Lebanon (MNN) — A fragmented Middle East presents both challenges and opportunities to Christians. Perhaps the best place to start when we consider the role and influence Christians have in this part of the world is with the region’s only Christian president.
This past Easter, Lebanon’s President Aoun met with SAT-7, a Christian satellite ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, for a TV interview. He shared that without Christ’s resurrection, the Christian faith would mean nothing.
SAT-7’s President Terry Ascott says it is a remarkable thing that President Aoun holds to the Christian faith, not as a political move, but because it is his own faith. He explains that Lebanon has government representation from the Christian community, and from the Sunni and Shia Muslims groups.
“It was really good to hear him share some of his vision for the country and to, if you like, be a Christian voice among such a fragmented and diverse set of leaders across the Middle East at the present time. Being the only Christian president in the Arab world today is not insignificant,” he says.
A fragmented Middle East
But it’s not cut-and-dry, either. While his voice may be significant, it is perhaps not from his platform where the greatest witnessing takes place in the Middle East. For one, Ascott explains, as a politician, Aoun has a colorful past.
Additionally, he explains, “I would say that Lebanon hasn’t done a great job in being a witness in the Middle East over the past years, mostly because the Christians took up arms in the 1970s and the Christian militias were involved in some ugly incidents with Muslims.”
But on the other hand, since unity between countries has broken down so much, there isn’t a whole lot of unified religious tension against Lebanon or their president.
Living out the Word
What does seem to be making a true difference for the Gospel in the Middle East is the individual believers and how they respond to persecution.
Ascott recalls the events of 2013, during the overthrow of President Morsi in Egypt. He says the violence against Christians — including murder, destruction of churches, and businesses — wasn’t met with the same violence that would be expected.
“Instead, they went to their burnt out churches and they held worship services, and they painted on the blackened walls, ‘We love you. We forgive you.’ And this had a profound impact in a society where an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is very much the standard way of responding to slights like this.”
This attitude was repeated more recently with the church bombings in Egypt, which were not met with more violence, but with a renewed commitment to serve Christ no matter what.
In Lebanon, a similar mentality put to action is making an impact.
Ascott says, “Since the influx of refugees from Syria, many Christian churches have responded in a very loving and caring way and reached out to help the Syrians.”
If you don’t know the relationship between Syria and Lebanon, these actions might just seem like basic humanity. But when you do know their history, then you recognize these Christians are acting in forgiveness, not just grace.
“Syria has been quite involved in Lebanon and oppressive for Lebanon and carried out what can only be described as war crimes against the Lebanese.”
This oppression has created resent and hatred in the Lebanese people. And so for the Church to reach out in this way is an incredible witness. This acting out the Gospel by Christians in the Middle East comes at a critical time.
Many Muslim believers have left their faith. They cannot understand the violence that would compel two different factions of Islam to kill each other in the name of their shared god. They have been stripped of all hope.
But, Ascott says, “A Christian God of love, unconditional love, that encourages its believers to turn the other cheek, not to respond with violence — this has a unique appeal to millions of people at the moment in the Middle East.”
Unfortunately, the last several years of violence have displaced many Christians, meaning traditional forms of sharing the Gospel are not available.
“That’s where SAT-7’s role is going into these homes day-after-day, without restriction, and bringing a Christian message of hope has been key, especially at this time. And I say especially at this time because many people in these conflict zones have lost trust in God. They’ve lost faith in Islamic leaders. They’ve lost their faith.”
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