Saturday, January 29, 2011

"As Chaos Rocks Cairo"

The blood of martyrs, Alexandria, January 2011 (Source: Reuters)

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Interview with a Young Egyptian Christian

Ayman Ibrahim, whose home is in northern Egypt, is a doctoral student living at this time in the United States. He agreed to be interviewed regarding the groundbreaking events now occurring in his homeland.

Q: First, Ayman, you are a long way from home and family at this momentous and turbulent time in your nation's history. Have you personally been able to contact your family in Egypt? Are they safe?

A: Yes, I was able to call, but to landlines only. They are safe so far. Yet there is some news that as chaos rocks Cairo many gangs have started to go to different areas stealing property and threatening people in their homes.

Q: News reports indicate that the protests coursing through the major cities began with the young people in the middle classes, as they did recently in Tunisia, but that they have since spread to include all age groups and classes. What are the factors that drove young, educated people into the streets in the first place? And, what do the young hope to accomplish?

A: It is true that demonstrations began with the middle class and then spread to include all age groups, classes, and religions. Our young people have been suffering from unemployment and poverty. The demonstrations have been calling for change. However, the question we should also ask is, "What type of change?" Many refer to two or three requests, but I believe we Egyptians should be more objective in what we are seeking. If we seek change just for the sake of change, we may not appreciate the final result.

Q: As a young Egyptian yourself, what type of change do you believe Egypt should experience in the areas of politics and economics?

A: Concerning politics, I believe we need a new government with a secular nature, a government that represents all of the different sects of Egypt in a fair way. Concerning economics, we need to seek forms of social justice that would help people live honorable lives and that would raise our minimum wages. We also must ensure that the aid that comes to Egyptians from Europe or America actually reaches the needy of Egypt, who are the majority of the people. In summary, we need freedom in speech, religion, and politics, and we need a fair way of distributing the wealth of the country, making sure to empower and support the underprivileged.

Q: With regard to religion, just a few weeks ago, a massive explosion in Alexandria ripped through a crowd of Christians outside their church, killing and maiming so many. In the wake of this, there arose some solidarity between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. How many Christians live in Egypt, and how long have Christians been there?

A: Concerning Christians, the official number states they are between 6 and 8 million; however, I would argue they are more than 12 million. Christians have been in Egypt since, according to tradition, St. Mark came presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ in the first century of the Christian era. Today, Christians make up 15 percent of the total population (12 million Christians out of a total population of 80 million). Yet, ironically, Christian representatives in the government and the parliament do not exceed 10 people!

Q: Reports have come from Egypt that the cry of "Allah Akbar!" was chanted by some groups in the streets, while others responded, "Muslims, Christians, we are all Egyptians!" Most news reports indicate primarily secular slogans in the streets. As you know, in the West, there is concern that the Muslim Brotherhood, as the largest existing political opposition party, may exert its influence to take Egypt in a radically Islamist direction. Does that concern exist for you? What is the likelihood of a radical Islamist government coming into power?

A: Yes, this concern definitely does exist. Egyptians by nature are a peaceful people and we love life. I am positive that the demonstrations started in a very proper and peaceful way. Even when some people wanted to shout with Islamic slogans on the first day of demonstrations, they were asked to silence themselves and shout only patriotic slogans, not religious ones. However, after Tuesday's demonstrations, it was reported clearly that the Muslim Brotherhood called on its followers to keep on protesting. They also called for another major demonstration after the Muslim noon prayer on Friday, January 28, in order to dethrone the Mubarak regime. Therefore, it seems that things started in a great and peaceful way, but then Mubarak's staunchest opponents wanted to take advantage of what happened and they seem to be leading the nation into total chaos.

Q: It appears then, that on the one hand there is a widespread call for change in the Egyptian government, but on the other hand there is the threat of an open-ended chaos that could lead to an even more repressive government. If you could speak at this critical time to your fellow Christians around the world, for what would you ask them to pray? And, are there definite actions they might also take? Please be specific.

A: Concerning prayer, first, please pray for protection for all Egyptian families and for our national wealth, economically and culturally, not to be lost. Second, pray that these demonstrations do not take on a radical religious nature, namely, that they do not lead to a religious government representing only the majority of Egyptians. Third, please ask God that our future government would bring justice and social opportunity to underprivileged Egyptians. Fourth, pray that this new era would witness fair treatment to Coptic Christians, including protection to them and their belongings. Finally, and most importantly, please pray that we Christians of Egypt will have opportunity and courage to share our peaceful faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
   Concerning actions to be taken, the first thing that comes to mind is that I ask Americans to petition their own government to make sure that the financial or social aid she provides Egypt reach all Egyptians, not only a few leaders who may waste it in corruption. Finally, I hope that the West makes it a priority to foster religious freedom in Egypt, including especially protection of the Christian minorities.

