Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Faith on the rise in the Middle East

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 359 - Wed 04 Jan 2006


(By Neal Youngquist)

'After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.' ' (Matthew 2:1,2)

Though Jesus came as a witness to first the Jews, it was wise men (or astrologers) from the east who risked their lives and fortune to pay honour to the 'King of the Jews'. One would expect priests or rabbis or members of the Sanhedrin to take special note of his coming. But it was uncircumcised Gentiles who discerned the appearing of a single star in the great expanse of the heavens to herald the birth of the Messiah.

These wise men were forerunners of today's believers in the Middle East. Arabs, Persians and other ethnic groups daily exercise their faith in Christ with often great consequence of personal cost. Their minority status throughout the region places them under various forms of intimidation from threat to peril and even loss of life.

Much maligned by their 'brothers' for their belief in Christ, many are treated as heathens, second-class citizens, and outcasts from their families and culture. A life of secret faith, worship in the underground church and isolation becomes the norm for Christians in difficult lands such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

One's Christian faith even becomes a primary issue in the midst ofwar. Within conflict-ridden Iraq, faith in Christ can often be mistaken as tacit support for Western ideals. Such a dangerous assumption leads to potentially devastating consequences, placing Christians squarely in the sights of suicide bombers and assassins. For many, the only alternative is to flee for safer haven in neighbouring countries.

Despite these hardships, Christ the Bright Morning Star is rising in the hearts of those who seek true peace and 'water of life' (Revelation 22:16,17). Recently, after a clear presentation of the gospel, Christ was revealed as the Son of God to over 50 followers of Islam. Similar reports are appearing on a more frequent basis throughout the region.

Just as the star of Bethlehem was miraculously discovered by wise men of ages past, so Christ today is revealed to 'truth seekers'through dreams, visions and Divine intervention. In the midst of uncertainty, despair and peril, many believers, old and new alike, brightly 'shine like stars in the universe' (Philippians 2:15) to the praise and glory of God.


* Divine protection for believers living in societies with hostile attitudes and actions against the Christian faith, and especially for wisdom and courage for church leaders serving in oppressive environments. (Mark 13:11; Proverbs 1:33)

* Efforts to disciple new believers, that they will be firmly rooted and strengthened in the faith and able to discern and withstand the deceit and schemes of the evil one. (Colossians 2:6-8)

* The witness of expatriate Christians (mostly Filipinos and Indian nationals) serving the region in various professions; may these 'tentmakers' know when they can witness in word and deed to their employers and local co-workers. (Colossians 3:22-25)

* the impact of Christian media in print, radio and television, and that creative and sensitive media development will promote an understanding of Christianity and the gospel message. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

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