I enjoy the Christmas season and all that comes with it in our American culture. One of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions is to go pick out our Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving, then decorate the house, listen to Christmas music, and snack on cookies, candies, hot chocolate and egg-nog while our favorite Christmas movie plays in the background.
With so many different traditions and fun memories as a child around this time of year, I have a whole mental list of activities I’d like our family to do during the month-long celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Yet, every year, inevitably, there is always something that we do not get to.
It may be going to one of our favorite places for dinner, looking at Christmas lights or maybe hanging lights on the house (which I still have not done this year). But I always leave the season thinking, “I’ll do that next year,” because I know the Christmas season will come back around.
Just like the seasons of the year, we encounter seasons of opportunity in our lives, and also collectively as the church, to advance God’s Kingdom in miraculous and exponential ways. We are in one of those seasons now in the Middle East.
Looking at what has unfolded in the region since the 9/11 attacks – starting with the war in Iraq, leading to the Arab Spring, then to the Syrian civil war which opened the door for ISIS and spilled the violence into Iraq – this unprecedented shifting of people has created a season for the church to sow the seed of the Gospel in the heart of the Muslim world like never before.
But it’s only a season – a window of opportunity. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” In the midst of this chaos and tragedy in the Middle East, God is there. As the church, our job is to find out what God wants to do and respond while the time is right. It’s a season of opportunity we can’t afford to miss.
Earlier this year, I had the chance to Skype with a man named Ardi (name changed for his protection) in his mid-30s from Albania. He had contacted us on the World Compassion website and shared his incredible story. Over twenty years ago, Ardi was at an aid distribution in Albania, where he received a back pack full of school supplies and a copy of our The Story of Jesus booklet.
At that time, God was positioning us and other Christians to reach an impoverished and unreached Eastern Europe, as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union disbanded. This little bit of help compared to the poverty in Albania at the time may not have looked like much. A backpack was simply used to meet the need of a child and included The Story of Jesus booklet along with it. It was a small seed sown, but a seed sown at the right time.
One could have argued that there was no fruit from that work – because they couldn’t see it yet. Genesis 8:22 says, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” Just as seeds we plant in the ground take time to grow, so do the seeds of the Gospel planted in the hearts of people.
As time passed, God brought the harvest. At age 13, Ardi read The Story of Jesus booklet and gave his life to Jesus, and now he works for a major ministry in Albania reaching college students on a daily basis. The repercussive impact of one little $.18 booklet, one seed sown to share Jesus at the right opportunity, has resulted in him leading and reaching the next generation in his country.
Unlike the Christmas season, we are not guaranteed how long this season of opportunity will last in the Middle East, or even, if we will ever have an opportunity like we have today again in our lifetime.
While the window of opportunity is open, the Church must respond in force – plowing the ground in the Middle East and planting seed for the future. As the world continues to watch and wait for the proper response to the Syrian civil war and ISIS, we can plant the love of Christ in their hearts and minds by helping meet their needs. As we do, we will be able plant the true message of Jesus Christ. What we sow today will be what is harvested tomorrow.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul wrote – “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” We may only plant the seed, while someone else waters and witnesses the increase, but there is no doubt – it’s time to plant the seed of the love of Christ and the true message of Jesus in the hearts and minds of millions of refugees across the Middle East today.
Politics and military play their part in helping people and changing the direction of a nation, but ultimately it is the Church that brings lasting transformation to the hearts and minds of people. Our action today during this divine season of opportunity could be what paves the way for the Gospel to reach the Muslim world!
If a thirteen-year-old Albanian boy like Ardi can go on to reach hundreds through a simple The Story of Jesus booklet, imagine what could happen if thousands of refugees found Jesus. Even as the situation ends, and people go back home or move on to another location, they will always remember how God cared for them through His Church. They will carry the message of Jesus Christ and the seed that has been planted wherever they go.
World Compassion is seizing this season of opportunity by meeting the physical needs of thousands of refugees with food, blankets, heaters and other needed items every day in Kurdistan. Along with this aid, the Gospel is shared through The Story of Jesus booklets and the local churches we partner with.
Let’s take advantage of the seasons we go through in our lives to grow in Christ but also to advance His Kingdom. Unlike the Christmas season, we are not guaranteed to have the opportunity to go through the seasons of our lives again.
So let’s finish the year strong by moving forward while the time is right. Help us make 2015 an abundant year of harvest by planting the seeds of the Gospel now in the midst of the winter. Spring will come – and when it does we’ll be ready.