As I began writing this, my Twitter and Facebook feeds reported news about a gun attack on an Egyptian bus carrying Coptic Christians. The world gasped and wept—once again. The people of Israel, Lebanon and Jordan struggle with the enormous challenge of caring for thousands of people fleeing violence in their neighbouring homeland. From the West Bank we hear news of more house demolitions. And Syrian refugees in our own communities tell stories of homes and places of worship destroyed, of violence and fear.
Our feature on page 4, “The view through a prison keyhole,” examines the situation of Christian Arabs in Israel and Palestine. It comes courtesy of the Palestine and Israel Resolution Working Group of Mennonite Church Canada. This group was set up following the MC Canada assembly’s resolution on Israel-Palestine last July.
Within the Mennonite body across Canada, opinions and beliefs vary concerning the past, present and future of the lands of the Bible. We argue about God’s intention for that land and those people. We offer varying political solutions to the current realities there. We have different prescriptions for how people in other parts of the world should respond. Content in this issue of Canadian Mennonite, and linked content on our website, reflect a bit of that diversity.
For nine years, my family lived in the Arab city of Nazareth, Israel, working, playing and worshipping with local Christians, and going to school and shopping with both Christians and Muslims. We visited friends in Jewish communities and occasionally worshipped with Messianic believers in Christ.
We learned that the followers of Christ in Israel and Palestine live in two different realities. Both groups are minorities in their larger societies. But Messianic believers have full rights as citizens and live in communities protected by the state. Their young people serve in the Israeli army. At the very least, Arab Christians face discrimination, and, in the disputed lands of Gaza and the West Bank, they experience loss of livelihood, freedom, home demolitions and sometimes death.
In John 15:12 Jesus says to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” God’s intention is that all followers of Jesus love one another. Living in these two different realities, the followers of Jesus in the Bible lands sometimes find it hard to understand each other. Their unique realities make love for each other a difficult task.
These are our sisters and brothers in Christ—both the ones who worship him in Hebrew and the ones who worship in Arabic. How can they grow in love for each other? And can we North American Christians hold both peoples in our hearts?
Here is my proposal: Let’s ease up on the arguing over theology and politics. Instead, let’s start praying for all the followers of Christ in the Middle East. Our prayer will be an act of love for our brothers and sisters.
During our later years in Nazareth, my husband and I were part of a small group that gathered regularly to pray. It included believers from both the Arab and the Messianic communities. We prayed for each other’s families and ministries, and for the body of Christ in that land. Occasionally, hundreds of Jewish and Arab believers would gather at a local forest for a large joint worship service. We saw emerging conversations on how to interpret biblical texts related to the ownership of the land, justice and the future work of God in that place.
We celebrate glimmers of hope like these and ponder how God’s work of peace might continue to grow there.
God calls us to pray for all the people of the Middle East, no matter their religion—or lack thereof. But if that feels like too broad a call, let’s consider how we can pray for the people there whom Christ has given to us as brothers and sisters. May God’s love shine in their communities and may that love extend as a witness for peace across their land.
If we pray for our sisters and brothers—all of them—we can also make a commitment to listen carefully to their voices. By praying and listening we may find ways to support their efforts to live as faithful disciples of Christ in the troubled lands of the Bible.