Discerning a Call to Overseas Ministry

Photo credit: Britrob

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Jenny Manley, wife of Josh Manley, a pastor in the United Arab Emirates. See her bio below.

We were reading the following:

A city in the northern part of our country needs a church planter.  It is just east of Saudi Arabia and just south of Iran. A Muslim sheikh on the Arabian Peninsula is giving land for an evangelical Christian church for the first time this century…

I studied my husband’s face trying to read his reaction. “Are you interested?” I asked.

He had just graduated from seminary, and we were praying about finding a church for him to pastor. It never crossed my mind to consider anywhere East of Saudi Arabia and south of Iran.

It was not just that I had never considered living in the Middle East. I had never seriously considered going overseas for ministry, at all. In my mind, the people who went overseas had a special calling and a unique desire. They knew who they were.  And I knew that I was not one of those people. I had never even been on a short term missions trip. I did not participate in my church’s international ministry. I did not even have any close friends who were from other countries. I was certainly not being called to ministry in the Middle East! 

Or was I?

I knew the Great Commission in one sense calls all of us to tell the Good News to those who have not heard. For the next few months, I asked dozens of Christians whom I respected, how to discern a “calling” to overseas ministry? I got as many different answers as people I asked, ranging from the more subjective, “you’ll know when God calls you” to the Augustinian end of the spectrum with: “love God and do what you want.” There were months of angst trying not only to determine our specific calling, but also trying to decide how to determine a calling. We came up with the following list of Biblical principles. These eventually helped guide us in making the decision to move overseas and plant a church in a part of the world void of the Gospel.

Perhaps the most important step in a decision making process like this one, is to cover it in prayer. Pray specifically and pray broadly. Pray over each of these steps, and ask others to pray alongside you. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you in straight paths.

1. Opportunity (Acts 16:6-10, 20:22)

When considering whether there is an opportunity for ministry in another country, look for open and closed doors. If there is no opportunity to go, trust the Lord has closed the doors for now. When Paul, Timothy, and Silas headed for Asia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit from entering. I do not know exactly how the Holy Spirit conveyed his alternative plans to this 1st century missions team, but they knew not to proceed. So even though Christ had left them with the directive to go into the world and preach the Gospel, the Spirit closed the door for these specific people to go to this specific place at that specific time. 

Sometimes, however, an opportunity presents itself—even if you were not looking for it, as it was in our case. Be careful not to turn your back too quickly on a seemingly open door because it wasn’t exactly what you had envisioned. God has a heart for the nations, and Christ has issued a call to his disciples to spread this good news. 

2. Need (Matthew 9:37)

Is there a need for workers in the place you are considering going? Considering this need can help clarify one’s calling, especially when choosing between multiple potential ministry locations. If we are to look at our short lives in light of eternity, we must learn to be able to place emphases on Gospel priorities and places, even above our own preferences.

3. Desire (Psalm 40:8)

This may be the trickiest part of this decision-making process. Desire is ultimately an emotion, and as such it can be a useful barometer of the heart. Our desires can give us insight into what we value and what we fear. This information is helpful to us as we seek wisdom and discern calling. On the other hand, our emotions can be fickle, and they should not be used as the sole or even the final arbiter of a decision. Desire has to be a factor; however, it should never be the only factor. It is especially important to pray for your desire if it is lacking. Through prayer God gave me a desire to move to a place I could have previously never envisioned living.

4.  Godly counsel (Proverbs 15:22)

The Proverbs are full of imperatives to seek counsel among the godly. When considering whether to undergo the stress of leaving one’s home country to take up residence as an alien in another, this decision should be made alongside others. Your church’s leaders and other godly believers who know you well should be brought into a decision like this at an early stage. Their counsel should be humbly and earnestly sought. They may have insight into your strengths and weaknesses that could be invaluable to your decision. 

5.  Willingness (Acts 20:24, Psalms 37:4)

When anyone decides to follow Christ, he must first count the costs. We must not only be willing to follow Christ into Jerusalem but also to Calvary. Moving abroad often means forsaking familiar culture, language, food, dress, medical practices, and customs. It means intentionally distancing yourself from family and friends. It may mean experiencing loneliness and rejection at a new level. We must be willing to walk away from the comforts of this world because of the deliberate hope we have in the next.

When all of these factors are laid on the table and carefully considered, a “calling” is what emerges.  It is not always a pain-free process, but God does lead us even through confusion.   

