Middle East

Tea with an Enemy

By Our Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa

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Scores of refugees, fleeing violence and oppression, crowd into sprawling, poor regions of the Middle East seeking to survive each day.

In one area, a wealthy believer had it on his heart to deliver food and supplies to the refugees encamped miles outside his city. He needed help, so he contacted Anwar (not his real name), who is now a Navigator leader.

Anwar was hesitant. The region was far away. He and his team had no experience with refugees, and he knew that terrorists often lived among them. Taking food and supplies could be extremely dangerous.

Anwar’s fears were heightened by his past experiences. One of his friends, a 50-year-old widower in his ministry, had been killed because of his faith in Christ, leaving his children orphaned. Anwar has been taking care of the children ever since they lost their father. As a result, Anwar sometimes receives death threats.

Despite the risks, Anwar spoke to his team about taking the food and supplies into the refugee areas. They prayed and read the Scriptures, seeking God’s guidance. God led them to Leviticus 19:33-34, which says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

“God hit me with that verse,” said Anwar. “We knew that we had to serve these people.”

Anwar and his team started visiting the refugees twice a week, delivering water and food. Fearful, Anwar at first told the team not to talk about Jesus. But they gradually felt more comfortable and decided to pray with people in their makeshift homes.

In one of these homes they met a man who was known to have been a former terrorist leader. His face was weathered. His eyes expressed his soul’s heaviness, the guilt of serving dark causes. The conversation was superficial and brief, but Anwar told the man that he was a Christian. He even gave the man his phone number.

About four days later, Anwar received a phone call from the former terrorist. He pleaded for Anwar and his team to return to his home because he had had a vision about God and wanted to know more. “Honestly, I was very afraid,” said Anwar about that phone call. “I was worried that he was inviting us into a trap.”

Anwar told his team about the phone call and asked for counsel. What should they do? After much prayer, they decided to accept the man’s invitation. Trembling with fear, Anwar and the team headed back into the refugee area and approached the man’s door. He greeted them warmly and they entered the house. As the man served tea, Anwar watched every move suspiciously, praying for God’s protection.

“He started to tell us about the dream,” said Anwar. “It was about God. God was pressing him and convicting him of his sin, calling him to seek forgiveness for all he had done. He told us in tears that he had killed many people. And he looked me in the eye and asked, ‘Can Jesus forgive me?’”

Anwar and the team shared scripture with the man, assuring him that Jesus had paid for his sin on the cross, and that if he gave his life to Jesus he would be forgiven. That very day, the once-hardened and violent terrorist accepted Jesus as his Lord.

“Today that man can’t stop talking about Jesus to everyone around him,” Anwar said. “He’s having a major influence among the other refugees.”

Please pray for Anwar and other Navigators in the Middle East as they boldly take the Gospel message of Jesus and His kingdom to the hard-to-reach places.

Coming Alongside

By David Lyons

Photo courtesy of Harli Marten

Photo courtesy of Harli Marten

Our daughter, on her wedding day, said to my wife, “Mom, will you promise to be there with me when I give birth to my babies?” Renee, of course, said “Yes!” My wife did not know that fulfilling that promise would require her to spend many weeks overseas, but that is what mothers do for their daughters. They show up and come alongside them when needed. 

Someone once observed that Navigators will gladly travel to the other side of the world to help one of their disciples or fellow workers. They don’t need a crowd to get them on a plane. They show up and come alongside their brothers and sisters in Christ when they are needed. 

Recently, an Arab colleague and I flew to a country where I had never been before to come alongside a former imam who is now serving as a Navigator missionary. In this country, Christians are a persecuted minority. I had the privilege of watching what it looks like for one Arab to come alongside another Arab, like Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come alongside us. 

I noticed six relational traits in my Arab brother as he came alongside others during our week together. I believe that Navigator disciples everywhere need to grow in these areas if we are to flourish in our Calling. 

