It’s hard to know where to begin. My world has been turned quite on its head in the last week. First of all, I’m on a Mediterranean island, enjoying 75 degree weather and experiencing the delight of dozens of different cultures. Secondly, I have learned that my perception of the world was nothing more than a perception. My ideas of love, courage and service were a shadow of what they should be.
Let’s start with the location change. Cyprus. From the moment we stepped off the plane, everything was so very different. The scent in the air of Palm trees. The vast sea just outside the airport. I even had a Cyprus coffee – which is like a very bitter, very sweet espresso with a nasty after-taste. It is bitter because they boil it several times in a pan. It’s sweet because they put an overabundance of sugar in it. I’m clearly not man enough to learn to like this stuff.
Then we got on the road. Now, they drive on the left side. But, driving isn’t as we know it in the states. Lanes are merely a suggestion. It is nothing but normal to suddenly see a car coming at you head-on only to, at the last minute, veer further right and up on the curb to a screeching stop. Don’t stop, just take your foot off of the pedal for a short time then get back on it before someone gets upset behind you. The road signs are in Greek, which looks nothing like English. They do have the same words in English but the names are nothing like on our maps, for example Nicosia is spelled Lefkosia.
The cultural landscape here is amazing. This little island is home to people of so many different cultures and countries. It’s also a vacation destination to many. So, it is nothing to walk into a store and be helped by someone from Romania while standing in line with someone from Finland and pass an Egyptian on the way out the door. This makes for strange experiences and many opinions. Yet, it is an extremely peaceful island with very low crime.
While the physical experience of being here has been amazing, the earthquake in understanding of how to live out faith has been monumental. I listened to a man from Turkey talk about the characteristics of cultures being played out in worship, service and progression of the body of Christ. A pastor from Bethlehem, in the Palestinian region, talked of love and hope. He clarified that optimism is limited to what can be seen. He reminded us how political solutions have had an inability to solve the conflict in this region. His point that Hope is not limited to what can be seen but expanded to those things only attained by faith. Instead of solutions, love in the form of service from the body of Christ and in the form of forgiveness will alter the landscape. These things which are only possible because of the Messiah who has already come and will come again. We need to stop looking for solutions, start relying on faith and start loving. This requires action not words. And, we need to start embracing the differences in our cultures that allow us to worship our God in a multitude of manners. These combined will produce peace, reconciliation and restoration in the region and world.
I’ve seen examples of this played out this week. I met the people I will work with who have faced persecution as followers of Christ from countries that don’t allow such things. Some aren’t allowed back in their own countries and have been persecuted. I’ve also witnessed the impact these faithful people have had on others who are not out of harms way. Just a few days ago a friend received a call from someone who had been suffering from cancer. He had been in serious pain all over his body. This person had a dream that Jesus was standing next to him while he was weeping. Jesus said, “Why are you weeping?” The person indicated his troubles. Jesus said, “Don’t cry anymore. You are healed.” In the morning the person went to the hospital and all tests came back negative. He was calling to ask advice because his family was happy that he was healed but not accepting that he believed it was Jesus who healed him. Now, he didn’t have pain from cancer but was in pain from the beating he received. He was being forced to leave or be sent into the armed forces. You see, this person experienced the Hope only possible through Jesus, whom he had faith in. He also experienced the love of someone who has given up many things himself but still sacrifices his time to help people like this person.
Love must require action. Hope must require faith.
Another example of this: The Siege of the Church of the Nativity, which was a 40 day violent event in the Palestinian region – Bethlehem. The result was destruction and virtually every window shattered. After the siege, an art class which existed in a school that was begun by the Bethlehem church, collected all the shards of broken glass. They decided to take the results of destruction and violence and create ornaments of angels, butterflies and other beautiful items. You see, they had faith and hope and decided to act upon it and show that even in such dire circumstances beauty and peace can exist. This is only possible because their hope and faith are in Christ.
I now own an ornament in the shape of an angel. I consider this my most prized possession – a momento of the time when peace and hope were demonstrated in the Middle East – not solutions and optimism.