Cyprus’ meeting place of the nations
Cyprus, the easternmost island of the Mediterranean, is encircled by Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. It is a popular holiday destination for many Europeans and Middle Easterners, and is also a regional business centre.
There is much to see and do. Within walking distance of the John Calvin Centre (JCC), for instance, is the church which by tradition is the final resting place of Lazarus. A bit further on are the excavations of Kition, a settlement dating back thousands of years and founded by Kittim, the great grandson of Noah (Genesis 10:4).
None of this compares, however, with the work of grace that God is doing from the JCC through the ministry of Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF). Groups from many Muslim lands come and go at regular intervals, receiving biblical instruction, training and a warm welcome from the staff.
They represent many nations, each with its own heritage and culture, and include ministers or elders, youth leaders or broadcasters, and many others besides.
A significant number are recent converts. Others are seasoned saints; men and women, young and old. But all are one in Christ – coming to be built up in their faith through in-depth study of God’s Word and returning home to further bless the body of Christ in their home communities.
Relying on their own resources, most could not afford to travel to the JCC. For some, coming involves a degree of risk to personal safety. But they come anyway. Take a recent group from a very closed Middle Eastern country. They have taken time to come to Cyprus in order to train as broadcasters, so that they might share the good news of Jesus Christ with others who speak the same language.
Here is one in whom the grace of God shines brightly. We hesitate to speak of this person except in the vaguest terms, for fear of betraying their identity. For this saint, martyrdom is not the preserve of history books or some exotic location, for this person knows what it is to lose a family member for no other reason than love for Christ.
Here is another saint with a wonderful command of English, making conversation flow and speaking of translating Christian books into the local language. Of course, the police in the home country have taken an interest and have told the person to stop. But the saint continues. It is God’s calling; let God protect.
Here is yet another. She does not seem to have quite the same joy as the others, but there is a reason. She has been converted out of a strongly Muslim family. Her parents are forcing her to marry a young Muslim man of their choice. If she does not, her brothers will kill her.
The stories continue. With each, the realisation grows that the cost of serving Christ in many countries of the world cannot be measured in dollars, pounds or euros. But group after group arrive, study Scripture, learn skills, and return to their own countries to work for Christ and his kingdom.
With such worshippers, it is little wonder that the services on the Lord’s Day are a particular delight. We eagerly anticipate the new heavens and the new earth when people from every nation, tribe, language, and people will, with one heart and voice, praise our God.
Here on this small island at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, those who have eyes to see are granted a glimpse of the new humanity. The local congregation is made up of natives of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, and the West.
Men, women and children – from the palest white to the darkest black, and many shades between – all join together weekly to lift their voices in praise to the God who has loved and saved them.
One group within the assembly sings a psalm in their own tongue. For most of us, not one word is intelligible. Yet here are brothers and sisters in the Lord who so evidently love Christ. Moreover, they come from a country known for its darkness and oppression, but the forces of spiritual opposition cannot check the advance of the Kingdom of God.
Then another language group sing out their praise to God, in confirmation that our gracious God is not to be bound either by men or by devils.
And, as though God would show that there is no end either to his grace or power, here are two men, brought up in the darkness of Islam, who have come to know and trust Jesus Christ.
They kneel at the baptismal font and, before the assembly of the saints and in the sight of heaven, confess Christ as Lord. The work of the Kingdom advances; and it is a joy as well as a privilege to be a part of it.