New answers to old prayers

Nicole James | Near East

Recruiting national leaders, focusing on the least reached, developing small businesses, mobilising Arab churches, equipping new workers with language and skills, welcoming thousands of Muslims as new followers of Jesus Christ—many tangible things happening in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region today existed only as faith-filled prayers 50 years ago.

“It’s so discouraging when you feel in your heart that God really wants to do something, and people come in and scoff. The encouraging thing is that if it’s God’s idea, He will bring it up again,” explained Marjorie*, who joined OM in the mid-60s with her husband Clive*.

Recently, Clive and Marjorie reflected on their experiences in OM, the changes they’ve seen in the Arab world and the ways God has answered their old prayers. “Many crazy things happened. I think to me the blessing is that God does know our hearts. He knew the passion of people,” Marjorie explained. “If you did something in a silly way, or in a naive way, He saw the passion to reach the world and He honoured that and, slowly, He taught us.”

New training

Clive’s earliest adventures in MENA involved taking books into sensitive countries to distribute and sell, getting arrested and released, and being evacuated from the Near East Field on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967. “We had very little orientation, we had very little Arabic, we didn’t have a clue,” he recounted. “But God was very gracious to very naive people.”

The current MENA Traveling Team (MTT), which started in 2015, reflects the spirit of OM’s first pioneers in MENA, “except they have more Arabic and training,” Clive explained.

In fact, MTT leader Seth* said God sparked the idea for MTT as a redemption of his own ill-fated experience on a different men’s travelling team over a decade earlier. When developing the new programme, Seth considered how to use young men to make the gospel of Jesus known and available in the most closed parts of the MENA region, while at the same time training and equipping them, not only for the task, but also for a lifetime of worshipping God.

By the end of 2016, two groups of four young men had participated in the year-long programme (and eight more participants signed up for 2017), each serving in eight different countries. Both teams completed 20 weeks of training in language, culture, Islam, Christian theology, urban and rural survival, ministry skills and cross-cultural living. Over two years, the men distributed more than 22,000 tracks (Gospels, New Testaments, DVDs and CDs) across the region.

New techniques

At one time, Clive recalled selling Arabic gospels on public newsstands in Egypt. “They sold extremely well, and this was thrilling and very encouraging,” he said. When people complained, the newsstand owners protested, explaining, “We sell more gospels than we do newspapers. They bring us a good profit!”

In order to provide mass gospel exposure, OM also commissioned printing ‘skinny Lukes,’ Marjorie remembered. Coverless and printed on extra-thin paper, the books weighed less than 10g and could be sent in a standard envelope without attracting attention. “We got phone directories in Iraq and distributed addresses to volunteers around the globe who signed up to send ‘the truth’ to ten names,” she described.

Literature distribution still happens in MENA, especially on short-term outreaches. And several Christian bookshops exist across the area, where workers regularly share stories of nationals from unreached areas buying God’s Word.

However, websites and satellite broadcasting have largely overhauled ‘broad literature sowing’ into creative access Arabic nations. Bibles can be downloaded onto mobile phones, extensive discipleship materials and full films transferred via micro SIM cards.

Social media has made it easier than ever for people outside sensitive countries to share with and disciple seekers inside. “Arabs are oral preference learners—they learn by hearing and seeing, not by reading books,” Marjorie said. “Now we have Internet chat rooms, radio channels, broadcast TV. It’s amazing how seed sowing is going widespread. We never thought that could happen. Harvest time has come.”

New partnerships

Along with new opportunities for training and methods for sharing, Marjorie also mentioned new attitudes emerging from local churches. Traditionally, in the Near East Field, there was little overlap between Christian background believers and Muslim background believers. Foreign workers often went around local churches in attempts to reach out to Muslims. “Now because of all the refugees, God’s put them in their midst and given [the local churches] the compassion to reach out,” she explained.  

OM has increased evangelistic training in churches, educating Christians about Islam and mobilising them to share with their Muslim neighbours.

“It is so encouraging to see what we prayed for and longed for and hoped for has happened. So we’re grateful to God for the years He’s kept us around,” Clive exclaimed. “There’s been pain and strain, but we can honestly say God has done exceedingly above anything we asked or thought.”

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with fields to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.

Published: Friday, 17 November 2017
Credit: Nicole James
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