Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Spending Time With the Church in the Near East

Some ten years ago, three of us gathered together in
Damascus and began to pray that one day ministries would come out of their
silos and begin to work together. It’s the only hope in places like Lebanon
(and Portland). Today, this Near East Initiative has grown to some 200+
participants who come from various parts of Lebanon, as well as Hong Kong, Capetown,
and Indonesia (not to mention places closer like Syria, and Jordan), and lots
of other places, including Portland, Oregon. We come to pray and build
community and share ideas.

The Mideast is a mosaic of many different pieces. Most of
these pieces represent tribal groups that were forced into nations, ones
created by artificial lines after WWI. To maintain some order, strong men have
generally dominated. The present Syrian civil war, the mess in Egypt, Libya,
etc reflect what happens when these strong men are deposed or die off, or a
younger generation rises and says, “Enough!”

In this messy context, a core of believers are linking
arms and asking, how can we be used by Jesus to change the culture and bring
hope. It won’t make CNN, but like the seed planted in the ground, the kingdom
of God is growing. And the body of Christ in other parts of the world is
noticing, and more and more groups from around the world are coming to see and
learn and contribute.

Two days ago, nearly 50 of us sat down in a Catholic
convent in Beirut to talk about the Syrian crisis and ask–what can (should!)
the church be doing?  Leaders from Dubai
and Buffalo and Australia, etc met in groups, salted with leaders from this
region, one impacted by a massive wave of refugees. It is estimated that nearly
one third of Syria’s population has been displaced. So what can we do?

Wisdom from those who have lived with crises in other
parts of the world counseled–

1-Don’t do it for them–let them take charge.

2-See the time as urgent-you only have two years–then roots go down, and
people move on with life.

3-Build relationships–go deep. Help people–not

4-Begin with the end in view. The end must be a strong,
flourishing, Syrian church.

5-Focus one group at a time, and do things with

6-Help them prepare to go home by doing all we can to see a healed
Syria. If not, you create tomorrow’s Palestinian camps.

7-Work together. The
church is much more effective if we team up.

There are amazing teams distributing food, clothes.
Tonight I listened to reports by some just back from the Bekka. Men and women
in the name of Jesus are showing His love, stepping into crude shelters to sip
coffee with families who have been displaced, lost farms and livelihood, and
letting them know they are not forgotten. Many camps have few men, many lost or
caught up in the fighting. Women work in the fields for 5-8 dollars a day. We
cannot close our eyes. It is one of the great human tragedies of our day.

This is what this gathering is about–moving church and
parachurch out of their silos in order to work together. Much of my work is
building bridges with area pastors, who, ironically, are some of the greater
resistors to partnership. But there are a few who are catching the vision. They
get it, that apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers are
called to work together as one to equip the saints (Ephesians 4:11).

There are numerous students here. I sense a growing youth
movement that wants to stand for something. Most in this part of the world know
something about sacrifice. This is not the entitled generation, as is prevalent
in some parts of the world. They do not come with the attitude something is
owed to them. They hold on to hope and seek for change. Will the church be

I spoke with a man who has devoted 30+ years to working
with the next generation in Indonesia. He has had a ministry to thousands and
sees a growing number of younger people giving up on the church. He doubts the
church, as it is, will be around in ten years. He may be right. If the church
does not become new wineskins, the next generation will be lost. We had a long
and spirited discussion. I am much more bullish on the church’s future, but his
words serve as a warning. The world seems to be splitting apart at the seams,
and too much of the present church in the West does not understand the urgency
and is not all that willing to adapt. Too many Christians in America are
oblivious of what God is doing in the larger world; too many are allowing their
worldview to be shaped by FOX or CNN.

It’s a big part of the reason I come to this part of the
world 1-2 times a year. I am so grateful my church has a global heart and
releases me to come here. Sometimes I need a fresh awakening to my real
identity as global (not American) Christian. I need to be reminded about what
it is that really matters. I need an escape from a consumption culture that is
all about spending, and spend the better time giving attention to what God is
doing abroad. I need a renewed sense of God’s presence, believing He is
especially here, aligning with those facing poverty and injustice. It keeps
challenges back home, like capital campaigns and worship preferences and
shuttle parking in perspective.


1 Comment
  • sewcreative
    9:13 PM, 5 November 2013

    I wish I were there with you physically, but trust that I am there with you in the war room of prayer. Your sister.

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