One year ago I never envisioned myself living outside the U. S. Now I could not imagine wanting to live anywhere but the Middle East. I am grateful for my “calling” to overseas work and pray the Lord who reigns over all would use me—the most unlikely of candidates—to make Him known and enjoyed. 

Avatar_JennyM

Jenny recently moved to the United Arab Emirates, where her husband is the pastor of a new church plant.  They have 3 lively children – ages 5, 3, and 1.  In what seems like a previous life, Jenny was a Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate.  She secretly still loves politics from afar.

I Am The Product Of An Obedient Disciple Maker

In my library I have a copy of Good News For Modern Man, The New Testament: Today’s English Version Bible, which an American missionary in Greece gave to my father. On the inside flap he wrote:

“To Issam,
To help you remember the day when you asked Jesus Christ to enter your heart… and to help you grow in your new personal relationship with Him.”

–With love and prayer, R… P….

It was signed on Friday January 20, 1978. My dad, Issam, made a confession of faith on the train from Athens to Thessaloniki after taking my nana (his mother) to the airport as she flew back to Iraq, the home of my heritage. That was the last time my father saw my grandmother. We immigrated to America in December of that year. There is much I can say about Iraq, the Middle East and Arab Christians. For now, however, I want to pay tribute to the man who evangelized my father. Because if he had not left America to go to Greece where he crossed paths with my father, I don’t know where or who I would be right now. My salvation, my Christian marriage and the salvation of my children would not exist if that man had not been a faithful follower of Christ who was willing to go to the nations and talk to all the people the Lord sent his way about the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. (To clarify: Being Reformed I know that I would have come to Christ even if this man had not been faithful. The Lord accomplishes all his holy will, nothing thwarts him. However, what I am trying to emphasize is the significant consequences of one man’s obedience.)

 I weep every time I open my dad’s old Bible, which I do a few times a year to remind myself of the grace of God. It was later in 1978, sitting in a train station in Thessaloniki, waiting for my mother’s train to arrive, that my father spoke the gospel to me. I believed and confessed that Jesus Christ died for my sins on the cross. I was eight years old.

 Life was difficult when we arrived in America. We were a poor Middle Eastern immigrant family, but my father worked hard and took us to Chuck Swindoll’s church, Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton (the church his missionary friend had recommended). My father sat under that man and grew. I went to Sunday school and girls club and grew. Then we hit some hard times. My mother couldn’t understand English very well and eventually my father stopped attending and stopped taking us, out of concern for her. We returned to the Arabic Catholic and Orthodox churches and life moved forward.

 A lot of years have passed by since then. I am now a forty-two year old wife and mother of five children. I lived through backsliding, divorce, rebellion, passivity, and legalism. BUT MY GOD IS FAITHFUL. My Lord saves to the uttermost. I find that he is restoring the years that the locusts ate.

I finished David Platt’s Radical today (last week). It confirmed to me the need to send out willing disciple makers, to go and proclaim the gospel to all the Issams and all the Lumas out there. It has also served to remind me of the absolute necessity for long-term discipleship. Our family did not have that once we came to America, and I believe we suffered deeply because of it.

 So how do we become obedient disciple makers? The point here is not that all of us necessarily need to go overseas, although indeed, the Lord may call some of us to do just that. To be an obedient disciple maker, as Paul saw it, is to be willing to be poured out for others. No matter who those “others” are or where they live. Some disciple makers may be called to the suburbs, which in actuality is a very difficult place to try to minister in. Some are called to the inner city. Some are called to another state or even to another country. One thing is for sure–we are all called to be obedient disciple makers:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

–Matthew 28:19-20

I spent some time breaking apart these verses this week, that’s when the multiplying affect of disciple-making hit me. Obedient disciple-makers go into nations and start making disciples, this happens by the proclamation of the gospel; disciples are made and they are to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; at the same time we are to teach them to observe ALL that Jesus has commanded us. Okay, so this raises the question: What has Jesus commanded us? As a disciple-maker, I need to know what Jesus has commanded to know what I have to turn around and teach these new disciples. And then it hits! One of the things Jesus commanded us to do is to go to the nations and make disciples, baptize them and teach them. See the multiplying effect here? It is God in his sovereignty and grace that has power over all the multiplication of disciple-making, of course. We must never forget that. But in the end we see that we are all called and we are all to obey. Not in the same way. Let’s not forget that our God is not the God of a monolithic people. He is the Lord of creativity and complexity.

