As I have mentioned before, it was 20 years ago -- last weekend was Pascha, the anniversary -- that my family converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.
In terms of the complex map of Orthodoxy, we became part of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, with its historic ties to Damascus. It's still based on the street called Straight (as in Acts 9:11). From 2001-2004 we were members of a West Palm Beach, Fla., congregation in which most of the families came -- one or two generations ago -- from Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. I pray every day for the protection of the church of Damascus.
Suffice it to say, the wider Mattingly family includes other people who know a whole lot about life in the modern Middle East. We will leave it at that.
If I have learned anything about that region it is this: When it comes to the Middle East, religious ties are very specific. It matters what kind of "Christians" you are talking about. It matters what branch or movement within Islam you're talking about. Secular or religious or Orthodox Jews? That matters. There's very little generic religion in the Middle East.
I bring this up because of an interesting, but in the end frustrating, USA Today report about American evangelicals -- they are not called missionaries -- who are doing some tricky work in Israel, while cooperating fully with the Israelis. The headline: "These evangelicals in Israel are on a mission to win the hearts and minds of Syrians." The overture says:
ALONG THE GOLAN HEIGHTS -- In the no-man’s land between Israel and Syria, an unlikely group of Americans toil at a makeshift clinic to care for ill and injured Syrians trapped in their country’s seven-year civil war.
For Don Tipton of Beverly Hills and his group of evangelical Christian do-gooders, their border perch is a divine mission. For the Israelis, Tipton and his group are part of a deliberate defense mission to win the hearts and minds of Syrian civilians.