No one knows where the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are “going,” much less what the political and social landscape will look like when they get there. The region is literally changing as we watch. This is both exciting and concerning.
MENA may eventually feature, God forbid, re-closed countries and new autocratic regimes. If so, we’ll need programs like SAT-7’s (in cooperation with Overseas Council and MEATE=Middle East Association for Theological Education) TEACH/LEARN project that works to develop leaders in Church and culture. SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television ministry based in Cyprus broadcasting in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish across MENA and throughout 50 countries in Europe. Its US support office serves an American constituency vitally interested in MENA.
MENA may ultimately feature the newly open, if not democratic, societies the freedom fighters, rebels, and the rest of us are generally hoping for. If so, we’ll need programs like SAT-7’s TEACH/LEARN project because the Church will be able to work more publicly, will flourish, and will need more leaders than ever.
I’ve learned a lot about the Middle East in the past 18 months, but I have much to learn. The latter point can be said for US government or Western leaders in general and for Church leaders. The more we learn about the Middle East the better, for a lot of reasons.
MENA is not a block, not the monolith that evening news tends to unintentionally suggest. The region of 22 countries is home to 500+ million people speaking Arabic, Farsi (Persian), and Turkish. The countries, cultures, and people are similar but vary dramatically in ever way.
MENA people are religious, vigorously so, yet many are simply culturally religious as opposed to persons holding deep-seated informed religious understanding or commitment. They generally do not understand, or at least embrace, Western ideas like separation of Church and State and do not think it wise even when they do grasp the concept. So when they look upon the nominally Christian or Christian-by-heritage West, no matter what country is doing what, it is “Christian” to them. This makes true Christian testimony both more important and more difficult.
MENA will be different tomorrow from what it is today. We should work hard to learn more about and from the people of MENA. Learning doesn’t guarantee peace, but then again, nothing but good comes from greater understanding.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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