Recently I had the privilege of gathering together with family from over 27 different nations. We gathered in the Middle East for 5 days enjoying fellowship, training, worship, and being refilled with the Holy Spirit.
His body together
Many different faces, languages and stories were represented as we gathered. There were weary faith-filled faces of those coming from closed countries, young families bravely learning what it means to live cross-culturally, pastors from their home nations, friends from the UK exploring calls to the nations, and just about everyone in between. As we gathered together, we sang and danced before the Lord in Arabic, Turkish, Farsi and English (and even some Urdu and Russian!) – a glorious party of the bride of Christ loving and adoring her groom.
One evening as we joined hands the glory of God fell as we become like his holy temple, living stones being filled with his presence, available for whatever he wants for his glory on his earth. The tangible presence of God was so thick and heavy and as the praises rose from his people we just stayed. Stayed in that place of connection with our father, from whom it is all for. As a family we were overcome by his goodness, his presence and were reminded that He Is With Us. That is sometimes all we need to know. Among all the learning, theology and networking during this week it was this holy moment that encompassed the whole week for many. Being his body, being filled with Him.
Perspective is everything
One of the many seminar tracks was on Ephesians and how to read it from a Middle Eastern perspective. Speakers from Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, the UK and Armenia took a chapter each and laid out a rich theological feast for us.
Reconciliation is a key theme in Ephesians 2:14-16 and together we learned about what these verses would mean to someone from the Middle East, someone who lives in a high honour-shame culture, or maybe coming from a war torn country.
He is our peace and he abolished the dividing wall of hostility so we can one new man in Christ.
Imagine living in the Middle East at the time of writing. You might not have met many people different from you – such were the dividing walls of hostility. Nationalities, gender and class were just some of the ways in which people were separated.
Neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male and female…
Did these groups mix when Paul was writing? No. And not just to be petty but with good reason. Every prejudice has a history of pain behind it that only reconciliation through Christ can bring. Language, location, style and history are all huge factors as we see “One new man in Christ” lived out in the Church in the Middle East – then and now.
In my host country context I considered what strongholds of pain and prejudice (that go back for generations) will need to be dealt with as we plant a church encompassing people from different backgrounds as one new man in Christ. The honoured and the despised, the man and the woman, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated… The gospel uplifts the lower and humbles the high.
Though we are contextualising to a certain demographic when we plant a church, I was so challenged when I heard this: “If in our churches we are only meeting and discipling one type of group of people, you are not the church. Until you are battling those deep seated prejudices we can all hold in our blind spots against one another, you are not the church.” Wow.
Some of my friends where I live hate all people of another nationality. This racism is rooted in a history of pain. As my friends and I look at Scripture together we must root out the pain and bring the reconciliation of Christ to our blind spots so we can truly be one new man in Christ.
God at work
It wouldn’t a true family reunion without welcoming friends and hearing their stories – and that is what we did!
We heard amazing stories of people coming to faith in Jesus. One man’s accounts from the center of a multiplying move of God raised our faith. People of peace coming to know God through reading stories in the scripture, encountering Him and sharing these stories with their families and friends. In their thousands. Today.
In countries where churches and believers are under intense pressure, God is growing his Church. God loves the nations we can’t get into easily; he loves those deeply who suffer for their faith and who don’t have the freedom or resources available to them that we do in the West. And he is moving! He is doing what he promised to do and I know he will do it in my host country too.
From the oldest church planting veteran in the room to the youngest child in the kids work, (one of which, incidentally, was my child) the call and challenge continues to be to make disciples.
However old we are, we will always be disciples. It was so good to be reminded that we will always need accountability and challenge to our character as we walk as disciples of Jesus. We were challenged to just to look at where a believer is in his/her maturity now, but how far someone has come as we walk with them. To look back to where they came and count that journey as fruit of the Spirit’s work.
As a mum with two little ones it was a joy and at times a challenge to make sure everyone got near to what they needed. My 3 year old knows our host country as home now and rarely gets the chance for any kind of discipleship in English so it was wonderful to have a whole team come from the UK to serve our kids.
My child struggled to settle at first. I was crying out to God at the beginning of the week “Jesus he needs this, I need this, please be with my kid, let him know he is safe and please draw close to him!” He answered my prayer in an unexpected way – with another child. A 10 year old friend took care of him, got alongside him, told the leaders what my kid liked, comforted him when he struggled, and showed him how to sing and dance in worship. I saw a beautiful picture of discipleship at every age and truly being family on a mission together.
So. Today I’m back in my host country and continuing into my second year of language learning.
I am remembering one of the many prophetic words from the week which goes something like this: “We cry out for the nations, for our friends and neighbours – not just with desperation, but with FAITH.
I can’t wait to hear the many more stories when we gather next. So, until 2019, friends.