Middle East Protestants work together in troubled region
Christian unity in the Middle East is an oasis of hope in the midst of difficult circumstances says a senior Protestant leader. In an address to church leaders from the region, Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), praised cooperative efforts to minister to victims of violence and economic deprivation.
“While the tendency in the face of difficult circumstances is for Christians to yield to fragmentation and division, you have remained together,” Nyomi told delegates to the 6th General Assembly of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC) held in Harissa, Lebanon earlier this year [January].
The FMEEC is an association of Protestant churches working to promote leadership training, run church-related schools and support programmes for women in churches from Sudan to Iran.
Protestant Christians who represent 0.5 per cent of the region’s population play a significant role in education (secondary schools, colleges and seminaries), medical services and publishing, despite their small numbers.
In 2006 the Fellowship helped broker an agreement among Lutheran and Reformed Churches in the Middle East and North Africa. The accord signed in Amman, Jordan establishes the basis for closer cooperation among the churches through the mutual recognition of their sacraments including baptism, ministry and the ordination of clergy.
During briefings from representatives of Reformed churches in Egypt, Iran and Iraq, Nyomi was told that while in some contexts Christians and Muslims are working collaboratively, in other contexts Christians have been victims of violence and discrimination.
Security concerns and lack of employment opportunities are causing Christians to leave the region in increasing numbers. In May 2009, the New York Times reported that Jerusalem was approximately one-fifth Christian in 1948 but today that number stands at two per cent. A region that a century ago was 20 per cent Christian is now about five per cent with the figures still dropping fast, according to some observers.
“This phenomenon is claiming the cream of the Christian community”, says Nyomi.
Representatives from Iraq report that the security situation post-2003 is worse than before the war started in March 2003. Many of the economy activities which sustain ordinary people have come to a standstill. They note that whereas before the war there were five active and vibrant Presbyterian congregations, now only three of the congregations can be said to be active.
Nyomi heard that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Iran continues to stand faithful in the midst of some great challenges. However, it too is now experiencing the effects of emigration.
The Evangelical Church of Egypt, Synod of the Nile, reports having experienced discrimination over many years. The recent wave of violence against Christians has resulted in the burning of churches and targeting of Christians and Christian leaders.
“We deplore such violence and call on the Government of Egypt to take every step possible to provide security for all the people of Egypt”, says Nyomi.