Saturday, January 22, 2011

Peacemaking in the Way of Jesus (Part 5 of 5): Metropolitan Kyril Risks His Life to Save Bulgarian Jews

In an attempt to honor the contribution Dr. Martin Luther King has made to the cause of peace, I intend to craft a blog entry each day of this work week highlighting some person or group who is heroically promoting peace in the way of Jesus. Today, I focus the spotlight on Metropolitan Kyril, head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church during WWII.

During the Second World War, not a single Bulgarian Jew died in a concentration camp, largely because of the compassionate bravery of Metropolitan Kyril.

As in all the countries of Nazi-controlled Europe, Bulgaria's Jews were rounded up by SS soldiers and caged behind a barbed-wire fence near the train station. A train would soon arrive to ship them to Auschwitz, where they were certain to face a gruesome death.

Just before the train arrived, however, Metropolitan Kyril intervened. He was head of the Bulgarian Christian Orthodox Church, and he risked his life to identify with the suffering and plight of the Bulgarian Jews. In the presence of the armed SS soldiers who were standing guard, Metropolitan Kyril boldly declared to the Jews that he would share in their fate, whatever it might be.

As Metropolitan Kyril made his stand, thousands of Bulgarians Christians rallied to join him in his solidarity with the Jews. Ultimately, the Nazis surveyed the scene and backed down. The train left Bulgaria without a single Jew on board, and it never returned.

As only he could, Tony Campolo tells the remarkable story in the two-minute clip below (from the longer film, Prince of Peace, God of War found at http://themovieblog.com/):


Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Jesus' point was that we must take love to the extreme. It's not enough to love only those who look like us and believe what we believe. If we really wish to follow him, we must love those who are different as well.

Metropolitan Kyril lived this out by laying his life on the line for his Jewish neighbors. Practically, tangibly, and sacrificially, he loved them. Metropolitan Kyril heroically promoted peace in the way of Jesus, and his love became the miracle the Bulgarian Jews needed in their most hopeless hour.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Peacemaking in the Way of Jesus (Part 4 of 5): Imam Ashafa and Pastor James

In an attempt to honor the contribution Dr. Martin Luther King has made to the cause of peace, I intend to craft a blog entry each day of this work week highlighting some person or group who is heroically promoting peace in the way of Jesus. Today, I focus the spotlight on Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa of Nigeria.

Kaduna is a city of about 750,000 in northern Nigeria. It is majority Muslim, but a sizable Christian population calls the city home as well. In the 1990s, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James each led rival, warring militias, each intent on protecting their people from the abuses and encroachment of the other. In one skirmish, Imam Ashafa's spiritual mentor and two close relatives were killed by the Christian militia. In another, the Islamic militia cut off Pastor James' right arm.

In 1995, a mutual friend brought Imam Ashafa and Pastor James together and told them that they could end much of the violence if they would just get to know one another. The imam and the pastor decided to give it a shot. Heroically, they forgave one another and began to build bridges of friendship and trust.


Now, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James spend their time working together. They have launched the Interfaith Mediation Centre, which focuses on promoting peace between Muslims and Christians. Because of their work, peace is beginning to break out in parts of Nigeria, and the two clerics have assembled a team which is taking their message of love and forgiveness to other troubled, African nations.

Kenya is one of the places where Imam Ashafa and Pastor James are working. Here's a great clip highlighting their Kenya project (graphic images warning):


You can order copies of the "The Imam and the Pastor," an award-winning, 39-minute documentary at http://www.iofc.org/imam-pastor.

Imam Ashafa and Pastor James are living monuments to the power of reconciliation and love. They are promoting peace in the way of Jesus, and that makes them heroes in my book!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Peacemaking in the Way Of Jesus (Part 3 of 5): Josh Daneshforooz and Loving Our Religious Neighbors

In an attempt to honor the contribution Dr. Martin Luther King has made to the cause of peace, I intend to craft a blog entry each day of this work week highlighting some person or group who is heroically promoting peace in the way of Jesus. Today, I focus the spotlight on Josh Daneshforooz, a Harvard Teaching Fellow who is inspiring religious neighbors to labor together for peace.

When I met Josh Daneshforooz last week and learned about his work, three things immediately stood out to me. One, he's obviously very bright. Two, he looks very young. And three, he has exercised God-inspired genius in creating a simple, effective model for peacemaking in the way of Jesus that almost anyone can emulate.

Josh grew up in Las Vegas as the son of an Iranian, Muslim father and an American, Christian mother, and he understands religious diversity and multiculturalism better than most. As Josh states on his website, his background and experiences led him to "a passion for enabling people from different faith traditions to learn about one another and to serve together, not as an attempt to water down his Christian faith but to put it into practice as a peacemaker."

