Timeless Teachings – The Word of God Across the Middle East
From the pyramids in Cairo to the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, the Middle East overflows with tales to tell of a time we have not lived, but are connected to. Ancient stories are made real as one walks the dusty roads connecting villages in rural country-sides. Stories from religious texts take on an entirely new appearance as one stands at the foot of a time-worn cathedral or mosque. These monuments, sites and cities speak to a time before that has lent us what we experience now in our present. Our history here in Bethlehem, the humble yet beautiful story of our Prince of Peace coming to join us in life on earth, is another one of those stories that rises from the past and carries us into today. This story, this man called Jesus, had a message for the people of his time, but that message has spread far beyond that of the Holy Land or the Middle East. Now the words of Jesus dwell in the lives of countless people around the world.
A God that waited to burn me
In the expanse of all of this, a humble man resides as a refugee in a city not yet captured by ISIS. His faith journey from a hardline, conservative religious person to life in Jesus has been one to behold. The story of this man, Abu Ayman, is one that comes from the same soil as those wonders of the world. His is a distinct life in the midst of such rich history and current turmoil. Abu Ayman’s story is one that could fill a book. His experience growing up within a fundamentalist religious community was one that ultimately left him confused and terrified. “A God that waited to burn me,” he said, “did not make me feel his loving presence with me.” He left religion and lived as an atheist for nearly thirteen years. In 2010, after many years of listening to a Christian radio program followed by a powerful dream where Jesus appeared to him, he decided that the way of Jesus was the way of life. His journey is laden with discouragements in finding a Christian community and rejection and persecution from his family, in addition to the suffering of his people under oppressive regimes, wars and isolation. His pursuit of knowledge of Jesus and the Scripture led him to the Online Biblical Studies Program at Bethlehem Bible College.
I learn so I can teach
Abu Ayman has taken what he has learned from his studies at BethBC, and shared them with those around him. He states, “I learn so I can teach.” His vitality for life and eagerness to see Jesus in the lives of those around him pushes him forward. Opposition has met him at nearly every corner, but not without some joys of blessing as well.
“I have learned how to serve the glory of the Lord. Studying, for me, is the light I walk under in the way of serving the Kingdom of God. It grows and deepens my faith life, and it trains me to minister.”
Abu Ayman’s testament of growing in his faith and the impact on his community is a beacon of hope in the midst of a difficult and heartbreaking reality of brokenness. He compares his desire to study the Scripture to the need for food in order for people to grow, become stronger and develop.
Love with no hatred
In one of Abu Ayman’s most recent back-and-forth conversations with a man in his city via private messages on Facebook is a living testament to the power of life in the Kingdom of God. While the man that was messaging Abu Ayman was hostile and cursing him, Abu Ayman always responded with blessings and words of love. In one message, the man sent the following:
“May God curse you, you magician. It dishonors me to continue a conversation with a dirty person like you. You are my enemy.”
Abu Ayman responded,
“I am only your enemy from your point of view. You are my brother, and I love you. I pray that the Lord may preserve and protect you, bless you and your family and protect you from the wicked. I will bow before the throne of grace, and I will lift you up in prayer. I ask that the Lord opens your heart.”
After several days of no response, Abu Ayman received a message from the man asking why Abu Ayman would bless him when he was cursing him. Abu Ayman’s words in response are perhaps ones that should be recited and lived more often by others.
“The Lord Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and to pray for all who harm us. Believing in Jesus means love with no hatred.”
The man sent back, “Is it possible to communicate everyday so that you can introduce me to these teachings?”
A robust message
It is indeed stories like this that come from the heart of the region. A place that is uniquely diverse, full of life and history, but simultaneously stricken with war, suffering and turmoil. Out of humble origins Jesus came with a robust message that would change the state of the world. Should we choose to implement them into our own lives, we will see the change in the world of those around us.
It is with great joy that the Online Biblical Studies Program at BethBC has the opportunity to help facilitate this kind of interaction. The deep connectivity of humanity across the globe is now made easier by technology. The ancient House of Wisdom is now one that is transient and mobile. It is easily shared and passed along. There is such beauty in time and progress, but such deep joy in the same, simple Truth of 2000 years ago. The message stays the same, but the means becomes more expansive. It sounds something like the Kingdom of God after all!