Monday, January 24, 2011

La vida en medio de la tormenta (una carta para hombres)

For English

NOTA: Gracias, Dr. Gerardo Alfaro, para traducir esto en español.


Caballeros,

Esta mañana me desperté y ore por cada uno de ustedes por nombre.

Me imagino que su vida es como la mía. Parece provenir de una aventura a la otra, y frecuentemente una la aventura es una de peligro y tragedia. Sabemos, conceptualmente, que el lugar más seguro para estar es el centro de la voluntad de Dios. Sin embargo, la vida presenta dificultades, aun cuando seguimos a Jesús.

Los discípulos de Jesús experimentaron un ejemplo de esto en mateo 8. En el verso 18, Jesús les dijo a sus discípulos que pasaran al otro lado del mar de Galilea. Algunos decidieron quedarse atrás. Otros fueron fieles e hicieron lo que Jesús les dijo. En el verso 23, se dice que Jesús subió al bote, e inmediatamente "los discípulos le siguieron." Sin embargo, en el siguiente versículo, el bote se encuentra en medio "de una gran tormenta, y el la embarcación se cubre con olas."

¿Qué te parece? Sigues a Jesús, el Hijo de Dios, el salvador del mundo, y Jesús te guía hacia una tormenta!! Este no es el tipo del vida que los predicadores del evangelio de la prosperidad están predicando en televisión. No, la Biblia nos enseña otro paradigma: Sigue a Jesús, entra en la tormenta. Se un discípulo, él te manda, y la vida se apresura dentro de una tormenta fatal... Entra en el bote con el Hijo de Dios, vive en medio de una tormenta.

SI eres como yo, tu empezarías a gritar "Por qué Señor? Por qué este relajo? Por qué esta pasando esto? Esto pasa y luego aquello, y luego mi amigo le pasó esto, y entonces aquello ( y así sin parar). Se derrumbará todo en mi vida ahora? Por qué todo es tan difícil? Por qué está todo tan complicado? Por qué mi hijo no quiere? Por qué mi esposa hizo eso? Por qué lo hice yo? Señor estoy tan confundido y tan cargado y me siento inútil.. Señor, ayúdame! Me estás acaso escuchando? Estás despierto?

Entonces, mientras todo se desmorona, tu te desesperas. Tal vez no en lo exterior, porque como hombres, debemos ser sólidos y estoicos. Pero a dentro, el conflicto de la vida se convierte en el conflicto de nuestro corazón y mente. Y lloramos. Tal vez no con lágrimas, porque, como sabes, somos hombres y debemos ser sólidos y estoicos. Lo que significa que los conflictos internos solo se harán más grandes y deberán manifestarse de otra forma. Los conflicto del mundo de nuestro alrededor fácilmente se convierten en nuestros conflictos internos.

Así pues, como los discípulos, alcanzamos el punto donde vamos al Señor y tratamos de despertarlo. Como ellos, clamamos, Señor, sálvanos, nos estamos muriendo!! (verso 25). Y cuando dios no actúa inmediatamente, empezamos a dudar. Todo tipo de duda se atraviesan por nuestra mente: "Estás oyendo Dios? " Le importa a Dios? Tiene de verdad poder sobre esta vida? Porque permite él que todo esto me lleve de un lado para otro? Tiene sentido la vida?

Sin embargo, cuando llagamos al final de la soga, cuando ya no tenemos esperanza, pasa. Sí, pasa. Miramos a Dios una vez más, y como para sellar nuestra falta de fe, descubrimos que él nos está mirando directamente. Nos damos cuenta de que es real y que está vivo. Miramos que los ojos de Dios se fijan como un láser en nuestra situación. Y la pregunta sin sentido que teníamos encuentra respuesta. Escucha Dios? Por supuesto! El es omnisciente. El lo sabe todo. El sabe exactamente lo que pasa conmigo.

También notamos que sus ojos como láser, nos miran con amor. Algunas veces parece un amor cansado de mostrarnos que su forma de hacer las cosas es la mejor. Pero sus ojos nos miran con el amor más profundo que pueda haber. Ese es el amor que es la base de la creación y la redención. Y recordamos aquella pregunta rara que hicimos: Le importa a Dios? Sí, absolutamente!

