that belong to the council along with the church logo and flag.

This article was originally published by Christianity Today on July 2, 2021. I contributed additional reporting. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Fortress Europe: As Islam Expands, Should the US Imitate the ‘Christian’ Continent?

Image: loeskieboom / iStock / Getty Images

Within three decades, Muslims may comprise 14 percent of Europe.

The face of the historically Christian continent, tallied at 5 percent Muslim in 2016, may dramatically change by 2050 if high migration patterns hold.

And as Muslim families have a birth rate one child higher than the rest of the continent, the Pew Research Center projects nearly 1 in 5 people will be Muslim in the United Kingdom (17%), France (18%), and Germany (20%). Sweden is projected to become 30 percent Muslim.

And Austria, with its 20 percent projection, is on guard. The majority-Catholic nation recently published an online Islam Map, to identify mosques and other centers of politicized religion.

According to European religion experts, however, one-third of European Muslims do not practice their faith.

Conversely, this suggests that two-thirds of Muslims believe in and practice Islam. Contrast this with the median figure of 18 percent of Western Europeans (across 15 nations) who attend church at least monthly and the median figure of 27 percent who believe in God according to the Bible.

Could the fear of some European Christians be plausible: an eventual Eurabia?

Or is it Islamophobia to say so?

Or, to the contrary, should Americans look across the ocean and consider French separatism laws and Swiss burqa bans in pursuit of a shared secularism?

For concerned evangelicals, Bert de Ruiter has his own questions—about their own faith.

“If Islam is taking over Europe, is that a problem?” asked the European Evangelical Alliance’s consultant on Muslim-Christian relations. “Will God suddenly be in a panic?” Muslims will…

This article was originally published on June 3, 2021, at Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Streaming in the Desert: Middle East Discipleship On-Demand

Courtesy of SAT-7

Growing up in civil war–era Lebanon, Rita El-Mounayer’s family often had to hook up the television to a car battery.

Last month, her ministry launched the first Christian on-demand streaming service in the Middle East.

“Television was our only refuge during the war, and was a communal activity,” said the international CEO of SAT-7. “This is what we will miss with , but we have to be where the technology leads.”

SAT-7 is a pioneer in the field. Beaming Christian satellite TV programming into the Arab world since 1996, it now hosts channels specializing also in Turkish and Farsi.

In 2007, it launched a dedicated kids channel. Ten years later, a separate academy brand was created to provide schooling to Syrian refugees and later to assist with at-home COVID-19 education.

Each is now available at SAT-7 PLUS, through web and mobile apps accessible via Android or iOS. Approximately 20 percent of the broadcaster’s 25 years of content can be streamed, along with all current live programming.

“In Morocco, it used to be that viewers had to wait for days until the Christian teaching program was scheduled,” El-Mounayer said.

“Now, they can binge watch.” While the advantages for the ministry are obvious, the drawback lies in…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on March 18, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Interview: The Middle East Church Must Resemble Salt, not Rabbits

Image: Courtesy of The Middle East Council of Churches

Pope Francis will make the first papal visit ever to Iraq in March to encourage the dwindling faithful. War and terrorism have hemorrhaged the nation’s Christians, but he hopes they might return.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, Michel Abs, recently selected as the new leader of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), agrees with the pontiff. But in an interview with CT, he said that schools and hospitals have distinguished Christians, who he hopes might even increase in number—and quality.

And Protestants, he said, have a lever effect that raises the whole. Representing only 7 percent of the regional Christian population, they have a full one-quarter share in the council.

The MECC was founded in 1974 by the Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox denominations. Catholics joined in 1990 to complete its diverse Christian mosaic.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2010 Global Christianity report, Orthodox believers represent 65 percent of the Middle East’s Christians, with Catholics an additional 27 percent.

But it was the Protestants who helped give birth to the ecumenical movement that joined them together. The 1934 United Missionary Council became the Near East Christian Council in 1956, and the Near East Council of Churches in 1964.

It was renamed the Middle East Council of Churches when the Orthodox joined 10 years later. Today it includes Protestant church associations in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Sudan, Iran, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Council leadership rotates between the four denominations. Last September, Patriarch John X. Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church nominated Abs for the Eastern Orthodox four-year term. (Protestants are next in line.)

