Listening to Christians from other contexts: Part 1

posted in: Book Reviews, Tony Thompson 0

In my early years as a Christian I was heavily influenced by Leslie Newbigin who wrote about what mission should look like in pagan Western society. One of the things he advocated was the need for a global church in which older Western churches listen to the non-Western churches. I have sought to do this, however it is difficult to find material from non-Western churches. The West is producing libraries full of books, whilst the rest of the world seems to be busy serving God rather than writing about it.

It was therefore a joy to find a book written by Arab Christians with contributions from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine amongst others. Their reflections on the church in the Middle East and the Western church was challenging and stimulating. In some cases, shocking. I would recommend you read the book. 

Click here to view the Amazon link

For example this perspective from Egypt, which challenges the common held view of the West.

 

A Positive Picture This approach will frustrate many. It will frustrate some Egyptian Christians who desperately want to leave their country for a better life in the West and to do so must convince themselves– and the countries which might grant them asylum– that life in Egypt is unbearable for Christians. It will frustrate some leaders of Christian ministries in Egypt who believe that their support from Western organizations depends solely on painting a picture of Christians in Egypt as a totally persecuted minority. It will frustrate Western fundraisers who have bought into and often exaggerated this persecuted- minority image of Christians in Egypt and have thus created for themselves a donor base of people who give with the wrong motives. It will frustrate Christian revolutionary idealists who had hoped for an Egypt with a Western model of democracy and feel that I [Ramez Atallah] am a compromising pragmatist who has sold out to the establishment. Having studied and worked in Canada and the USA for eighteen years, being familiar with the day- to- day lives of close relatives and friends in North America today, and leading a thriving and growing Bible Society in Egypt, I am firmly convinced that the opportunity for serving Jesus faithfully in Egypt is much easier and more fruitful than in any so- called “free” Western country. True, there are many daily challenges in Egypt, but most are related not to our faith but to the complexity of life in Egypt. For the past twenty- six years the staff of the Bible Society of Egypt whom I lead have been determined not to be discouraged by the many obstacles which face us. 

 

So lobbying the government to help alleviate the plight of Christians in Egypt usually results in more restrictions in society in general, which ultimately makes life harder, not easier, for Christians. 

 

This positive view of the situation is repeated by many writers, with a deafening cry that Christians should not see themselves as victims which they see the West as trying to force them into. 

 

For indeed, when Christians in the West perceive Arab Christians as minorities who need to be rescued, this victimizes and minoritizes them. 

 

We should stop playing the part of victims….. and become agents and apostles of peace, justice and love. The thought of a Middle East without Christians must prompt us to remind ourselves of God’s desires for us and for the region of which we are a part.

 

Whether or not we like it, God has placed us where we are and, like the Israelites in exile, we must engage with the society where we are. We must get over whatever is holding us back from getting involved. 

 

We [Middle Eastern Christians] have to take our message outside our church buildings and Christian communities to everyone. This requires rising above minoritization, refusing to accept the constraints that others seek to impose on us. 

 

I am convinced that we need to listen to people on the ground and not impose our views on them. As is said in the book,

 

As a global church, we need to hear the clear request of those in the Middle East to be very careful about how we describe their context and how we stand alongside them. They do not seek protection or rescue: these harm them more than support them.

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