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Traveling to the Middle East is an experience I’d recommend to anyone. For the past ten days I visited Istanbul, Turkey; Larnaca , Cyprus; and Cairo, Egypt.

In the news virtually every day, the Middle East is the most religiously and politically strategic region in the world: 22 countries, 7 time zones, 500+ million people, 50%+ illiteracy rates, 95% Muslim, 1% of the world’s Bibles, less than 4% Christian.

Americans worry about growing political religion, yet few American Christians know much about Middle East religion, Middle Easterners as people, or how to share Christ with Middle Eastern neighbors at home or abroad (me included until a few months ago). Now I believe learning how to minister to Middle Easterners may be the defining challenge of our times. One way to learn is to travel in the Middle East.

Here are a few things I learned:

--In a nation of over 72 million people, Christians in Turkey number about 3,000 according to a recent missiological study. There are actually more Christians in Iran than Turkey. While Turkey is a secular democracy religion influences the culture. On another trip I made to Turkey a few years ago, one of our guides said, “Turkey is secular religious” meaning religion influences culture but not everyone is religious, let alone devout. Yet living the Christian life in Turkey is hard and lonely, and on a few rare occasions dangerous.

--Unity of the brethren in Turkey is very important. Consequently, “denominational-ism” is not as much of a problem in Turkey as it can be in the States. Christians need each other, so they don’t fuss as often. At the same time, Turkey has the highest turnover of Christian workers of any nation in the world, in part because it’s a fairly easy country to enter and offers certain attractions or amenities, so people come who may not really be committed. Or, people come who think it’s going to easy and it turns out to be very hard, so they leave.

--Istanbul is diverse, cosmopolitan, European in dress, food, etc, and secularized and religious but with wide variance. I saw fully covered women in all black, saw many women wearing scarves or other head-coverings, yet saw mostly Western dress, blue jeans, iPods, cell phones, teen girls as well as boys (but mostly boys) going about in packs, professionally dressed women with jobs in commercial settings. Artists and writers in Turkey make Istanbul their home. I was told that people in Istanbul focus upon play as well as work, which people in Ankara tend to focus on their government work.

--Turkey is the third highest worldwide in number of Facebook users, behind the U.S. and U.K. Internet access is good and education levels higher, including among women, more than many other Middle East countries.

--More than 300 Turkish language channels now operate in Turkey, of which maybe 110 or so are national in scope.

--One cannot fly from Turkey to Cyprus, at least not Greek Cyprus. You have to fly to the northern Turkish Cyprus because Greek Cypriots do not recognize the north as a country or legal entry point. This dates to the war between the countries in the mid-1970s. Cyprus is a divided island, and Nicosia, the capital, is a divided city.

--Cyprus probably couldn’t be more conveniently located for traveling to other Middle East and North African countries. It is a secular democracy, fairly stable, economically well-off, part of the European Union, which uses the Euro, and a Mediterranean holiday destination for many Europeans.

--In Cairo, Garbage City is a place where poor people live in squalor surrounded by foul-smelling refuse and scavenge garbage to survive. It is emotionally gut-wrenching to see. I’ve been in similar horrid places like the barrio near Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and like the infamous dump in Manila, so I’ve seen families living in hovels amidst filth. But it’s just as ugly wherever you see such poverty.

--Within Garbage City is the Cave Church, a truly amazing illustration of God’s love and grace in the midst of human suffering. The church is difficult to describe. In the late 1960s, Egypt’s President Nassser sent about 5,000 garbage collectors, many of whom worshipped as Christians, outside the city. By 1978 a fellow named Father Simon, who still pastors today, began an outreach to these people that turned into a church, schools, hospital, and more. After worshipping for some years in the open air on the rocks near the dump, they discovered what appeared to be a cave underneath. Excavation and later pew and platform construction eventually yielded an incredible “auditorium” deep into the side of the mountain. As many as 10,000 people have attended services in this unique outdoor setting and the church thrives, ministering now to the some 65,000 or so people who live in the Garbage City area.