“Despite the difficulties we face today, being one is the solution,” Abs said in his acceptance address last October.

“This vine that the Lord planted two millennia ago will continue to spread, to include ever-growing areas of the planet.”

A Lebanese Orthodox, Abs represents the ecumenical diversity of the Middle East. His father was educated by Protestants, and married a Catholic. An economist and sociologist, he is a lecturer at the Jesuit St. Joseph’s University in Beirut.

CT interviewed Abs about the regional influence of Christians, the nature of persecution, and the witness of the gospel in the Middle East:

Congratulations on your election as general secretary. From this position, how do you describe the current situation of Christians in the Middle East?

It has been a difficult decade. The emerging movement of fundamentalism has harmed both Christians and Muslims. Everyone is in danger. We have to deal with turbulent times with much wisdom and solidarity. We need a long-term vision.

But I don’t think we will be eradicated from this area. Maybe we will diminish in numbers, or increase later on, but numbers are not the most important thing, despite their importance and their psychological effects.

The quality of their presence is important too. Christians are known for the quality of what they do. With respect to others, they developed efficient institutions, like universities, schools, and media. This helps, but I am still concerned with…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 19, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Christmas Unites a Divided Iraq

A picture taken on December 30, 2016 shows people walking past Christmas and New Year’s decorations displayed outside a shopping mall street in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. / AFP / SAFIN HAMED via Getty Images

Seventeen years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the fractious Iraqi nation—divided mostly between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish Muslims—remains unable to agree on a national day.

But they can agree on Christmas.

Last week, the parliament unanimously passed a law to make Christmas a “national holiday, with annual frequency.”

The latter phrase gave great “joy and satisfaction” to Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church. Last October, he presented an official request to Iraqi President Barham Salih to make Christmas a permanent public holiday.

“Today Christmas is truly a celebration for all Iraqis,” said Basilio Yaldo, bishop of Baghdad and Sako’s close associate. “This is a message of great value and hope.”

In 2008, the government declared Christmas a “one-time holiday.”

In 2018, the parliament amended the law to make Christmas for all citizens.

But after each occasion, it was not renewed.

“The declaration is beautiful, but it is very late,” said Ashur Eskrya, president of the Assyrian Aid Society–Iraq. “But our trouble is not in holidays, it is in…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 21, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

117 Witnesses Detail North Korea’s Persecution of Christians

Kim Haeun/Korea Future Initiative

Two North Korean families prayed silently on the prison floor—making certain to keep their eyes open. Another detainee, a veteran of Kim Jong-il’s gulag system, asked them if they were afraid.

“No,” one of the mothers replied. “Jesus looks over us.”

The detainee began to cry, knowing the fate that awaited them. The next day, they were sent to Chongjin Susong political prison camp, and have not been heard from since.

But elsewhere in Onsong County’s pre-trial detention center, however, a different Christian prisoner closed his eyes. After confessing he was at prayer, his fellow detainees collectively assaulted him—afraid he would bring trouble on them all.

These are just some of the harrowing stories told in a 2020 report on religious persecution in North Korea. Groundbreaking in its scope, it is drawn from the testimony of 117 defectors, cross-referenced with known data.

Produced by the Korea Future Initiative (KFI), Persecuting Faith reveals 273 documented victims—76 of whom are still in the North Korean penal system. It names 54 individual perpetrators, including 34 with identifying information.

KFI hopes the information will inform future Global Magnitsky sanctions, applied against individual human rights violators by the United States and other Western nations.

Drawn from experiences stretching from 1990 to 2019, KFI’s report lists scores of violations. These include 36 instances of punishment meted out to family members, 36 instances of torture, and 20 executions. Women and girls represent 60 percent of the victims.

And Christians are disproportionately imprisoned—by far.

Open Doors, which has ranked North Korea No. 1 in its World Watch List for 19 straight years, estimates there are 300,000 Christians in the population of 25 million. Tens of thousands of these occupy the gulag. Of KFI’s 273 victims, Christians total nearly…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 21, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Published Articles Reconciliation

Muslims Join Evangelical Theology Conference

It is not often that a Muslim appears at an evangelical theological gathering.

Al Mohler invited three.

