by Andrew Larson

20160504203950-1-300x225I just completed a long season of ministry travel–speaking, engaging, bridge-building, and supporting and learning from other peacemakers. My travel took me to the Middle East twice, Canada once, the East Coast 3 times, as well as to several churches in the Puget Sound region. I was in several mosques, the homes of Muslims in Hebron and Seattle, and the personal residence of the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon in Beirut. I had the chance to screen my movie 8 times to advocate for peacemaking and to participate with other peacemakers in both churches and mosques. I’m learning some things along the way. But I also have some questions.

I’ve begun a “What if” list. It’s a bit in the John Lennon motif when he penned the lyrics to his popular song, Syrian-Ambassador-300x200Imagine. I keep finding in the tough situations around the globe that conflict seems to reign. And peacemakers are few. Even in the church. As one interviewee in my movie says, “we have plenty of peace talkers, but few peace MAKERS!” So alas, I have job security. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. At least not yet.

Here is my working list of “What ifs” for peacemaking that I’d like you to consider. Actually, I’m becoming more convinced this list should be part of the basic curriculum for every church, every Christian discipleship program, every small group Bible study, and every confirmation or Sunday School class. I’d love your feedback on this list.

  1. What if we truly believed what John says in 1 John 4:18: “Perfect love casts out fear.” It really does. Too often we are characterized by perfect fear, which casts out love.
  2. What if we did the simple things like share a meal or tea (or coffee if you prefer) with someone from the other community. I know, this may get you into trouble with some folks. It happened to Jesus too, so you’re in good company.
  3. What if we didn’t judge a book by the cover but sought to listen to the stories of those different than us?
  4. What if we followed the prophet Micah’s challenge to “love mercy, seek justice, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? This has been the question I ask over and over in places of conflict from Israel/Palestine to churches in suburban North America.
  5. What if we, in the the tradition of Paul’s writing about the mystery of the Gospel in Ephesians, lived to break down walls of division between us, knowing that somehow the Gospel was incomplete until those who are “outside” become part of us and we become part of them (see Ephesians 2:11-15).
  6. What if we focused, in our devotions and sermons, on the center of the Gospel, the love of Christ for all humankind instead of asking who is our neighbor like the young expert in the law (see the lead-up to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 9 and then read the parable in Luke 10)?
  7. What if we truly lived Christ’s call to peacemaking and loving our enemies (see Matthew 5:9 & 5:44)?
  8. What if our enemies became friends, or at least part of our community, like my Palestinian friend at Tent of Nations? Surrounded by Israeli settlers who want to take their land and often destroy their crops, they still refuse to see their aggressive neighbors as enemies.
  9. What if we made the typical benediction we hear pronounced over us in church our own attitude toward  the world around us? “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace”’ (Numbers 6:24-26).
  10. Lastly, what if we became doers of the word and not hearers only, like the brother of Jesus calls us to in James 1:22. I truly believe that saying the right things about what we believe without the actions to go with them is messed up. Let’s imagine what could happen in our world if the scale was tipped the other way.

What if…..

12687939_10153889256378537_8494023885123273269_n

IMG_3270.JPG

by Martin Brooks

I recently took my Syrian imam friend to a Christian college to speak. He was a guest lecturer in “Cross Cultural Communications” classes, a “Theology of Missions” class and a “Church Planting” class. It was really interesting to hear how the imam approached these topics from an Islamic perspective.

When chapel rolled around, I was able to interview the imam and the chair of the Bible department in front of the student body. When I asked about the Islamic view of Jesus, the imam said that Islam honors Jesus as a very important prophet. He wanted the students to know that the Qur’an mentions Jesus more than it mentions Muhammad. “And the Qur’an mentions Moses more than it mentions Jesus,” he said with a provocative smile. However, he did not shy away from the differences. He made it clear that, from an Islamic perspective, Jesus did not die on a cross and was not the Son of God.

I think it was pretty gutsy of him to go into that setting where 100% of the people disagreed with him. The students and faculty seemed interested in his perspectives and reasoning, but they did not accept his proof texts from the Qur’an as proof. How could they? They don’t accept the Qur’an as authentic. The imam spoke with passion and concern for we who have been “misguided,” but passion and certitude were not enough to persuade.

I suspect the students had some Biblical texts of their own that came to mind as the imam spoke. Had the students had opportunity to recite their own texts, the imam would have been gracious and listened to their understanding of God’s will, but he too would have been dismissive. Though the Qur’an mentions the Bible in many places, Muslims typically believe the Bible has been corrupted and is no longer reliable. So we talk in circles, each citing different “reliable sources,” but for our faith to be compelling to others, it must be more than a collection of proof texts.