--The Bible Society of Egypt is blessed with a beautiful facility and the General Director Dr. Ramez Atallah is a gracious host. He is a noted Christian leader not only in Egypt but across the Middle East and in the West.

--After hearing about or seeing pictures of the Pyramids all your life, seeing them up close and personal is exciting to say the least. I went inside and up a narrow passageway to a tomb near the top of Cheops, the largest pyramid. There are about 100 pyramids in Egypt, known thus far, with artifacts and other ancient discoveries still being made every week. The Sphinx is unique, smaller than one expects, but a wonder no matter how you look at it.

--The Egyptian Museum is full of statuary 4,000 years old and older, including the famed King Tut (the Boy-King who died at 18-19 yrs after nine year reign) exhibit. The beauty and intricacy of the artistry, the amount of artifacts, including several coffins within several gold-layered wooden tomb housings, his incredible mask and sarcophaguses, the variety and number of tools, clothes, adornments, religious items, throne, beds, etc, are beyond description. Incredible. So was the Royal Mummies Hall with 12-14 male and female mummies still in repose after 3-4,500 years. Most, as one would expect, looked like a mummy—dried and brown and shrunken and abnormal. But one, Seti I, looked peacefully asleep with a smile on his countenance. He literally looked like he could awaken.

--SAT-7’s studios and offices in Egypt where Arabic programming is produced for SAT-7 Arabic and SAT-7 KIDS channels are a testimony to God’s blessing upon the ministry. I met several staff members, watched part of a live program in progress featuring two pastors answering called-in questions about the Christian faith, and in general enjoyed a great visit.

--Kasr El Dobara Church is a large and thriving evangelical congregation featuring a beautiful facility near Cairo’s center. It’s an important church doing a very significant work.

--In Cairo, men dress in Western style clothing. Women dress in Western styles, traditional outfits, and various expressions of religio-cultural strictness resulting in some with head-covering, some in dress robes, some in black robes, some in dark black robes and head-coverings with only the woman’s eyes visible through slits in the covering, and a few in dark black robes and head-coverings, including hands covered and full facial coverings. Every variety may be seen in any area of the city at any time. I saw about 8 women in total covering, including an apparently young woman at the mall sitting with a young man dressed in blue jeans and tennis shoes and playing with an iPhone. Egypt says it wants to avoid extremes of fanaticism in religion. Otherwise, the country and culture are open to differing expression.

--The Kahn El Khalili bazaar is one of the oldest and largest in the world comprised of two long main streets and several cross streets with hundreds of shops. Men hawk their wares saying, “I don’t know what you want, but I’m sure I have it.” Or, “All I want is your money, brother,” anything to get your attention. I’ve been in similar bazaars, like the one along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and umpteen tourist traps in cruise ports in the Caribbean. This one is bigger, nicer, offers more locally-made goods, and more interesting.

--On several occasions I saw two older adult men or teen boys walking along holding hands. To Western eyes this is a jarring sight, but it’s purely cultural and does not mean anything untoward is going on. Apparently this practice is fading but still around. I remember when President Bush-the-younger visited a Middle East country, I forget which one, and was expected to, and did, walk about for a photo op holding hands with the country’s leader. Bush looked uncomfortable—of course he usually looks uncomfortable on camera.

--In Egypt, Muslims and Christians are buried in different Cairo cemeteries. Differences include not only the prayers offered, but Muslims are buried within 24 hours of death wrapped in cloth while Christians are buried in coffins. In Egypt, neither Muslims nor Christians are ever cremated. More interesting to me is that both are buried underground, inside structures that are built to look like houses. The result of this over time is that cemeteries look like abandoned neighborhoods. Indeed one of the most famous, along the highway, is one called the “City of the Dead,” a vast area of what looks like derelict one story homes or apartments. Muslim cemeteries also include some smaller mosques that are used like Christians use cemetery chapels to pray or as a gathering place for family and friends. Another difference is that Muslims are buried in layered graves while Christians tend to create family crypts underground that can be entered and where coffins are placed on shelf-type structures that stack coffins within the space. The City of the Dead once existed outside the city but is now surrounded by Cairo’s urban sprawl, which makes it stand out in contrast to “living neighborhoods,” if you will, when you drive by.

