An Interview with Jean Barbara, President of the Sword of the Spirit
The following interview is addressed to all the members of the Sword of the Spirit, an international, ecumenical network of 94 Christian covenant communities worldwide.
Watch the interview at https://vimeo.com/536896160/cb4574c468
*Opening Question: Good morning, Jean, how are things going in the Sword of the Spirit?
Due to the pandemic I have not traveled much during the past year. But I have continued to receive encouraging reports from the regional presidents that despite the pandemic and despite the old and the new challenges, our communities, our members, and our outreaches are doing well – thanks be to God!
2nd Question: What particular challenges are you referring to and how are we supposed to face them?
Most of us around the world have been in tough times whether financial, political or social and at the personal level many have suffered from isolation and other loss. At the community and outreach levels, the main challenge was and continues to be that we are not able to meet together as we used to. Peter in his first letter says that we should “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on (us) to test (us)”.
I believe God allowed these difficult times to be a test of how strong the foundations of our communities are; whether in the past 50 years, we built on sand or on rock. I have seen and heard about groups who based their life only or mainly on large gatherings and who have suffered a lot when they were no more able to meet except online. What kept us going well is, I believe, the small units in which we have seriously invested in the past 50 years: family, small men’s and women’s groups and households.
I believe we will come out of this test stronger, to the extent that we allow the Lord to meet each one of us personally, to refine us and to prepare us for what is to come; and to the extent that we keep these small units active and alive, a source of encouragement and mutual care.
I believe that the Lord’s plan has been to renew us in our personal relationship with him as disciples, to renew us in our brotherly and sisterly relationships, which is what community is all about and to prepare us for a new mission.
3rd Question: And how about for you personally, how have you found this season?
This was one of the most spiritually refreshing times of my life; obviously staying at home and not having to travel twice a month as I used to has certainly helped. But it was a time of blessing for our family relationships as well; as lockdown measures allowed, we could meet casually and our relationships deepened; a real joy. With one of my sons who lived with us at the time, we decided to do regular Bible reading and meditation together; not only this brought us even closer to each other, but reading the Bible with someone else made me appreciate more than ever the words of Psalm 119: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”.
4th Question: You mentioned ‘50 years’; what has happened to the plans to celebrate the jubilee?
We had a plan to take a year of Jubilee to celebrate what God has done in establishing covenant community – a movement that we are part of and that began 50 years ago. We wanted this to be a spiritual time that we all went through together, something like a retreat. The theme was a time to rest, to restore and to renew.
God had a different plan, as I said before, and so, we will not be formally celebrating a year of Jubilee. One of the themes I often talked and preached about during this past year was ‘gratitude’. I would encourage all our members to find ways to stir gratitude in our hearts for all the things God has given us and in particular for the gift of Covenant Community. Let’s look for ways to give thanks to God as individuals, as families and as communities for his marvelous deeds.
5th Question: Will there be anything for us to mark the Jubilee altogether?
We will be making available to all of you one of the fruits of preparation from the year of Jubilee. A team has been working over the past several years to develop an illustrated history that outlines the story of God’s work among us over the past 50 years. It is very well done and both looks back at the history of God’s work as well as celebrates the current action of the God in our midst. I encourage you to consider acquiring a copy. You will receive soon an announcement on how you can get it.
6th Question: What about plans for post pandemic?
As I said before we have seen God’s sovereign hand at work in our midst and we look forward to the future. But we also recognize that as we emerge from the pandemic, we will need a season of grace to ‘restart’ community life and re-engage with one another. We count on the Holy Spirit to help and lead us through this season at a pace that allows us to support and encourage one another in unity.
As we come into the next season of the Lord’s work among us, we will need vision. We are all hungry for renewed vision. We can trust the Lord to provide this for us, we serve a God who loves to reveal himself and his plans to his people.
7th Question: Are you sensing anything in particular from the Lord for us?
During the past year we have intensified our meetings at the international level. As we have councils at the community level, or regional level, we have an International Executive Council made up of leaders of all regions to lead the Sword of the Spirit. As a Council, we sought the Lord for his will for us, and we believe the Lord is guiding us to emphasize and develop in the next number of years three aspects of our life at the same time.
- The Lord wants us, in faith, to rely on and to expect a fresh and more profound outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power and charismatic gifts in our lives and mission.
- The Lord wants to broaden and deepen our ecumenical call and identity.
- And he wants to give us opportunities to ‘widen the tent pegs’ of our hearts for new relationships and engagement with other Christian groups who can be partners in mission.
8th Question: So three themes for us in Sword of the Spirit, how do we engage with them?
In the coming weeks and months, we will develop these three themes at the International level, by having regional consultations with Assembly members in the spring to ask for their discernment prior to a formal decision to be taken at the International Assembly in the summer of 2021.
Then we are planning to have an International Meeting of Coordinators in November of this year, a solemn meeting of coming before the Lord to pray and to ask him for a renewal and a greater measure of the power and gifts of His Holy Spirit for our life and mission, for a new grace in our ecumenical life and mission, and for a generous disposition to enlarge our tent’s pegs for new opportunities and relationships. Then will follow an International Women’s Conference with the same emphasis, and in between the Servants of the Word will be celebrating their 50th anniversary.
I must say that I have started to see things happening even during the pandemic. You probably know that I have been appointed, as President of the Sword of the Spirit, in the Charis International Service of Communion, the body instituted by Pope Francis to try and draw many of the charismatic renewal together with an ecumenical spirit. This has led to the establishment of new relationships or the deepening of existing relationships with like-minded ecumenical groups particularly in Europe with the European Network of Communities and in North America with the North American Network of Communities as well as new relationship building opportunities in the Philippines, in New Zealand, in Mexico, in Costa Rica, in Ireland, in India and in many other parts of the world. In Lebanon,
I have seen something similar happening during the pandemic: for example, a couple of local charismatic communities established in Lebanon since 6 and 25 years, one small and one large, have asked and indeed have started being formed by our Zonal community building team. Another charismatic group also asked us to form them as a prayer group; something we did not do before. But guess what is their main and only call as a group: to pray for the unity of Christians. Yes, they meet weekly and just pray for ecumenism. They have found favor among Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic leaders and two weeks from today we will start meeting with them weekly for discipleship and formation. One last example: a French Community who has a branch in Lebanon asked me to preach their main annual retreat; first time they ask since their 40-year presence in Lebanon.
So, I see that God is not simply guiding us towards spiritual renewal, ecumenism and new territories but he has already gone ahead of us.
Conclusion: Thank you Jean for your time.
Thank you and God bless you and every one of my brothers and sisters of the Sword of the Spirit.
Interview copyright © 2021 The Sword of the Spirit.
Jean Barbara is a coordinator from the People of God Community in Beirut, Lebanon. He currently serves as the International President of the Sword of the Spirit.