Saturday, May 05, 2007

Christian Contrasts--American Youth Rally & Peshwar (Pakistan) Easter Celebration

The April 2007 issue of Christianity Today carried two articles back-to-back. I found irony in their juxtaposition.

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The first concerned a Passion New Year's concert/conference in Atlanta that drew over 23,000 college students for four days of "loud, demonstrative worship" complete with 12 giant projection screens. The Passion events have been held for the past 10 years and will now go international in their attempt to draw young adults into making prayerful commitments to follow Jesus Christ in his Great Commission to go into the world and make disciples of all nations.

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This gathering of middle/uppper middle-class American youth (representing 1,200 college/university campuses) packed into the Atlanta Hawk's Philips Arena with lightshows and Christian rock (like Chris Tomlin) and key speakers like John Piper, Beth Moore and Louie Giglio, stood in stark contrast to the small band of Pakistani Christians who celebrated Easter in Peshwar, Pakistan, surrounded and protected by armed Pakistani soldiers armed with automatic rifles.

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This incident was captured in word and picture by another young Christian named Joshua T. White who spent a year in Pakistan as a representative of a Christian organization called Institute for Global Engagement.

White was captured by the image of an Islamic nation allowing, even in one of its strongest Islamist strongholds, permitting Christians to walk through the streets in a pre-dawn Easter ritual.

I have attended large Christian gatherings for Promise Keepers, Women of Faith, Billy Graham Crusades, Greg Laurie Harvest Crusade and other gatherings of Christian adults and youth on large scales.

I have also gathered with Christians in Amman, Jordan, and in Soviet-era Russian Orthodox churches and seminaries in Russia and the Ukraine and in small barrio congregations in Mexico.

The faith may be the same but the experience of that faith in context is very different.

In Atlanta, standing up in an arena with 22,999 other Christians is anything but an exercise in vulnerability or public "cross-carrying." One can easily leave that arena and be indistinguishable from anyone else to be seen on the city's streets.

Not so for the Christians in Peshwar. Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants and Pentacostals all walked together as one Body through a city where they are not only labeled as a barely-tolerated religious minority but where they are known by sight by every Muslim to be less equal and subject to very different applications of the law when conflict arises between any of them and any Muslim.

Yet the same Lord is Lord of his saints in Pakistan and in Atlanta, Georgia.

In some ways the youth in Atlanta face a greater test of faith than their Pakistani counterparts. Like the rich young ruler of the Gospels, they have much in this world to lose. Along with the rest of the "wealthy West" (of which I am also a member) God will require much from them. And, insofar as they have been blessed with abundance in wealth and education and other worldly resources, they have much to offer the coming Kingdom of God.

Those Peshwari Christians, on the other hand, have little but faith and life . . . and life, too, is a fragile thing in their corner of the world in this particular time of history.

Joshua White writes that he learned a great many things while in Pakistan. I suspect that, if their hearts are truly possessed by God, those college students in Atlanta, should they follow Christ into foreign missionary service, will also learn as much or more than they will teach and recieve as much or more than they will give.

In the end it is faith and trust in Jesus and a full embrace of his spirit of love alone that will count for anything in our lives.

I suspect that when being a Christian requires you to be protected by armed guards, you quickly learn to take your faith very seriously.