When all you ever hear about the Middle East are stories of death, destruction and warfare it can be hard to see where the gospel opportunities lie. Yet God is work through the violence, and causing Muslim people to ask fundamental questions of their faith.
One church leader in the area said: “Since the Arab Spring, Muslims are asking questions they never dared to ask before, because through the trouble of the Middle East they have seen the ugly face of Islam. They said: ‘No, this cannot be the real Islam we know.’ And when they go back to their scripture and search it, they discover it is.”
The appalling atrocities committed by ISIS are also pointing the way to God for many people in the Middle East. The same church leader said: “Persecution never was a bad thing for a church. We owe a lot to God’s grace, who is using even ISIS, because all things work for good.
“ISIS was and is still the main source of danger for Christians and even other Muslims who don’t hold the same beliefs. We started praying, and God started answering. And when a Muslim starts questioning about spiritual needs, this is the first step towards Jesus. All we need is the correct Biblical answers for these people. To our shame, we don’t go to them — they are coming to us.”
The great need in the Middle East is for churches to send workers who long to share the gospel with people who do not know it; workers who are willing to come alongside the existing church; gospel workers who are prepared to spend time learning the language and culture. The greatest need of all is for workers who will love Middle Eastern peoples.
One Bible college principal said: “The way to solve radicalism is not by dropping bombs. That is actually how you fuel radicalism. It’s to encourage the voice of the moderates.
“So we need to become friends with Muslims who are moderates. We need to build relationships, we need to build bridges. So my message to the West is don’t send us more bombs, send us more Bibles. Send us more people who can get the gospel across, who can get the right flame going, not war.”
Christian workers used to be involved in front-line evangelism in the Middle East, but the need now is to support and sustain local Christians in their roles as evangelists.
The principal explained: “There was a time when we needed foreigners to come and do the work for us. No longer. I think the role of the foreign workers is more to come alongside us, and help equip, empower and enable the locals to do the work.”
When the workers arrive in the region they find a culture which has much to offer, with less consumerism, more modesty and more sobriety than in western society. One long-established worker said: “It’s wonderful, I’m really thankful that my children have been brought up in the Middle East. The moral standards are much higher, we’ve been blessed with so much family time, we’ve done a lot of joint ministry and joint parenting,and I’m so thankful my children have been able to be children and have so much input from us.”
Another, newly-arrived worker said: “When we considered coming, we were fascinated by the place and the history and the people — and were nervous about the language-learning and also nervous about how volatile the region can be at times.
“But someone once said to us: ‘You’re considering the Middle East…if you’re considering it, it probably means you should be there.’”