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Mission Fest: Right living among muslims

Mission Fest: Right living among muslims

By Evelyne A. Reisacher

We are very pleased to have Evelyne Reisacher join us at Missions Fest Vancouver 2017 (January 27-29), as one of our keynote speakers. Reisacher is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminar and has worked among Muslims for years, in France and the Middle East. 

Our theme at Missions Fest this year is Justice and the Gospel. Most of us approve of justice but find it hard to weave into our lives in a practical way. Reisacher helps us to consider how to live justly by establishing that the foundation for justice is “righteous” relationships. We look forward to seeing you at Missions Fest – John Hall, Executive Director.

A few years ago a precious Lebanese friend gave me a little wood carving of a cedar tree of Lebanon that I placed on my office desk at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I teach. It is engraved with the following words from Psalm 92 verse 12, the righteous shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”  When, at my desk, I take my eyes away from my computer screen, they often land on that inspiring verse, a reminder of what God promises to his followers.

That little ornament also reminds me of numerous visits to the beautiful country of Lebanon, and occasional walks through its northern forest of cedar trees. Although throughout the centuries lots of trees have been cut down and used as timber for building projects, people who, like me, have walked among the remaining trees, understand why the righteous are compared to them. Cedar trees are majestic. They are tall, wide, and have an attractive fragrance. The quality of their timber is such that they were used to build the Solomon temple in Jerusalem. They symbolize vitality, robustness, and longevity since they can live thousands of years. By comparing the righteous to a cedar tree, the psalmist clearly shows that righteousness is a prized virtue and a significant asset for society.

But what exactly does the word righteous mean in this Bible verse? Since this term is not in common use today, many people may have forgotten its meaning. The Hebrew word used in the original biblical text is ‘tsadiq’. His meaning could be summarized as living rightly or justly with God and with people.   Pastor and theologian Timothy J. Keller shows that it refers to “a life of right relationships” (See: Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just) and a “day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.” Another theologian, Walter Brueggemann, says that, “the ‘righteous person’ is characteristically one who invests in the community, showing special attentiveness to the poor and the needy.”  All those definitions emphasize the importance for believers to be sensitive to the needs of others in their community and society, while they nurture a right relationship with God. They cannot live as if they were disconnected from their neighbors from far and near. They cannot bury their head in the sand and ignore the problems of those who are neglected, ill-treated or exploited. Righteous people are deeply concerned about people around them. Old Testament professor James Bruckner asserts that, “the actions of a tsadiq clearly contribute to the long-term health and well-being of the community.”

Unfortunately, I keep meeting people in Christian circles who do not believe that righteousness is key to mission. Perhaps they are afraid to be so consumed with ethical matters that they give up evangelism. Others may feel intimidated by the word itself, not knowing exactly what it means to be a righteous person. It took me some time to realize how important righteousness is for Christian mission. In 1979, I joined a Christian fellowship of Muslim background believers in France, my home country. Together we experienced much joy but also witnessed much suffering. Many believers from Muslim backgrounds felt ostracized by their Muslim friends and family when they made the decision to follow Christ. Others faced discrimination from French people upset by the high number of migrants in their country. A significant number could not find a job or an apartment because of ethnic discrimination. Some even faced suspicion and unjust treatment in their church. One North African believer, for example, told me that in his church all staff members were given a set of church keys except him because leaders were suspicious of Arabs. This is when I became aware that right living was key to ministry among Muslim background believers. I could not live my life as if Muslims around me did not exist and that their problems did not matter. They were indeed part of my community, society and country. Our lives were interconnected, whether we wanted it or not. I therefore decided to embrace the characteristics of righteousness, underlined by theologians above, in my interactions with Muslims. They are often considered enemies instead of friends. Christians are wrestling with how to love them in a world threatened by violence and terrorism.  I offer Christians one solution to the current relational impasse: practice righteousness in your interactions with Muslims.

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