The Mount of Olives was once home to a thriving community of Palestinian Christians. Today, only one family remains. Persecution has driven all others away. This man, pictured with me here, is the man who stayed. His name is Khamal.
I think if I ever met someone who did not love Khamal, I could not possibly trust them. He is strong, joyful, hardworking, and infinitely kind. He drives his tour bus all over Israel with unflinching courage. He speaks several different languages. He gets clearance at checkpoints with a wave of his hand. If one of the soldiers gives him grief, he asks for their name, informs them he knows their mother…aunt…father…uncle…at which the young man looks sheepish and waves his bus on through. It is no joke. He would totally report them to the family member.
Khamal always has a twinkle in his eye, yet I have never met anyone who more passionately and apologetically proclaims his faith in Jesus. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, you can bet on two things- Khamal will love you and he will tell you about Christ.
I am telling you about Khamal because it is just too easy to make wide, sweeping generalities about entire groups of people. We know it is silly to assume that one group of people is good or bad simply because of their nationality or ethnicity but…we do it. Khamal shakes up that image for some of us. I can tell you this without hesitation- I would trust him with my very life. Actually, I guess I have.
What does it mean to be Arabic? Does it mean Islam and terrorism or is it more complicated than that? Acts 2:11 tells us there were Arabs at Pentecost. One author I read stated that today there are more Arabic speaking Christians in the Middle East than there are Jews in the entire world! Yet, the Arabic speaking church is virtually invisible to the church in the west.
Some of the oldest commentaries on Scripture available to us are from the Syriac, Coptic, and Arabic church. The Arabic church most closely shares the culture of the gospels. Syriac is very closely related to Jesus’ native language, Aramaic. Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East have much to offer us.
And frequently, they are suffering for their faith. I once heard an Egyptian Christian say there are two churches- The Conflict Church and The Comfort Church. He said The Comfort Church doesn’t care much about The Conflict Church. I can’t argue with him. He was tortured for his faith. As I write this, I am sitting in a hip coffee house drinking a brew that was roasted this week from organic beans. I think it is safe to say I am a member of the comfort church.
But today, I want to ask you to remember with me the Middle Eastern church, the conflict church. Let us love them, pray for them, and seek justice for them. Then, let us sit at their feet and learn from them. They have so much to share.