 I went back to church at the age of nineteen, because of a friend who was being an obedient disciple maker by urging me to return to the Lord. This friend helped me pick out a Bible. I spent a lot of years with that Bible, marking it up. It bears the marks of that time in my life. Every ten to twelve years I get a new Bible. I am on my third right now. Each of these Bibles are being saved for my five children, my little disciples. My hope is that one day, when I go to be with the Lord, each of my closest disciples (my children) will have a Bible that I used up during a period of my life. My prayer is that the Lord will grow my children through those used Bibles. I pray they will see the hand of God at work during my earthly life and that will set them on fire for the Lord Jesus. So that they too, will go and obey in whatever way the Lord chooses out for them. But from now until then, I want to spend the rest of my life learning how to be an obedient disciple maker. I want to learn how to live and how to die, for Jesus Christ.

The Immigrant Mind: In Pursuit Of The American Dream

I’m not good with idioms. As a matter of fact, every time I goof one up I usually say to my husband: “What do you expect, I’m a foreigner?!” His eyebrows go up as he says, “you’re not a foreigner anymore, Luma.” In a certain sense he’s right. I’ve lived in America longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, thirty-three years. I’m probably as assimilated as you can get for a first generation immigrant. And yet… yet, there is much in my systems of thought, values, traditions, etc. that is not American. Actually, it is not purely Iraqi or purely Greek either. There is, I have come to believe, another form of identity: The immigrant. I can probably write pages about this, but for this post I want to explore just one tiny aspect of the immigrant mind: Self identity. This is something I have been thinking about for years now and I know I won’t do it justice in one blog post, so please don’t mind the broad brush strokes here.

There are many immigrants in America and they come from all over the world. By no means do I want to assume that they have all had my experiences. However, I believe it is safe to write about some commonalities of the immigrant that are shared by most men and women that come to this country. I also want to state at the outset that this perspective is Christian in particular because that’s who I am. The religions of immigrants that pour into America every year is a broad spectrum. There are everything from Atheists to Buddhists, to Muslims, Christians (of every denomination), Hindus and on and on. Because this immigration is by choice, there is one thing they all have in common, in varied interpretations and to varying degrees: The pursuit of the American Dream.

There is a sort of “identity” that brings many immigrants together. We as Christians know (and especially if you watched or listened to David Platt’s sermon at last week’s T4G) that what binds Christians from every tribe and every nation/people groups (every “ethnous“) together, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the same for the immigrant if you stop to think about it. The immigrants have something that binds them together also: Many come to America with very little, in search of peace and prosperity, working hard (for the most part, there are certainly exceptions to this), having a desire for upward mobility, better education, and achieving the American Dream.

With these characteristics comes “the immigrant mind.” (Again this is broad brush strokes.) The immigrant mind is a discontented mind, it is a hard working mind, it is a mind that always thinks it has to work harder, achieve more, earn more money, and go go go, climb climb climb, acquire acquire acquire. The immigrant mind sometimes believes that  contentment equals complacency and/or laziness. Again, this is a generalization; there are plenty of exceptions, I’m sure. None of these are intrinsically bad. It is good, after all, to be hard working. It is good to want better education for your children and so on and so forth. But what is not good, is not having the gospel to temper these characteristics and desires. What is not good is pursuing these things for personal glory or the glory of the family, instead of to the glory of God.

That’s all I want to write here, I need to save the rest for a longer article I want to write. I have a proposal to make, to be more fully fleshed out in that article. I believe there is an untapped “mission field” right here in America. I submit that American immigrants need the gospel. Right here, right now, in this very rich country which beckons people from every tribe and every nation to come and partake of the prosperity. American Christians, there is a mission field in your backyard (sometimes literally, as in your gardener): The American Immigrant.

An Interaction With “Christ And Culture Revisited,” (Muslim and Arab Christian Cultures)

This is a short interaction with a section of Christ and Culture Revisited written mostly because of my earlier posts concerning Arab Christian culture. Please remember I am an amateur, the voice of one Iraqi immigrant who has for the most part assimilated into the American Christian culture. I am grateful for Dr. Carson’s work in this book. It has helped me tremendously by lifting away the fog and clearing inconsistencies and confusion in my thinking regarding kingdom views and the Christ and culture issue. Tim Keller’s words are right on target when he says Dr. Carson “listens carefully to the Scripture and brings us in the end to a sophisticated simplicity about these matters.”

