Our job on Day Three was to go out in small teams and distribute material to vacationers gathered for the Persian New Year. They travel from their homeland and are quick to respond when we offer them gifts–a card wishing them a happy New Year that includes a message about our faith. Each team includes an interpreter and the brief encounters along the roads or in malls or on buses often turn into more extended conversations. The nationality we’re reaching out to is well known for their hospitality and openness and our encounters with them prove that reputation time and again. What’s more, they love Americans, an irony that’s made even more pronounced since their government and ours have a conflicted and bitter relationship. One of the things you quickly learn over here is just how much distance there can be between a government’s policies and its citizens’ beliefs.
Of course, we heard early in the day of the bombings in Brussells and the horrible loss of life there. Coming just a few days after the incident here, we all paid careful attention. When fueled by religious passion, hatred and violence are a potent combination and in the last few years have destabilized every country in the region. Europe is increasingly at risk. Even our own country is no longer immune. In a very real sense, the world is living on edge right now, and we wake up each morning half-expecting something even more terrifying to occur.
Our workers here, as well as our ethnic partners and other volunteers are aware of all this but it doesn’t really play a role in what we’re doing. I’ve thought some about why. It’s not that we’re being foolhardy or ignoring the environment around us, it’s just that a few other factors are also at work. One, there have been so many terrorist attacks that people in this region, especially, learn to live with them. Two, there’s a law of probability at work that recognizes that lightening probably won’t strike in the same place twice. Three, a kind of courage emerges among people of all nationalities that refuses to give into the terrorists and allow them the victory. Fourth–and for believers this is most important–our Lord doesn’t call us to safety; he calls us to faithfulness unto death.
In this region of the world, living on the edge is the only way to live if you’re a follower of our Lord. The picture at the top is of the makeshift memorial put up to honor the victims of Sunday’s bombing. The memorial is two blocks from the center where we’re working, and I took the picture as I walked to work. Every one of us walks past it at least twice a day.
Faith born out of living on the edge has a particular look and feel, different from the more convenient understandings of faith we have in our own country. After listening to the stories of several former Muslims here, I’ve learned how their faith contrasts with ours. It’s the same faith! But it has different dimensions to it, and I think we can learn from it. Their faith is less frivolous and more joyous. It has a deeper conviction of sin yet at the same time a greater understanding of grace. Its a faith more concerned with reaching others with their message than with staying comfortable in their places. It’s a faith at once more theologically astute yet more deeply in love with the Lord. It’s a faith based in their hearts and informed by their minds not vice versa.
One other aspect of their faith bears mentioning: it’s a faith that sustains through persecution. These people have proved that. For our own country, persecution is not so far away as we might think and believers are closer to living on the edge than we realize. Our government, legal system, business community, educational system and entertainment industry are moving in directions that we as believers cannot go. Our faith soon will make us strangers in our own nation. When that happens–and it will–will we have the kind of faith that enables us to remain faithful to our Lord?