Después, miramos detrás de esos ojos como de láser, y miramos que allí hay puro poder. vemos que dentro, atrás, arriba, antes y alrededor se encuentra el poder que creo todo lo que existe, que sostiene su existencia, le poder que hace que todo llegue a su propósito. El está en control. El mira la injusticia, pero ha estado esperando. Sí mira el dolor, pero se ha detenido. Sí él mira la muerte, pero ha estado pacientemente trabajando con su poder para lograr la solución perfecta. Y recordamos la tercer grupo de preguntas que ignorancia hicimos: Existe Dios? Tiene de verdad poder sobre esta vida?

Antes de que podamos seguir contestando las preguntas que antes nos hacíamos, Dios nos habla. Si, el Señor habla. Y, esta voz de consuelo y regaño nos dice: "Por qué tienes miedo, hombre de poca fe?" Ahora, como Tejano, eso duele!! Por que no hay nada pequeño en la vida de un Tejano! Excepto que aquí sí tenemos evidencia de nuestra fe pequeña. Pero, Jesús prometió que le podía tomar la fe tan pequeña como la de un grano de mostaza, y hacer algo grande de ella, no es cierto? Y así lo hace.

Mientras tratamos de entender qué significa todo esto, el Señor se levanta con su poder y con una sola palabra, le habla a la tormenta en nuestra vida, la regaña. Y el silencio es inmenso! El significado de aquella calma entra en ti con una claridad tan grande como la de una orquesta tocando con toda fuerza. Pero no hay sonido, ni movimiento. No hay nada más que tú, los otros discípulos y Dios. Tu y Dios. Todos los problemas se han desvanecidos. La tormenta se ha desaparecido. Y tu te das cuenta que él es real, que Dios el Señor, el Creador, el Redentor, el Padre que envió al Hijo, el Hijo mismo, y el Espíritu.

Y la paz desciende, y junto con los otros discípulos nos preguntamos qué pasó. En un momento, la tormenta nos abruma. Le clamamos a Dios e inmediatamente, notamos que Aquel que creíamos que no le importaba, o no quería ayudarnos, o no podía, ahora nos ha ayudado. Y nos maravillamos! "¿Quién es este hombre que aun el mar y el viento le obedecen?!!

Al reflexionar en este silencio, la verdad que el Padre le reveló a Pedro, se convierte en algo nuestro: Sabemos que este hombre, Jesús, es también Dios. El es el Cristo, el Hijo del Dios viviente.

Mis amigos, mis hermanos, mis con-discipulos. A Dios de verdad le importamos. Tu le importas. Le importa la tormenta en tu vida. Y él la calmará. Y en la calma, cuando venga, nos maravillaremos juntos.

Cuando era joven, un adolescente, pasé por una tormenta de depresión. Dios me consoló con Juan 10:10: "El ladrón viene a robar y a matar, pero yo he venido para que tengan vida y que la tengan en abundancia." Ese versículo me ayudó tremendamente en la más temprana y violenta tormenta de mi vida. Y ahora, al mirar todas las tormentas a mi alrededor, listas para dar contra mí y contra tí, he entendido que la vida abundante debe vivirse en la aventura de las tormentas. Lo único que tengo que hacer es entrar al bote con Jesús y mantener mi vista en él. El sabe todo y puede tomar inclusive mi pequeña fe y hacer algo grande con ella, aun a pesar de mi.

En Cristo,
Malcolm

Life in the Midst of the Storm (A Letter for Men)

Para el español

NOTE: The letter below was written to the 40 men in our Men's Bible Study class at Birchman Baptist Church, which has been in existence for a year now. The letter ministered to many of our men and it has taken on a life of its own among others to whom our men minister. It is reprinted here for easy dissemination. One of our men has received a request for a Spanish translation and that will be posted here soon.


22 January 2011

Gentlemen,

This morning I woke up and prayed for each of you by name.

I imagine your life is much like mine. It seems to proceed from one adventure to the next, and often an adventure will be one of danger and tragedy. We know, conceptually, that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. Yet, life presents difficulties, even when we follow Jesus.

The disciples of Jesus experienced an example of this in Matthew 8. In verse 18, Jesus told the disciples they were going to get up and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Some decided to stay behind. Yet others were faithful to Jesus and did what Jesus said. In verse 23, it says that Jesus got in the boat and, immediately, “his disciples followed him.” However, in the very next verse, the boat was in the middle of “a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with waves.”

