Training leads to transformation

Nicole James | Near East

Over the last five years as the war in Syria has displaced hundreds of thousands of people to neighbouring countries, partner churches in the OM Near East Field (Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria) have continually reached out to Syrian refugees with physical aid and relief. Now, according to Caleb*, co-field leader of the OM Near East Field, workers are seeing “a new vision for reaching Muslims in the churches we attend.”

“We’ve seen lots of [Muslims] come into the churches, but I think in the last year or two, we’ve seen more churches focused on establishing leaders from Muslim backgrounds… and helping Muslims background believers (MBBs) take care of the people around them,” he explained.

For one pastor, whose church ministers to thousands of Syrians, the idea of delegating ministry tasks to MBBs initially seemed impossible. “He thought it would be hard, he couldn’t really see MBBs leading other Muslims in Bible studies or other areas of leadership,” Caleb recalled.

After attending an OM-hosted training on Discovery Bible Studies (DBS), however, the pastor changed his mind and his church’s approach. “Their service [for Syrians] used to be a sermon, and they changed it to Bible study groups. As a result of this, they now have four MBBs leading groups,” Caleb commented. Within three months, the pastor switched from “saying, ‘I don’t think this is possible,’ to actually seeing it in his church.”

Lacy* and Trevor*, long-term workers who serve among Syrians in the same city as the church, witnessed the transformation’s results first-hand when the pastor asked them to partner with locals in two of the service’s 12 groups.

Before forming DBS groups for the Syrian service, the church already had a history of forming community and providing contextualized worship, often using Egyptian hymns with words and tunes that “resonate with Arabs,” Trevor described.

For the Syrian attendees—both believers and seekers—DBS deepened their sense of community. “Now the Syrians have community with a regular group that they can feel safer with and they actually get to ask questions,” Lacy explained.

They also learn to study Scripture themselves. “Most of the ones in my group don’t read,” Lacy noted. But they can access God’s Word from listening to other people read the passage and repeat it. The process “increases the number of people who come to know the Scripture exponentially over time,” she said. Of those who can read, “we’re seeing little cracks of opportunity with a couple people who are now asking for the Bible.”

One 20-year-old Syrian Christian asked Trevor and Lacy if they had noticed how many more people were attending church once the pastor implemented the DBS groups. “The amount of people coming on a regular basis has increased,” Lacy confirmed. “People are coming every week, not just once and a while.”

They also benefit more, according to a Syrian MBB, who had faithfully attended the pastor’s previous sermons. “We understand so much more of the Bible when we study it in the DBS group,” he told Trevor. “And the other thing is we get to pray for one another, and the Lord answers our prayer.”

Another woman and her husband, both MBBs, lead separate DBS groups at the church. “Her little group has formed an online texting WhatsApp group, and they communicate prayer needs through the week and answers,” Lacy shared.

Both Lacy and Trevor have been encouraged by the community established through DBS groups in their host city, but, Trevor said, they hope it doesn’t stop there: “We’re praying that it will go far beyond that particular church, that when they go back to Syria or move on somewhere else, they’ll be able to join others to study the Bible and worship.”

*Name changed

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: Monday, 26 September 2016
Credit: Nicole James
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