The population of the Middle East and North Africa is expanding rapidly at a rate of more than 7 million per year. Meanwhile, Christians are fleeing the Middle East, dropping an already small percentage even further.

As I noted earlier, learning about Middle East religion and people, and how to communicate love, forgiveness, and hope in Jesus Christ may be the greatest challenge of the new millennium. We should be leading the way.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at, or follow him at

Today, I attended morning services at both Crystal Cathedral with Robert H. Schuller and Saddleback Church with Rick Warren, about 20 miles-but-worlds-apart in worship format. It was an interesting peek at different segments of evangelical Christianity.

Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California is best known for its distinctive glass architecture creating an impressive aesthetic experience both within and without the structure. Inside is a huge pipe organ which along with the facility’s acoustics made the 45 member choir sound like ten times that many. The choir sang traditional hymns and Dr. Schuller’s daughter, Rev. Dr. Sheila Schuller Coleman, emceed the program. The auditorium was maybe two-thirds full with seemingly one-half the women and some of the men dressed in bold Valentine’s Day red. More interestingly, I was close to being the youngest person in the service. While a few younger adults attended this was very much an older audience.

Dr. Schuller is 83 years of age and still preaches with a degree of energy. But he also evidenced his age today by making mistakes in three separate statements. The program was constructed around today’s celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Schuller’s television and radio program, “Hour of Power.” While the service had its high points, in particular the choir, the overall experience of the service seemed lethargic to me and even a bit forced. I found it uncomfortable and wondered if others did as well.

It wasn’t long ago, within a few months, Dr. Schuller installed then removed his son, Dr. Robert A. Schuller, from heading the ministry and the flagship program. According to press comments, attendance and donations had been dropping and the ministry was drifting. But this was happening before Jr took over and is apparently continuing because recent staff cuts and program airtime reductions have been implemented. Dr. Sheila Schuller is now heading the ministry and as I noted today’s service. She seems nice, but she is not an inspiring speaker and at times lost her place or her pace in the program sequence. I’m not sure I understand why she’s been anointed to step into leadership. Not because I have anything against a female leader, but because I believe the ministry would be better served by announcing and completing a search for the next qualified senior pastor of the church.

I mentioned the service seemed “forced,” meaning it felt like they had a brand they had to keep promoting. And they do, it’s Robert H. Schuller and Positive Thinking-Possibility Thinking, so every few minutes someone emphasized the word “positive” or “possible” in a way that didn’t work for me. God or Jesus was mentioned from time to time, and when they were it was done in a biblically appropriate manner. But Schuller’s legacy, which was mentioned, and being positive and having hope were the bold print part of the message.

Saddleback Church with Rick Warren was a substantially different experience. The service on the main campus, one of five now plus the online church, was packed into a relatively modest-number-of-seats auditorium with the feel of a black box theater, music was lively, the congregation was vibrantly engaged, and all but a couple of choruses focused upon Jesus by name, the blood, forgiveness, or God’s love. The service was amazingly diverse with every age represented from crowds of children and young families on the campus going to their own facilities to the elderly in wheelchairs or literally on oxygen in the worship center. The congregation was as racially or ethnically mixed as you’re likely to find anywhere including sports events.

Rick appeared twice on video—today was his day to visit the outlying campuses—and a guest pastor spoke. This was not a big disappointment to me because I’ve heard Rick before. The message by a guest speaker was thoroughly grounded in Scripture—people were encouraged to open Bibles—and focused upon God’s forgiving us, thus making it possible and essential for us to forgive others, i.e. “Jesus’ pattern should become our practice.”

If I had to guess which church ministry would survive the sudden loss of its senior pastor I’d say Saddleback, despite Rick Warren’s national persona. At Crystal Cathedral, you can find huge paintings of Dr. Schuller on the visitor center wall, his quotes scripted on those walls, and people in the program or even the ushers repeatedly mentioning his name or what he said. Nothing wrong with paintings or quotes per se, but again, it’s become the brand.

