- - Thursday, December 3, 2015

I just watched the Matt Damon movie “The Martian” with my family. As I left the movie, I was thinking about the recent terrorist attacks Paris. It struck me that the world today is facing a situation not unlike that faced by Matt Damon’s character in the film.

In the film, Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, was part of manned mission to Mars but due to unfortunate circumstances, Watney was thought to be dead and was left, alone, on Mars. Abandoned and alone on a harsh, lifeless planet, Watney faced impossible odds. He simply didn’t have enough food or supplies to live long enough to be rescued.

Now because this is Hollywood and Mr. Damon is a huge star, Watney of course overcomes the impossible and survives.

As I write this article, the real world seems to be facing similarly impossible odds. As a result of the barbaric acts of Islamic extremists, the world is facing its greatest existential threat since the Cuban Missile Crisis. With a coordinated response by the world community, the immediate terrorist threat can be dealt with.

The bigger problem is how do we keep this problem from recurring? Are we facing an endless threat like the “war on drugs,” where when one problem is removed another more dangerous problem takes its place?

Unless we can deal with the huge and growing chasm between the world’s Christian and Muslim populations, that is exactly what we will have. Simply put, a future where almost half of the world’s population hates the other half is not a sustainable future. Religion is personal and it is at the core of humankind. Unless people are free to follow their own religious beliefs and tradition, there will be endless conflict.

So how do we solve this centuries old problem? It brings me back to the movie “The Martian.” At the end of the film, Watney is speaking to a group of fresh-faced new astronaut recruits. He explains how in space, things will go wrong and when they do you can either choose to give up and die or you can choose to do something. If you want to live, you have to do something. You have to take the first step.

I think that first step needs to be toward understanding. We simply have to spend time with each other, in each other’s world and reality, to get that understanding. You see, if you come to my house, I can learn a little about you, but you can learn a great deal about me. You can see how I live. You can see what is important to me and my family, but I can only learn what you tell me about you.
In other words, we need to get up, get out of our comfort zones and go. That is why I spend time working with the only church worshiping in the open in Saudi Arabia. That is why in June 2014, I took John Schlitt, the lead singer of the Christian rock band Petra, to Riyadh to perform the first ever Christian rock concert in Saudi Arabia. To get an understanding, we have to go and get the experience.

It is easy to sit back in our comfort zone and talk about what other people should do. The real question is whether you are willing to take a step, take a risk and get outside of your own safety zone and actually do something.

Next, and just as important, we need a new kind of missionary. We need diplomats, not warriors. Diplomats approach problems with civility and with a desire to build relationships. That is the approach taken by the church in Saudi Arabia. Their goals are to provide a safe place for Christians to practice their religion in Saudi Arabia, help where they can and build relationships so that the Saudi government can come to understand that having a Christian church is a positive thing.

If instead of taking the diplomat’s approach the church had taken the approach of a warrior and attacked all that they did not agree with about Saudi Arabia, it is likely that they would not exist today.

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