No different from other regions of the world, the Middle East-North Africa is saddled with its own share of challenges. They come in different forms and combinations.
Over the years, our Lord has taught us to seek in every challenge an opportunity to light a candle and praise God. We do so through the various platforms for Christian witness and ministry that he has entrusted us with, some of which have a local focus while others have a regional, and even global, one.
According to the United Nations’ report “Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries,” the population of the Arab world will be 395 million by 2015, compared to 317 million in 2007 and 150 million in 1980.
“Young people are the fastest growing segment of Arab countries’ populations. Some 60 percent of the population is under 25 years old, making this one of the most youthful regions in the world,” according to the report.
What an amazing opportunity.
Among other initiatives, the theme of our June 2010 Middle East Conference was “Christian and Muslim Youth as the Present Future: Seeking Understanding, Sharing our Faith.” We brought together youth leaders from the various continents – Christians and Muslims – for a better understanding of the other. We can only be effective if we are relevant.
The task before us is far too tremendous to waste time and effort focusing on what isn’t. We’d rather invest our energies on what can be – lighting a candle through the equipping of a church or lay leader, who can in turn influence the community God called them to serve:
· a Middle East conference participant experienced a change in paradigm and consequently adopted a more Christ-like approach toward Muslims;
· a student raised in a K-12 school environment of Christian values shows love and respect toward people who do not necessarily share the same beliefs and values;
· a disadvantaged child encounters Jesus at a children’s camp; and
· a life is transformed through reading a Christian book that speaks of the character of God, the salvation of Christ, the effectiveness of prayer.
The opportunities before us are indeed endless.
In 2010, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) celebrated 50 years in God’s service. Imagine all that God is making possible today at the hands of faithful Arab men and women trained at ABTS.
As the Lebanese Baptist Society and as Arab Christians, we have a tremendous educational role to play vis-à-vis our own local Arab community as well as the larger body of Christ.
We are called to help our fellow members of the body of Christ in the non-Arab world to better appreciate and understand the realities of the Arab church. We each are influenced by our own culture, and what is acceptable in one part of the world is not necessarily acceptable in the other. Hence, let us help each other better understand our respective contexts, and in turn serve as agents of positive influence vis-à-vis our respective governments.
The end does not justify the means. Our approach must be in tune with the message of love and peace that we carry to the lost in the world. We caution the church to steer away from taking sides or voicing political statements that merely serve to antagonize others, and so hinder the message of Christ.
As Christians – Arabs and non-Arabs – we can only make a difference when we strive in all that we do to base our positions and views on biblical principles and not on personal and diverse interpretations of the Bible.
As members of the body of Christ, we cannot exist apart from each other and are meant to complement each other. Through getting involved with the various platforms for Christian witness and ministry in the Arab world, the non-Arab church is in fact influencing local people that they too may question their misperceptions vis-à-vis the Church and the West. In doing so, they cease to affiliate the church with political views and statements communicated by Western governments.
While it is yet day, let us not lose track of what is important, but rather may our hearts and minds echo the inspirational words of Charles Spurgeon: “How earnestly do I wish that my life may be spent in lighting one soul after another with the sacred ï¬‚ame of eternal life! I would myself be as much as possible unseen while at my work, and would vanish into the eternal brilliance above when my work is done.”
Nabil Costa is executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society in Beirut, Lebanon. This column first appeared in The Voice, a publication of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, and is used with permission.