For Lent this year at Old South, we are “Walking and Praying with Christians of the Middle East” through a study offered by Churches Together Britain and Ireland. A small group from Old South gathers for Bible Study on Tuesdays and then each Sunday, we include a different group in our prayers—Christians in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, etc.
Through this study, we are learning some challenging lessons. It is extremely difficult to understand what it means to live as a Christian in many areas in the Middle East, where being a Christian makes one a target for violence and murder. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the situation of living constantly in harm’s way or choosing to flee from one’s home, simply because of one’s professed faith. It’s hard to know how to respond to the targeting of Christian communities that go back to the earliest years of the Christian Church.
Many questions are being raised, yet few answers are clearly apparent. Where is God in the midst of such suffering? What would I do if I lived in a place where the Islamic State had taken control, or was close to doing so? What would I do if I felt threatened? In the face of violence, would I be able to profess my faith, or would I try to hide it? What can we meaningfully do, given that we live so many miles and miles away? Do the prayers we raise in support of threatened Christians make any difference?
For Christians in Central Maine, it’s mind-boggling to think about the lives that Christians lead on the other side of the world. As we gather on Sunday mornings under our tall steeples near the middle of towns and cities, we rarely think about the ease with which we practice our faith. In this season at Old South, though, we are increasingly aware of how much we take for granted.
As our eyes are opened, though, we are finding ourselves in an unsettled place. My hope is that, ultimately, this will be a good thing. Although it is extraordinarily unlikely that any of us will face any sort of threat of the kind of the Islamic State, we are becoming increasingly sensitive to our own minority status. Will our decreasing numbers cause us to weaken and dissolve under the weight of disillusionment, or will we become renewed and strengthened in our mission to share the love of God through Jesus Christ?
Through our Lenten study, we are learning meaningful stories of those who are, despite the threats, living the faith and sharing the love of God. We are inspired by the stories of those who are reaching out and caring for the poor as well as those who have been displaced by violence. We are encouraged by those who seek to love their neighbor, by those who remain grounded in hope, no matter what is happening around them.
And we pray that we will also be renewed and strengthened for the journey, that we will find meaning and hope in the prayers that we raise for our threatened sisters and brothers in the faith, and that we will try not to take for granted the comfort with which we practice our faith. We encourage other Christians to join us.