Middle East Consultation 2016: The Refugee and the Body of Christ

MEC 2016 Poster

The church in the Middle East is experiencing a time of unprecedented change. There exist significant challenges, and yet at the same time unimaginable opportunities.

  • How has the local and global Body of Christ been responding to the current refugee crisis?
  • What are the implications of this crisis for the church of the future?

The Middle East Consultation 2016 (MEC 2016) will explore the long-term implications of the significant number of refugees who now regularly fellowship with other members of the Body of Christ. By doing this, IMES seeks to encourage healthy practices between and within different expressions of the local church in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. In response to the demographic changes currently taking place, MEC 2016 will be creating the time and space to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing the MENA church in the present and to envision the church of the future in and beyond the MENA region.

MEC 2016 will include first-hand testimony by members of refugee communities, those involved in refugee ministry within and beyond the MENA region, as well as theological, Biblical and sociological reflection on the critical issues facing Christ’s Body in light of recent events. Come and be part of these critical discussions!

Click Here to Apply (English / Arabic)

Click here for MEC 2016 Costs and Logistics

To find out more, please visit: www.ABTSLebanon.org/mec2016You can also email us directly at: MEC@ABTSLebanon.org

Regular updates will be available on the IMES Blog: IMESLebanon.wordpress.com/mec2016Please sign up to receive our weekly blog posts and updates about MEC 2016.

Islam Means Peace? A brief etymological reflection

Hammer and Anvil

By Martin Accad

‘Islam Means Peace!’ So affirmed the flyer of a conference organized in the US that remains etched in my memory. And so affirm many books and websites you will find by simply googling the phrase. You will also find an equally large number of websites and books that claim that this is a lie, that when Muslims make that claim they are practicing taqiyya. Continue reading

Allah, God and Wheaton College: Some Observations from Beirut

By Jesse S. Wheeler

“Allah” has been in the news again.

For readers unfamiliar with this discussion, American evangelicalism’s flagship institution of higher education, Wheaton College, recently made moves to terminate Associate Professor of Political Science Larycia Hawkins in response to a statement made on Facebook concerning Christian and Muslim “worship of the same God.”Hawkins made the following statement in reference to her decision to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslim-American women – women who have in recent days been subject to an onslaught of rather intense, public bigotry:

I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God. But as I tell my students, theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all. Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity. As part of my Advent Worship, I will wear the hijab to work at Wheaton College, [in Chicago], in the airport and on the airplane to my home state…, and at church.

In reference to its decision, Wheaton released an official statement saying that “Wheaton professors should ‘engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the College’s evangelical Statement of Faith.’” Both Dr. Hawkin’s statement and Wheaton’s subsequent response generated a firestorm of online commentary, filled with recriminations of doctrinal heresy on one end and anti-Muslim bigotry violating the example of Christ on the other. Within the Wheaton community itself, the faculty and administration appear to be at odds concerning this issue. Continue reading

Rethinking Hospitality: Pondering the Sexual Harassment Scandal in Germany

By Mike Kuhn

[1]Germany photo

 

Not that long ago, German Chancellor Merkel made news by flinging the door open to immigrants seeking refuge from the Syrian war and the pandemonium unleashed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  In an ironic twist, the sexual harassment fiasco of Cologne (also Stuttgart and Hamburg) has refocused media attention on this policy and ignited a tinderbox of reaction to immigration in Germany and throughout Europe.[2]   The reaction, by any analysis, is justified—European women accosted by immigrant males shooting fireworks into a public square while surrounding the women, overpowering them, stalking, robbing, groping, raping…  It is difficult to imagine a more repugnant scene—immigrants finding a new home in Europe and returning the favor by unbridled sexual deviance directed toward the citizens of their new homeland!

Surely, in the name of decency, Germany should close the doors of hospitality to these intruders who show no respect for her dignity and civility.  If hospitality to migrants and asylum seekers comes at the price of sexual violation of young women, then better to leave the doors closed!  The open door policy was a tragic mistake and the evidence is Cologne.

As we would expect, demonstrators are asking Germany to revoke the open door policy and embark on a new path of protecting her own from the menace of intrusion.  Time for Germany to rethink hospitality!  Right?

