It is all too easy to be distracted by the busyness of life, to focus on our own problems, and to forget about our fellow Christ-followers around the world. While some regions of the world are regularly featured on the news, it seems to be especially difficult to get a clear picture of the state of the church in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
ITEC recently sent a team of four people to a small conference in Europe to meet with about 500 people who live and work in MENA. We heard first hand what ministry is like for our brothers and sisters. We heard stories both of God bringing many people to saving faith, as well as stories of persecution and grief.
Focusing on Unity
The focus of the conference was on uniting the body of Christ around the MENA region to work together for the glory of God. In a region that has been riddled with war and violence, many ministries are paralyzed by fear. Distrust and ethnic prejudices run deep and can make it difficult for believers of various backgrounds to partner together.
One speaker focused on the words of Jesus in John 17:23, “…they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” It is when we peacefully function as one body that people will see the love of Christ through us.
Each day we heard Country Reports about the challenges believers were facing in their countries and the creative ways they were adapting their ministries to reach more people. The common prayer requests from the various countries were for boldness in proclaiming their faith, unity among believers, and favor with their governments. Some also asked for prayer for people from their ministries that were currently imprisoned or fleeing persecution for their faith.
As one pastor said, now is the “Golden Time” for ministry and church growth in the Middle East. People are becoming disillusioned with Islam and Islamic government. As people are searching for truth, God is revealing himself to Muslims in dreams and visions, and they are turning to Him in record numbers.
Refugees and Persecution
The refugee crisis in the Middle East has also contributed to this “Golden Time” of ministry for the local churches. In the wake of the destruction caused by ISIS, refugees all around the MENA area are looking for hope and help. Christians have an opportunity like never before to show the love of Christ to Muslims and other refugees, and the local churches are rising to the occasion.
The people from North Africa shared of persecution from their governments, communities, and families. But they did not speak with a spirit of fear. They had hope. They shared about how the body of Christ continues to grow amid the persecution. One lady celebrated that when the government closed their church building, it forced them to leave their building and spread their influence into the community. She said that when people see that the church building is closed, it starts to pique curiosity and create opportunities to share the gospel with others.
As is often the case, persecution has produced church growth in many of the countries represented at the conference. One man shared a video of 200 Iranians who had recently come to faith and traveled across the border to be baptized. Amazingly, the church in Iran is currently growing faster than anywhere else in the world.
Opportunity to Partner Here
We were encouraged, challenged, and humbled by our fellow believers’ courage to share their faith and live boldly for Christ even when they knew they would face certain rejection or persecution. It was inspiring to hear how the Lord is so actively drawing people to Himself in countries that seemed unreachable.
Over the past few years ITEC has conducted three trainings in the MENA region. We are hopeful that some of our new relationships from the recent conference will turn into opportunities for ITEC to do more trainings and to equip churches working in that region. That is where we want to be: on the frontlines, where the spiritual need is great, where the church is active, and where people are eager to learn of their Savior.
One thing is clear — now is the time to respond! As Jesus said in John 4:35b, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” The Lord has prepared the harvest. We cannot turn away in fear from working in a difficult region. Now it the time to support our brothers and sisters across the MENA region as they try to reach their neighbors.