At Saddleback, you can find Rick’s books in the book store, but the only picture I saw of him was a small one-among-many in the bulletin. Same can be said of the respective websites. Saddleback isn’t marketing Rick Warren. It’s marketing life lived authentically in and for Jesus Christ.

There are at least two additional reasons I believe Saddleback would survive the unexpected loss of its senior pastor better than Crystal Cathedral: leadership and young families. Crystal is still struggling through a generational leadership change that has not yet really transitioned. The leader is in his 80s and either never really let go or had to come back because the ministry has been for 40 years heavily focused on his persona and program. It’s difficult to undue constituent loyalties in a quick or short time. Saddleback, on the other hand, has a long list of pastors on staff and it’s knee deep in deacons who can and do lead an incredible array and complexity of ministries. In other words, Saddleback has a leadership bench to draw from in a time of crisis or transition, and despite what critics have said, Saddleback isn’t of, by, and for Rick Warren. He’s an evangelical star, but at the church the spotlight isn’t on him, it’s on Jesus. The church’s future can also be seen and foretold in those hundreds of families and thousands of children bee-hiving the campus and finding spiritual niches in the programs Saddleback offers.

Visiting both churches in one day was a worthy experiment, and I’m glad I did it. And I should say, I didn’t write this piece to be critical of Dr. Schuller. I respect much of what he’s accomplished for the Lord. But I’m also concerned for the future of that ministry. Saddleback has its own challenges, but leaders and congregants are bent upon meeting those challenges as God directs, which is a great thing to see.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduce in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

This is the inaugural column of a new commentary for SAT-7 USA called “Good News from the Middle East.”

Good News is a play on words. First, Good News signals we’ll endeavor to bring you positive feedback, edifying stories, God’s blessings in the face of adversity, accounts of actual progress of any kind in the Middle East. Second, Good News is about the Gospel, the biblical redemption narrative through which Jesus offers forgiveness and hope to all who respond to his name.

While good news from the Middle East is virtually absent in American media, “Good News” presenting a God of unconditional love is virtually unknown to the ears of more than 500 million people living in the 22 countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). That’s a disturbing fact, because it perpetuates hopelessness both here and there.

American Christians tend to look at MENA through filters: 1) cultural differences greater than the average person recognizes, 2) politics involving two wars, 3) residual anger relating to 9/11, 4) frustration with seemingly intractable problems, 5) fear rooted in physical or cultural or religious threats, real and apparent, to our well-being and way of life, 6) inclination to trust and support Israelis while withholding the same for Palestinians, and 7) difficult as it is to admit, bias, prejudice, and sometimes racist perspectives.

When I say “filters” I’m not blaming. I understand our anxiety. Nor am I implying our concerns are baseless, only that they can blur our vision for what God is doing and what he may ask of us. MENA people are either sinners saved by grace or sinners in need of grace, just like us.

So as believers who acknowledge God’s sovereignty we ought to celebrate good news while communicating Good News. In this historical moment, SAT-7 is the best way to do this. It’s an uncensored purveyor of Good News, and that’s good news for us all, because Jesus can change the future of MENA one heart at a time.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

Originally posted at January 19, 2010.

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

Len Galloway went to be with the Lord last evening. I’ll miss him because Sarah and I count Len and Orpha among our best of friends.

The Lord blessed Len with a very long and good life, an especially good wife, and three sons and their families, all of whom live nearby. Near the end he did not suffer and he slipped away as quietly and easily as perhaps one can. This, too, is a gift of God.

I will always remember Len in a quite personal way. Len and I talked at length about Christian decision-making, worldview, religion and politics, and culture. Because of those conversations he kept after me for years to write a book about Christian liberty. I finally did. In the book’s Acknowledgements I cited Len’s persistence, saying “In our relationship over more than ten years, every time I saw the man—and I do mean every time—he asked me about the status of this book. Then he’d encourage, beg, cajole, and “threaten” me to get it completed because he so deeply believed the Christian community is being needlessly torn apart by disagreements in the culture wars. Len, your confidence and dogged determination were something I needed. Thank you.” I appreciated Len then and I still appreciate him now for that support.

