Since that conversation, I have been reflecting on these words from the Book of Isaiah: “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.... He will teach us his ways….’ They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (2:3-4).
We are called up to the mountain of the Lord. The gravitational pull of sin is always down, whether it is connected to self-interest or national interests. Jesus calls us upward and invites us into learning his ways and modeling his peace for the world. Instead of pulling other cultures down, we are called up to the peaceful ways of God.
This summer, I had the privilege of following my son Josh up a few mountains. I wish I could say it’s getting easier, but fighting gravity – and an aging body – requires training and lots of determination. It’s the same with learning God’s ways and walking in his paths – it is definitely not the path of least resistance. In a world where conflict is growing and so many lives are being destroyed, God invites us up to see the world from his perspective. Most people don’t know the way to the mountain of the Lord; they don’t know God’s ways. They need to be led by others; they need to see demonstrations of God’s forgiveness, mercy and love from those who know him.
In the summer, some or our staff joined an event in Turkey where young people were gathered from Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and North America. Most of the participants were Muslims, but the group of seventy-five came from very different backgrounds and situations and they spent a week together, sharing hotel rooms and meals; they also shared their stories, their dreams and their pain. On a day themed around reconciliation, a young Syrian refugee shared his anger at feeling rejected by Turks. But he also shared how the new friendships he had formed at the event had changed his perception of them. He apologized for his former prejudice and asked for their forgiveness. When he did that, two young Turkish men got up and embraced him with tears.
In turn, others in the crowd began to share their stories and move toward peace and reconciliation. A number of participants asked for Bibles, wanting to know more about this way of love and forgiveness.
I don’t believe there has been an opportunity like this in our lifetime when Muslims are as open to the love of Christ. This love is willing to pay any price. If the current level of conflict and instability in the world are the new normal, then the costly love of Christ is the only response!
I just visited a new refugee welcome centre near Vancouver where I spent some time with the staff and volunteers. I watched as Syrian refugees and commited Christ followers from area churches together received orientation for their volunteer responsibilities. English teaching, employment assistance, computer skills, and even trauma counseling support are available in an environment where the love of Christ is lived. Our new neighbors have experiences and stories which remind us that we all suffer and we all need each other.
In the Book of Revelation, John is writing from exile on the island of Patmos (not far from where many refugees are being routed today) and he points to his experience of suffering as normal: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). We are John’s companions in the suffering, kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Christ. Is this true of our own experience?
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done, are we okay with the fellowship of sufferings and the patient endurance that prayer requires? The advance of Christ’s kingdom in this world and in our lives is costly. It’s uphill. For John, it meant exile on an island. For us, it might mean releasing our children to costly mission assignments, repenting of sin to a spouse or employer, or loving our refugee neighbors even more than our own lives. Will we embrace the kingdom and its cost?
In this issue of Witness we’re exploring the joy, fruit and cost of living on mission with Jesus in the midst of all the turmoil and complexity of our world. Thank you for joining us on this mission!