The Christian community recently celebrated Easter, where we intentionally recognize the transforming work of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Last night, our friends of the Muslim faith began a 24 hour session, reaching for something similar, and it's all in the festival:
'Shab E Barat' 2017
This day long "Festival of Forgiveness" kicked off on May 11, and commenced yesterday evening.
So, all around the world, members of the Muslim faith will ask Allah to rewrite destinies, grant blessing, and distribute forgiveness for the past.
We asked a friend what it meant to him, and he said that he's only approached Allah to ask for specific things: "health, happiness, family, money." The good news? He got it! He says that before this request, there was no sense of greater purpose. But tonight, "though Allah sits on the highest layer of all 7 skies, in Shab E Barat he comes down to the lowest one, closest to mankind, willing to offer forgiveness to anyone repentant." This belief will lead many people to the graves of loved ones to, hopefully, experience a visit from spirits of their deceased. Others will fast voluntarily to honor the night and present requests to Allah. Either way, there is a common denominator for us all.
No matter your belief system or respective views of life, one thing is for certain:
We are desperate for forgiveness - our souls know it.
We need redemption. We need hope. We need restoration.
Within every person, there is a longing to be reconciled to something greater than ourselves; the eternity in our hearts yearns for a deep and consistent filling, by something, and in our case, Someone.
Where were you last night?
With boots on the ground in Calcutta, some of our teams were wrapping up the evening with a meal, debrief, and rest.
Other stateside friends were winding down, checking off agendas, and planning the next day's priorities.
Some of our precious partners may be with their children this week, making final graduation plans as their kids prepare to step into the next chapter of life.
Volunteer alumni were capping off their normal routines of work, play, and family, wherever they are in the world.
Several of our former (and present) interns were living out their context of finals, part-time work, and career building.
And all the while, our dear Muslim brothers and sisters were presenting a petition for forgiveness and standing in a 24 hour window of hope: salvation.
Rather you realize it or not, what you did last night will have less to do with your schedule and more to do with your placement on this chart:
"Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness..." - Genesis 15:6
The definitive characteristic of a person's spiritual state is where they fall in this holy heritage.
Sons of Isaac (through physical birth or God's adoption) find redemption in Christ, where "today" is consistently "the day of Salvation" and the invitation to redemption exists as long as the earth is turning. The Gospel: God broke the barriers of heaven to not only come close to man, but to "dwell among us" (John 1). With His blood and our repentance, no matter the calendar, "He is faithful and just to forgive".
Sons of Ishmael ascribe to a different set of principles, a separate worldview, and a sundered pursuit of salvation. Different thoughts and various perspectives deserve honor, that is certain, but the differences are clear. Here, redemption comes on the shores of possibility, Divine provision is an aspiration, and Allah comes close in a limited window of time.
One is new identity, the other is a scheduled idea.
One is pre-arranged birthright, the other is a drafted request.
One is the gift of salvation, the other is hopeful solicitation.
The common denominator: a need for rescue.
The dividing wedge: Christ crucified.
"Jesus is permanence. He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him; He lives to speak up and intercede on our behalf." - Hebrews 7:25
For many in Calcutta (and all over the world), the idea of a God who is completely and utterly FOR them is revolutionary. A holy God reaching out to fallen men, saying: "I am on your side" is a baffling thought. The entire concept is a cultural luxury to many of us; this weekend, we pay no attention to Shab E Barat. The rest of our globe, however, is drowning: and Truth is not a concept, it's their lifeline.
But how do you tell societies, nations, families, and individuals whose souls cling to a separate hope that there IS a Mediator, there IS a Better Covenant, there IS a Superior Way? How do you cradle minds convinced otherwise that God stepped into flesh to make peace between Himself and man? Where do you begin in fascinating incarcerated hearts with the splendor of a Loving God who, for generations, has been portrayed as distant?
At Calcutta Mercy, we think we've found an answer:
You say less, you do more.
And thanks to so many of you, we can continue to "do".
We no longer watch from the sidelines, but much like our Father:
We take the very flesh we are and dwell among the lost hearts on a fervent pursuit for restoration and redemption.
We wrap the Gospel in a met-need: we feed hungry bellies, we educate the marginalized, and we help heal the physically ill.
We rewrite disadvantaged circumstances to bring greater success: women's causes, empowered children, and fortified fathers.
We lift Him up with our actions, and He draws hearts to Himself.
The old line is true, "actions speak louder than words", and we think God knew that when He acted on our behalf. Now, we act on His.
Thanks to you, a 24 hour window of forgiveness and reconciliation is opening a little further every day for the people of Calcutta. We ask that you pray for our SEU students this month as they continue to expand the hinges:
And may the Light come in.
"In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was God. All things were made for Him, by Him, through Him. In Him was LIFE, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. There was a man named John who came to testify about the light, though he was not the light, but he told of it: the True Light, He gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. To all that believed in Him, He gives the right to be children of God.......and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us....."
- John 1