While I am one hundred percent supportive of the just punishment of the perpetrators of this crime and the need to protect innocent victims, my plea is that we must consider the problem more broadly before making a sweeping judgment that impacts all immigrants.

This week I had a conversation with a young man fleeing the war in Syria.  He shared the story of a family member’s odyssey from Syria to Germany, a journey he hopes to embark on soon as well.  It was a perilous and protracted voyage by air, land and sea, crossing through a number of Mediterranean and Eastern European countries before arriving in Germany.  He is there now, sleeping in a room with someone he doesn’t know. The wait will be long for residency papers, housing and employment not to mention the long road to integration into German life, language and culture.  Though he never wished to leave Syria before the outbreak of war, the carnage left him no other option.  He is of age and conscription to the armed forces of Syria was inevitable.  This senseless war had ripped apart his family and devastated his future.  How could he join the fight (on either side) in good conscience?  He fled.

Germany is one of only a few places that would receive a fugitive and offer him temporary help until he gets on his feet.  Indeed, Germany’s open-door policy has been a ray of hope for Syrians and Iraqis in a situation otherwise rife with despair.   I suggest that becoming personally aware of the plight of Syrians seeking a new life may give us pause for thought before closing the doors to immigration.

Another important angle to consider is simply the nature of justice.  I live in Beirut as an American.  No doubt some Americans here have broken the laws of Lebanon and been justly punished, perhaps even deported.   I am glad to report that the Lebanese police have not come knocking on my door because some Americans have broken the law. Nor have the Lebanese felt it necessary to restrict the number of Americans allowed in their country.   Justice must punish criminals but also uphold the rights of those who abide by the law.

First-hand reports suggest that the Cologne assailants were Arabic-speakers, likely of North African origin.  If that proves true, we must resist the tendency to lump all refugees into one category.  While we implicitly recognize the diversity of our own homeland (both good people and bad people come from there), we often fail to extend the same nuanced consideration to refugees and immigrants.  I am not held accountable by Lebanese law for the crimes of other Americans.  Nor should all Syrians be considered guilty because Arabic-speakers committed a gross crime.

Perhaps the sheer magnitude of the numbers of immigrants leads some to reject hospitality as a feasible policy.  The conundrums resulting from the proliferation of displaced peoples in our world are bewildering. It’s not just Syrian refugees…there are Afghans, Sudanese, Iraqis, Somalians, Congolese, Burundians and many others who are seeking sanctuary in Western societies.  In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that never before in history have so many people been simultaneously displaced due to threats to their personal safety and security.[3]

In view of this defining moment in history, may I digress from Germany to address another nation?  It’s the people Jesus referred to as his “Kingdom”—the Kingdom that overlays all the nations of this world…the one where his rule is sovereign and unquestioned.

As I survey this new challenge of our era—displaced people—I wonder if Christ’s Kingdom will rise to the challenge, demonstrating Christ-like hospitality.  First, such hospitality has preventative value—potentially mitigating incidents like Cologne, assisting immigrants to integrate into Western societies peaceably and harmoniously.   “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  Remember? Are we willing to insert ourselves as agents of reconciliation?  Are we willing to take on the costly work of hospitality?

But why should we welcome them?  Why make space? Why give up our resources and time and run the risk of a debacle like Cologne?  Paul gets to the crux of the motivation of Jesus-followers, asking them to remember that they were at one time alienated from God and his people until Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility.[4]  Paul is speaking of the unity of people groups (Jews and Gentiles) whom Christ redeemed and brought into his body—the church.  Yet it seems that this core motivation is to spill out beyond the church to the surrounding society as Paul later says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph 5:1)   Jesus is more succinct but equally poignant: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

Christ states that his servants follow him wherever he goes.[5]  Would he not be at the crossroads of human suffering, walking with the refugee through deprivation and displacement while also offering justice and healing to victims of events like Cologne?  If you agree that Christ would be there, then we really have no option, do we?

In brief, the Kingdom of God is to act like God in the world.  The body of Christ is to act like Christ in the world.  We receive others with self-giving love, not because they deserve it (neither did we) nor because they are nice or like us, but because that’s what our God does.  Receiving refugees hospitably and wisely can be a visible demonstration to the watching world of who God is and how He acts. That’s who He is.  He is love.

