At “From Abraham to the Syrian Crisis: Refugees in History and Theology” Urban Ministry Leader Raymond Bakke asked the audience to challenge the image of Arab people in the Bible as being terrorists. “Nothing can be further from the truth,” Bakke said.
The free lecture was held in Fraser Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 10 and centered around Biblical misconceptions and Christianity in the Middle East. The event was met with a mixed audience of Western students, Bellingham community members and Bakke fans who traveled to Western to hear him speak.
“I read it in the paper that he was speaking tonight and it was a good topic,” said Ferndale resident Victoria Baum, 66. “I am impressed with the number of people who are here.”
Bakke outlined the four themes of his lecture that are based on a list of books that were handed to the audience.
Bakke’s first section focused on the what he said is the American misconception as to what the Biblical Holy Land is.
For many Evangelicals,the Holy Land is Israel, a size-equivalent of Bellingham to Tacoma and the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean, Bakke said. Bakke believes the Holy Land is much larger.
“The truth is, over 60 percent of the Old Testament happened in Jordan – not Israel,” Bakke said. “Sixty-five percent of the New Testament was written to, in or from what we would call Turkey today and Abraham was from Iraq. So most of the maps need expanding.”
Bakke’s second theme focused on Arabs in the Bible.
Biblical figures such as Abraham and the three wise men of the Nativity are all believed to be Arabic, Bakke said.
“The Arabs have been the primary group in the history of the world of those called Christians – that is pretty unknown,” Bakke said. “And probably today, 97 percent of the people called Christians in the Middle East are Arabs, including the state of Israel.”
The third theme Bakke spoke on was about the history of the Syrian Church.
In recent times the much Syrian Church are seen as refugees, but for the last 1,900 years they were the big players in the Christian world, Bakke said.
“If you were in the year 1000 A.D. to have done a census in the ancient world, you would find half of the world’s Christians would be east of Baghdad,” Bakke said. “Who gives credit for that? The Syrian Church – one of the greatest missionary churches of the world in the history of the world.”
Syrian missionaries took the Silk Road and other ancient highways, creating churches throughout all the way to China.
A missionary named Alopen, from what would be now called Iraq, was the first missionary to reach Xi’an, China after 20 years. His followers stayed for 500 years and led at least one emperor to Christianity in between the sixth and ninth century, Bakke said.
“The Syrian Church are my heroes. We don’t know them today in that historic or heroic way,” Bakke said. “We see them on the news, we see their babies dying on the beaches of the Mediterranean, but I want you to see and I want you to feel that is is one of the great churches of history and we largely ignored it.”
The fourth and final theme Bakke spoke on are refugees theologically and historically.
“I would like to hope for you to believe, before I finish, that the refugees are the God’s primary way for spreading the Gospel on six continents,” Bakke said. “That’s been true since Abraham the refugee. The holy family was an undocumented Asian-born baby with the African refugee.”
Bakke ended his lecture with recapping the four points, opened the floor to questions and handed out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the audience to read.
The event was hosted by Western’s Campus Christian Fellowship and The INN Ministries, a college-age group from the First Presbyterian Church on North Garden Street.
Chloe Pearson, Senior and CCF member said “ I think [the four themes] were really thought-provoking. They were super open-ended, so I think I have a lot of resources I can walk away with and now with the questions I already have, I can continue to find answers.”