In 1980, when OM workers wanted to help Afghan refugees fleeing Soviet oppression, George Verwer gave a long-term OM worker his blessing to start an independent NGO.
During the ’80s in South Africa, as Mozambican refugees were escaping their country’s devastating civil war, OM starting a feeding programme followed by relief and development projects.
By 1991, when Julyan Lidstone, ambassador for OM Muslim Ministries, visited Kurdish refugees living in dire conditions along Turkey’s southern border, OM responded on an organisational level. "We demonstrated that relief and development can work together with gospel ministry to the unreached,” Julyan explained.
In the 25 years following initial relief and development efforts, OM has responded to situations caused by both conflict and natural disaster. During 1997 in Mexico, Logos II crewmembers provided practical help to a community devastated by Hurricane Pauline. OMers responded to the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Pakistan floods in 2013, earthquakes in Chile and Ecuador in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and many more crises.
“Relief and development is important to OM, because there continues to be hurting and needy people,” Julyan said. However, OM does not respond to every global crisis. “We don’t have the capacity, and it doesn’t always align with our core calling: We want to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached,” explained Theodore Burns*, former OM MENA Area Leader.
Projects often begin where OM workers have already established ministries and relationships, frequently in response to local partners’ requests. OM extends aid to all people, regardless of ethic or religious background.
“If we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are ignoring the reality of their needs and only preaching the Word, then we are not loving them or serving them as Jesus calls us to. In the same way, if we’re only trying to meet their physical or emotional needs, but not bringing them the opportunity to hear about the person and the work of Jesus Christ, then we are doing them a grave disservice,” Theodore said.
In 2013 and 2014, OM in the Philippines cared for communities decimated by a typhoon. Continued work with local churches in both relief and development projects has empowered the OM team to engage in church planting, noted OM Disaster Response and Development Coordinator Jason Puck*.
“While we have become known because of our relief work, it’s just one of the many OM ministries,” stated Philippines Field Leader Sally Ababa. “It’s important that we are equipped [to help] churches to be salt and light in the communities. OM wants to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers, so we should be involved where people are in greatest need.”
“In Greece, relief ministries are carried out through local churches as they co-operate with refugees and local believers and are supported by OM teams,” Jason explained. “One Filipino church is now a multi-ethnic congregation with Filipinos, Greeks, Afghans, Iranians, as well as Arab and Kurdish Syrian—a direct a result of this church’s ongoing involvement in relief work.”
Following Nepal’s 2015 earthquake, OM also provided aid. “In the face of so much devastation, death and need, it was impossible not to get involved. We were surrounded by people, and requests from people, who had lost everything,” said long-term worker Mary*. “Relationships are so important in Nepal, so a lot of what we did stemmed from pre-existing relationships with people throughout Nepal. It was our way of demonstrating that we loved them and that God loves them too."
Mary continued, "In one of the communities, there are no believers and no church. We continue to partner with them through relief and development because we want to see their lives transformed by the saving grace of knowing Christ. Our teams are not only rebuilding homes and providing safer building methods, we are modelling what a life of peace and hope looks like.”
Throughout the Near East Field, OM supports local churches’ work among refugees and internally displaced people. In 2016, OM's Syrian and Iraqi Relief fund sponsored over 26 projects in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and North Africa—on average reaching 35,000 people per month.
Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, “we’ve continued to be involved. Muslims have come to faith through our local partners, and we’ve seen these partners gain broader vision,” the OM Near East Field Leader explained.
“In the long term, we desire to see Christ-centred, effective and contextually appropriate relief and development projects implemented through local churches in partnership with OM,” Jason shared.
To strengthen the capacity of fields at high risk of experiencing disasters, OM has developed a relief training course for responders. More than 100 Christian workers have received this training. Over 50 per cent of those have participated in short-term disaster response with OM, and over 33 per cent have committed to serving in disaster-prone fields in OM for six months or longer, Jason shared. OM in the Philippines has replicated this training for local workers.
Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.
Published: Friday, 01 December 2017
Credit: Nicole James