I was recently in the Middle East for a vacation in Iraq.
Kidding. I was indeed in the Middle East, but it wasn’t Iraq, and nobody goes to the Middle East for vacation these days.
The truth is two weeks ago I traveled to Egypt with a friend who has been involved in mission work there since 2007. We served the poor in tiny, poverty-stricken villages in the Egyptian desert, and we discussed partnership opportunities with church leaders and in Cairo.
Like my first trip there years ago, it was an eye-opening and soul-convicting trip. Over the next few blog posts, I will share what I learned from that inspiring church in Egypt. What they taught me about the Christian life (without ever trying to) impacted my heart as much as the sights and sounds of a revolution-torn country impacted my senses. My hope is their lessons will stick with you as much as they have stuck with me.
Lesson #1 – Political Unrest is Good for the Church
photo credit: SierraGoddess at CC
The first thing I learned from the church we visited in Egypt is that political unrest is good for the church.
You might wonder how I, an American citizen who has never experienced government upheaval, could dare say that revolutions, violence, and persecution of Christians is good for the church.
And you’re right. I can’t say that. But I wasn’t the one who did.
Our Egyptian friend, a dynamic and passionate leader in the church, is the one who made the claim. Without flinching she said, “The year of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule was the worst year for Egypt. But it was the best year for the Christian Church of Egypt.”
These are the words of a woman who is deeply in love with her country. But she is even more in love with Jesus. She shares deep sadness for every bad thing that has happened to her beloved home, but if God uses it to open hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ, then she cannot help but rejoice.
All of life is about perspective. Even more important – particularly to the Christians I’ve met in the Middle East – all of life is about Jesus.
Bringing all people into right relationship with him through his son Jesus is the driving purpose of God, and he can use even a human revolution to accomplish this purpose.
And when the driving purpose of God becomes our purpose, this is what happens…
The Church becomes more than only a spiritual hospital
The Egyptian church I visited is only a few blocks from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the Egyptian uprising. When the violence reached its peak, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel in the church transformed it into a field hospital. Their church-turned-temporary-emergency clinic treated the shot, beaten, assaulted, and injured demonstrators whether friend or enemy, Christian or Muslim. All were welcome. Why? Because Jesus cares more about healing the sick than he does about politics.
Catastrophes make neighbors talk
Another leader in the church told us about his apartment building. When the violence erupted in the streets, apartment neighbors rushed to the ground floor to prevent looters and vandals from entering their building. For days, they took shifts, guarding the building. While they did, they ate together, talked together, and Christians were given the opportunity to share how they find hope in Jesus despite oppression and religious persecution. Why? Because Jesus cares more about us taking the risk to love our neighbors than about us maintaining safety inside our homes.
Real oppression makes us ask questions about true freedom
In one conversation, the above quoted pastor also said this about the worst of the revolution years: “Though it was terribly difficult, it was a year God used for the church to minister to Muslims, to practice forgiveness, and to answer questions about freedom.” She could not recount the number of times a stranger asked, Why are you healing our sick and bandaging our wounds? Why are you helping protect our homes? Why are you standing guard so we can pray? Her answer to each question began with the name of Jesus. In the end, she said, “We have had more people ask questions about Jesus, belonging, and being truly saved because of the revolution and our field hospital than any revival meeting or sermon we’ve ever preached.” Why? Because only Jesus offers true freedom in the midst of uncertainty and oppression.
In Egypt I learned again that knowing Jesus, obeying Jesus, and introducing others to Jesus truly is the most important thing in life, and anything that opens the door to loving our neighbors in his name, is welcomed. Even revolutions.
Because my Egyptian friends have taught me this, I have found myself struggling with this question: Is Jesus more important to me than my personal safety and comfort?
What questions does it make you ask?