Something I have often written about and talked about is how when Middle Eastern refugees come to Europe and the West, for many of them it is the first time they have ever met Christians or even had the opportunity to hear the gospel or the freedom to read the Bible in their own language. We experienced this ourselves in Hungary, where we saw muslim refugees from Iran, Afghanistan and Kosovo convert to Christianity through our work in a refugee camp.
Could it be that since these countries and cultures haven’t allowed Christianity to spread freely within their borders, that God is now bringing them to Europe and America precisely so many of them can hear the gospel and be saved? I believe so. I’ve written about that here: In Longmont We Met a Refugee from a Muslim Country. Here’s Her Story..
The question is: what will we Christians do with this opportunity?
Greetings from Kyiv, Ukraine! I have been in Europe for the past week on a ministry trip to visit some ministries that White Fields Community Church partners with in Hungary and Ukraine, with the focus of my trip being here in Ukraine.
I got a good price on a multi-destination ticket with Turkish Airlines. Part of the reason for the low price is that it included a 12 hour layover in Istanbul. I can understand why for some people that would be a terrible inconvenience, but for me on this trip it was a great added bonus! Recently I’ve been teaching classes on the history of Christianity, and Constantinople is a big part of it, so I looked forward to the chance to get to see the “New Rome” and the old capitol of the Byzantine Empire along with the Hagia Sophia – the largest Christian church in the world for nearly a thousand years, and a building that changed architecture.
Istanbul, with 14 million people, is the largest city in Europe. During my time there I went to the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait, and from there I could begin to get a glimpse of just how big this city is. It was great preparation for the conference I was coming to teach at in Kyiv on the topic of “Vision for Our Cities.”
I was reminded of the message of the Book of Jonah, which is summed up in the final verse, where God says to Jonah, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”
Jonah’s view of Nineveh was that it was a city full of terrible sinful people who did terrible sinful things, and that they deserved God’s wrath. He was frustrated and upset by the fact that God wanted to offer them a chance to repent and receive mercy. But God spoke to Jonah at the end, and pointed out that Jonah was more concerned about plants than he was about people. God, on the other hand, cares more about people than plants – and so therefore, how could God not care about a city full of his most masterful creation, whom he loves? God wanted Jonah (and us) to understand the way that he feels about people, and about cities full of people: he loves them and we should too.
“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”
On the streets of Istanbul and in the public transport areas I saw a lot of refugees from the Middle East. While I was in Turkey, the United States issued a ban on bringing laptops and tablets onto flights originating from 10 airports in 8 muslim-majority countries, including flights originating from Istanbul, something which will affect me on my flight home. The ban came as the result of the discovery of a plot to put explosives into an iPad.
As I walked through downtown Istanbul towards Taksim Square, I began wondering what it would be like for someone to do Christian ministry in that city. I was surprised at how European it was; aside from the mosques and minarets, most of the city looks like any other large European city.
At the same time, I remember the news about German missionaries who were killed in Turkey a few years ago, and I realize that it would not only be difficult, but also dangerous for someone to do Christian ministry there.
Cities in general are “humanity magnified.” And because of that, there is inherently a dual nature to all cities: on the one hand they are full of the pinnacle of God’s good creation: people who are made in His image – on the other hand, we are fallen and so cities also have more brokenness, danger and sin.
The story-line the Bible tells is one which can be summarized in four points: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. That means that because of Jesus there is hope for humanity.
A Google search helped me find some international churches in Istanbul. I pray for their safety and for them to have effective ministry in this great city. May we truly understand the message of the Book of Jonah and may God give us His heart for cities like this one.
If we think back on the actions of Hitler in Europe and reflect on what Christians should have done, we must open our eyes to realize that something similar is happening in our day in the Middle East to Christians. What will the world do? What can be done?
Brett is over there, not hunting ISIS, but training the Iraqi Christians on how to defend themselves if and when ISIS attacks, and he is standing beside them to fight if and when that day comes.
What do you think about a Christian taking up arms to fight against ISIS?
ISIS is clearly doing something very evil – something that should not be tolerated from any group of people, no matter who they are persecuting.
Considering the circumstances, and the fact that ISIS is functioning as a military group, terrorizing largely unarmed, untrained civilians, I think that what Brett Felton is doing is praiseworthy – putting his life on the line to help civilians protect their families and their ancient civilization from an evil assailant.
Yesterday I taught on the famous sayings of Jesus to his disciples, that they are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. (You can listen to that message here).
Jesus makes his point there, that no one lights a lamp and then hides it under a basket, but they put it on a lamp stand, so it can be seen by all. Just as a city on a hill can not be hidden, Jesus’ disciples are not meant to keep their faith a secret.
Yesterday in Pakistan, 10 more Christians were killed in the bombing of a Christian church. This makes for 25 total deaths of Christians in targeted attacks over the past few days. ISIS is going around systematically targeting and murdering Christians in the Middle East. Christians in the West have little concept of the implications of Jesus’ words for these Christians!
In the West, the greatest persecution we face for not hiding our Christianity, is that people will think we are religious fanatics. But for the most part, being a Christian is still a perfectly acceptable thing to be in our society. There is honestly not a great temptation, unless you are an extremely insecure person, to hide the fact that you are a Christian.
However, if being a Christian, and not hiding it, means that ISIS is going to come for you and your family, if not hiding the fact that you a Christian means that you might face fatal attacks at any moment, then the temptation is HUGE to want to hide your light under a basket – because if you put it on a lamp stand, then you become a target.
In the Beatitudes Jesus describes the kind of people who will be his disciples: they will be meek, they will hunger and thirst after righteousness, they will be peacemakers, they will be pure of heart. When you read those characteristics, you might thing: Wow, those sound like the greatest people in the world! That’s the kind of person I’d like to have as my best friend! But, surprisingly, Jesus then says that these kinds of people will be persecuted by the world. (Matthew 5:11-12) You might wonder: Who would want to hurt these kinds of wonderful people? But you have to look no further than Jesus. He embodied all of those wonderful characteristics, and people beat him and nailed him to a cross.
The situation with Christians around the world facing increased persecution, especially in Muslim-majority countries, should be a wake-up call to Western Christians – and should teach us something about the nature of what it means to be a Christian.
Western Christianity, in my opinion, faces a more insidious form of attack than the physical attack facing those in other parts of the world. Here, our culture pressures us to make Christianity a private thing, that we are free to do, but only behind closed doors. As a result, we have ended up with a form of Christianity that is very introspective and less mission-focused.
In other words, Western society has sought to domesticate Christians, remove their claws and potty train them. They are not trying to scare us into hiding our light under a basket, like ISIS and other radical Islamists do, but rather to coax us into putting a basket over our light, so as not to disturb others with it.
We must remember the words of Jesus: that to hide our light is to betray our very design and purpose as Disciples of Jesus in the world.