Toward the end of Christ and Culture Revisited, Carson points out the difference between Christian conversion and regeneration, and the Muslim understanding of “conversion.” He writes (pg. 201):

“Christian conversion… is understood to be connected with the work of the Spirit of God in one’s life. Regeneration transforms one’s life, and the walk of faith in Jesus Christ enables us to speak of knowing God in a way quite different from our life before conversion. A child who grows up in a Christian home may well speak of the moment of his or her “conversion” at, say, age 8 or 15, or after attaining adulthood; a child growing up in a Muslim home would never speak of being converted to Islam. Islam demands conformity to the system; Christianity demands the internal transformation sometimes called regeneration.”

—D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited

Now, I’m not sure why Dr. Carson did not mention this, but in reality, the Arab Christian understanding of “conversion” works (with some exceptions) just like that of the Muslims in the Arab world. A child growing up in an Arab Christian home would never speak of being converted to Christianity. As I said, there are now exceptions as a result of some Evangelical groups working within those countries. However, for the most part, a child, man or woman would identify themselves as, and believe themselves to be Christians, if they were born into a Christian family and baptized as infants.

I wanted to point this out for several reasons. First, a missionary or church planter should know how much of Western secular culture has infiltrated the particular Arab country he or she is working in (e.g. there is a show called Arab Idol which is almost a one-hundred percent copy of the show American Idol). Here, America, are examples of your entertainment and advertising influences.

Second, they should learn to what degree the Muslim culture of that country is similar to the Christian culture in that same region. (As an example, there are certain parts of the Arab world where Arab Christians, just like Muslims, do not eat pork and consider the pig to be an unclean animal.) I say these things so that we would not map our Western Christian culture unto the Arab Christian culture. The Arab Christian culture is a totally different “animal.” I’ll stop here, because a discussion of Christ and culture in the Arab world, would require more than a small blog post.

I would like to suggest that one of the things that should be thought through (and maybe some Evangelicals in that region have, God willing) is: How do you explain “conversion” not just to the Arab Muslim, but to the Arab Christian?

How We Can Take The Gospel Of Grace To The Arab Christians

I wrote a post last week pleading with my American brothers and sisters in Christ to take the gospel to Christian communities in the Arab world and I explained a little about why it is desperately needed. So, just on the chance that someone out there is hearing my entreaties, here are some thoughts on how I think it could be done:

The Christian church has had a presence in the region since the apostolic age, but the Muslims have dominated the culture continuously since the seventh century. It would appear that whatever form of Christianity is being practiced there is weak, and not the kind of weakness Christ calls for in a “last shall be first, meek shall inherit” type of way, more like a “lukewarm shall be spat out” type of way.

In the Middle East you have one culture embedded in another culture, which is embedded in another and so on and so forth. So for instance, using Iraq for an example, you can have an Assyrian community (with its own language and cultural distinctions) coupled with the Assyrian Catholic or Assyrian Orthodox Christin culture,  that is then tied to the Christian culture of the local geographic vicinity (this could include other local churches such as Chaldean Catholic, Armenian Catholic or Orthodox, Evangelical, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal, etc.)  which is then embedded within the larger Islamic culture and political structure.  This is a pretty rough and complex ball of wax. You’ve got different “tribal” groups, sectarian and doctrinal issues, and the Christian–Muslim issue. (It may be a tad easier in some of the other Arab nations, with which I am less familiar, but each one has to be broken down like this in order to be understood.) I think its best to look at this in terms of targeted groups.

The first group to consider is the clergy that are already there. I would say that this is the most difficult section of the population. A person reaching out to this group in particular, needs to know that there will be some “turf” issues to deal with, long-standing pride of heritage, doctrinal differences, etc. First and foremost there really should be respect for their position. Where possible a collaboration should be pursued (teaching a class together, conference, community outreach etc.). Depending on the man, position, and circumstance there may be a need for encouragement, correction or even outright rebuke—ALL done with an eye on the gospel.

