Don’t rush to judgment

August 20, 2013 

“Pray for the people of Egypt,” was the Facebook status update this week.

While an appropriate Facebook entry this week for anyone, this one was particularly poignant, for it was posted by my friend Cathy.* As she typed it, Cathy was sitting in her tiny living room in Cairo.

Cathy and her husband, Scott, were neighbors and friends of ours when we lived in Cincinnati. In the spring of this year, they moved to Egypt as workers for the Presbyterian Church (USA). There to assist the Egyptian Presbyterians in their work and mission, Cathy and Scott moved to what appeared to be a stable political system.

Since arriving, things have changed dramatically. From their balcony, they could watch the early protests in the streets of Cairo. Their observations of what was happening around them, and their interpretation of the events based on the experiences of Egyptian Christians, differed greatly from what we’re reading in the newspaper, or from the emails I was receiving from well-meaning people.

Some want to characterize this as a religious battle when it is in fact a political one. People seem to be quick to demonize one side or the other, while we don’t really understand the history, relationships or realities of the lives of people far away.

Now, as things deteriorate there, I hope that all of us will pray for peace in Egypt, and for the safety of the people there. I’ll be praying for Cathy and Scott as well.

Last weekend, our congregation had the opportunity to welcome Elizabeth and Steve, who are getting ready to move to Beirut to be Presbyterian Church coworkers in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. To be honest, the response from many of the folks in our congregation was, “Don’t go!” We worry for their safety, but Elizabeth and Steve feel called by God to stand in solidarity with Christians in those countries, doing whatever they can to pray and work with those who love Jesus and their country.

Syria, home of Damascus (where Saul was heading when he had his conversion experience) has been torn asunder by civil war. Lebanon, where we find the Biblical city of Tyre, has added 1 million Syrian refugees to the 3 million people who already lived in an area about two thirds the size of Connecticut. The country lacks the infrastructure to assimilate that many people and is struggling to maintain its pluralistic identity. Iraq, home of Ur, where Abraham was born, has gone from being a fertile area which fed much of the Middle East, to being a place where, because uranium depleted weapons (used by both sides in the recent war) have leached poison into the fields, cannot safely feed its own population. Iraq has Christians working alongside Muslims to serve their communities. Iran, known in Scripture as Persia, continues to have Christians living and working in the country they love.

I hope that all of us will pray for peace and stability in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, and for the safety of the people there. I’ll be praying for Elizabeth and Steve, as well.

We tend to rush to judgment about how “those people” can’t seem to pull off representative governments and democracy, but we forget that our own experiment in democracy has a 237 or so year head start. We tend to be quick to categorize people and to make assumptions about their motives. We’re often willing to make hasty judgments about people who are different from us and cultures which are different from ours, rather than working to understand them, their history, and the relationships.

I’m grateful for people like Cathy and Scott, and Elizabeth and Steve, who are willing to give up their lives in the U.S. (and potentially give up their lives entirely) to stand in solidarity with brothers and sisters, in service to the God who loves all of creation.

*Mission co-workers’ names in this column have been changed to protect the safety of our colleagues and the people with whom they work.

The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill. Contact her at jsizoo@gracewired.org.

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