How do you like that? You follow Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, and Jesus leads you into a storm! This is not exactly the kind of life that the health and wealth preachers are preaching on the television. No, the Bible teaches another paradigm: Follow Jesus, enter turmoil. Be a disciple like He commands, and life heads into a life-threatening storm. Get in the boat with the Son of God, live in the midst of the storm!

If you are like me, you begin to cry out sometimes and say, “Why, Lord?! What is this mess? Why is this happening? This happened and then that, and then my friend had this happen, and then that (and on and on). Will everything in my life come apart now? Why is everything so difficult? Why is everything so messed up? Why won’t my kid...? Why did my wife...? Why did I...? Lord, I am so confused and so burdened and so helpless. Lord, help! Lord, are you even listening? Lord, are you awake?!”

Then, as everything is falling apart, you become frantic. Maybe not on the outside, for we men are supposed to be strong and stoic. But on the inside, the turmoil of life becomes the turmoil within our hearts and minds. And we cry. Maybe not with tears, because, you know, we are men who are supposed to be strong and stoic. Which often means that the inner turmoil may only build and show itself in other ways. The turmoil in the world around us can so easily become the turmoil inside us.

So, like the disciples, we reach the point where we go to the Lord and try to wake Him up. Like them, we cry out, “Lord, save us; we’re dying here!” (verse 25). And when God doesn’t act immediately, we begin to doubt. All sorts of strange thoughts run through our mind: “Is God listening? Does God care? Is He really there? Does He really have power over this life? Why is He letting me toss and turn and flop all over the place? Is there any meaning in this life?”

However, when we have reached the end of our rope, when we have given up the last hope, it happens. Yes, it happens. We look at God one last time, as if to seal our unbelief, and we notice that He is looking straight at us. We notice that He is real, that He is alive. We notice that the eyes of the God who knows everything are focused like a laser on our situation. And that stupid question we had gets answered. “Is God listening?” Of course! He is omniscient; He knows it all. He knows exactly what is happening in my life.

We also notice that His eyes, which are fixed like a laser on our life, are fixed with a look of love. Sometimes, a weary love, at having to show us yet again that His way is the best way. But, His eyes look at us with that deepest love that ever was, that love which is the basis of all creation and all redemption. And we remember that second odd question we asked: “Does God care?” Yes, He absolutely cares.

Afterwards, we notice behind those laser-like, loving eyes, there is raw power. We see that in, behind, above, before and all around those eyes is the power that created all things, the power that sustains their existence, the power that brings everything to its final end. He is in control. He does see the injustice, but He has been waiting. He does see the pain, but He has held back. He does see the death, but He has been patiently working with His power to the perfect solution. And we remember that third set of ignorant questions, “Is He really there? Does He really have power over this life?”

Before we can even proceed to try to answer the other questions we were asking, God speaks. Yes, the Lord speaks. And, this voice of comfort and rebuke says to us, “Why are you afraid, man of little faith?” Now, as a Texan, that hurts, because there is nothing little in the life of a Texan! Except, now, here, we have evidence of the littleness of our faith. But Jesus promised that He could take even faith as small as a mustard seed and make something great out of it, didn’t He? He did. And He does.

As we try to understand all that this means, the Lord stands in His power and with one word, He speaks to the storm in our life, and He rebukes it. And the silence is awesome. The meaning of the stillness breaks on you with the mind-grabbing clarity of clanging cymbals and beating drums. Except, there is no sound, there is no movement. There is nothing but you and the other disciples and God. You and God. All the problems have faded. The storm has disappeared. And you know that He is real, this God, the Lord, the Creator, the Redeemer; the Father Who sent His Son, the Son Himself, and the Holy Spirit.

And, as the peace descends, like the disciples, we begin to wonder at what has happened. One moment, the storm is overwhelming us. We cry out to God. The next moment, we notice that the One whom we thought didn’t care or couldn’t care really does care. And we marvel. "What manner of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey Him!"

In the reflections of the silence, the truth the Father revealed to us through Peter becomes ours: We know that this man, Jesus, is also God. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!"

My friends, my brothers, my fellow disciples. God really does care. He cares for you. He cares about the storm in your life. He cares. And He will calm it. And in the stillness, when it comes, we will marvel together.