Love: If the new believers, disciples and workers that we visited know one thing as a result of our visit, it’s that they are loved. You could see it and feel it. Even if you were watching a silent movie of their time together, you would see how they experienced love.

Presence: There is nothing quite like the ministry of showing up and being there to help people in their world. Even if we had said nothing of value, our presence among them would have ministered to them deeply. Recently, I was with a physician who still talks about how I visited him years ago at the hospital during his work breaks. In this virtual and digital age, physical presence is even more important.

Listening: We planned to teach many things on this visit, but first we listened—sometimes for hours. Author Paul Tournier said that being listened to is so close to being loved that most people can’t tell the difference. 

Practical Help: Their felt needs became our priority. As we traveled around the country visiting new believers and disciples, we found that many of them were struggling to make a living. They wanted help starting businesses to support their families. Although we are not experts in that, we are taking steps to arrange the help that they need. 

The Word: We spent extensive time in the Scriptures to provide perspective that would sustain them after our departure. They valued our advice, but they needed much more than that. We came alongside them with an open heart and an open Bible.

Encouragement: We all need encouragement. Paul and his missionary teams made long and dangerous journeys to strengthen and encourage a few disciples. They went because their friends needed encouragement. We all need someone to believe in us, to see Christ in us, to cultivate the faith growing in us. 

When I was a new believer, just beginning to share my faith with others and disciple them, one of my professors said to me, “I see God’s hand of blessing on you.” That shaped me. Even today it moves my heart to remember that feeling of having someone believe in me. When we left our Arab friends, they knew that we sincerely believe in them. 

How would you feel about someone coming alongside you, to be present in your life, to earnestly listen to your felt needs, to provide tangible and practical help, to encourage you with relevant Scriptures, and to truly believe in you?
 
How far would you be willing to go to come alongside some else?     

David Lyons is an International Vice President of The Navigators. He serves our 5,000 staff in more than 115 countries by coaching leaders and leading change. David is author of Don’t Waste the Pain.

New Neighbors

By David Lyons

Stock Photo by iStock

Stock Photo by iStock

"Have you met the new neighbors?” The young man who lives with us had just met our new neighbors, and he wanted us to meet them also. Meeting neighbors is one of the most important skills of insiders who seek to make Christ known in their neighborhoods, whether in Colorado Springs or in the Middle East.

Burhan and Rima (not their real names) are Arab Navigator disciples who moved from their home country to another country in the Middle East. They moved with the purpose of being the presence of Jesus among Muslim neighbors.

Then conflicts in the country heated up and bullets started to fly. One day their daughter ducked when a bullet hit the wall above her head on their balcony. Other people fled the neighborhood, but Burhan and Rima stayed, in Jesus’ name.

Ahmed and Ayesha (also not their real names) grew up in a nearby village, where some were known for being fiercely Muslim. Growing up, Ayesha was an outstanding student, especially in Islamic studies. But one day her Imam (Muslim teacher) offended her with a lewd insult, and she became open to new ideas beyond Islam. Ahmed, a young man from the village, won Ayesha’s heart and hand in marriage, and took her to the city where he was starting a new business. They moved in across the hall from Burhan and Rima, glad to escape the smothering atmosphere of their village.

Soon Ahmed, Ayesha, Burhan and Rima were doing life together, raising babies and becoming close friends. Rima was gifted in sharing Christ with strangers, but cautious about coming on too strong with Ahmed and Ayesha, knowing the fierce reputation of some in their tribe. But eventually she couldn’t help herself. She began sharing her living, personal relationship with God.

Eventually, Burhan and Rima sensed that their close friends might be open to reading the Bible. After much prayer they invited them to go through the “99 names of God,” well-known among Muslims, but to do so using the Gospel of John in Arabic. In time, other neighbors also joined their weekly discussions.

One day Rima asked Ayesha, “Do you believe that Jesus died for you?” Ayesha said, “No!” This is one of the hardest things for Muslims to believe, because they are explicitly taught not to believe this. Later that night, Jesus appeared to Ayesha in a dream, showed her the scars in His hands and side, and asked, “Why don’t you believe that I died for you?”

