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After spending a week in the Middle East (MENA for Middle East and North Africa) here are a few of the things I’ve learned, confirmed, or reaffirmed:

*The MENA social and political turmoil the West calls “revolutions” can more accurately be described as “evolutions.

*"Arab Spring” is a misnomer in that the social unrest in various countries in the region are not just Arab and not characterized by much that fits a metaphor like spring.

 *Some protestors may want religious rule, but most want personal freedoms, economic opportunity, justice, and liberation from corrupt regimes.

 *Much of MENA government-aided or generated turmoil the West assigns to religious influence is actually rooted in the classic triumvirate of power, politics, and greed.

 *“Regional culture” exists but not generally to the level people in the West believe—the political and social culture of each MENA nation is different from other nations.

*The dominant religions of MENA are not impregnable socially or spiritually, meaning followers may turn and are turning to other faiths.

*The Christian Church exists in MENA as a minority religion, but while suppressed, oppressed, and in some countries persecuted, the Church is also resilient, strong, and unbowed.

*People are becoming followers of Christ in every MENA country and the Church is growing faster in Iran and Algeria than most other countries of the world.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

A while back my SAT-7 colleagues in the UK developed a new website called Wazala.org. It features issues, news, views, developments, and challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In particular, Wazala keeps an eye on Christians, Christianity, and the Church in the region. Wazala is a derivative of the Arabic word "wasala," meaning to connect, to join, to reach out.

Who can deny that MENA is a strategic region? Virtually every night, in some way, the region is featured in stories on international news channels. If you know much about biblical prophecy you know the region plays a prominent if not predominant role in the End Times. Add to this oil and other economic considerations, the volatile position of the “island” of Israel, and the fact that three wars continue to plague the region—depending upon whether you believe Afghanistan is part of the ME, depending upon how you evaluate fighting in Iraq, and depending upon whether you believe the Libyan Revolution is a “war,” at least in terms of Western involvement. In any event, MENA is strategic by about any definition of the term.

Wazala.org references things political, but it is not given to political prescription. Rather, Wazala attempts to apply a Christian perspective to developments in MENA. In this the site provides the rest of us a service. The West, and especially America, needs to learn more about MENA. We need to learn how cultures function where there is essentially no separation of Church and State. We need to understand not simply news-network-theology but the deeper, theologically complex, layered nuances of the region’s dominant religion. The more we learn the more, hopefully, we understand. The more we understand the more we will be able to give an answer of the hope that lies within our Christian faith.

I highly and without reservation recommend to you www.wazala.org. It’s good to learn the Lord is at work in MENA. Indeed, “He is there and he is not silent.”

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

 

Awakened every morning by a local rooster. Guy owns the town and let us know.

In the area we stayed up the mountain Lebanon apparentlly has a lot of tree frogs. We heard a bunch at two different outdoor restaurants earlier this week and I've heard them periodically throughout the evening via my room balcony door.

Lebanese food is very, very good, especially the meat and fruit, but dinners often go late, as in return-from-dinner-at-11:00 pm. Two fellows from Jordan, who of course speak Arabic, went shopping. Said things are cheaper in Lebanon than at home in Jordan. I saw them just now. Came back carrying stuffed plastic bags.

I've learned to enjoy watching little Lebanese children whenever I've had the chance. The wee little ones, like any wee little ones anywhere, are especially cute. Here, though, they're real eye-catchers because of their usually big dark eyes and lots of curly black hair. Beautiful kids.

Beirut climbs the mountain or high hills if you prefer, which makes for fantastic views over the city and sea. People on the hills and back into the mountains often live on property owned by their families for several generations. And, like anywhere, it’s cooler at higher altitudes.

People in Lebanon tend to live in religiously-defined areas, including in Beirut where you can see or drive through both Christian in “East Beirut” and Muslim in “West Beirut” areas or neighborhoods. The level of social interaction between these areas varies with circumstances at different times. Commercial interaction pretty much exists except in the most tense of times.

