I believe in the remnant

The old olive tree at AUB still sprouting branches of life.

Since we are still in Beirut awaiting in the visas to Syria that we trust will come, we have some extra non-programmed moments. Today Steve and I, like others have done, strolled down through the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB). It is a lovely campus and if you go far enough west, you will come to the side that is right on the Mediterranean. We don’t have views like this in Omaha! Today we came across this ancient olive tree. Bearing the scars of a long life, it grew there in the spot it must have been planted in long before Presbyterian missionaries founded this school, and even centuries before that. At first appearance, it seemed lifeless, as there were no spreading branches like the other trees we had seen. But it begged the photo as there were these little sprigs of new growth that said, “Wait! I am not done with life yet. I am still here and green and growing.” I tried to find out information about such old olive trees and here is the result:

Tucked away in the village of Bechealeh, Lebanon, 16 olive trees have witnessed 6000 years of political unrest, plagues, diseases, varying climatic conditions and changing civilizations. In fact these “trees of Noah” are considered by locals to be a living miracle because nature, as we all know, is often silent and passive in the face of hardship, greed and violence so the fact that these arcane olive trees have managed to skirt 6000 years of climatic shifts, hacking axes and diseases…“The Sisters” olive trees remain one of the great unresolved and virtually unexplored pre-Biblical mysteries; common folklore and a few Biblical Scholars believe that these are the trees from which the dove took the branch back to Noah when the deluge subsided.

So there are ancient olive trees here in Lebanon. And maybe, just maybe, one of them is the tree from which the dove gave a sign to Noah that there was dry land: deliveranc, life to come. I want to share with you some of the olive branches that have come with our three days (one still to come) with the pastors of Syria who came to us because, as of yet, we have not been able to go to them. Here are their words, not mine.

Rev. Ibrahim Nsier, Aleppo Church

I have grown through the crisis, not because of the crisis, but because I really touched the work of God. From family members, from the community outside we are asked: why stay? What it means to be a minister was made more mature in me during this time. There were challenges, but it wasn’t negative. What it means to have ministry, to look to those who are surrounding you. The spirit of God was with me whenever I was speaking, or taking actions, or building relationships. “All things work for good,” was experienced by me and my family. Although they were threatened, this was true. (Rev. Ibrahim Nsier, Aleppo Church)

I am called to serve here so I will do that. The most difficult thing is when you can’t do the thing that is asked for: meeting needs, favors from the government, etc. Not all problems could be solved, but we tried always to listen and be inclusive. Sometimes that is the only thing you can do: hug someone when they are crying. (Last week he and Sunday school leaders spent three hours with 200 young cancer patients, trying to spread joy and smiles.) We won’t be the followers of Jesus Christ if we took care only of our members. “I was thirsty, I was hungry, I was sick…and you didn’t.” I challenge us all that our role goes beyond walls. (Ibrahim)

Rev. Boutros Zaour, Damascus Church

Even with all the hardships of crisis: On the plus side, we built more intimate relationships with each other. For example, the women’s group increased day by day. Children in Sunday school increased. We sent two buses to bring people in the suburbs into worship. We need each other. We are one family, the church. (Rev. Boutros Zaour, Damascus Church)

We are the people of life, of resurrection. We should live and continue living without stopping. I see the feedback through their faces and their participation in church activities. There is a good, healthy experience in the church. They see the need to do things for the coming generations. (Boutros)

The church tries to bring healing to the bodies and souls of those affected. (Rev. Maan Bitar, Mahardeh Church – There are 80 martyrs from this village, including six killed in the last three weeks)

The Presbyterian church has good reputation in Aleppo. We should care for that reputation by giving as much as we can, and working in the coming generation about being involved in the intellectual conflict with terrorists. End the ideology that excludes the other. Jesus had problems with political, religious and economic authorities in the Bible. This should be our message as well, not to be in conflict but to speak the truth. The church is one. When we speak of being evangelical or orthodox or catholic, we are hurting Jesus Christ. (Ibrahim)

Rev. Michael Boughos, Yazdieh Church

Many families led by widows: The government gave space for small shops that they give to these women to manage. We provided them with items to sell in the shops. So they are still giving some food aid, doing these small projects and providing medical aid where they can. Teaching them how to fish. (Rev. Michel Boughos, Yazdieh Church)