The trimmed-down 72nd annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), held virtually this week, usually welcomes up to 2,000 top scholars to present on the most salient issues facing evangelical scholarship.

This year’s theme: Islam and Christianity.

“We are called to truth, and to understanding the world around us more accurately and thoughtfully,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), who also served as ETS program chair.

“That certainly includes our understanding of Islam, which has from the beginning represented an enormous challenge to Christian evangelism, apologetics, theology, and cultural engagement.”

Roughly 15 percent of the 130-plus events addressed these challenges, including the three official plenary sessions—in typical academic parlance:

  • “The Authority and Function of the Quran in Islam,” by Ayman Ibrahim of SBTS
  • “Through the Prism: The Trinity and the Islamic Metanarrative,” by Timothy Tennet of Asbury Theological Seminary
  • “American Christians and Islam: From the Colonial Era to the Post-9/11 World,” by Thomas Kidd of Baylor University

But it was the challenge of “cultural engagement” that led ETS to reach out to the Muslim panelists. Each was invited to share their view of evangelicals, and address the issues that concern them. It could “scarcely be more relevant and urgent,” said Mohler.

Three Christians joined them on the panel, focused on “Understanding Our Neighbor.” “We don’t resist the idea we must love Muslims,” said John Hartley, a research fellow at Yale, “but we…”

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

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Biden Said ‘Inshallah.’ Many Arab Christians Do Too.

Image: Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images: Win McNamee / Scott Olson / Getty Images

Unnoticed by many during the contentious first presidential debate, Joe Biden introduced a new Arabic word into the American lexicon.

Inshallah.

Technically, it is three words, in both Arabic and English: “in sha’ Allah,” or “if God wills.”

“If you take it literally, you won’t get the intent,” said Ramez Atallah, general director of the Bible Society of Egypt.

“It can also mean, ‘It will never happen,’ and this is probably what Biden meant.”

Asked by the moderator about his tax returns, President Donald Trump answered, “You’ll get to see it.”

To which the former vice president interjected, “When? Inshallah?”

Trump continued, and the moment was lost to almost all but Arabic-speaking viewers. Muslim Twitter users lit up in astonishment, wondering if they heard correctly.

Enchilada” was about as close as other ears heard.

But while one Muslim writer has humorously called inshallah the Arabic equivalent of “fuggedaboudit,” what should Christians make of the phrase?

“Everything is uncertain,” Atallah said. “We live in an unpredictable world, and no one is ever sure that what they plan will be accomplished.” He highlighted the biblical equivalent in…

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

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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

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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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

Despite a Murder and Visa Denials, Christians Persevere in Turkey

Turkey Korean Murder
Image: Source Images: Congin Kim / Annie Spratt / Unsplash

This article was first published in the March print edition of Christianity Today.

Five days after her husband’s murder, Jung Kyung-In named her newborn daughter “God’s Goodness”—in Turkish, not Korean.

Jung moved to Turkey with her husband, Kim Jin-Wook, in 2015. The Korean Christian couple found a place to live in an impoverished district of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, 60 miles from the Syrian border.

Kim worked selling spices, but his real calling, as he understood it, was witnessing to the gospel. He took the Turkish name “Peace,” and his Christian friends in Turkey say he was a great evangelist.

“He shared the gospel in every corner of Diyarbakir without hesitation,” said Ahmet Güvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, which has about 70 members. “He was not aggressive, but clear, and I think local people were uncomfortable with this.”

One day in November, Kim told Jung he was going out to evangelize. He was attacked on the street, stabbed twice in the chest and once in the back. Kim, 41, died of his wounds in a city hospital.

Authorities arrested a 16-year-old boy for the crime. He has allegedly confessed to the murder, saying he was trying to steal Kim’s phone.

Despite her grief, Jung saw this as an opportunity to testify. She wrote a letter to the boy accused of killing her husband.

“I do not understand why you did this, but I cannot be angry at you,” she wrote on her phone.

“Many people want the court to give you a heavy punishment. But I and my husband don’t want this. We pray that you become worthy of heaven, because we believe in the worth of people. God sent his Son Jesus, who forgave those who persecuted him. We also believe in that and we pray that you would also repent of your sin.”

