6 March marks the start of Lent this year.
Lent (Latin: Quadragesima: Fortieth) is an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’. It is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, climaxing during the Easter week. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week. During the 40 days of Lent, Christians remember the time when Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray before beginning the work of God.
My husband, Leon (pseudonym), and I were first exposed to Lent when we lived in the Middle East from 2007 to 2013. In the midst of dwelling amongst and serving the natives and refugees of this ancient land, we learned and received more than what we had ever imagined.
One of the first things Lent did for us was to slow us down. In Singapore, Good Friday and Easter come and go in a lightning speed, albeit being the only time of the year when we consider the suffering of Christ in a more serious light. In the Assemblies of God circles, we tend to fast forward to the resurrection on Easter Sunday, focusing on the victorious life we have. What Leon and I really relished in those six years was how as an intentional missional community, we meditated together with the rest of the international and local churches on Christ’s life and death, and the ensuing high call that beckons us to follow.
My most vivid memory of the image of Christ hanging on the cross was on TV on 1 January 2011. It was on TV not because it was reel but real. The night before, just after a Watchnight service, two bombs went off outside a busy church as throngs of believers left the church after the service. Dozens were killed. On TV bodies in coffins were brought into the church and families were weeping and wailing. In between these tragic images were shown the images of Christ on the cross. My heart throbbed painfully and tears started rolling uncontrollably. “Lord, the Church in Singapore needs to see this. Where is our theology of risk and suffering? It cannot be only in the Holy Week leading to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.” Right there in the home of our beloved local brothers and sisters, we had no appetite for food but could only pause and cry out in prayer together for those who had lost loved ones – simply because they bear the name of Christ.
This episode in front of that TV set marked the beginning of us being brought into a revolution experience, as less than a month later a nation-wide revolution broke out. We were privileged to remain in the land with the people in a tumultuous time. That experience presented us precious opportunities to demonstrate God’s steadfast love, even as it fixed our hearts and eyes for the long haul on the region and its people.
Let us meditate on what the life and death of Christ beckons us to be and to do. As His Holy Spirit stirs and compels us outwards, may those who go meet the living stones in the ancient land and mature our understanding of the times. May our eyes be peeled open to see the privilege of suffering with the Him for the sake of the gospel, so we may enjoy deep fellowship with Him.
This is missions.
The writer has lived amongst and served the people of an ancient land for years.