Parliament Square and blocks around it were shattered by the war in the 1980s, but the buildings in this downtown district have been beautifully and meticulously rebuilt. Government buildings and shops like Starbucks, ice cream, and souvenir stores line adjacent streets. Police are everywhere in evidence. A “mall” populated by high-end stores is located along three or four streets a couple of blocks away.

Martyr’s Square monument is rather interesting to say the least. The statue was erected in 1937 to memormialize the Lebanese who suffered under a blockade by the Allies in WWI. The people endured famine, starvation, plaque, and the hanging of nationalists on May 6, 1916. The statue, amazingly, survived the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and is now riddled with bullet holes. It is a poignant and important symbol, a salute to the resolve and resilience of the Lebanese people.

The Lebanese people I have met are friendly, capable, and interesting. They are well educated, multi-lingual, and generally involved in the pursuit of some profession. They’re very much into family over multiple generations and they think globally, in part because they have so many Lebanese relatives living in diaspora worldwide.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Beirut is a city by the Mediterranean Sea facing West. Huge, multi-million residents. Mountains just behind or East, somewhat like LA or San Francisco but much closer and higher mountains with the city climbing the sides.

Our hotel is in a community up the mountain about 30 minutes from the city proper. Long way from the sea but can see it and the city clearly whenever we travel down hill. Sunsets spectacular. Birds everywhere, first wildlife I saw: pigeons.

City features few Western-style skyscrapers of glass and steel, instead, thousands of all off-white stone, cement, or manufactured stone-surfaced highrises maybe 20-30 stories at most with smaller windows and less glass than Western buildings, probably due to the constant sun. Many residential buildings have huge canopy-like curtains hanging from the top of the balcony to shield the sun and heat.

The Lebanon flag is a distinctive one: a red band on the top and bottom covering about one-third of the flag with a wide, white band in the middle two-thirds. In the middle of the white is a green Cedar of Lebanon. Red, white, and green. Beautiful.

Boiled eggs and goat cheese for breakfast, along with Nescafe coffee brewed in my cup at the table, served like tea with hot water and makings, very strong, which I like. Also black olives with every meal, salty and not bad but not my favorite.

English-language CNN available on the tube and maybe one other English station, the rest Arabic of course, along with some French. Lebanon has a French colonial history, so people here speak Arabic, French, and maybe English. My cab-driver spoke no English, but we got to "J'mapelle Joe" and Rex.

People at the hotel call me "Mr. Rex." I thought this was because they had confused my last name until I heard them address others in a similar way. The hotel key is attached to a bolt-shaped piece of gold metal that weighs a good pound or more. Probably won't forget it's in my pocket.

Went to another Lebanese restaurant tonight at 7:30 pm, ordered meal about 8:20 and it came a half hour later. Long mealtimes. Left the restaurant at almost 11:00 pm. Restaurant was a huge outdoor patio on the side of a mountain over-looking a deep valley. Patio covered by various canopies, lots of flowers, seating areas part couches with cushions, part straight-back chairs. Interesting place. Ate raw liver, chicken wings, sausages, a sort of hush puppie with beef inside, salads, and more. Dessert here is about 10-12 kinds of fruits placed on the table in bowls. Cantaloupe and watermelon fantastic.

For those who wish, meals end with a small cup of Turkish Coffee. Strong enough to kill a moose, probably why I didn't sleep much at all last night--either that or the jetlag. Restaurants we've been to both had pools of water with frogs in them that made an incredible racket. Few or no bugs. Balmy, pleasant to sit outdoors into late evening.

Full moon out tonight over the mountains populated by thousands of lights in the dark. Looks like San Francisco.

