Arab Christians Pull Willow Creek Leader into Middle East

Article excerpt

As it does for many Americans, the political strife, uncertainty and violence in the Middle East sparked a scary thought in Lynne Hybels of Barrington.

"I had been haunted by the fear that Christians, Jews and Muslims were going to blow up the world," says Hybels, wife of pastor Bill Hybels and his partner in the growth of the Willow Creek Community Church from a small gathering in a Palatine movie theater to the worldwide church based in South Barrington.

Much of the negative and divisive news coming out of the Middle East fans those fears and turns thoughtful debates into angry attacks.

"If there were a conversation by Christians, Jews and Muslims that wasn't filled with hate, hostility and anger, I would like to be part of that conversation," Lynne Hybels figured. Her search for that environment led her to a 2008 conference in Amman, Jordan, taught entirely by Arab Christians from the Palestinian territory, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

"I cried all week at that conference, hearing their righteous anger, their sense of abandonment and their pain," remembers Hybels, who notes that "many American Christians aren't aware there is such a thing as an Arab Christian."

Hybels has been to the Middle East a half-dozen times, most recently last week when her communion at The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem was interrupted by sirens after a bomb blast elsewhere in the city. She's met with Christians, Jews and Muslims and has trekked to areas off the beaten path.

"My agenda was to find the peacemakers," says Hybels, a 59-year-old grandmother with a penchant for speaking out and advocating for causes far outside the safety of her Barrington home or volunteer work with Willow Creek. Never a paid staffer at the church, Hybels has gone outside the scope of the church's official ministries for her work on behalf of women, minorities, immigration reform, people with HIV and AIDS, and the victims of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Calling herself "pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-justice, pro-peace and ultimately, pro-Jesus," Hybels says more and more people are becoming educated about the problems caused by Israel's military occupation and the restrictions on transportation, resources and freedoms for people who have been living with those hardships. …