Jung read the letter aloud to the local media. Her testimony was viewed online more than…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Why Muslims Love Mary

Muslim Mary
Annunciation, from Chronology of Ancient Nations by Al-Biruni, 1307.

This article was published in the July/August print edition of Christianity Today.

Mohammed, a pious PhD student from Egypt, sat guardedly in the “Community of Reconciliation.” Invited by David Vidmar, director of coaching for Peace Catalysts International, the middle-aged Muslim seemed soured on the idea of interfaith exchange at his northern California university.

Vidmar suspected Mohammed came to the jointly led Muslim-Christian dinners because he felt obligated to do da’wah, the Arabic word for spreading Islam. But over a shared meal and discussion about Mary, the Egyptian’s attitude shifted. “The deeper we got into the life of Mary and how Christians understand the virgin birth of Jesus, he became very enthused,” Vidmar said. “There are so many misunderstandings . . . it was wonderful to observe him see the similarities and be able to relax.”

Peace Catalysts is a Jesus-centered peacemaking effort, focused primarily on Christians and Muslims. Vidmar and his family worked for eight years with Uighurs in Kazakhstan and still wish Muslims would experience the love and forgiveness God reveals through Jesus. But now he works to help both sides experience heart transformation through deep and genuine friendship—and Mary proved a fruitful bridge.

“Since so many Muslims use the term ‘Jesus, Son of Mary,’ it would be helpful for evangelicals to think more deeply about this,” Vidmar said. “Muslims often excitedly tell me their favorite chapter in the Qur’an is Maryam, and women especially express appreciation for it.”

Mary is mentioned 34 times in the Qur’an—more than in the New Testament—and its only named woman. Islam upholds the virgin birth, the annunciation by Gabriel, and—mirroring the Ave Maria in Luke’s gospel—declares Mary to be “exalted above all women.”

Yet even Catholics have been slow to recognize the similarities…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Judeo-Christian Politics… in Israel?

Judeo Christian Politics Israel
Image: Amir Levy / Stringer / Getty via CT

This article was first published at Christianity Today on April 11, 2019.

In one of the most tightly contested Israeli elections in years, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to remain prime minister.

His Likud party is projected to win 35 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset, tied with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party; but coalition partners will likely boost the incumbent Bibi to a governing majority of 65.

But for Christians in Israel, could the most significant electoral development have come from a new party that won a total of zero seats?

“We are the only party to give Christian and Messianic candidates parity in the candidates’ list,” said Avi Lipkin, the Orthodox Jewish head of the Bible Bloc Party, known as Gush Hatankhi in Hebrew.

“For the first time in 2,000 years, Jews and Christians are … brethren and allies.”

In Israel’s proportional system, a party must claim at least 3.25 percent of the nearly 6.4 million eligible voters—so roughly 200,000 votes total—in order to enter parliament.

The Bible Bloc only won 367.

The significance lies in their getting started. As a new party, Lipkin explains they had limited time to build a base. To legalize a party, 100 members are needed. The Bible Bloc recruited 150: roughly half Jewish and half Christian, as reflected in their candidate list.

Heading the list was…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Forty Years Later, House Churches Threaten Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Iran Report Christians House Churches
Azadi Tower in Tehran (image courtesy of Article18)

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on February 14.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded streets nationwide on Monday, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Not present were dozens of Christians with no freedom of movement.

“For 40 years, the Iranian government has harbored an intolerant view towards Christianity,” said Mansour Borji, advocacy director at Article18, a Christian human rights organization focused on Iran.

“Administrations have changed and the methods have varied, but the objective remains the same: to restrict Christians’ influence on all spheres of Iranian life.”

An in-depth report on violations against Iranian Christians in 2018 was jointly released last month by Open Doors, Middle East Concern, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Article18. It was a first-time collaboration for the groups—in order to amplify their voice, Borji said.

The report stated that according to public records, 29 Christians were held in detention in 2018 for terms of 6 months to 10 years (if formally sentenced at all). Eight were released.

The report emphasized that many more detentions of Christians remained undocumented.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees the freedom of religion, including the right to adopt a faith of one’s choice and to publicly practice and teach it.

Iran ratified the ICCPR in 1975, prior to the 1979 revolution which ended 2,500 years of monarchy.