When I was a young man, a teenager, I was in a storm of depression. God comforted me with John 10:10--”The thief comes not but for to steal, to kill, and to destroy, but I have come that you might have life and that more abundantly.” That verse helped me tremendously through my earliest and most violent storm of life. And, now, as I see all of the storms around me, ready to crash into me and you, I understand that the abundant life is a life lived in the adventure of storms. The only thing I need to do is get in the boat with Jesus and keep my eyes on Him. He knows it all and He can take even my small faith and do something great with it, in spite of me.

In Christ,
Malcolm

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Beautiful Tunisia: A Call to Prayer

Update: This essay has been republished by Baptist Press. A few photos are newly added here.

Several years ago, alongside several other professors, Dr. John Mark Yeats and I led a group of students to Tunisia in order to study North African Christian history and theology. Today, we see occurring what the media has dubbed a "jasmine revolution," which is apparently the first populist rejection of an Arab leader and the first governmental change wrought through the activities of Wikileaks. President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who is accused of having ruled Tunisia on behalf of the economic interests of what became known as "the Family," has fled the country. It is still unclear as to what the form and composition of the government will be, and the interim government itself has already changed structure in a matter of hours as the frantic search for constitutional legitimacy and political stability vie with one another.

The place known today as Tunisia has a long and colorful history. Phoenician traders settled here around the tenth century BC, establishing a colony that became the world power known as Carthage in the sixth century BC. The Carthaginian navy's capabilities, shrouded in secrecy, and the Carthaginian army's tactics, exemplified in Hannibal's surprise march through the Alps, were nothing short of brilliant, even as their religion was marked by incredible brutality. Phoenician ships brought a barbaric religion from the Middle East, which was affiliated with the god known in the Old Testament as Molech. Molech's priests were particularly adept at the sacrifice of infants by making them "pass through the fire." The Carthaginians sacrificed their own children to Kronos, or Saturn, according to ancient historians, by placing an infant on the hands of the bronze god, hands which were then raised by hidden priests through a pulley system, dropping the helpless child into a gaping maw to be consumed in flames. The bones of the infant would then be interred in a small stone sarcophogus, and were often deposited in the foundation of a new building, such as a private home. So many were sacrificed in the hope it would bring happiness and prosperity to a new family. (The Western idea that children are an economic burden worthy of abortion was thus prefigured.) Hundreds of children at a time were also sacrificed during times of war as a way to appease their offended god. The vigor with which the Israelite king Josiah suppressed such misguided brutality is, to say the least, understandable (2 Kings 23:10). To this day, I cannot forget the haunting scene of thousands of small stone sarcophogi still littering ancient Carthage outside modern Tunis. The children paid for the sins of their fathers, at their fathers' own hands.



When, in the second century BC, the Romans finally put an end to Carthage at the conclusion of the third Punic War, they salted the site of the city but developed the rest of North Africa into a breadbasket for Rome itself. Roman culture followed Roman agriculture as it spread through North Africa, south toward that oceanic desert now known as the Sahara, east toward modern Libya and west into Algeria. Tunisia is filled with ancient sites containing coliseums, temples and palaces from the Roman period. The surviving mosaics that abound there are absolutely beautiful and indicate an advanced culture. Christianity thrived in the early centuries in North Africa, in spite of the intense persecution the Christians often suffered. The saga of Perpetua and Felicitas, two young Christian martyrs, still inspires those who read of the suffering of these faithful witnesses. (The ancient arena in which the Christians were martyred in Roman Carthage and many of the early churches are accessible today.) Providentially, in spite of the intent of the imperial authorities, the blood of the martyrs proved not to be the burial of the church of Jesus Christ, but the seed for her growth, as Tertullian noted.

As the church of North Africa grew in both difficult and easier times, it produced a number of very important theologians--especially Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine--who shaped the way Western Christians still think about their faith. Tertullian, whose writings are available here in both the original Latin and modern translations, was a converted Roman lawyer active at the turn of the third century AD. This ground-breaking church father developed the rudiments of the Western understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. His refutation of the modalist heresy has been most helpful to those who desire to see God as the Bible reveals Him to be. Tertullian also expressed misgivings about the innovative doctrine of infant baptism, even as he flirted with the spiritualistic and ascetic heresy of Montanism. The early churches of North Africa, many of whose ruins are still in existence, long retained the architecture of a New Testament faith. There is nothing more informative than seeing with one's own eyes the extant visible evidence of the North African baptistries standing, sometimes in the pattern of a womb, at the very entrances of their churches. Moreover, these earliest baptistries were fully immersionist. The late historical development of infant baptism with sprinkling is readily perceptible, for small raised baptismal fonts were centuries later placed in and over the old immersionist and often richly-decorated mosaic baptistries, the ruins of which have been preserved in the semi-desert open air.