Early the next morning Ayesha could hardly wait to cross the hall to tell Rima what had happened. “I believe!” For the next few years Burhan and Rima poured their life into Ahmed and Ayesha as new followers of Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah). Ayesha focused her passion for study on learning the Bible.

Recently, Burhan and Rima were led to move away. A few months later, when I met Ahmed and Ayesha, they expressed how painful it was to not be near Burhan and Rima. But they were sharing Christ with their family and neighbors.

Ahmed sometimes complains that his wife spends more time in the Scriptures than with him. But he’s glad that she does because when he shares Christ with his friends and family he brings them home so that she can answer their questions. Who knows where this will lead?

So, here in Colorado Springs, I’m eager to meet our new neighbors. It might lead to a great adventure. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”    

David Lyons is an International Vice President of The Navigators. He serves our 5,000 staff in more than 100 countries by coaching leaders and leading change. David is author of Don’t Waste the Pain.

Supporting Our Courageous Pioneers

By a Navigator Leader in the MENA Region

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In recent months, about 30 men showed up in front of a small business in a war-torn Middle Eastern town to harass the Christ-follower who owned the business. The men were sent to threaten the businessman so that he would stop his activities.

Unbending to fear, the businessman stepped outside and explained his work to help refugees by supplying them with food and household necessities. He added that he also gave people the opportunity to learn more about the Bible. By God’s power, each of the men retreated.

The businessman, who helped to pioneer the Navigator work in this town, decided the next day to spend time with the leader of the men who had threatened him the day before. I was concerned about this meeting, but he told me this: “I am praying for this gang leader to become my friend because if he receives Christ as savior, can you imagine how the Gospel will advance?”

Many Navigator pioneers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are expanding God’s reach into very difficult situations. Because of war and threats, many people have been displaced from their homes. In May, one of our friends was going home when a bomb in a garbage bin exploded. Had he passed by that spot a few moments earlier, he could have been killed. His response to this terrible event was to say, “I raised my family and others to love Jesus and walk with Him. I know where I am going if I die.”

Our pioneers can’t make it alone. They need support. Thankfully, the Navigator movement in the MENA region has mature leaders who are willing to place their own lives on the line to uphold the pioneers. The Navigator term for this type of leader, which is modeled by leaders in the New Testament, is “alongsider.” It means that we come alongside those who are laboring for Christ, providing them with the physical, emotional, material and spiritual help they need to be fruitful.

Although fulfilling this role in dangerous areas is especially challenging, the Lord has protected us. Crossing country borders and moving through checkpoints keeps us in constant prayer. One time, just 100 meters from where we were staying, a rocket was launched at insurgents.

Taking these risks, however, is essential to the success of our work. Alongsiders are able to lead pioneers through the Scriptures, teaching biblically about how to move the Gospel from a generation of new believers into future generations. We listen to them in love as they share about family needs. We help them think through big decisions. We supply them with ministry materials that are relevant to their contexts. And we deliver supplies, such as blankets, food and heating fuel.

Mostly, we keep them encouraged in Christ. After all, He is the great “alongsider,” the God who promises to always abide with us. One Saturday morning, we shared a rich time in the Word with our pioneering friends, encouraging them to sustain a lifelong intimacy with Jesus. This intimacy with Christ is the inner fuel needed for persisting in the Great Commission through hardship, fear and opposition.

Paul expressed this truth in 2 Thessalonians 3:5. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.

God is giving our pioneers generational fruit. My friend the shop owner is living proof of this. His father led him to Christ. When war forced him to move to a different city, the shop owner led four families to Christ. Two of those families are discipling other families. Now there are three generations of Christ-followers in just that town, and the work continues to expand. Recently, two university graduates and a young couple came to Christ.

Please pray for the Navigator work in the MENA region, that we will see God protecting pioneers and the alongsiders who support them. Pray that God will establish more local laborers who can carry the Gospel into their relational networks, and into future generations.