Missions training on the job

Nicole James | Arabian Peninsula

Matthew* lives in the Arabian Peninsula (AP), but he doesn’t focus on Arabs. Instead, as pastor of an international congregation, he helps equip other expats to share with locals and participate in global missions.

Many congregants at his church have never seen a missionary or considered the services they provide across the globe. His role, Matthew explained, “is to expose people to the greater need of missions all around.”

At first, Matthew wasn’t thrilled about full-time pastoral ministry. Having previously served as a long-term worker in his current host country and elsewhere in the AP, “I thought my world was missions only.”

As a worker, Matthew had regularly visited churches to raise money for missions. “Now I’m in the church, receiving missionaries and raising money for missions form a different perspective,” he stated. “It’s a great privilege to understand both worlds and know the needs of both worlds.”

With experience on both sides of the missions equation – being sent and sending – Matthew also understands cross-cultural transitions and integration, unlike many people who show up at his church.

The reasons for moving to the AP vary, Matthew noted. Some came for money, some to avoid high crime rates or unemployment in their home countries. “The majority came because there’s jobs here, there’s money here and there’s a future,” he said.

“Very few of them stay,” he added. “At best, [the area] is a transfer place.”

And although many people secure jobs and form friendships with local Arabs, “very few of them had any [previous] exposure or training on how to do it,” Matthew stated. “They don’t have any cross-cultural training; they don’t know about Islam; they don’t know about any of the people they’re going to work with.”

Sharing with local friends

When these expats show up at church, jobs and local relationships intact, Matthew sees “a great opportunity for me to prepare them for service. In a sense, it’s a mission training programme on the job.”

The church hosts multiple discussions and training events to prepare people to better Christian witness in the region. Other church members have learnt how to use prayer to guide people to a place of healing. “Some of them are scared stiff of the idea that you can share your faith with someone. Others have been doing that their whole life,” Matthew commented.

No matter their readiness to respond or reach out personally, everyone should be mobilised for the Great Commission, Matthew said: “Even if they are not willing to share much of their lives in words with people, at least we can motivate them to pray, so they can be the back-up team for those involved on the front lines.”

Besides sharing with individual contacts, church members have also corporately reached out to other people groups living in their area, including illegal immigrants. “There’s a few thousand of them from Afghanistan and Pakistan…sitting on the street waiting for a job, just like in Jesus’ time,” Matthew described. Most of the men can only eat when they have work, but sometimes they don’t have work for days.

To address this need, the men from Matthew's church decided to deliver meals to the hungry day labourers. “They don’t know the language, they don’t know the culture, but every week, we went out to distribute 100 meals on the street,” a process which lasts approximately 30 seconds, Matthew said. “The desperation is amazing.”

“For some of [the church members], it’s the first cross-cultural situation they’ve been in,” Matthew stated. “They would like to share their lives, but they don’t know how.”

One time, the group took a visiting worker from Afghanistan to the meal distribution. “It was fascinating to hear him talking in their local language,” Matthew remembered. The men from the church watched with open mouths as the worker talked to the immigrants and they talked back.

Meeting global missions needs

Every week, the church prays for one of the countries of the world. Often, Matthew shares corresponding stories about missionaries there, including prayer requests and needs.

“Overall the people here are very generous,” Matthew said of his church. “If they know about a need, they’re happy to get involved.”

When the congregation heard about an orphanage in the Kalahari Desert, one church member suggested buying a gas-powered fridge so the orphanage could store meat longer term. Within a matter of days, Matthew remembered, the church raised money for the fridge, and one man flew to the orphanage to personally deliver and install the new appliance.

The Sunday the church learnt about evangelists in Sudan needing a motorcycle, one man stood up on the spot. “Tell them they’ve got a motorcycle,” he announced.

“People here have a big open heart, and they want to know how they can get involved practically in missions,” Matthew affirmed.

Church members have purchased new cars for long-term workers with dwindling support. One family travelled to Thailand on holiday and met people running an orphanage there. When they returned from vacation, they raised money and started projects to provide unprecedented funding for the Thai children living in the home. Another time the congregation heard about missionaries in Angola training locals, and they raised enough money to support three national evangelists for a year.

Too, the congregation has contributed food, clothing and furniture to ministries in Somalia and packed boxes of books for OM South Sudan, among many other initiatives. “There’s generosity here, huge generosity,” Matthew exclaimed. “It’s rare that the project is not met. People are much more willing than ever to get involved.”

Learning to be wise stewards and witnesses

“From the outside, [the AP] looks like the winning recipe – 'all that glitters is gold' – but there’s a lot of frustration and heartache. Many people live way beyond their means,” Matthew shared.

However, debt is another factor that drives people to church, he explained. “You need God when you’re in trouble. When you’re in trouble, you’re much more open as well.”

Last year, the church offered a popular financial training course to its members. “For many people that was a good eye-opener to see how you can handle money, how you should handle money,” Matthew explained. These tools help expats “understand this world is driven by money, but we, as kingdom workers, are driven by different guidelines. We are not money-driven, we are Spirit-driven.”

Ultimately, locals watch the way Christians live in the AP, including how they use money. “Jesus said, ‘You will be my witnesses.’ You can either be bad witnesses or good witnesses,” Matthew stated. “All of us are witnesses even if we don’t speak the language, even if we don’t know the culture…When you’re tired, when you’re happy, when you’re overworked—whatever you do, you’ve got a testimony to live out.”

As a pastor, Matthew encourages his church members to represent Jesus well, and he enjoys walking alongside them as their involvement in global missions grows: “I’ve got the privilege of seeing how God is transforming them and getting them involved with a world that is totally foreign to them, to pray, to get involved and to support different missionaries and missions organisations and projects.”

*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: Friday, 05 August 2016
Credit: Nicole James
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