Thursday, July 02, 2009

National Geographic on Arab Christians (and my 10 yr anniversary of friendships with a group of them)

The stories in this enlightening article about Arab Christians are the stories of my friends. I have mentioned it before on this blog and talked ad naseum about the plight of Arab Christians. This is mostly due to friendships gathered during the past decade (actually this weekend marks the 10th Anniversary of an invite as speaker at Boston’s Arab Baptist Conference). What started with my assumptions about Arab Christians quickly became a lesson in how pointless assumptions are. I actually thought I was going to be with a group of extremely modest dressers in hijabs or burkas that would be offended by what I might say (kind of a combo of Muslims and Independent Baptist). This was nothing like what I encountered, the most hospitable, hip, well dressed and financed group of friends that kept us out too late and made fun of each other unmercifully (and made fun of me for being extremely white). In other words… my kind of people.

These Arab Christians shared their stories, invited us into their lives and homes, supported my ministry, attended our church in Boston and kept bringing me back to speak at their events. Of all the people my wife and I have met along our journey together as partners, Christians and ministers, this group of friends is close to the top.

Most of all they enlightened me, one that thought everyone from the Middle East was Jewish or Muslim. Although I had a Lebanese Christian Seminary professor and took classes on the area and its religions, I still had assumptions until I heard the stories; stories of people caught between Islam and Judaism and in the nether regions of a US foreign policy supported by American Christians which has ravaged Arab Christian numbers in the Middle East, a group of people feeling animosity at times for the support America and American Christians have for Israel and justified anger towards Israel's policies (the policies we support are often at the expense of Christians who have been lumped in with Muslims and find themselves aligning with them on many occasions). In fact, this American Christian unconditional support for anything done by Israel has hurt our own brothers and sisters, which is directly in conflict with the call of Jesus in Matthew 25 to care for our brothers and sisters in prison, without food and clothes. Ironic, huh?

I have heard the stories of a teenager from Gaza which was the hardest counseling session I have ever encountered (how do you counsel someone that fears bombings, is surrounded by another religion and wants desperately to leave her country for safety, when you have benefited from America’s luck?), sat on a train with a podiatrist from Lebanon as he told us of the day he returned to his home which had been bombed before fleeing to America or the mother of friends from Palestine who never had citizenship, rights or a passport in her own country, I have a Christian friend with the unfortunate name Jihad (he goes by Ji) and friends from Egypt that have been accused of being terrorists on many occasions, even though one worked for an American defense manufacturer.

These are the stories of Arab Christians many of whom are from the Levant (Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon), where Christianity was founded and flourished for centuries. Now Christians make up about 8% of the population (down from 25% a century ago), mostly in Lebanon and have all but left places like the area surrounding Damascus. They have left because of violence, oppression and pressure, not just from Muslims, but from Israelis and America’s foreign policy which at times put them in danger (see the plight of Iraqi Christians since our invasion).

I am grateful to National Geographic for giving their stories to us. I hope we remember them as we look at the Middle East and our Arab neighbors in America.

hat tip to Derek via David Dark.


Unknown said...

speaking of pointless assumptions, here's a question: do your arab christian friends refer to the One true God as God or Allah?
(la ilaha illallah!!!)

DJ Word said...

it is quite simple actually. Those Arab Christians that still speak Arabic, use the word "Allah."

Those that speak English use the word "God." To most of them, it is a language issue, nothing more or less.