The second category is the general Christian populace. One of the most important things to understand when working in the Arab world is that a person’s religion is tied to his family identity. You are a Christian if your parents are Christian and if their parents were Christians and if their parents were Christian and so on. Or conversely, you are a Muslim if your parents are Muslim and their parents were Muslim and their parents were Muslim. The two are enmeshed. (Much could be said on this point alone.)  Now with this group one needs to be careful (wise as serpents and innocent as doves). You don’t want them “following” you because you’re giving them bread. Jesus laments that the crowd was only seeking him because he had fed them. (John 6:26). You also can’t clobber these folks with theological arguments. Don’t go in there like you are going to rhetorically defeat a heretic. You don’t treat them like a Nestor or an Arius. These people are in a church culture that is reaping the consequences of those errors but they are not the intellectual leaders of those doctrines. They are a culture that has been established and rooted in those thoughts but they are not affirming these creeds consciously in their minds. It is a rare man or woman who you can find to tell you why in their version of the Nicene Creed it reads that the Holy Spirit is sent only by the Father and not by the Father and the Son like our Western version.

Within the populace, there is the group of men. The other day my father sent me an Arabic documentary on the history of the Church in the East. There was a modern clip of a man taking communion bread with one hand while holding up his cell phone to his ear with the other. While I have never seen this exact behavior in American Arabic immigrant churches, it doesn’t surprise me. In my experience, often the men will stand outside the church doors and chat and smoke during the worship service while their families sit inside. This kind of indifference and aloofness is apparently a badge of strength for men of this culture.

In dealing with a church culture in such a state, the cure is a correct understanding of the gospel. Here’s how I am thinking it can work:

  1. Target a community in which you are interested (e.g. Catholic, Orthodox, Non-Trinitarian Pentecostals etc.) after considering all the neighborhoods in a large city in the country of choice.
  2. Find a local faithful Evangelical/Protestant church (where possible).
  3. Either come in and start collaborating, helping and pouring resources into an already fruitful Evangelical and/or other Biblically sound church, or plant a church.
  4. Consider going to the local Catholic or Orthodox church (before planting a church) and ask if you can rent their facility to teach a class after their services are over or on another day of the week.
  5. Simultaneously reach out and forge a relationship with local clergy while teaching a local class, planting a church, and/or participating in community work.
  6. Become a real asset to the community. Don’t have the mindset of “I’m here to fix you” or it will come through. Find ways to build trust and model gospel-centered living.
  7. Teach a lot of classes that are outside the weekly worship time. This way you won’t force some of these Christians to choose between attending their church worship service or yours. Teach classes that will illumine the Christian faith to them. Preach the gospel in the context of explaining the Trinity. Preach the gospel in the context of a correct understanding of the God/man nature of Christ (this is HUGE over there). Figure out what the three to four biggest errors in your local vicinity are and teach to correct those. If you are building relationships with the clergy, some may strongly hold on to these errors, and it may take time to build a relationship of mutual trust before you can begin teaching toward truth. Once people come and learn sound doctrine they will either naturally switch over to worshiping in the new church OR they will start wanting to reform their church. Either way, it is movement toward a more faithful and correct understanding that we’re after.
  8. Practice A LOT of hospitality. Hospitality is the language of the Middle East (just read Old Testament Scripture). Build relationships with local everyday Christians; Get in their lives, love them, be their friend, encourage the husband and wife relationship, model Biblical manhood and womanhood, offer to baby sit their kids (even though most have local families for that) and  invite them to events in your church.

I give this as “first blush” suggestions, so to speak. I have never been a missionary; everything I say comes from an amateur and I’m stating that up front. However, I will say this: The missionaries my dad met in his Greek class (during our time in Greece) were pretty astute to pick up on our family’s “religion” (or lack thereof). They straight up told my dad that he was not a Christian until he became “born-again.” Now, it was the grace of God working, but I don’t really recommend that particular approach if we are to achieve broad cultural transformation. I am grateful that they cared about sharing the gospel with a “Christian” and that is what I am pleading with others to do with the countless “Christians” in Arab nations and Iran, but after years of thinking it over, I’m not so sure that that is a healthy approach with the current climate of the Middle East, but I could be wrong and I am certainly open to correction on that.

How Should The Church In The West Respond To A Case Like Youcef Nadarkhani?