But Christians are not the only victims…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Under the Law: Israeli Christians Worry About Secondary Status in Jewish Nation-State

Israel Nation State
Judaism and Christianity symbols on the Jerusalem old city gate – MyHolyShop

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 31, 2018.

In a legislative act both obvious and inflammatory, this month Israel cemented its nature as a Jewish state.

By a narrow vote in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, the law entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” was adopted to serve alongside over a dozen other “basic laws” that serve as Israel’s de facto constitution.

A key clause states that national self-determination is “unique” to Jews. Other provisions formally establish the nation’s flag, emblem, and anthem. Jerusalem is confirmed as the complete and united capital. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are declared official days of rest.

But two other clauses have raised considerable concern. Jewish settlement is a “national value” to be promoted. And Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

“This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. “It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.”

Her fears are echoed by an Israeli lawyer.

“While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Mideast Christians See Russia–not the US–as Defender of their Faith

 

Russia Middle East Christians
Image: John Holcroft

This article was first published in the July print edition of Christianity Today.

War was swirling in Syria. Rebels were pressing. And Maan Bitar was the only hope for American help.

“Because I am evangelical, everyone thinks I have channels of communication,” said the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Mhardeh. “Syrians believe the United States has the power to stop the conflict—if it wants to.”

In the early years of the civil war, Bitar’s Orthodox neighbors were desperate to convince the US and its allies to end support of rebel forces. Mhardeh, a Christian city 165 miles north of Damascus, was being shelled regularly from across the Orontes River.

But salvation came from a different source. Russian airpower turned the tide, and Syrian government-aligned troops drove the rebels from the area.

Russian intervention on behalf of Mideast Christians has pricked the conscience of many American evangelicals. Long conditioned to Cold War enmity, the question is entertained: Are they the good guys in the cradle of Christianity? Or are persecuted Christians just a handy excuse for political interests?

“The news tells us Russian troops are bringing peace to the region, said Vitaly Vlasenko, ambassador-at-large for the Russian Evangelical Alliance. “Maybe this is propaganda, but we don’t hear anything else.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

But here also is testimony from Egypt, unfortunately cut due to word count:

“If Russia helps anyone to save them from death and danger [in Syria], we welcome this,” said Boules Halim, spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church. “Not just for Christians, but for humanity.”

Halim had no comment on Russian political developments with Egypt. But despite technically not being in communion over disagreements with the fifth-century Chalcedonian Creed, relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are growing increasingly strong.

Pope Tawadros has met Putin. Theological students are being exchanged. Russian monks are touring Egyptian monasteries.

“We are coming together in dialogue,” Halim said. “Better communication leads to better understanding.”

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Spanning the Great Schism between Evangelical and Orthodox Christians

 

Spanning the Great Schism
Image: Benedetto Cristofani / Salzmanart

This article was first published in the June print edition of Christianity Today.

Three brief excerpts in the efforts to unite evangelicals and Orthodox believers.

Four years ago in Istanbul, a humble Turkish book partially reversed the 11th century’s Great Schism. Catholics joined Eastern and Oriental Orthodox—alongside Protestants—to publish a slim, 12-chapter treatise on their common theological beliefs.

“You can’t find a page like this in all of church history,” said Sahak Mashalian, an Armenian Orthodox bishop and the principal scribe of Christianity: Basic Teachings. “It is akin to a miracle.”

If this is contemporary, here is history…

“The Copts largely resisted conversion,” Suriel wrote, “[but it] awakened in them a spirit of inquiry and an impulse to reform.”

Missionaries supplied Girgis [Orthodox founder of the Sunday School Movement] materials, and the Bible Society of Egypt gave him free or low-cost Bibles for his students, said Sinout Shenouda, the Orthodox vice-chair of its board. “The Americans initiated the idea, and the Orthodox came to imitate,” he said. “It was competition, but useful in that it profited from the missionaries rather than just attacking them.”

So what about the future?

Evangelical principles seep into traditional churches. Evangelicals do too—and the cross-pollination continues.

“I don’t think it is possible to overstate the influence of evangelical converts to Orthodoxy in terms of missions,” said Alex Goodwin, annual giving director for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). “It has been transformative for many of us who are ‘cradle Orthodox.’ ”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.