A letter from Victor and Sara Makari serving in Israel/Palestine
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With all that is going on in the Middle East, where religion is used by many players to justify political, military and economic goals, we want to share a reflection inspired by the season of Lent.
Our Lent began with a meditation on the story of Jesus on the Mount of Temptation, after his baptism and at the outset of his ministry (Luke 4:1-13). Tempting Jesus, the devil pulls out a number of slick and deceptive acts from his bag of tricks. At the beginning, addressing Jesus’ hunger, he sounds quite logical—acknowledging Jesus’ power while putting him to the test. Rather than proving himself to the devil, Jesus answers him with his natural, incontestable, divine authority to which the Scripture is a witness.
The devil then surprises us twice:
First, he tells a lie that he wishes to pass for truth. Looking down on the expanse of terrain below, he says, as if with unquestionable confidence, “All this has been given to me; it is mine; I can do with it whatever I please…” Really?! Yes, he is convinced that all of this is truly his. He announces it to the world from his high mountain. Worse yet, he wants even the Son of God to believe it and bow down to him. One lesson here, it seems, is: Evil has a way of lying to itself repeatedly enough that it actually believes its own lies. With that presumption of truth, it operates rather successfully in the world; but will God, finally, go along with it?
Second surprise (but really no surprise): The devil actually quotes holy Scripture (!) to try to serve his own ends. Clever, isn’t he?
Beware… The devil doesn’t go away. The story of the temptations ends with these words: He [the devil] departed…until an opportune time. He does not miss an opportunity.
Yet, we have this knowledge, and this assurance: The devil has been sinning from the beginning [of time]; [but] the Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8). To the devil, Jesus says: Don’t tempt God!
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Now to some of our news:
Victor participates regularly in the worship leadership of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, one of the church partners of Presbyterian World Mission, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ (UCC). Our appointment is shared by the PC(USA) and the UCC. Recently Victor helped launch an English-language worship and fellowship service, largely for expatriates living in the area. As Presbyterian World Mission’s liaison for ecumenical partnership, Victor seeks to embody the core principles of our appointing boards, namely: “mutuality, presence, community, justice, and peace.” How does he do this? Primarily through participation in the life and outreach of the Christian churches, interfaith encounters, welcoming and meeting with international groups of pilgrims, accompanying and serving as a resource to local partners for broader networking, and being a connecting resource for our appointing churches.
Victor’s appointment includes his involvement in the regional “Religion and State” program, initiated and coordinated by the Diyar Consortium in Bethlehem. This keeps him busy identifying key resource persons, helping plan and organize conferences and workshops, and communicating with potential participants and leaders across the Arab world (but more specifically, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel—the primary countries covered by the program—plus occasionally Syria and Iraq as circumstances permit). Preparing reports of the program’s progress, to be shared with international donors, is part of that assignment.
Over the past two years in his “spare time” (?!), but actually with the encouragement of one of our mission partners and some portion of released time, Victor has undertaken a translation project (into Arabic) of Books III and IV of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. This has been of great intellectual stimulation and spiritual nurture for him.
Last fall Victor had the privilege of visiting and speaking with churches in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and southern New England. He immensely appreciated their warm welcome and hospitality, and cherishes the friendships that emerged.
Sara continues her work of editing English-language materials for Diyar Publishing. Publications include books and articles in the areas of contextual theology, art, culture, history and heritage. Most recently she has completed several scholarly papers presented by various authors from across the region and abroad at a Religion and State conference held in July 2015. The theme of the conference was “Shifting Identities: Social, Political and Religious Changes in the Arab World.” These papers will appear in a book to be released soon. As part of providing ministry in the home in addition to maintaining our well-being, Sara regularly hosts colleagues in mission, partners and visitors.
Personally, we are grateful for good health, generally, and especially for successful surgeries for both of us in 2015. Living here has its ongoing challenges and stresses; what would elsewhere be taken for granted cannot be assumed here. Every normal chore takes so much more time and effort. But, in truth, for Palestinian neighbors living under occupation, life is far more difficult. Yet hardships and stresses here seem miniscule when we look at the plight of millions of refugees and displaced Syrians, Iraqis and others. We pray for mercy on all who suffer, confident that God’s grace is sufficient.
Finally, we wish to thank all of you who stay in touch with us, those who pray for us and our partners, those who come to visit, and those who contribute to the denominations that support us. We also invite and encourage others to consider offering a portion of their tithes to sustain the important work of the Church’s mission.
Peace and grace in Christ,
Victor and Sara Makari
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