“When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.”
As we walked out of morning worship, a friend walked over to us. He is one of the most sincere, studious men that I know in the congregation. He is always seeking to learn more and to be better informed. His son, one of my students, has just completed his third tour in Afghanistan. His son trains soldiers in the dangerous task of how to recognize and diffuse roadside bombs. As he walked up to us, he said, “I support Netanyahu 100 percent.”
My wife, visibly upset, still somehow held herself together (sort of). She blurted out, “We don’t!” Then she explained the horrendous conditions and oppression against the people of Gaza.
I followed by explaining that the situation is complicated. Israel has a sovereign right to defend itself. Hamas is continuously agitating by endlessly poking the giant with random rocket attacks. Palestine is not a country and has no army, so every casualty is a civilian casualty. Two million people are packed into the Gaza Strip, which is just 25 miles long by 5 miles wide.
By the same token, Israel chose to take the sledge hammer to the ant. Does Hamas hide weapons in populated areas and camouflage tunnels in residential communities? Yes. But does that require Israel, so capable of pinprick accuracy, to destroy so much that is not military? No. Israel’s response has created horrific devastation and death.
My wife was not happy with me. The condition of Palestinian people is too great, and her heart breaks for them. She prefers that we shout the story of the occupation from the mountaintops. Because of the suffering and oppression, whether there are two sides to the story no longer matters. I certainly respect her point and her passion. But I also realize that Israel will not back down until Hamas stops shooting off rockets. Hamas bears a good amount of responsibility for hiding tunnels in civilian homes and unleashing retaliation from Israel’s powerful military.
All of that is context. After all of that is said, my wife is more right than I am. God created humans in his image. God loves his children. Paul describes the compilation of his image-bearers as a body. The body is being broken all over the world. When an arm breaks, the whole body feels the pain, and so should we.
In Nigeria, the Christian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are still missing. Reports tell us that some are dead, others raped, and some forced to convert into Muslim marriages. Their horrible plight has not changed, but the world has moved on to the next news story. I cannot imagine the fear and trauma among these girls, and moms and dads are enduring terrible grief and loss. Nigerian Christian families are a part of our body.
Mosul, Iraq, is the historical site of the city of Nineveh. Assyrian Christian residents are among the oldest Christian communities in the entire world. Muslim extremists took Mosul last month. An order was given to Christians – convert, leave, or die. Today the Assyrian Christian community has completely fled Mosul, leaving behind two millennia of rich heritage. The extremists are in the process of destroying monuments and relics representing biblical history.
In Syria, Christians are a primary target of the Islamic extremist group ISIS. Multiple reports have surfaced of extreme brutality and extermination of Christians in Syria. In early July eight Christian men were crucified in Aleppo, Syria, accused of apostasy against Islam. Reports indicate that the apostasy was that they had converted from Islam to Christianity. That is just one of the many horrific stories emerging from Syria. It is beyond our 21st century comprehension.
Gaza is a complicated place. But in Gaza the vast majority of people are innocent civilians. Grandparents, parents, and children care little about political posturing, but are simply seeking to live in peace, hold jobs, feed their families, and be safe. Among them are Christians. A part of the body of Christ is there. So a part of us is there.
The world is a mess, but that is no surprise to believers. We recognize the sad and sickening results of sin.
We also hold on to the good news. Out of the mess emerges hope. The mess of our world will always be overcome by the ever-advancing kingdom of God. Disciples of Jesus have and bring hope! Babies are born and baptized into a Gaza church community. A Gaza church opens its doors to the displaced and wounded whether Christian or Muslim. The Shepherd’s Society at Bethlehem Bible College reaches out, seeks peace and reconciliation, and ministers to the needs of the people. The body of Christ acts like Jesus. The body of Christ is at work.
People of God and leaders in faith communities – every time we leave the West Bank our Christian friends plead with us, “Do not forget us! Tell our story! Tell your friends in North America about us and to pray for us.” I have not been to Nigeria or Iraq or Syria or the many other parts of the globe where persecution is a daily part of life. But I suspect the message in each place is the same – remember us!
My dear friends in Christian education – remember and pray for the body of Christ everywhere. Do not get caught up in the politics and media hype; there are enough people who do that.
“The body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body… God has placed the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
Cry out to the Prince of Peace for shalom in Gaza, peace for Israel, and healing for all the nations. God’s peace!
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services