While I’m working on a follow-up post to Why Christian Arabs Need The Gospel some information seems to have been confirmed concerning Youcef Nadarkhani and so I thought I would comment on it a bit. My pastor referred me to here and here for Youcef Nadarkhani’s background in Oneness Pentecostalism (seems to be the same article on two different websites). It was great to see a Persian Reformed Evangelical publications site, and I was very pleased that they asked for prayer for him and his salvation, although they clearly wanted the information concerning Mr. Nadarkhani’s heterodoxy known. I noticed also that they mention the problem I tried to explain in my comment on Matt Smethurst’s post over at TGC, that the Pentecostal church has been making major in-roads evangelizing in the Arab nations and Iran. Parsa Trust points to the non-Trinitarian Pentecostals in particular, as actively hindering the work of Trinitarian churches.

The issue is complex: A pastor with questionable theology in conflict with true Evangelical churches but also being persecuted by a government who couldn’t care less about doctrinal issues. The fact that Youcef Nadarkhani names the name of Christ is the only thing the Iranian government cares about.

The principle, as I see it here, is that any time civil government engages in regulating and enforcing church membership or liberty of conscience, it is unjust. Let church government enforce issues of Trinitarian doctrine or other doctrinal errors (of which there are many in the Middle East) within its sphere of sovereignty. But, we’re nowhere near that in the Arab world. I wrote here that the gospel needs to be taken to the Middle Eastern “Christian” communities.That’s the first step in building up a robust Arab Christian church.

How the Christian church responds to Youcef’s case will say a lot about the reputation of Christ followers before the world. Western Reformed Christians in particular who are very zealous to fight for the purity of the faith should be slow to speak, judge rightly the situation and offer gracious wisdom. This is NOT The Elephant Room! You can’t start internet arguments over the errors of a condemned pastor under a tyrannical Islamic regime. This is the same regime that wants to punish their citizens with prison sentences for having satellite dishes. Let’s try to keep these things in perspective. In my next post I’ll try to suggest what I think is the best way to fight these types of errors in a complex culture like this.

Why Christian Arabs Need The Gospel; A Plea To My American Brothers and Sisters

Yesterday I posted on Jeremiah Small, a 33 year old American teacher working at the Classical School of the Medes (in Northern Iraq) who was killed Thursday morning by one of his Muslim students. I found out from my husband that Jeremiah is actually a friend of a friend of ours. This killing, along with other situations regarding Christians in the Arab world has prompted me to write this article.

I left the Chaldean Catholic Church (riddled with Nestorianism) and the Syriac Orthodox Church (riddled with errors concerning Mary, the Holy Spirit sent from the Father only instead of “from the Father and the Son,” and the rejection of the Council of Chalcedon) at the age of 19 when I started attending an American non-denominational church. I praise God for the American missionaries that evangelized my father in Greece, I praise God for my father who spoke the gospel to me in a train station in Thessaloniki when I was eight years old (using the old Good News tracts from the ’70’s). And I praise God for the two brief years we spent under Pastor Chuck Swindoll at EV Free in Fullerton California during our first few years in America, before my parents took us back to the Arab churches. I get goosebumps every time I read Isaiah 43:4-6:

“Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth.” Isaiah 43:4-6

God has brought me from the ends of the earth to America. I do not want to scoff and sneer at my heritage, but I am a Christian woman and as such I must speak the truth in love if I am to be faithful to Christ.

I am becoming convinced that the way to spread the gospel, to bring the love, forgiveness and healing of Jesus Christ to that entire region is by “evangelizing” the Middle Eastern Christians themselves. Now, I am not saying we abandon all outreach to Muslims. I pray that what I am suggesting does not come from some latent fear of Muslims that I have been brought up with, but instead from the truths that I see in Scripture and the ways that I have seen God work in this world.

The Christians in the Arab world are embattled, weary, spiritually impoverished, and theologically weak at best and/or in serious error at worst. They have lived under Islamic regimes since the seventh century. All too often, they are “Christian” in the sense that they have bloodlines that have been “Christian” for centuries, and not because of any of their own convictions about—or faith in—the saving work of Jesus Christ. Here is my plea to all the church planters out there: Please go plant churches within the Christian communities. Please go bearing the good news of the gospel to Arab Christians. Help them understand Jesus rightly, help them become Christ-centric and not cultural Christians, show them the conquering power of the cross, teach them sound doctrine, strengthen them, empower them, give them theological knowledge instead of tradition, put Bibles in their hands and teach them how to read it, take your families to live there and model gospel-centered family relationships, model Biblical manhood and womanhood, instruct them how to pray, and above all, show them the unity of the Spirit by loving them as your brothers and sisters in Christ. My American brothers and sisters, if you are looking for a field of harvest to work in, then please go and disciple our Arab Christian brethren.