Yes, hospitality is costly.  It was for God.  It involves risk.   We’d better get the motivation right because perseverance in this life of hospitality will be tough.  We won’t be able to sustain it by the “feel-good” vibes alone.  But it’s important not to exaggerate the cost.  Remember that Cologne was an exception—a gross evil representing a minority of immigrants.  For most of us, hospitality’s cost will be giving up our time or some comforts while the rewards of hospitality will be noteworthy in new friendships and enrichment of our reality.  So, when you think of Cologne, don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Wherever you are as you read these lines, why not take a moment now to thank God for his hospitable welcome of you while you were alienated from him in heart and mind.  Then take a second moment to ask “now Lord, how can I offer your gracious welcome to someone in need?”

Maybe you will be the one to welcome that young Syrian to his new home.

______________________

[1] See original photo here.

[2] See The Telegraph description of the event here.

[3] See a UNHCR report on forced displacement here.

[4] See Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:12 -14

[5] See John’s Gospel 12:26.

Citizenship, Statelessness and the Status of Women in Lebanon

By Alexandra Airey

In Lebanon, if you are a woman, you cannot pass your citizenship to your husband or children. In the case of women married to foreigners, the children of this union have a very real possibility of being left stateless. Homegrown statelessness isn’t a problem unique to Lebanon, but it has especial potency because of the growing number of refugees that are present within Lebanon’s borders. While the focus may be on the stateless people that are flooding in through the Syrian border, those that are born into statelessness through the configuration of Lebanon’s citizenship law deserve some attention. Continue reading

‘Religious Registration’: An Insult to Human Dignity and Decency

Golden-cage

By Martin Accad

Maryam was born a Muslim. Her society required her to live as a Muslim and eventually to die as a Muslim as well. Youssef was born a Christian. His society too required him to live and die as a Christian. But when they fell in love with each other, they came before a dilemma. Continue reading

The Middle East: The Place You Love to Hate

By Elias Ghazal

By now there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Middle East[1] is behind a lot of the problems that impact the world. Consider the following issues: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and regional instability, the cultivation and exportation of Islamic radicalism, petrodollar recycling and fluctuations in the world’s economy, enduring military authoritarianism and fledgling democracies, and most recently the Syrian war and the massive refugee crisis. This is not to mention the local problems that trouble the region: civil wars, political corruption, crumbling infrastructures, skewed distribution of wealth, rising unemployment, diminished freedoms and the lack social justice, and the list goes on and on.

Indeed, the future of the Middle East looks dim and to some it is hopeless, which has urged countless people to abandon their home countries in search of a safer and more promising future for them and for their loved ones. Continue reading

Middle East Consultation 2016 – The Refugee and the Body of Christ: Exploring the Impact of the Present Crisis on our Understanding of Church

20 – 24 June 2016

Beirut, Lebanon

Refugee Church

St. Michael’s Church: ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp, Calais, France. Picture courtesy of Rev. Simon Jones, November 2015.

The church in the Middle East is experiencing a time of unprecedented change. There exist significant challenges, and yet at the same time unimaginable opportunities. In response, the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon in pleased to announce its 13th annual Middle East Consultation.

The current refugee crisis, triggered to a large extent by the ongoing war and instability in Syria and surrounding countries, has provoked a wide range of reactions in diverse contexts. The local church has frequently sought to respond in prophetic and Christ-like ways to the new realities before it. And in the process, many churches have been thoroughly transformed as they welcome into their midst those who might have been traditionally considered ‘other’. In Europe, many churches are exploring creative ways of demonstrating hospitality to their new neighbours. Around the world, the refugee situation has become a highly politicized discourse requiring the church to respond with Kingdom mindedness.

