Several years ago, Benyamin Cohen, the son of an Orthodox rabbi, wrote a book called My Jesus Year, a memoir of his experience attending various Christian churches in the South. Cohen’s adventure in Christendom came about because of his natural curiosity about other people’s faith, even though he felt his own had been stifled. His religious life had been shaped in his father’s house, where rules for holy living were followed to a tee. The family’s diet, extracurricular activities and even television viewing were governed by a very strict interpretation of the Torah and the Talmud.

The rabbi’s synagogue was attached to the house, a living situation mirrored at the Protestant church across the street. The Cohens’ interactions with their Christian neighbor were infrequent, but one memorable connection came in answer to a cry for help. Benyamin’s mother had inadvertently left the oven on past sunset on Friday evening—the Sabbath had begun. Since turning the knob was considered work, would the pastor come over and turn it off? By helping the rabbi’s family live out their standard of holiness, the evangelical minister became part of their faith community, if only for a brief (but significant) moment.

Jesus instructs us that the greatest commandment is to love God with every part of our being and that the second greatest is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). Community is the only way in which the deeper life is given a context. Stories of the desert fathers going into the wilderness to seek holiness, though inspiring and instructional on many levels, are disturbing on another: holiness cannot be “found” in isolation. Commitments of faith are best made between oneself and God. But, ironically, the quest to sanctify, to be “set apart,” is only evident as we interact with others, whether they are family members, church goers, school mates or the couple across the street who fear violating the Sabbath. We are “set apart” to be used; God does not put His servants on a shelf, far from the turmoil of the world. For anyone to know that salt is flavorful, it has to be consumed. For a light to shine, it must burn.

This issue of alife is about shining the light of the gospel through, on, into and maybe even in spite of community. A congregation from the Khmer Evangelical Church (C&MA) in Cambodia asked Alliance worker David Strong to help them reach out to the people around them by using the only collective skill the church members possessed: the ability to grow rice. A large field was purchased and everyone, not just the church, was invited to participate in a food-growing co-op. Through Bible studies and the love of Christ, several participants became followers of Jesus. But even those who were already Christians had the opportunity to grow deeper spiritually. Jesus told His followers to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). When another group “squatted” on part of the land, the Christians weighed their options and chose to pray—not for justice but that the thieves would have a good harvest!

Anyone who’s been in a large choir knows that it is a community within a community. The one that David Kindervater is involved with in Japan is bigger than many Alliance churches in that country. They come together to sing about the Savior, even though most of them are not Christians. International workers are helping the singers get what they want (good, old-fashioned gospel music) while introducing them to what they need (the truth about Jesus, the one who is praised in those songs).

Sometimes believers are placed in a community that is dangerous both physically and spiritually. During the Vietnam War, Hien was torn from a fellowship of faith and placed among atheists and people who trusted in politics rather than in the Lord. He nearly joined them. But God himself stepped in to remind Hien that even when he was separated from fellow Christians, the young man could not be separated from the Father’s love.

Sometimes, though, we are the ones who try to erect walls between ourselves and Jesus. Ironically, those bricks can be fired in the oven of religion, as Benyamin Cohen learned when he finally identified the source of his dissatisfaction with the way he had been practicing Judaism. He felt “imprisoned by a faith that practiced deed over creed.” On the President’s Page, Dr. Benedict reminds us that we too can fall into the same snare if our activities—even the most sincere and Christian—are divorced from our first love—Jesus.

As we go and make disciples, we could say for one another a traditional prayer for marriage, the first human community: “Make their lives together a sign of Christ’s love to this broken and sinful world . . .”

An independent film made in the 1980s told the story of a religious worker who ministered among impoverished villagers in a volatile region of Central America. “You do know they’re using you,” one of her detractors sneered. “Oh, I hope so,” she replied.

Past Alliance Life Issues


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