After the chapel service we made our way over to the Starbucks on campus. Though the imam was reluctant to accept the hospitality, a student in a wheelchair insisted on buying our coffee. The student then sat with us and asked many questions of the imam, clarifying things he had heard and been taught. Some questions were about Syria where the imam has family members trying to stay alive. He was respectful and kind. He was humble, genuinely listening to and learning from the Syrian imam.

When it came time for the student to go to class, he asked the imam if he could pray for him. The student prayed for the imam’s family in Syria and that God would bring peace. The student connected with the heart and suffering of another human being.

Jesus said that if we love God and love others, that pretty much sums up the law and the prophets. This student did both. The imam was moved, and as I watched the student make his way out of Starbucks, I was grateful for how he had blessed my friend. To me, that boy in the wheelchair looked a lot like Jesus.

 

Mafraq city

 

by Nick Armstrong

Mafraq crossroadsFor the first three weeks in April, my wife Laura and I had the privilege of leading a team of 10 people from Cole Community Church in Boise to Mafraq, Jordan, a small city located 9 miles from the Syrian border. Mafraq literally means “crossroads” in Arabic, appropriately named as the Roman and Byzantium ruins tell the tale of a city at the crossroads of ancient trade and culture. Syria joined the “Arab Spring” in the city of Dara’a in 2011. That same year, 40 Syrian families fled to Mafraq for refuge as a result of the government crackdown. Just one year later, 3000 Syrian families came to Mafraq. Now, in the middle of this existential crisis and prompted by the Spirit of Christ, a pastor of a local church in Mafraq found himself concluding that they were “a church at the crossroads.” Just how would they respond to an influx of Syrian refugees that swelled the population of Mafraq from 90,000 to 210,000 people in the four years since the crisis began?

In a word, this local church is responding in ‘love.’ The church registers Syrian refugees who look to them for help, and it does a thorough needs assessment of the families before distributing relief goods that include mattresses, pillows, basic food supplies, and toys for the kids. Others from Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, and other Arab-speaking countries visit these same Syrian families on a regular basis and provide opportunities for the families to express hospitality, to share the stories of their lives, and for those visiting to share their own stories. They do so with volunteers from all over the world, including our team of ten people, at their side. They translate for the Syrian families and the volunteers, facilitating an exchange of sharing life experiences and stories.

It was an amazing experience and somehow, through a process of Spirit-led chaos, we (the volunteers from various corners of the globe) were grafted into this local church’s efforts to love on these Syrian families by taking part in the registration process, distributions, visits, working with a school started just for Syrian kids, soccer games, and a variety of women’s creativity groups. This was the body of Christ coming from all different corners of the world and worshipping Christ through service, through gathering, and definitely through song! Both in Arabic and English. It was just a small glimpse of the church gathering together to worship God pictured Revelation 7. There were people from Palestine, Israel, South Africa, China, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Norway, Denmark, and Idaho! Did I mention, Idaho? Yes, Idaho! We were so incredibly blessed by the whole experience!

NIck Laura Mafraq teamThe greatest achievement of the ‘Mafraq Project’ had nothing to do with what our team did, but what God did in each of us. We gained a new vision that helped us to look beyond the labels ‘Syrian Refugee’ and ‘Muslim’ and see real people with real names, real struggles, and a real glimmer of hope, albeit faint, for the future of their children. I can still see the faces and hear the voices of Amir, Noor, Said, Fatimah, Abdullah, Amsi, Ali and Khaled. There were times of anger and thankfulness, there were tears and laughter, there were times of silence and intense listening, there were handshakes and air-kisses, and there were definitely times of enjoying Turkish coffee and very sweet tea – all these little expressions of humanity to remind us that we were beginning a journey beyond the abstract statistics of a refugee crisis into the lives of real people. People like you and me. These were people who each had a story but who also shared a common story of persecution, escape, survival, loss, and trauma.

Now that we are back in the comfort and safety of our homes, I have come to realize that our team and our church here in Boise, Idaho are also at the ‘crossroads.’ Because of the work God did in our own hearts, we now stand at the ‘crossroads’ of opportunity to welcome ‘the stranger’ right here on the doorstep of Boise and to love our Muslim neighbor and encourage others to do the same. It is our hope and prayer that we will do just that!

