July/August 2010 - Vol. 41

.Amazing Grace at Work
An interview with Jean Barbara, President of the Sword of the Spirit 

By Berry Pelaez-Marfori

Sword of the Spirit (SOS) president Jean Barbara makes leading a community of 65 communities in 24 countries seem easy. By his reckoning, he spends about half of his ďawake timeĒ every month doing work for the Sword of the Spirit. 

Even if he travels an average of 10 days in a month to Sword of the Spirit communities around the globe, the tax advisor who runs his own company in his native Lebanon is a firm believer in Godís grace and provision. It is grace that has allowed him to pass on a passion for mission work, which he shares with his wife, to three of his four grown children. The three have finished university and are now doing Christian service for various Sword of the Spirit communities before embarking on their professional careers. His fourth child, who is 9 years, hopes to follow in his siblingsí footsteps. 

Surprisingly low key, Jean can easily lead people even if he is meeting them for the first time as he did in Vasai, India last January. Visitation work or assessing the state of a community by conducting a series of interviews with its members can be grueling. But even after five days of meetings that began at 9 a.m. and often lasted past 9 p.m., Jean managed to keep our team of eight members from three communities on track and eager to keep working.

Q: How do you explain the significance of the Sword of the Sprit to those you meet?
The Sword of the Spirit is a response to an action that the Lord started more than 40 years ago to renew the Christian people. We have responded to that call to be radical disciples who strive to live community life day-in and day-out in the way the first disciples did. The Sword of the Spirit is an international community of communities, though each community has its own local expression. Moreover, all communities are ecumenical. 

Q: What is the importance of being an ecumenical community of communities? 
It is important to be living it out because it is important in Godís eyes. We didnít simply begin by saying: ĒOh letís sit down and be ecumenical.Ē We responded to God moving among us and putting us together as Christians from different denominations, so we approach it as an essential element of our call.

Q: What amazes you most about how God has put this community of communities together?
I am most amazed by the way our own youth in the Sword of the Spirit are responding to the same call, that we, their parents, heard.  We are seeing the majority of the youth in the Sword of the Spirit respond with even more zeal than we ever had. 

I was recently invited to speak at a Kairos conference, our youth program  that cuts across communities in the Sword of the Spirit. There I was in Ohio (USA) in the company of 400 young men and women, who were very much on fire for the Lord and for the mission. Most of these kids grew up in community and eventually experienced for themselves the goodness of the Lord. In the summer, I will go to another Kairos conference in Quito, Ecuador, where 700 Latino youth will also gather.

Q: What kind of challenges are our communities facing today?
There are always two kinds of challenges to being radical Christians and doing mission in the modern world, external ones and internal ones. Our world today is being affected by globalizationÖ by the very fast growth in communication technology and by anti-Christian sentiments even in the civilized world and so on. So the external challenges are real. 

But there is another kind of challenge: Those that are internal.  I recall that at the early stages of community life in Lebanon when we were in the midst of war and our  very survival was at stakeÖ when everything around us seemed to fall apartÖ the Lord spoke to us and said: You are responsible for internal challenges. I will deal with those that are external.  These internal challenges involve our relationships with one another, and dealing with ďthe flesh,Ē dealing with the influences of the world on us.  These are internal challenges which each Christian and each community needs to face, confront and conquer by the grace of God.  Handling the external challenge is up to God Ė and not us Ė to change those circumstances. 

Q: What are your priorities at the moment?
First of all, God has said this is a time of grace. We are invited to go through the open door and he will provide us with the resources we need for mission. So the first priority is about helping the Sword of the Spirit and its regions and  communities to be more united in our zeal and determination to go through the open door and live out fully the mission that the Lord has asked us to do. 

My second priority is youth. Again it is a priority in response to Godís action among us to raise up a new generation of young men and women who want to follow the call. And itís our responsibility to equip them, to train them, to provide them with Christian opportunities, and to allow them more international exposure and integration. It is my conviction that our kids gain a great advantage when they live the Sword of the Spirit reality in a different community from their own. This is why Gap year ( serving for a year after graduating from university and before starting a career) is such an important tool. 

A third priority would be to promote our ecumenical identity, call, and mission. 

Q: Itís part of our call, we didnít just make it up. But for an ordinary individual, why ecumenism?
To be a good Catholic means to be ecumenical. This is the Churchís teaching. Many popes including John Paul II and Benedict XVI can be considered ecumenical popes. One could ask in Manila, for example, how can I be ecumenical when the Ligaya community and the whole country are mostly Catholics? Well, to be ecumenical is an attitude of the heart. We could speak and act in an inclusive way or in an exclusive way Ė and the exclusive way would be very harmful to ecumenical efforts. When we have brothers and sisters from other Christian traditions (such as Orthodox and Protestants) coming from other parts of the world, members of Ligaya community are expected to show ecumenical courtesy. 

Q: During your visit to Sword of the Spirit communities in India, Iíve heard you say many times that much of our lives are a result of Godís grace.
That truth has been so evident and clear in my own life. You asked me earlier how I manage my time. I can be at work in my office and within the course of three or four hours I would normally receive as many as 30 telephone calls. But every time I am away for a week or more on Sword of the Spirit work, my secretary reports that hardly anyone has called for me. The surprising thing is that they donít even know my travel plans. When I do get a few calls, they  can usually be handled by someone else. That can only be grace (at work in my life). 

Q: Has this been consistently happening to you?
Only in the past 20 years. The more you live with this consciousness of Godís grace operating in your life, the more you can move in confidence.

Jean with his family

Q: Does your family share your convictions?
That is another area of grace at work in my life. In the past year, my wife Marie-Therese has gone with me on five or six mission trips. My older son is doing his second year of missionary service in the US and next year he will do a third Gap year. My daughter is doing a Gap year of missionary service this year in Lebanon and next year in Syria. My second son has just returned from a missionary Gap year in Belfast and is serving also in the community.  My youngest, who is 9, is waiting to follow in his brothersí and sisterís footsteps. Thatís grace. Marie-Therese and I did what we could doÖ and only what we could. God did not ask us to do more.  But even if my kids had not followed the same road, I would continue to believe in grace. 

I want to make sure to give this message to parents. Believe in grace, including itís perfect timing. You who labor in the Lord will never labor in vain. 

[Berry Pelaez-Marfori is the Editor-in-chief for True North Magazine, a publication of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon and its partners Ė Christís Youth in Action, Ang Lingkod no Panginoon, and the Institute for Pastoral Development. The article first appeared in True North, Volume 6, Number 1. Used with permission.]

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