While we are a generation younger, age never seemed to make much difference in our friendship, partly because for many years Orpha served as Dr. Galloway at Cornerstone University where I also worked. And Sarah and Orpha became walking buddies and confidantes. We were privileged to travel together to exotic places like Hawaii and Cancun, and Sarah traveled additional times with them when Orpha led Chancel Singers tours or the two of them led university friends’ bus trips to various parts of the country.

Len will be missed by a wonderful and faithful wife and his extended family and friends. But it’s good to know he’s with the Lord and to have experienced Len’s one final good example. As his time neared, and he knew it, Len showed us how to wait for the Lord’s timing, trust Him, and then meet Him in faith and peace.

You were a good man and a good friend, Len. We’ll see you again someday.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at, or follow Dr. Rogers at


I am pleased to announce that God has blessed me with the appointment as President of SAT-7 USA, based in Easton, Maryland, which is the American promotion and fundraising arm of SAT-7, based in Nicosia, Cyprus, a Christian satellite television ministry producing quality indigenous programming by and for people of the Middle East and North Africa. I will begin full-time with SAT-7 USA August 24, 2009.

Sat-7 was founded in 1995 by veteran British missions expert Mr. Terry Ascott, who continues as International CEO. SAT-7 is governed by an International Board of Directors comprised of individuals from more than ten countries and SAT-7 USA is governed by an affiliated U.S. Board of Directors. About 100 employees work for the ministry, located primarily in the Middle East. Approximately twelve staff members work for SAT-7 USA and some staff members work in Europe and specifically in the United Kingdom.

SAT-7 supports four 24/7 channels in three languages: SAT-7 Arabic, SAT-7 Kids (Arabic), SAT-7 PARS (Farsi), and most recently, TURK-7. SAT-7 maintains studios in Beirut, Lebanon and Cairo, Egypt.

Programming is Christian, culturally sensitive, non-political and non-partisan, and non-denominational. Amazingly, SAT-7 has been able to produce its programming at an annual cost of about $1 per viewer. More than 50% of people in the Middle East and North Africa have access to satellite television, and the broadcast signal cannot be economically or in most cases technologically blocked. In some countries covering 7 time zones in the SAT-7 viewing area, satellite access is much higher. A conservative estimate suggests 10-12 million viewers watch SAT-7 on a regular basis. Countries reached by SAT-7 include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and more.

I will travel extensively with the ministry throughout the United States and generally several times per year to the Middle East, either to participate in staff and board meetings or to host donors supporting the ministry. Sarah and I are not planning to move from Grand Rapids, Michigan at this time.

During the past six months, on behalf of The Timothy Group, I was privileged to serve as Interim Executive Director for SAT-7 USA. My new email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2009

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at


Dr. Michael E. Wittmer’s new book, Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough, Zondervan (2008), is a well-written examination and evaluation of the frontiers of evangelical Christian thought. Wittmer tackles questions emerging from those who yearn for a “new kind of Christian,” among them pastor/writers like Brian McLaren. To avoid confusion with other terms, Wittmer calls these individuals “postmodern innovators,” yet demonstrates a profound respect throughout his book for those with whom he disagrees.

Wittmer’s chapters are developed from these questions, which he answers, making the deeper theological and philosophical topics presented easier to grasp. Wittmer notes how the pendulum on the perimeter of evangelicalism is swinging from a concern for right doctrine to a concern for right living. Then he asks, Why does one have to replace the other? He demonstrates why belief is still critical to the Christian faith and argues that while faith without works is dead, so works without faith do not work.

Wittmer is Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and is a bright, young star on the conservative evangelical horizon. His first book, Heaven Is A Place On Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters To God, Zondervan (2004), is still doing well and both books call Christians to an understanding of the Bible and life practice more faithful to God’s Word. Both books are well worth the cost and the time to read them.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2009

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at