Many thanks: First to God, who never left us. Emmanuel was not just a word, but an experience in our community. Second to partners who work through the synod. We hear about partners a lot, for us a community in Aleppo, we have a unique partner in The Outreach Foundation, not just for money but for compassion, for prayer. We are the first concern of your minds. You will go out of the iPhone to be with us in Aleppo itself. (Ibrahim)

Rev. Firas Ferah, Qamishli Church

How do the church folk feel about investing in their property (with renovations and improvements) when others are taking control of the area? It is an encouraging step for our members and the other Christians. A sign that we are trusting God to stay in this place. The others are happy as well because they send their children there (to our school) as well. 90% are Arab Muslim and Kurds. It is good to develop ministry as it gives us wider impact. (Rev. Firas Ferah, Qamishli Church)

I think I am still in that season of newness as I return here. God is continuing to do a new thing in and among us. It is good to see and talk with you. Newness is a part of what God does. This brand new day for instance. The newness of the relationships and the renewal of same. As I turn to scripture, the text for my Sunday back in Valparaiso is the call of the disciples and the new thing God will do by bringing men and women together to proclaim the gospel. (Rev. Mark Mueller, Valparaiso, Indiana)

Jesus said, you give them to eat. I don’t know how we will do this. My wife Huda said, “God will do it.” The paralyzed man needed four people to lower him to Jesus. We in Syria are holding him from one side, and you and others are holding the other side to bring him to Jesus. (Michel)

Marilyn Borst with Mathilde Sabbagh, pastor of Hasakeh Church

These have been astounding days, to sit and listen to the stories of the Presbyterian church family in a place so far from our own homes. Mathilde Sabbagh, the newest member of this clerical community, is serving the church of Hasakeh in the far northeast corner of Syria. When she arrived on a three-month assignment after graduating from seminary about eighteen months ago, she found a worshiping community of eight. After three months of difficult work were completed, they surveyed what they had to work with and said, “Let’s go! I believe in the remnant!” Unlike the olive tree that might have stayed passive in times of hardship, these churches have been actively engaged in ministry. Like the olive tree, they are scarred and battered, with the broken branches of those who have left. But, oh my, that remnant is pushing out from that scarred trunk, rooted deep in the soil where God has planted it. As members of The Outreach Foundation team, waiting patiently for visas which may never come, we celebrate joyfully as the dove brings these branches of hope to us. There is dry land. There is life to come. Thanks be to God.

 

Belmarouf: With what is known to be good

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8-9 NRSV)

TOF team outside of NEST

It is the end of our first day on this trip to Lebanon and Syria with The Outreach Foundation. I am tasked with encapsulating it for you at home, and so I have taken good notes through our visits on this Friday in Beirut. But as usually happens, the threads of the day all come together into a whole cloth of beauty and truth when someone brings the word to us in a team devotion. Tonight that was Marilyn, our fearless and faithful leader, who gave us the words of Paul (which he gave to the church at Philippi) and the title of this blog.

The words are appropriate for this group of American Presbyterians as we wait in hope for our visas into Syria next week. We will see many hard things. We will hear many hard things. We will wonder where to find hope in a land that is in its seventh year of war. Most of those on this team have experienced it before on other trips to Syria, but some have not. The seeing before does not make the seeing now easier, as those pictures are easily drawn to the front of our brains and we know the names of the people who are the subjects and objects of those stories. Lisa put it very well tonight: they are just like me. But Marilyn’s – and Paul’s – caution is to think on what is good, what is true, what is honorable, what is just and pure and pleasing and commendable. That is quite a list of words to keep in mind, so let us concentrate on the good. I will get to the title later!

Our program visits today were to two of the special partners of TOF in Beirut: the Near East School of Theology (NEST) and the offices of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL). To sit with Dr. George Sabra, the leader of NEST, is always like being a part of the best class experience ever. He speaks softly, and is always willing to give the numerical facts of this theological institution – how old it is, how many students, how many faculty – but then will give you the meat of what this place means to the life and vitality of the reformed churches in Lebanon and Syria. For example, to celebrate the 85th anniversary of NEST this past November, NEST published the culmination of a multi-year project to translate John Calvin’s 16th century Institutes of Christian Religion into Arabic. It’s a book for scholars, not the every day reader, so why bother? What do 500-year-old words have to do with today? But then this educator goes on to remind us that Calvin wrote those words in a time when this new reformed faith of ours and the churches which professed it were under great oppression themselves. These words have importance in a 21st century context for Christians in the Middle East and so it was very worthwhile.

