Willow's Leadership Summit -- A Place for Peacemakers

“Leaders have a blindingly clear picture of what the future could be and an insatiable drive to see it become reality.” Bill Hybels (www.billhybels.com)

I’ve taken lots of spiritual gift assessments and personality tests. None of them have ever indicated that I am a leader, and I don’t claim to be one. But maybe hanging around with Bill (my leadership-maniac husband) since I was 17 has influenced me a bit. I mean, sometimes I actually find myself thinking like a leader. I look at something that is clearly wrong, I see the beautiful reality that could exist if that wrong were righted, and I feel ferociously compelled to try to right it—and I want other people to do it too!

(Yes, Bill is aware that he has created a monster. And yes, he does try to tame me at times. But he is generally supportive. And, for the record, he has read and endorsed every word of this blog.)

So . . . it was October 2008. I had been invited by Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian—Bill’s mentor and mine—to attend a conference in Amman, Jordan, taught entirely by Arab Christians from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and the West Bank. To a person, these ministry leaders said they felt abandoned by Western Christians. And, of course, they are; to most Western Christians the phrase “Arab Christian” is an oxymoron. We experience a severe case of cognitive dissonance when hear about indigenous Iraqi Christians or the ancient Egyptian Coptic Church or—even more surprising—Palestinian Christians whose ancestors have been “on the land” from the time of Christ. What? Why didn’t we realize this? What should we do about it?

That conference in Jordan turned my world upside-down. (See CT article November ’08). It was so clear that the isolation these Christian brothers and sisters experienced was wrong! Since then I’ve traveled to the Middle East seven times to learn from Arab Christians. “What do you wish American Christians knew,” I’ve asked repeatedly. Everywhere, I have heard this: We wish American Christians understood more about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We wish American Christians would listen to their Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. We wish American Christians would stand in solidarity with the peacemakers in the land where Jesus walked.

At the South Barrington site of the upcoming Global Leadership Summit (hosted by the Willow Creek Association), we have the opportunity to do just that. On Thursday, August 11, I will host a Summit Lunch called “Leading Toward Peace in Israel and Palestine.” (Please call our Church Relations Center at 800-570-9812 to register.)

Many of you reading this blog probably have no clue what the Willow Creek Association or the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) are. Thank you for reading anyway. This blog is specifically directed to those who are already registered to attend the GLS in South Barrington. The event is filled to capacity so this definitely isn’t a pitch to get more Summit-attendees. However, for those of you already registered for the Summit in South Barrington, there are several optional lunches you can sign up for. This is my personal invitation for you join me at “Leading Toward Peace in Israel and Palestine” on Thursday, August 11.

The main presenter will be Gary Burge, New Testament professor at Wheaton College and author of Whose Land? Whose Promise?: What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians. An expert in both the culture of Jesus’ day and the current conflict in Israel/Palestine, Gary has led numerous trips to the Holy Land. His trips focus not just on the “dead stones” of ancient ruins, but more importantly, on the “living stones” of the Middle Eastern Christian community.

Gary’s book and his teaching have become valuable resources for Bill and the Willow Creek elders as they work together to discern God’s leading regarding future involvement in the Middle East. This Summit lunch provides an opportunity for you to join us in this extremely important learning process.

Tackling difficult issues is nothing new for the WCA. Summit speakers have often issued prophetic calls to action. None of us will forget Bono’s Summit interview that mobilized hundreds of WCA churches in the ongoing battle against extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS. The Courageous Leadership Award, offered through a WCA/World Vision partnership, awarded grants to help expand the efforts of many of the churches that courageously joined this fight.

We were all inspired when Jessica Jackley described how KIVA supports micro-enterprise globally, and we were gripped by Blake Mycoskie’s vision for Tom’s Shoes. Harvard professor Michael Porter challenged us to “do good better,” and Detroit activist Eleanor Josaitis proved that our passion for justice doesn’t have to diminish as we age.

Harvey Carey, who lives out his vision for urban renewal at Citadel of Faith Covenant Church in Detroit, dynamically challenged us to “get out of the huddle and into the community,” while Efrem Smith, author of “The Hip Hop Church,” taught us to break down cultural and racial barriers through acts of compassion and mercy.

Wes Stafford, President of Compassion International, moved us to tears as he shared how his own childhood trauma motivates him every day to work on behalf of the world’s vulnerable children. Gary Haugen and Christine Caine challenged us to join their efforts to free modern-day slaves; through their respective organizations, IJM and the A21 Campaign, they provided practical ways for us to do that.

I’m grateful that the GLS has addressed so many issues like these. As a result, church leaders throughout the world have challenged their congregations to actively join God’s redemptive work to “fix whatever needs fixing in this broken world.”

Now, through this Summit lunch, we have the opportunity to open our hearts and minds to a new challenge. Tragically, much of the worldwide hostility that erupts in violence and bloodshed ripples outward from the little plot of land where Jesus walked. It’s time for us to humbly learn from the Middle Eastern men and women who are faithfully following the Prince of Peace in the Holy Land. Together, we can partner with them in leading toward peace. Please view this as my personal invitation to join Gary Burge and me for lunch and for a very important learning opportunity. To register—call our Church Relations Center at 800-570-9812.