There are some places we visit which leave a lasting impression. The region of Cappadocia in central Turkey has been one of those places for me. Even now, over twenty-eight years later, I can still see it in my mind.
Cappadocia was where thousands of Christians sought refuge in the hundreds of surrounding hills and mountains from invading Muslim forces. The ruins of churches are scattered throughout the towns and villages of the area, along with cave-carved homes. Entire cities were embedded in the depths of the mountains, with secret passages and “ladders” dug into the earth, going sometimes as much as thirty feet deep.
They literally survived by digging in.
We were told that sometimes the Christians would stay sealed up in their cities for up to six months until trouble passed, but they had a sufficient supply of water, food and air to make it. They made peace with the Muslim invaders by committing to keep to themselves and not attempt any active evangelization. Christians survived in this region up until 1920, when the last were finally completely kicked out.
Those who moved in used the caves and churches for homes and mosques and now served as guides for tourists who wanted to visit these unique dwellings.
I was drawn to a stream, where great trees were growing close to the bank. Their roots were exposed but obviously gaining strength from the waters nearby. It brought to mind the words of Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.*
As I meditated on these words, I asked the Lord what he would have me learn from this experience. Though it was a hard lesson, I believe he was showing me, throughout the time in Cappadocia, not to judge the faith of others. I cannot put myself in their place or know their hearts, but must accept it for what it is and leave judgement to God.
This lesson in grace was not only in relation to the Christians of the past, but for those I was relating to at the time — Iraqi Christians who had fled their homeland during the first Gulf War. God made clear to me that I needed to focus on being faithful to him. He was the one to judge their hearts, not me. My job was to live out my faith in love and service. In this I found peace that would carry me through the next twenty-plus years of ministry and still carries me today.
I watched a movie last night entitled, Sarah’s Key, about the holocaust. This same point was made by one of the characters that said: “You can’t judge them. You don’t know what war is like. You don’t know what you’d do.” The same is reflected in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work as a pastor and spy in World War II.
Whether in times of physical war or spiritual, grace must prevail. I don’t know the battles others are waging, and God did not put me here to judge but to serve and share the salvation Christ offers to a broken world. My job is to stay firmly rooted by the stream of living water — God’s Word, and trust him to bring the fruit.
What lesson in grace is God teaching you today? How is he asking you to show it to others?
Whether you encounter a new people group overseas or in your backyard, pause before you judge. Listen, learn and let God’s grace be sprinkled in your words and actions.
Then you will know both…
Grace and Peace
*Psalm 1:1-3 NIV
*Based on the book Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. St. Martin’s Press, 2007.