Mafraq, Jordan

martin joplin rally banner cropped

by Rick Love

What pops into the mind of the average American if you ask him or her about Muslims? Most would say something like this:

“Muslims are terrorists.”
“I fear Muslims. They want to take over our country.”
“I am very suspicious of all Muslims.”

I fully understand. Many media outlets paint an ugly, distorted, and inaccurate picture of Muslims.

According to Ed Stetzer, 59% of Evangelical pastors say Islam is dangerous and promotes violence. They agree with Franklin Graham’s characterization of Islam as “a very evil and a very wicked religion.”

Yes, there are a miniscule number of violent extremists who want to do us harm. But the vast majority of Muslims are just like you and me. They want to be faithful to God, love their family, and be productive members of society.

So how should followers of Jesus respond to the realities of terrorism and the exaggerations of media?

  1. FACTS

    We need to love God with our minds and learn the facts about Islam. This means we practice the art of evaluation. We don’t believe everything that comes across our computer screen or fills our inbox. We critically assess what we read or watch.The Muslim world is radically diverse and pluralistic. There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world representing over 2000 different ethnic groups. There are two major sects (Sunni and Shia) and 8 legal schools of Islam. In addition, there is a strong mystical movement within Islam called Sufism which influences a large percentage of Muslims. There are Muslim secularists, modernists, traditionalists, fundamentalists, and terrorists.

    So when someone makes a comment that Muslims believe this or Islam is like that, you need to ask, “Which Islam?” For example, “Does Islam oppress women?” I believe women are oppressed in Afghanistan. But the country next door, Pakistan, once had a female head of state – Benazir Bhutto. With all of its problems, the country of Pakistan has, in some ways, been more progressive on women’s issues than the United States.

    Here are two suggestions for how to use facts to overcome your fear of the other.

    – Read Grace & Truth: Toward Christlike Relationships with Muslims

    – When someone makes a comment that Muslims believe this or Islam is that this, ask yourself and the other person, “Which Muslims?” or “Which school of Islam?”

     

  2. FAITH

    Our faith teaches us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). We overcome fear when we submit to the Holy Spirit.The Bible also teaches that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). In other words, we dislodge the crippling effects of fear by experiencing God’s love (1 John 4:16) and obeying his commands to love (1 John 2:5).

    Finally, the command to “fear not!” is one most frequent commands in the whole Bible. While the media says, “Fear lots!” the Bible responds with “fear nots!”

    Here are two suggestions for how to fear not:

    – Memorize 2 Timothy 1:7

    – Practically demonstrate your faith by praying for Muslims, blessing them, and doing good to them (See Romans 12:14-21).

     

  3. FRIENDSHIP

    I often get criticized because I love Muslims and share positively about them. One of my favorite responses to an irate critic is this: “Do you have any Muslim friends?” They usually don’t.A practical way to address our fears and prejudices is to actually get to know a Muslim. Nothing beats the personal touch. If you make friends with a Muslim, you will see things differently. This is a huge part of what Peace Catalyst International does. We organize loving initiatives that create safe spaces and foster authentic relationships between Christians and Muslims.

 

Two suggestions:

1. Visit a Middle Eastern restaurant and talk to the servers about their food and their culture.

2. Join Peace Catalyst!

We wage peace with wisdom by getting the facts – we love God with our minds. We wage peace with wisdom – by faith – we love God by believing and obeying His Word. And we wage peace with wisdom through friendships – we love God by loving our Muslim neighbors.

 

 

IMG-20151224-WA0007

 

This story comes from one of our newest Peace Catalyst staff members, Jaime Harris, who has been living and making peace in Indonesia for 20 years through education, serving the poor, organizing interfaith events, and more.

It started as we painted a bare tree and had our Peace Generation volunteers add their thumbprints in paint as their pledge for peace. We then took it downtown to the riverside, where young people hang out on Sunday morning, and we invited everyone who supports peace to add their thumbprints. We also had various peace cards with phrases that people could take photos of themselves with. The photo above is from the riverside event, and the card reads, “Peace Begins with Us.”

We put the tree on display, and now it resides in our cafe, where customers can continually add to it.

Interestingly, the tree is displayed next to paintings of famous peacemakers, and one Muslim friend shared that in Arabic, the word for “tree” is similar to the Indonesian word for “history.” He challenged us to look at the history-makers displayed, then look at our thumbprints on the tree and realize that we are part of the great “tree of history” and that we also are joining with them in changing the history written about us.