Rev. Joseph Kassab, general secretary of NESSL; Dr. Johnny Awad, New Testament professor at NEST; Rev. Lisa Culpepper, South Caroline and TOF team member

We also spent time with Rev. Joseph Kassab, general secretary of NESSL, and an esteemed group of Synod leaders, including Rev. Suhail Saoud, secretary of the Synod’s Committee on Social and Medical Services. Before the crisis in Syria, this committee was a minor committee of the Synod, but since the crisis began in 2011, its mission and ministry have increased exponentially. We have heard about the growth of a project dear to many of our hearts, the five – now six! – schools for Syrian refugee children. A sixth school was recently opened in Anjar, an Armenian area not far from Beirut that already serves 230 students in two shifts. Forty-five teachers in six schools are educating 600 students age 4-11 in English, Arabic, science and math in the Syrian system in the hope that when they can return home they will be ready to continue their education at grade level. These children and their families, almost all living in tents in camps, are cared for with the love of Christ. Rev. Suheil shared the words of one family: “This is the first time we have felt like humans.”

NEST class of 1997

These institutions have interesting challenges. For NESSL, it is coming to the conclusion that the church needs to get outside its walls; it cannot be an insular community. Projects like the refugee schools give the opportunity to daily touch the lives of refugees, nearly all Muslim, with the love of Christ. For NEST, one of those challenges is walking alongside their Syrian students and preparing them for future ministry in the east, in Syria, where the need is great for church leaders. I was reminded of the importance of that leadership as I took the picture of the plaque which represented the class of 1997. Three of those names go with faces I know well who perfectly represent the fact the NEST and NESSL are meeting those challenges. Rev. Tony Aboud is the pastor of the church in Kerbet Khanafar in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. His wife Ramak is the principal of the refugee school in Kab Elias. Together this ministry couple and their team touch the lives of sixty-plus students and their families daily. Rev. Rola Sleiman, pastor of the church in Tripoli in the north of Lebanon, is the spiritual leader of a large Synod school there as well as another of the refugee schools. She is also the first woman ordained to the pastorate of a Presbyterian church in the Middle East. Rev. Ibrahim Nsier is the pastor in Aleppo, Syria, a church that volumes can be written about the infinite ways they have served faithfully through the destruction of war. You will hear more about that church and others in the coming posts.

And that takes me back to the title of this post. Belmarouf is a word repeated in an old Syrian love song, which came to the mind of another pastor in Aleppo as he contemplated the destruction of his city. “Oh, how wildly I long for you; how cleaved is my soul to you! I am fully yours, belmarouf (with unconditional goodness). With patience, I will get what I am looking for belmarouf (with your unconditional goodness.” Out of the rape of war, “the new born will heal the wounds of many and will disturb others belmarouf, with goodness and justice.”

As we prepare to see what he has seen, and hear the stories of those who walked those days, we too will think on what is good and just, and remember that it is the people we met at NEST and NESSL who remind us that we have much material to work with.

Belmarouf.

For the team, Julie Burgess, West Hills, Omaha, Nebraska

Jars of Clay

The eight Presbyterian pastors serving in Syria (back row left to right) Jacoub Sabbaagh, Fairouzeh; Mofid Karajieli, Homs; Salam Hanna, Latakia; Elias Jabour, Aleppo; (front row left to right) Firas Ferah, Hasakeh, Kamishli and Malkieh; Ma'an Bitar, Mahardeh and Hama; Butros Zaour, Damascus; and Ibrahim Nsier.

The eight Presbyterian pastors serving in Syria (back row left to right) Jacoub Sabbaagh, Fairouzeh; Mofid Karajieli, Homs; Salam Hanna, Latakia; Elias Jabour, Aleppo; (front row left to right) Firas Ferah, Hasakeh, Kamishli and Malkieh; Ma’an Bitar, Mahardeh and Hama; Butros Zaour, Damascus; and Ibrahim Nsier.