As a way of living out this passion, Josh created Loving Our Religious Neighbors (LORN), an organization focused on uniting "people from different religious traditions to engage in dialogue of the hands (service), the heart (testimonies), and the head (theology)."

Here's a clip from the LORN website in which two articulate young ladies, one Christian and one Muslim, describe how LORN has impacted them:


I would love to see the LORN concept catch on all over the US and around the world. If you're interested in making something happen in your area, you'll find more information at http://www.lovingorn.org/. Let's join Josh Daneshforooz in heroically promoting peace in the way of Jesus!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Peacemaking in the Way Of Jesus (Part 2 of 5): Egyptian Muslims Form Human Shield to Protect Worshiping Christians

In an attempt to honor the contribution Dr. Martin Luther King has made to the cause of peace, I intend to craft a blog entry each day of this work week highlighting some person or group who is heroically promoting peace in the way of Jesus. Today, I focus the spotlight on some brave and compassionate Egyptian Muslims.

On New Years Eve, terrorists savagely murdered 21 Coptic Christians at Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt. Apparently, the perpetrators of this heinous act identify themselves as Muslims, and their act of brutality, the latest in a series of deadly assaults on Egypt's Copts, made international news.

Like many around the world, I grieved when I read the report. As an outsider, I wondered if there was any hope for peace in Egypt. A week later, I found the hope I was looking for in a news report that moved me to tears, this time tears of joy.

Copts celebrate Christmas on January 7. According to the news story, militant Islamic websites called for further attacks on Coptic churches as they gathered for their Christmas eve services. When Copts gathered for worship anyway despite the threats, many Egyptian Muslims formed human shields around them and declared, "We either live together, or we die together!"

Here are excerpts from the story as reported online at http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/3365.aspx.

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly Street. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’s eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”. Around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one.

BBC posted a similar albeit less-detailed report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12133656.

I wish this story of sacrificial love among religious neighbors had more of the world's attention. Jesus taught that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and these Egyptian Muslims did just that. They put themselves in harm's way in order to secure for the Copts the religious freedom and safety they want for themselves and their families. They promoted peace in the way of Jesus, and their act of love, compassion, and bravery moved me to tears.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Peacemaking in the Way of Jesus (Part 1 of 5): A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last week, I had the privilege of gathering with about 30 extraordinary men and women who have devoted themselves and their lives to promoting peace in the way of Jesus. As I sat at the feet of these heroes and learned from their experiences, I could not help but ponder the beautiful coincidence that our peacemaking summit took place the week leading up to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Dr. King is not just a hero for African-Americans and other minorities; he is a hero for all of humanity. Although we humans still have a long way to go, Dr. King helped us all move a significant step closer to the ideal that God seemed to imagine for us when he set the world in motion.

In an attempt to honor the contribution Dr. King has made to the cause of peace, I intend to craft a blog entry each day of this work week highlighting some person or group who is heroically promoting peace in the way of Jesus. Today, I will focus the spotlight on Dr. King himself.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King epitomized the teachings of Jesus by loving his enemies and overcoming evil with good. (If you are not familiar with these prevailing themes in the New Testament, Matthew 5 and Romans 12 would be great starting points.) Regarding Dr. King's love for his enemies, I cannot improve upon the words of Tony Campolo:

More recently, we can find the Christ principle of love in Martin Luther King, Jr. When those who espoused his philosophy of nonviolence marched for their freedom, from Selma toward Montgomery, Alabama, they were stopped at the bridge on the edge of town. Confronting them were police and national guardsmen, armed with their instruments of power. When the word was given to King's followers to turn back, they answered, "We've come too far to turn back now." The demonstrators got down on their knees to pray, fully aware of how vulnerable this made them. Then the sheriff's deputies waded into them, swinging their billy clubs, turning loose their attack dogs, and knocking people down with powerful bursts of water from fire hoses.

As I watched it all on live television, I knew at that moment in history that the civil rights movement had won. If anyone had asked me, "How do you figure that they have won? All I see are the followers of Martin Luther King getting battered and beaten and even killed," I would have answered, "Those who follow the way of Jesus have a strange habit of rising again, because there is no power on earth that can keep love down. When all that can be done to destroy them has been done, they will rise again." Martin Luther King declared to his enemies, "If you beat us, we will love you. If you jail us, we will love you, and if you kill us, we will die loving you!" As history testified, love indeed triumphs over power.   (Taken from Which Jesus? by Tony Campolo; locations 288-299 in the Kindle edition)

Friends, I invite you to join me today in celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a hero who labored for peace in the way of Jesus!