11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph 2: 11-22
God reconciled us in Christ with himself and with each other – in Christ we are a new creation – what has divided us in the past is gone – put to death on the cross – believers in Jesus from all nations are one, equal and assemble the body of Christ together.
My topic today – reconciliation of the nations – this is actually what God has put on my heart and is the mission God has given to the our apostolic family of churches.
Since 2000 I have been living with my family in Yalova, south of Istanbul.
God gave us grace to plant a Turkish speaking church there after our relief work following the Marmara earthquake in 1999.
In 2011 refugees from Iran and Iraq started joining our church – at this time we had around 50 Turkish believers.
There was some discussion in the leadership team whether we should accept them – but God clearly revealed in two dreams that he has sent the refugees to us. – allow the Holy Spirit change your vision
In the beginning we had everyone in one meeting and everyone was happy, because the church was growing and the foreign believers could be integrated well. But as the refugee communities were growing much faster than the Turkish speaking congregation, the tension between the groups grew as well. Because of a shortage of space we had to give the Farsi speakers and the Arabic speakers their own meeting. Their numbers would grow even faster after this decision.
The Turkish congregation didn’t really grow, stayed around 50 people, but the Arabic congregation grew to 150 and Farsi congregation grew to 300 believers. We faced competition for the use of the church building. There was even a competition for my time and attention. I remember a meeting where the leaders of the three congregations accused me simultaneously of spending more time with the other groups. Cleaning after meetings became often a topic and respect was a big issue. The Turkish group felt outnumbered and statements like ‘’we feel like strangers in our own church’’, or we have been pushed to the side’’ were expressed.
What started off with a honey moon turned into a tough challenge for me and the ones that championed the value of one new man in Christ. I can say that lots of my hairs turned grey over many conversations trying to keep unity amongst us and reconcile the different views and bring reconciliation between the ones that were hurting. It was a journey of seven years until we came to a point of a united eldership team that worked well with each other, appreciating the other leaders and respecting the different congregations.
We joined prayer meetings and had fantastic Easter and Christmas celebrations in the town hall. We did worship in three languages and preached the gospel through plays clearly. The unity amongst the different nations was actually the most convincing testimony to the Muslims we invited.
God took us on a journey to reconcile what had been divided and hostile for centuries.
- 8 years of Iraq/Iran war
- The homeland of the Kurds divided and them living as second class citizens divided under five different countries – Saddam using gas to kill thousands of Kurds – Kurdish terror attacks in Turkey
- The invasion, occupation and exploration through the Ottomans to many Middle Eastern nations
- Antisemitism and the attempts to wipe out Israel by its Arab neighbours and Israel’s harsh responses to those attacks
The list is not complete – the history of the Middle East is one of animosity and hostility that has led to prejudices, mistrust, hatred and division amongst those nations.
Unfortunately those negative attitudes are brought into the church and hinder God’s kingdom from advancing.
Everyone would say, I have nothing against the other, I have nothing in my heart against the other brother – but this is actually revealing a lack of love and appreciation for the other. We should have a lot of love and appreciation for the other in our heart.
Everyone would say we are one in Christ and no one is better or higher than the other, but or behavior and our talks often reveal the opposite. I share some of the sentences I heard over the years.
- We (the locals) are the once that stay, the refugees will leave one day – therefore we should be privileged when it comes to the use of the church building and choosing times
- We are the hosts, they are the guests
- We were here before, therefore we have more rights
- This is Turkey, therefore they should learn Turkish, we do not need to learn their language
- We are Christians from birth on, we are the real believers
- Believers who are from Muslim background cannot be trusted
- It is not worth investing in refugees, they are leaving anyway
- It is too tiring to have all this translating back and forth into the different languages
- Why are they praying for so long in a language I don’t understand?
How did we overcome those attitudes?
- by teaching God’s word
- by bringing the leaders together, food, trips => the leaders attitude is important
- having regular joined prayer meetings => they got to know each other and started to appreciate each other
- asking questions, showing genuine interest in others
- Not giving up, correcting wrong statements,
Through Simon Holley God gave us a prophecy that has defined our call and purpose as a church and family of churches.
If the leaders of the different nations will be one and love and support each other in unity, I am going to use this church like a sickle to bring in the harvest of the Middle East.
We have done a conference last November where we invited the leaders of the different nations we are serving at to an Isaiah 19 conference.
We talked about our national pride and how nationalistic doctrine became part of our identity and how they hinder us to become one in Christ. We had flags from the nations represented lifted up in the room. The Holy Spirit led us to take our flags down and put them in front of the cross, declaring that our identity is no longer in our national roots, but in Christ. This opened the way for people to come forward confessing the evil actions that their government has done to other nations and their prejudices against others and under tears they repented and asked the other nations to forgive them. Reconciliation between nations begins in the body of Christ. After this session we had a strong sense of unity and freedom amongst us. Worship exploded and unbelievable joy expressed in dancing and shouting before our Lord Jesus.
Just two days ago we finished the follow up conference – 15 different nations present and growing towards one family in Christ with one purpose => to bring in the harvest of the Middle East.
Lady from Azerbaijan – “I feel like I am in heaven”
Why did we call it the Isaiah 19 conference?
23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth,
25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” Isaiah 19:23-25
– Do I have prejudices against a certain ethnic group?
– How much am I willing to invest in unity with other ethnic groups?
– What can I do to bring about reconciliation among different people groups?