29 January 2013, Near the Mediterranean Sea
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another." Romans 12:15–16a
I love Romans 12:15. As I meditate on it, it seems to capture many of the ways I try to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. One never knows quite what to expect when arriving in the field, but my limited experience has taught me that, before I board my return flight home, I will have both rejoiced and mourned—a lot.
I imagine few are surprised that our field workers serving in the Middle East mourn. We mourn with widows when they share how they lost their husbands. We mourn with those who long to have their loved one freed from prison. We mourn with those who've gone into hiding, often to evade their own family who would rather murder them than endure the "shame" of having a sibling or child follow Jesus Christ. Yes, we mourn with our spiritual family in the Middle East.
But oh, how we rejoice too! In fact, even amidst mourning, we can find ourselves caught up with our brothers and sisters rejoicing. I remember sitting with a widow who—before she could even wipe her tears away—broke into a beaming grin as she recounted how her husband regularly hid Scripture verses around the house for her and her children to find. She laughed as she shared how he loved to dance and sing songs about our Lord. What joy it is to rejoice with dear believers like her!
On this trip I encountered yet another reason for rejoicing: a renewed spirit of unity is emerging among local Christians in some stretches of the region. Recently, we spoke with a family of believers actively involved in evangelism and discipleship throughout the Middle East. They shared how, in certain areas, the church is beginning to truly see itself as one body. "The increased pressure around us is purifying the church," they explained. And through purification, those who passionately seek and follow Jesus Christ are gravitating toward one another. Some recently began joining together for prayer every month. They not only lift each other up, but also pray for those who try to intimidate them. These Christians are increasingly presenting a more unified witness to the surrounding communities.
I love Romans 12:15. I am also struck by how well the subsequent verse speaks to this renewed spirit of unity—to "live in harmony with one another." Perhaps this budding unity will spread throughout the region and allow the church in the Middle East to present an increasingly powerful witness, that many more will be saved. For now, we continue to rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, and lift up before the Lord our brothers and sisters in Christ—along with the lost.
Editor's note: This blog entry comes from "Brother A," who oversees VOM's work in the Middle East. If you'd like to help VOM provide spiritual and physical aid to Christians in Muslim countries, you can give online here.
YOUR TURN: Do you find a spirit of unity among Christians from different backgrounds in your community?