In the words of Dr. Arthur Brown, IMES Assistant Director and Middle East Consultation Coordinator:

“I am so excited about the Middle East Consultation 2016. It seems to me that God is calling His church to respond in new and prophetic ways to refugee communities, wherever they may be found. In the Middle East churches have stepped up to the mark, in many cases rediscovering who they are called to be in the midst of very challenging circumstances. Europe is currently experiencing the largest people movement since World War II, and it is the church that is taking a lead role in advocating for the rights of these people and demonstrating God’s compassion in action.  MEC 2016 will provide the opportunity to step back and not only reflect on what God has been and is doing in and through His church, but also to envision the church of the future – a church where people of diverse social and religious backgrounds find unity in Christ.”

The Middle East Consultation (MEC 2016) will attract local, regional and global participants who are actively involved in ministry with refugees or committed to developing Christ-centered responses to the growing refugee crisis in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. The consultation will include first-hand testimony by those involved in refugee ministry within and beyond the MENA region, as well as theological, Biblical and sociological reflection on the stories being told. In doing so, we hope to explore possible implications for the regional and global Body of Christ.

In addition, practical workshops and roundtable discussion groups will empower consultation participants to further develop their own responses to the crisis. Keynote presentations by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Seminary; Grant Porter, Lead Facilitator of Near East Initiatives; and others, will furthermore provide a solid theological framework through which to form effective, Christ-centered responses to refugee communities in diverse settings.

MEC 2016 Purpose Statement

MEC 2016 will explore the long-term implications of the significant number of refugees from non-Christian backgrounds who now regularly fellowship with other members of the Body of Christ. By doing this, MEC 2016 seeks to encourage healthy practices between and within different expressions of the local church in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. MEC 2016 will be creating space to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing the MENA church in the present and in the years ahead that result from the demographic changes currently taking place. In addition, we will  be creating the time and space for church and ministry leaders to step back and reflect not only on what God has been doing in and through His church in recent times, but to envision the church of the future in and beyond the MENA region.

Two Critical Questions

Throughout MEC 2016, IMES will be exploring two critical questions:

  • From a theological, biblical and sociological perspective, to what extent do non-Christian refugees need to be integrated into the previously established church?
  • How might a biblical expression of church – made up of new believers from non-Christian backgrounds – be fostered in such a way that it would flourish within a non-Christian context?

MEC 2016 comes at a critical time in history for the church in the region. Furthermore, what is already happening in the Middle East has the potential to happen further-afield. Will the Church – will our churches – be ready?

We look forward to hearing from you and to welcoming you to what promises to be a unique a vitally important consultation.

Click Here to Apply (English / Arabic)

Click here for MEC 2016 Costs and Logistics

To find out more, please visit: www.ABTSLebanon.org/mec2016You can also email us directly at: MEC@ABTSLebanon.org

Regular updates will be available on the IMES Blog: IMESLebanon.wordpress.com/mec2016Please sign up to receive our weekly blog posts and updates about MEC 2016.

The Church of the Middle East is on Life Support: Lessons for the Global Body of Christ

A picture taken on August 18, 2013 shows the Amir Tadros coptic Church in Minya, some 250 kms south of Cairo, which was set ablaze on August 14, 2013. Egypt's Christians are living in fear after a string of attacks against churches, businesses and homes they say were carried out by angry supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. As police dispersed Morsi supporters from two Cairo squares on August 14, attackers torched churches across the country in an apparent response. AFP PHOTO / VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG        (Photo credit should read VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG/AFP/Getty Images)

The remains of the Amir Tadros Coptic Church in Minya, southern Egypt. (VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG/AFP/Getty Images) – originally published here

By Martin Accad

The Church of the Middle East is on life support, and fingers regularly point at Islam as the cause of its demise. Some, like influential popular historian Philip Jenkins, have already begun to toll the funeral bells. How do you prepare future leaders for the Arab church in such circumstances? And are there lessons to be learned for the church beyond the Middle East? Continue reading

Will Our Local Pastors Lead the Fight? The Rampant Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers in our Midst

by Rose Khouri

Two months ago I arrived at the office expecting a normal day. I ended up driving a sobbing Kenyan woman to a shelter for abused migrant workers.

This young woman, terrified, crying, unable to make eye contact, is one of a quarter million guest workers – primarily women from East Africa and East/South East Asia – living and working in Lebanon. The abusive situation she was running away from is neither uncommon, nor surprising.  Continue reading