“Thank God for the Christians!”
That is what he said.
I’m not sure if I had ever heard that before. I know that I have never heard it from the lips of a Muslim man. But that was what he said according to my translator. “Thank God for the Christians!”
It was in the country of Jordan in a city called Mufrak. The man who said it is a Syrian refugee. He and his family, a wife and six children, fled Syria as a result of the ongoing civil war in that country and they now live in Mufrak as illegal aliens trying to survive with limited resources, an uncertain future and shredded hope.
However one thing they have is the church. A number of the local churches in Mufrak are deeply committed to serving the Syrian refugees who are pouring into their city. They try and provide basic needs like mattresses, blankets, pillows and small propane heaters as well as monthly food supplies to these desperate people. But beyond that they regularly visit them, offering them friendship, checking in to see how they are doing and breaking up the boredom that is a real part of their existence.
While others in Jordan see the refugees as a threat and a drain on society the church sees them as they are, disenfranchised people who need love, help and assurance that God has not forgotten them. This is tangible Christianity, this is the church in functioning as the church. My experience in Jordan refreshed my belief in the power of Christianity in action. When the church takes the role of a servant in its culture and seeks to incarnate the presence of Jesus in its local context the response from the people is “thank God for the Christians!”
I returned to home wondering what that would look like for my church in Canada? What would the response be for people in our communities if the church in Canada served and loved in the way that the church in Mufrak is? I do not have a clear answer, and perhaps the answer is very dependent upon the context that we find ourselves in.
However, I am reminded and convinced that when the church takes on the role of servant to the people in its community the gospel is made relevant and people begin to understand that Jesus may in fact be an option for their lives. In post-Christian Canada figuring out how we can serve those around us is the way forward for every local church. Failing to serve our communities in love is to ignore the nature of our calling and identity, and it is to seal our fate as a relic from the past. Churches that do not serve their communities will never hear the words, “thank God for the Christians.”
Lee Beach is Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry, Garbutt F. Smith Chair of Ministry Formation, Director of Ministry Formation at McMaster Divinty School in Hamilton, Canada.