Long-term learners

Nicole James | Arabian Peninsula

What makes an extroverted evangelist and an English teacher, both with over thirty years’ experience in OM, join the Arabian Peninsula (AP) field’s annual short-term outreach? Not hours of driving through the desert or exploring old forts, although camels were counted and castles climbed. Not shopping at local souks or eating at nearly every fast food chain imaginable, although souvenirs were purchased and burgers consumed (probably too many, they joked). Not even participating in local customs or climbing magnificent dunes, although henna was painted and sand shaken out of shoes.

Instead, Mark* and Lynn*, long-termers serving in the UK, cleared their busy ministry schedule for three weeks in order to gain a better understanding of the Arab world and Islam as well as learn how to pray strategically for workers living in the region. “We’re always exploring ways that we can potentially be supportive of the work in that region,” Mark said. This time, they decided to see for themselves.

His wife hoped to take her experience home to her weekly English classes for migrant women. “Because we have so many women from various countries in the Middle East, I felt it was very important that I step into their world, to try to see things from their point of view—how they look at westerners and how I, as a westerner, would relate to someone from a different country and someone from a different basis of belief,” Lynn shared.

Meeting people

Talia*, the outreach coordinator who accompanied the short-term team, hoped to provide insight into the region and let teammates learn how to meet new people and make friends. Instead of setting up meetings with her own existing local friends, Talia scheduled time for the team to explore different cities and hoped that spontaneous conversations and invitations would result.

At the end of the three weeks, Mark, Lynn and Talia agreed that meeting people and sitting down with several families in different homes, drinking thimble-sized cups of coffee and eating sticky dates, was the most meaningful part of the experience. “It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t lined up. I really enjoyed that a lot,” Talia said. “That’s also my passion to go there and meet them, to get sucked into the home and go with the flow.”

How to share

In most cases, the invitations to local’s homes came from conversations Talia initiated—complimenting a new baby in the market, chatting with little boys on bicycles, following up with the friend of a friend. Lynn watched her interact with locals and summarized, “Part of living in this region is initiative…you have to be intentional, otherwise you’re not going to maximize being here.”

During the outreach, Mark, too, sought out men during evening walks along the seafront in one city, and he accepted several invitations for impromptu coffee chats in various other locations. However, without Arabic, his conversations often settled at surface level. “I think we learned that in order to really be effective, you have to get to know the language and the culture. You have to be patient,” he shared.

As someone who usually evangelizes openly in the UK and elsewhere, Mark said the “level of caution in operating…took me by surprise.”

In fact, that cautiousness in sharing spiritual truth was another reason Talia didn’t introduce the short-term team to her local friends. “It takes a long time until a local family takes you in to the extent that they don’t host you very well, but they share with you real stuff,” she explained.

“Over-excited short-termers that want to share at every opportunity that don’t fit into your story” could also cause mistrust or suspicion in local relationships that took months or years to build, she added.

The caution “could be paralyzing,” Mark noted. Through Talia, however, he saw a middle ground: “She’s cautious, but she still wants to get out there and witness to people.”

Takeaway

To Mark and Lynn, the AP’s landscape, remote stretches of desert and stark mountain ranges, represented aspects of God’s character. “Even in the desert, God is able to sustain His people, in the physical desert but also the spiritual desert. Even in the dark places, God is at work,” Mark commented.

“In the barrenness of the desert, the mountains still speak…They declare the glory of God!” Lynn exclaimed.

The couple’s greater takeaway, however, came from experiencing the spiritual atmosphere and almost unanimous adherence to Islam. “You can’t be in an environment like this and not come away with a greater appreciation of the grace of God,” Mark shared. “Some of these people are earnestly hoping to earn God’s favor, and you know that [they] never can, but in Jesus we have the gift of salvation.”

“For me, coming here as well, you see how the workers are few,” Lynn added. “And you really need to pray for labourers in the field here because it is so remote and there are so few people who can really connect and converse with [the local] people.”

Going back, both Mark and Lynn expressed a newfound confidence and desire to connect with Arabs in the UK. “We have such a great opportunity to reach people openly and freely, whereas in Arab countries it is very hard,” Mark said.

Are you interested in learning more about the Arab culture and how to pray for workers in Muslim countries? Visithttp://www.om.org/en/country/arabian-peninsula

*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: Tuesday, 09 August 2016
Credit: Nicole James
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