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” 2 Cor. 4:7-10

Marilyn led us in worship Tuesday morning around this passage of scripture which is incarnated for us here by the serving Syrian pastors who have been among us and are the reason we came: to sit with and listen to them tell the stories of affliction, persecution and perplexity of their home places, but also the resurrection stories that come from those same places. This is the church of Lebanon and Syria, and why we need each other. The global church models perseverance for us, and that is Paul’s theme. The church remains hopeful, constant. This text refers to the faithfulness of the church over the long time through difficult circumstances.

This is what the stories of the church in Lebanon and Syria do for us in the west: they become a living epistle. We lift up these stories of faith and faithfulness in Aleppo: Walking up five flights for worship because the building has been destroyed, and then building a new building because they may be struck down, but they are not destroyed as a body. Starting a water ministry for the community to love their neighbors. Or the stories from Homs: Nurturing a community in diaspora. The evangelical school that never closed despite mortar shells and bullets. The elderly home, not only providing loving care to this vulnerable population, but providing a place for worship when the church was bombed. A confirmation class that was conducted from home to home that took two years, but on Easter, 2015, the whole class was brought together. In Kamishli, the church found a way to be present to the Yazidi refugees by providing a source of fresh water and sunk a well. It seems that in these times the church could just hunker down and take care of itself. But the church is not called to survive, but to thrive. In Damascus, the church women devised a project for the refugee women to regain their dignity with the needlework project. In Mahardeh, the continuing education of young children by the kindergarten keeps faithful life incarnated. Mathilde Sabbaagh, a fourth-year student at the Near East School of Theology, who chooses not to flee to Canada because “God has not given me a word for Canada, but he has given me a word for Syria.”

Story upon story, picture upon picture, video footage that brought smiles one moment as smiling Sunday school children in the northeast of Syria showed their Christmas projects, and then sadness the next when a series of coffins was displayed, victims of a series of cruel bombings in the same city.

But as we hear the sadness and overwhelming circumstances of life in this war-ravaged clay pot of a country, we experience the resurrection as well. In Homs, a city under siege for almost three years, churches are being rebuilt and homes are being repaired and families are moving back in.

This is the church we have come to be with. This is the church we are a part of. This is the body of Christ and its life of faith and hope and love and endurance is the witness to the glory of God. May it ever be so.

Heartburn

That's my trip journal for four trips to the Middle East. The spine is busted from stuffing it full of inserts of hymns, printed prayers, photos and bios of my teammates, devotionals I've led and other memories on paper too important to discard.

That’s my trip journal for four trips to the Middle East. The spine is busted from stuffing it full of inserts of hymns, printed prayers, photos and bios of my teammates, devotionals I’ve led and other memories on paper too important to discard.

I was looking through my dog-eared, spine-busted journal tonight for an email address. There are so many inserts into this broken-backed book! And while I found the email, I also found this. On this night, before I begin my journey into a master of arts study of ministry at Creighton University, it reminds me of one of the big reasons I am stepping out.

I wrote this article in May, 2013, shortly before my second trip to Lebanon. I am so happy to share it tonight.

 

 

Wading Into Deeper Waters

There is a difference between heartburn and a heart that burns. The former is felt usually around some poor eating habits or gastrointestinal issues. It’s very uncomfortable if you’ve ever experienced it, but you can take a pill. The latter can also be uncomfortable, but I would describe it more as comfort-afflicting. If your heart has ever burned for something or someone, your only response is action. If you don’t do something about it, it just gets worse. There is no magic pill.

My heart has burned for the situation across the Middle East since I was in high school and my step-brother Charlie worked for NBC News in Lebanon, covering their civil war which raged for fifteen years. Every night we would watch the news and see pictures of the atrocities that Charlie had stood in the midst of to get the story to us in the U.S. It was hard to watch and understand why these things went on, but more than anything, we hoped Charlie would be safe.

My heart kept burning through the years and then I met Maya in a women’s bible study here at West Hills. A native of Lebanon, she returned there to visit family in 2006 and was stuck in the middle of another war. When she came back thoroughly shaken, heartbroken and angry, reliving her childhood, she shared with us her story. This woman of faith simply asked, “Why do they hate us?”