Cyprian, whose writings are available here, came from the Roman colonial elite itself and brought a stable leadership to a church experiencing even more thorough persecution under the emperors Decius and Valerian. After the Decian persecution, Cyprian led the way in providing church fellowship to those Christians who had lapsed under persecution but who subsequently repented. One of his most famous works, On the Unity of the Church, has been the source of both inspiration and tribulation for those churches dependent upon his theology of episcopacy, due to the work's existence in two variant forms. From a free church perspective, Cyprian's legacy is most difficult, for the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers offering spiritual sacrifices was lost in the midst of his advocacy of episcopal authority, sacerdotal administration of the sacraments and his peculiar sacrificial presentation of the Lord's Supper. On the other hand, encouraging all later Christians, Cyprian remained firm in his Christian faith and was executed in 258 for refusing to sacrifice to the imperial cult.

Though his bishopric was based over the border in modern Algeria, Augustine of Hippo, whose voluminous and theologically essential Latin works are available here and described here, spent a good deal of his life in Carthage. The mental portrait of Augustine's mother, Monica, standing at the dock as her son fled her presence for a profligate life in Europe, is one that should strike any Christian mother's heart. Be encouraged, Christian parents, for Monica's fervent prayers and continual witness ended in her son's glorious conversion. Augustine describes his conversion to Christ (and presents a sublime view of the relation between eternity and time) in his introspective and authentically open Confessions, a must read for every Christian. After his conversion, Augustine returned to North Africa, where his works were instrumental in helping Western Christians understand that salvation is entirely by divine grace, as he fought against the works-salvation taught by the British monk, Pelagius. Unfortunately, at the same time he underscored divine grace, he also led the church to embrace the conscience-violating doctrine of the baptismal regeneration of infants.

In yet another controversy, with the Donatists, Augustine argued for the universality and unity of the church, but horrifically through the advocacy of governmental coercion of unbelievers and dissenters into the state-supported churches. In yet another controversy, against the pagans, who were blaming the fall of Rome in 410 on the rise of Christianity, Augustine worked out a comprehensive philosophy of history, inclusive of both the sacred and secular. His monumental The City of God is simultaneously majestic and utterly persuasive. In his 15 books on The Trinity, Augustine established the Western view of the relations between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, a view that ultimately ended in the theological division of East and West. Augustine's days ended as his city of Hippo was under siege by the invading barbarians, who would restructure and shape the Europe as we know it today. Augustine of North Africa remains the premiere theologian of Western Christianity, thus the faith of most Europeans and Americans remains in profound ways an African faith.

Although Constantinople under Justinian the Great recovered North Africa, the Byzantine empire could not retain its hold in the face of the onslaught of military Islam. Christians (and Jews) survived for centuries under Muslim rule, and huge Christian graveyards are still in evidence, but with time and the slow persecution of the dhimmitude system coupled with periodic onslaughts of intense persecution worsened by the invasion of the Sicilian Normans, Christianity (and Judaism) were eclipsed by Islam. I can still see the stone blocks with crosses on them that were torn from old churches and used to build mosques for the increasing number of Muslim people. As a French colony, Roman Catholic Christianity was revived, but, especially outside the capital of Tunis, there is not much that survives. During World War II, Rommel's troops battled with American and British armies for control of Tunisia and a large cemetery is maintained there to memorialize the multitude of Americans who gave their lives to push Hitler's Nazis out of Africa. Yes, the first (or, is it fourth?) "Star Wars" film was made in the Tunisian Sahara. And, yes, you can still visit the beaches that are traditionally swamped by European tourists. And, yes, the American ambassador at the time was a fine fellow and a gracious host to this American visitor.

As I survey the photographs of protest-torn Tunisia, I remember the beauty of the cities and, most importantly, the beauty of the people. I also remember the calls to prayer at the local mosque that wafted through our open windows every morning. But mostly, I remember that Tunisians are now suffering. There are many young people who need stable employment, and all Tunisians are doubtless concerned about what tomorrow will bring them. The people I encountered in Tunisia were kind and wanted to know about these wandering Christians, and, with appropriate prayer and cultural sensitivity, they were open to hearing the gospel. This brings us to the primary purpose for this post: Would you please pray for Tunisia? For her political freedom and stability? For the gospel of eternal peace, once again, to flourish in this beautiful land?