Chaos and Hope in the Middle East
Jesus was born during a tumultuous period for Israel. Yet the chaotic events of history---the Roman occupation, taxation, and census---were orchestrated by God to fulfill his sovereign plan. Christianity began in the Middle East and spread to the rest of the world through faithful gospel proclamation by the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, even as churches face many dangers, God is using the unbridled uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, and Bahrain to further the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Middle East. He strategically coordinates the chaos to call people to himself. Several countries and people groups previously closed to the gospel message can now be accessed.
During a recent trip to visit relatives in the Far East, a young Syrian professional named Ali* was invited to go to church by his foreign, Christian wife. Much to her surprise, he agreed to go to the service with her, even though he'd previously refused. Ali later reflected, "The harder I worked to get closer to God [through performing prayers and rituals], the farther I felt from him. I had no peace or joy. I couldn't rest or sleep; I was depressed and anxious. During the service I asked God to give me rest, peace, and joy. I felt different, and wanted to learn more."
After returning to their home in the Middle East, Ali asked his wife to take him to church again. Shocked by his request, she took Ali to the church she attended. After the service Ali approached Ted*, an elder, and said, "I want to become a believer!" Ted cautiously questioned Ali about his statement and requested they study the Bible together. Within a short time, Ali believed the gospel message, became a follower of Jesus, and was radically changed. He's now a member of this church.
A few months later, Mo*, an Iranian Muslim visiting our city, came to the same church with believing relatives. When Mo and I met at the start of the service, I introduced him to Ali. We invited Mo to discover the truth of Jesus through Bible study. Much to Ali's surprise, I asked him to co-lead the study with me since they came from the same religious background, and he humbly accepted. Ali taught the Scriptures and, after six studies over two weeks, Mo decided to follow Christ. Today, Mo and Ali both are full of excitement for the gospel and are faithfully growing in grace and maturity through discipleship.
Two weeks after these events, four more individuals from the region attended our church, requesting to know more about the gospel message. Tumult in the Middle East causes some to question their faith and seek for the truth. Ali and others are studying Scripture with these seekers even as I write. There is great joy among all those involved as the gospel message continues to bring individuals from the Middle East from darkness and into God's glorious light.
Advancement Despite the Cost
There are many such stories regarding Muslims in the Middle East encountering believers and searching for the truth. They share their new faith quietly due to the harsh penalties for leaving Islam. Some meet in secret house groups while others become members of a recognized church. Local group leaders and believers face the risk of arrest, jail, torture, or death as they count the cost for following Christ. Each country has its own stories and circumstances.
Despite great obstacles, the gospel message continues to advance. Those of us who live and serve in the Middle East stand in awe of how God uses the chaos to purposefully call people from every nation to worship the Lamb. As such events unfold, it's clear that no particular ministry strategy, person, or group can claim any credit for what is happening. God works in such amazing ways that he alone gets the glory!
I encourage each reader to consider how you can be involved in what God is doing in the Middle East. Ask yourself, What can I do from my home, my church, or my office that could help advance the gospel message? Here are some ideas:
1. Pray daily for the Middle East (reading and watching the news is a good reminder). Pray the gospel message continues to advance in the chaos.
2. Consider partnering financially with a pastor, missionary, or ministry in the Middle East. Many faithful brothers and sisters laboring for the gospel need personal encouragement, prayer, and financial support to continue this work.
3. Befriend a Middle Easterner who lives in your community. Investing in relationships opens opportunities to share the gospel message.
4. Consider visiting the Middle East (as a group or individual) to discover how you can be part of what God is doing.
*Names changed for security purposes