Then I met Marilyn Borst of The Outreach Foundation and she was taking a group of faithful women to visit the churches of the Synod of Syria and Lebanon. We would travel to Beirut and visit the churches founded by missionaries in the 1800s. We would travel to Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, doing the same. We shared worship. We shared time at a women’s conference. We were welcomed into their homes. We shared coffee and tea and sweets. We met with Iraqi refugee families who were being cared for by the church. We heard stories of courage and of love and of faith, a faith lived out for over 2,000 years.

And I came home with new friends and new connections in this global gathering we call the Body of Christ. And my heart burned to return, to be back in the company of those women and those churches, to share life together again. And we would have returned the following year, 2011, but once again, war broke out.

This time the war was in Syria – first an uprising in a small town, now a two-year old war – and we couldn’t go back because it wasn’t safe…for us. It’s not safe for them either, but they live there. Or they did.

The Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria, where we sang Amazing Grace and shared with the families who were caring for Iraqi refugees was completely destroyed in November, 2012. We got this news from synod officials who had traveled to be with us in a large gathering in Erbil, Iraq. Those of us in that room who had worshipped at the church in Aleppo were grieving: grieving for the ministry that would no longer be done in that neighborhood, grieving for the plans of the renovation of a Christian high school that would have served all faiths, grieving for the work that Assis Ibrahim and his congregation had done together as incarnational witnesses. Their church home was destroyed, many of their own homes were destroyed, their jobs were gone. Those who cared for refugees were now refugees themselves as they fled to safe parts of their country or to Lebanon.

In some of Paul’s epistles he refers to a collection for the church in Jerusalem. The churches created from his and other missionary journeys were collecting money for the benefit of the persecuted church there. The Outreach Foundation and other churches in our denomination are doing the same thing for the present day persecuted churches in Syria. They are collecting money to send to the Synod of Syria and Lebanon to aid these now displaced brothers and sisters in the small but important ways they can. And the people of our church have responded to that plea in the form of a $10,000 gift granted by our Mission Team. And my heart burns with gratitude at this response. We are not called to suffer as they have been. But we are called to stand with them: to show up when we can, to release the resources that God has provided us to be used in their time of need.

This burning heart of mine will return to Lebanon in May. My prayer is that these people of God will know his peace that passes all understanding. That they will be comforted by his gracious Holy Spirit. That they would have abundant life restored to them. That they would continue to shine the light of Christ wherever they are. And that they will be strengthened in this time of trial.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

And now in January, 2016, I am happy to reflect back on this. The church building in Aleppo has been rebuilt in a safer place and the saints worshipped there for the first time on Christmas. The church body never stopped meeting, climbing five flights of stairs to meet in an apartment together for the last three years.

The Aleppo College for Boys, that Christian high school, has never closed its doors during the continuing conflict, now approaching its fifth anniversary. It continues to be a place where Christian and Muslim learn side by side.

My church, West Hills Presbyterian, has given other gifts to the Syria Appeal of The Outreach Foundation totaling some $25,000. (You can give too! http://www.theoutreachfoundation.org)

I have traveled back to Lebanon three times and to Syria twice. Steve and I will be returning to both again this spring.

And the inspiration of the church in persecution has put a vision of ministry in front of me, and the fulfillment of that vision begins tomorrow night when I take my first class at Creighton University.

May God continue to cause my heart to burn, and may he inflict you with that as well.

Dona nobis pacem.

Welcomed to the table

I learned a Greek word last week in Bible study: prosdechomai.

Now that I am not working but anticipating heading back to school in January, I started attending this wonderful gathering of women on Thursdays at church with my sister Jana, who has been going for over twenty years. There is always a delicious spread of food to feed our bodies even as our souls are fed on the word. This is an experienced group of Bible students and they are being led by three gifted teachers this year who are all friends of mine. Lou and Jackie and Jessica have taken us through 2 Peter, 1 and 2 John, and this past week, 3 John.

Lou took us through this short but meaty epistle where we met three men known by John and actually named: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius.

The word – prosdechomai – was associated with something Diotrephes was not doing. He was not welcoming, not receiving, early missionaries into his home as they traveled with the good news. Indeed, he was even putting people out of the church who did open their homes. We had a good discussion about hospitality in the church, especially as it pertained to those who come to our church from other places to tell the stories of how God is working in this world. In a large church of 750, we have a hard time getting 25 to come to a lunch to hear what they have to say. We chewed on that a bit. And John says in verse 11: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good.” Don’t be like Diotrephes!

