Fill and spill: Creating vibrant communities

Nicole James | Arabian Peninsula

Stories are important to Ben* and Alyssa’s* ministry team in the Arabian Peninsula (AP). However, there are rules for sharing at meetings. In order to qualify, the story has to be from within the past week, and it must be supernatural in nature. Even so, the team fills an hour every week with testimonies of new dreams, visions, healings and divine appointments.

“So much more is happening, when I think about a typical week, than I could have ever dreamed about,” Ben exclaimed.

What strategy drives this team and its extraordinary encounters? Not the newest church planting model. Not total cultural immersion. It’s about investing in other Christians, Alyssa said.

“Relationships trump strategy,” Ben confirmed.

Burning out

OM seeks to establish vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached. But when Ben and Alyssa – who have served overseas for 27 and 25 years, respectively – first arrived in the Arab world, they discovered other field workers had time for local Muslims but not for them.

In Alyssa’s early days on the field as an Arabic student, she recalled struggling and asking one of the leader’s wives if they could meet weekly to pray. “She said she didn’t have time,” Alyssa said. “I learned then that Muslims were more important than people in the community.”

Later, on a different inter-organisational team, Alyssa again approached another worker about spending time together. The woman offered her a handful of limited and specific times. The next day, Alyssa found out the lady had spent over five hours with a Muslim friend, in addition to baking before the visit.

“The women in our group put Muslims before anyone else,” Alyssa remembered. “I began to do that, too…I’d give Muslims my best and [fellow ministry] workers crumbs.”

Alyssa’s actions corresponded to advice she and Ben had been given prior to moving overseas: “Don’t spend time with other workers.” That counsel, however, caused them to feel like they crashed and burned.

Filling up

“A little bit after the year 2000, we really shifted, going through our own spiritual renewal,” Ben explained. “I felt like we needed to open our team meetings to other Christians in the [host] country who were hungry. We changed the way we operated.”

Instead of avoiding workers, Ben and Alyssa decided to follow Jesus’ John 13:35 mandate: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV).

“I want to be out [on the field] as long as I can. I want to be healthy, and I’ve seen it’s not a waste of time when we invest in each other,” Alyssa said. “Muslims will see, wow, you love each other, and we’ll bring them into those relationships. If I love other people well, they’ll be able to love well.”

Initially, the concept of open community challenged the couple. “We didn’t want to be wasting our time,” Alyssa noted. But by spending time with teammates, they have been able to reproduce themselves exponentially.

They’ve seen workers receiving deliverance and developing their gifts, women getting serious about their faith and becoming fiery evangelists. “Our group is about equipping people to bring people into the kingdom,” she added.

During the week, Alyssa and Ben’s team spend time together—eating, shopping, texting, doing ministry. “Whatever we do, we do it together,” Ben said. Meetings, with supernatural stories and extended times of worship, are “where we get filled, so we can go out and spill.”

The result is an evangelistic, multi-ethnic community that some say is the best community they’ve had. Ben and Alyssa agreed: “It feels more like a family than a ministry team or church.”

Joining in

Millennials thrive in Alyssa and Ben’s group. “They say, ‘We want to come and join something that’s already happening, and, in the context of relationships, do ministry,” Alyssa acknowledged. “That perspective has been very fruitful, but it has to come from the top down…If that’s not the leaders’ perspective that they want it to be like a family, it’s not going to happen.”

Another couple, Dan* and Ally*, serving in the AP agreed. “[They are] really correct about the depth and the need for community. We’re from that generation, and we deeply desire that,” Dan said. “We had such a strong desire to see community built right from the start. We knew for ourselves, that’s how we were going to survive.”

Within eight months of their arrival in their current host country, Dan and Ally saw the workers in their city increase from three families to thirty people. “We got everyone together, and we started talking, saying, ‘We want to be of one mind and one strategy for how we’re going to take the kingdom forward.’”

Their initial efforts, including a monthly 6-hour prayer meeting, moved in the right direction, but eventually, people got tired. However, not having community is not an option, especially for millennials, Dan said. “Millennials will be motivated by the cause of radical kingdom evangelism, but they will be drawn to the field by community—peer to peer encouragement. If they’re not able to connect and to be empowered to move forward, they’re not going to hang around. They’re going to burn out, fizzle, and leave.”

Pray for OM MENA teams to develop into vibrant communities of Jesus followers so that they can model Jesus’ love to the least-reached.

*Name changed

Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.

Published: Thursday, 01 June 2017
Credit: Nicole James
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