Saw Martha Stewart on a TV channel called "Fatafeat." Found out this word means "Crums," their version of the Food Channel.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Since New Year’s Eve several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have experienced a wave of unprecedented social unrest played out in street demonstrations, many of them ending in violence. The countries involved include Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and more. The goal for most protesters, as far as can be discerned, is to replace long-time autocratic regimes with some version of democracy, or at least a more open society.

Among the more than 500 million people in the region many are fed up. They want to share in the freedoms, opportunities, and material wellbeing they’ve seen in the West or elsewhere in the world. They do not generally want to transpose Western values and practices upon their cultures but rather develop their own versions of open societies that respect human dignity, life, and liberty.

Christians can and should support all efforts to achieve human freedom. To do this, Christians do not necessarily need to “take sides” in the political processes at work in the region, although this may at times be warranted too. They can support change by presenting moral structures and providing principles based upon a Christian worldview.

The Word of God is not a political manual, yet it speaks to politics. Our task is to ever seek to apply unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

I’m in Beirut as I write, my third visit to Lebanon, so I’m beginning to learn a few things about this interesting country and people. Here’s my lengthening list:

--The food is excellent. Hummus, varieties of spiced meats, sweet and to-die-for fruit, which tends to be fresher than what’s available in supermarkets in the States because most of the fruit comes from within the country.

--The children, as all children everywhere, are beautiful. But there’s something about Lebanese little ones that attract my eye every time. They look like black-haired (sometimes curly), dark-eyed, olive-skinned angels.

--Beirut fills a basin around the Mediterranean Sea and quickly climbs the mountain backdrop to the east. Four to six story residences and even larger apartment buildings dot the hillsides offering spectacular views of the city and sea to the west or valleys and mountains to the east.

--The Lebanon Mountains, or Mount Lebanon, run along the central part of the country north to south. The highest point reaches above 10,000 feet. I saw snow patches on several mountaintops during our drive over a pass yesterday. The mountains boast some good ski resorts, are populated by pines (including the ancient Cedars of Lebanon), and a tree-line that can be seen on most of the ranges, meaning the tops are bare, much like California’s southern ranges. Another range called the Anti-Lebanon Mountains runs along the eastern border with Syria.

--The BeKaa Valley is a rich agricultural plain lying between the mountain ranges, is some 75 miles long and up to 10 miles wide. The valley is beautiful and produces much of the country’s farm foods like potatoes and fruits, including grapes with associated wineries.

--Baalbek, an approximately 2100 year old Roman ruins is located to the east and north in the BeKaa Valley. It features incredibly preserved stone works, in particular the temple of Bacchus or Dionysus, the god of wine, ecstasy, and madness. Bacchus is the word from which we get the term bacchanalia, meaning wanton orgies. Add temples to Venus, the goddess of love, and Jupiter, the ruling god, and you get the picture of the activities that took place in Baalbek, which by the way gets its name from the idol Baal. But the architectural antiquity is fantastic to see.

--Lebanon is a country divided by religious sectors. Maronites, Christians, Druze, Muslims, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and more tend to live in historically defined areas. There’s a history of friction, but there’s also a history of periods of productive and peaceful interaction, like now.

--Lebanon is surrounded by politically powerful neighbors: Israel to the south, Syria to the east and north. When the big powers rattle sabers Lebanon gets caught in the middle.

--Lebanon is a geographically small nation. If you dropped it into Lake Michigan, the country would disappear.

--Lebanese people live in diaspora all over the world. About 4.3 million live in Lebanon. As many as 15 million plus people of Lebanese descent live elsewhere, many known for the business prowess, especially in restaurants.

--Lebanon may have some Bedouin peoples, but there are no deserts in Lebanon, the only Middle East country that can make this claim.

--Lebanon enjoys its French colonial heritage in that children often attend schools structured upon French educational systems and take French courses each year. Many Lebanese speak Arabic, French, and English.

There’s much more. Lebanon’s economy is growing and for now its politics are relatively stable. Lebanon is small but influential, an engaging country, people, and culture.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.