‘Learning to live in isolation’ was just one of the themes that the ‘Faith and Freedom in the Middle East Conference’ had hoped to explore back in April, as it considered how we might learn from minority, persecuted Christian communities. Little did we know that the conference would be cancelled and we in the West would be forced into isolation for a different reason, the COVID-19 crisis. It has led to our seeking out new ways to connect and explore, with fresh curiosity, what God is saying to us. It should also make us ask the question of how the global Christian community, often located in much more challenging contexts, such as the Middle East, are coping with this crisis.
Learning from the global church about life in lockdown
Rita El-Mounayer, CEO of SAT7, was due to be the keynote speaker at the conference in April. SAT7 is an agency which provides Christian TV by and for the people of the Middle East and North Africa, broadcasting the gospel with holistic programming to more than 500 million people in the region. Even though the conference was cancelled, Rita kindly prepared a video message for PCI, one that helps us to appreciate what life is like under lockdown in a context different from our own. Click on the link at the end of this blog to view her message.
Lockdown as a way of life
It is good to be reminded that while we have faced temporary closures to places of work and worship, and found ourselves confined to our homes, this has been and will continue to be a way of life for many Christians living as persecuted minorities in the Middle East today, long after coronavirus has passed. In Algeria churches are forcibly closed by hostile governments and in Iran the homes of believers are constantly under surveillance and raided by the Secret Police. Yet in these and similar contexts, we encounter Christians whose trust speaks volumes to us as they humbly place their lives as clay in the Potter’s hand, surrendering all to God’s sovereign care. Indeed, it encourages me that they manage to find new opportunities, not only to display simple acts of kindness to their curious neighbours, but to openly, unashamedly, share their hearts about the cross of Jesus Christ. Even when met with suspicion and hostility, they testify that God is continuing to mold them into Christlikeness, sustaining them with hope, reminding them they are not alone.
Praying for the church in lockdown
Let us be prayerful for our brothers and sisters in Christ living in countries largely closed to the gospel. Every one of them is a key worker for Christ as they experience, year in and out, the crisis of isolation and persecution.
Pray too for the work of SAT7, with whom PCI has partnered for many years, as they broadcast in Turkish, Arabic and Farsi into 25 countries, bypassing strict government censorship, overcoming illiteracy, and taking the gospel of the cross into homes and hearts throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
I am reminded to pray also, as we grapple with the challenges of confinement and isolation in our own contexts, to be able to connect effectively with those who, perhaps more than ever before, have become curious about the gospel.
Rita Elmounayer SAT7 video for PCI from Presbyterian Church in Ireland on Vimeo.
Rev Uel Marrs is PCI's Secretary of the Council for Global Mission.
This blog is part of a wider series under the campaign, These Three Remain to help members and congregations during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Visit the These Three Remain hub here.