For Good Friday, our family attended the service at the Church of the Resurrection as it is called in Arabic, or as it is known in English, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. This was an amazing experience where we met people from all around the world with different traditions, including Greek Orthodox, Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopians, and Roman Catholics, each praying in their indigenous language. Though it was a bit chaotic with the thousands there that day, each with their strict procedures for prayer and procession, it was a beautiful mosaic reflecting the diversity of the Christian community.
As we walked from section to section, passing people who were contemplating, praying, lighting candles, and singing, we found ourselves in a more secluded area of the ancient edifice together with an Egyptian couple. I began explaining to them the history and significance of the church. While they listened, I could not help but notice the joy on the man’s face. As we continued talking, I expressed my sorrow for the attacks on Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta, Egypt. He then told us that they were from Alexandria and that the attacks were a wake-up call for him, spiritually.
This struck me because when most people experience atrocities they express anger and bitterness, but not this couple. Then, as a small gesture, he gave our family candles to light. I prayed for his family and we departed ways. Of all we experienced during Easter weekend, we found this meeting to be the most meaningful.
A few days later, I travelled with a colleague to Jordan for a theological forum where theologians from different Middle Eastern countries gathered to learn how they can be instruments of peacemaking in the community of faith. This year’s theme was peacebuilding and reconciliation and Musalaha was asked to present what we have learned over the years, our curriculum, and the six stages of reconciliation. We received a positive response and a number of people asked to incorporate our curriculum into their schools, churches and leadership training programs. It is exciting to see that what we have developed is now spreading to other parts of the region. We are now working on adapting our curriculum for the wider Arab World.
There are people rising up to challenge us about the role and community of faith in hostile situations. The collapse of states, the refugee crises, and rise of radicalization have forced people to think differently and find new ways to reach out to their neighbors and become a source of blessing to them. A woman from Lebanon presented to the attendants about her outreach to her community. She found that many people outside of the church are hungry to meet Christians and counter radicalization. There are people, similar to her, who are moving away from traditional engagement (with non-believers) and finding new ways to interact with their communities. It was exciting and encouraging to see the church leaders and theologians at the forum praying, thinking and imagining how to reach out to their circles with the message of peace for areas torn apart by hatred and violence.