And then on Sunday, just three days later, we dove back into Luke 15 and the story of the prodigal son as our pastor Derek continued his two-part sermon about “the gospel within the gospel.”

Luke 15 starts out this way:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2 NRSV)

As I first heard from Lou, and was reiterated through Derek who was using a Ken Bailey book (The Cross & The Prodigal) to guide his sermon, the Greek word dechomai means to receive. With the prefix pros- added to it, the meaning becomes deeper: to welcome into fellowship.

So here is what causes the grumbling from the righteous: that Jesus would not only welcome the unrighteous (me and all the rest) for conversation, but that he would go even further and eat with them. He would fellowship with them.

And, of course, we know this from coming to the Lord’s table for the Lord’s supper in communion. This group of unrighteous, undeserving sinners – we the people – are invited to sup with the Lord God almighty.

It is an amazing thing. God invites to his table in fellowship those whose sins have nailed him to the tree. His enemies. Us. Grace at the table of the Lord.

This word came to me in an interesting time. There have been ISIS bombings in Baghdad, in Beirut, in the air over Egypt as a Russian airliner was taken down, and in Paris. And the big message that I have heard is that our country is now wary of Syrian refugees. Somehow the work of a very small group of radicalized terrorists has caused governors in our country (mine included) to say, “No. There is no prosdechomai for the fleeing victims of terror in our state. They might be our enemies.”

And as I walked yesterday and the day before thinking about this word – prosdechomai – a picture from 2010 came to my head and my heart.

August, 2010, Aleppo, Syria (before the war) – Nine women had traveled to Lebanon and Syria on a trip to meet and learn about our brothers and sisters in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. We worshiped with Middle Eastern Christians. We laughed with them. We baked in the sun with them. We had our minds and our hearts and our world expanded by this family connection we now had experienced.

While in Aleppo for three days with the church there, we had the humbling opportunity to visit in the homes of Iraqi refugees who were being cared for by the Aleppo church as they waited for new homes in other parts of the world.

Why were there Iraqi refugees in Syria? Because the U.S. government had invaded their homeland in 2003. Faulty intelligence that said Iraq was responsible for harboring Osama bin Laden, a friend of Saddam after all, right? Faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Faulty, faulty, faulty. And Iraqi families paid a heavy price.

They were in Syria, chased out of their homes in Iraq because we had unleashed Armageddon on them. And so they sought refuge, and they found it in Syria.

And so it came to pass that nine American women were invited into the homes of three Iraqi families. Three families with nothing. Scare furnishings in their homes, donated by Aleppo church families. They were surviving on what was left of the savings they ran from Iraq with, much like what is happening today in Syria and Iraq.

The Aziz family, refugees from Iraq living in Aleppo, Syria, August, 2010.

The Aziz family, refugees from Iraq living in Aleppo, Syria, August, 2010.

My group of Betty and Sue and me was prosdechomai-d by the Aziz family. And there we sat – sumptuous meal in front of us, tea and coffee and sweets – with people driven out of their homes by the actions of our government, the actions of we the people.

Grace at the table. Prosdechomai.

In his book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, Shane Claiborne says this in a footnote about a story of being in Baghdad during the U.S. invasion:

That night in Baghdad, I read Psalm 23. It’s the one folks usually read at funerals: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” And I felt like I was. But I noticed something I have never noticed before. The psalm says that a table is prepared “in the presence of my enemies.” I remember thinking, why are our enemies there? What if after we die, God brings our enemies to the table and asks how we treated them? What if Jesus asks them, “Shane here claims to follow me. Did he love you? Did he feed you and pray for you like I taught him to?” What would our enemies say?

The story of the two sons and the loving father told in Luke 15 ends in an open manner. The father has killed the fattened calf for his younger son who earlier in the parable wished his father dead. And now he calls the older son, who in his righteousness also wishes his father dead, to come to the table. Is this not a setting of table in the presence of his enemies? Two brothers, both sinners, both wanting their father dead. But there is the father desiring to prosdechomai with both.

And so in a week of learning about prosdechomai from the word of the God I love, I believe, I humbly and haltingly try to follow, I thought of the Aziz family. I thought of how they welcomed enemies to the table and ate with us.

And I pray that we will do the same.