If we strengthen and disciple the Christians we will have a local and native branch of the Church which will grow organically and bear much fruit in its own community. Missions to the unsaved is needed and it is in obedience to Christ, but imagine how potent and exponential the work of the harvest would be if we strengthen the brethren that are already there.

 

American Evangelical Teacher Killed In Northern Iraq

Jeremiah Small, a 33 year old American Evangelical teacher was shot this morning by a Kurdish Muslim student in a classroom in Northern Iraq. The student (18-year old Biyar Sarwar) then took his own life. Run by Servant Group International out of Nashville, Classical School of the Medes, is located in the city of Sulaimaniya, this is four hours south-east of Mosul (the city of my heritage). (This was the same school I was fantasizing taking our family to (for a short missions trip) back when we used to homeschool classically.) Yousif Toma, director of the three regional schools run by the Servant Group, said that the student was part of a wealthy and powerful Kurdish family. Although some are saying there was an argument between Small and the student leading up to the shooting, Mr. Toma is denying it. Mr. Toma also indicated that the teachers are forbidden to proselytize on school grounds.

One of the reasons why this incident is striking is that it happened in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. This is a pro-America, pro-West area that has had little to no violence from Southern Iraqi Muslims and/or other militant Muslim groups, due mostly to the no-fly zone (1991) and other forms of American protection of Kurdish autonomy.

You can read some stories here, here and here

I’ll post my personal thoughts on this story tomorrow. In the meantime, please pray for the Small family, for Servant Group International, for the Classical School of the Medes community, and yes even for the killer’s family.

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The Persecution Of Christians In The Land Of My Heritage

At the time my family fled Iraq, (back in the 1970’s) there were no political/religious killings under the regime. At least I don’t remember my father mentioning anything. This was a few years before Saddam came to power.

We left under the pretense of “vacation,” taking only what would fit in a few suitcases, and only those things that would not raise suspicion of the airport guards. We declared asylum when we got to Greece. The Greek government, however, wouldn’t allow us to stay there permanently, and so my father applied for immigration to several countries but they all turned him down. The story of how we were able to apply to immigrate to America is very long so I won’t go into that right now. I just wanted to give a brief background on the state Christians have been in, in the Middle East for a long time now.

When my father was being interviewed by the American embassy in Greece, they asked him how he can claim persecution when he had a job, he wasn’t beaten or put in prison, or experiencing what we usually think of as “persecution.” I remember my father telling me that he looked at the interviewer and said something to the effect of, “yes, but there is still the persecution of this,” pointing at his head. What he was trying to get across to this American who had no experience of what it was like to be under an authoritarian regime, (no matter how secular) is that Middle Eastern Christians are very familiar with Islam’s subversion and persecution through means other than those which are outright physical. Persecution of the the mind, political pressure, being passed over for jobs or promotions because you’re a Christian, false witness, contrived school grades so as to ensure that the top of the class is a Muslim, and so on. Christians in the Arab world have been immersed in that culture for centuries, and know all the dirty little tricks that get pulled.

My dad was right, it was just a matter of time before outward physical persecution would happen. Now we all know Sudan has been killing Christians for a long time, but this always goes under the guise of civil war. More importantly, in terms of status, it is not considered one of the more “Westernized” Arab countries, hence, it was expected and understood. (As weird as a notion as that seems to American ears.) There seems to be a hierarchy of sorts within the Arab nations as far as how much Western culture that country has imbibed. I’ve always been told by family and Arab friends that the more secular and/or Westernized an Arab country is, the more freedoms it gives to its Christian citizens. So for instance in the 1970’s, Iraq, having been a commonwealth of Great Britain (from WWI to 1932) was one of the more “Westernized” Arab countries along with Lebanon and Turkey. So there is this connection, which militant Muslims are actually correct on. That is, as Western ethos, philosophy and culture started infiltrating into the Arab universities it exhibited itself in a type of temperance of the local Muslim culture. (There is a complete body of study that can be done in this area if some Christians had it in mind, it is a complex and beautiful subject when viewed from a specifically Reformed worldview.) I’m going to stop here because I want to bring the discussion back to persecution.

My parents have Christian friends or have heard of relatives of friends who have been kidnapped for money by local Islamic gangs in Baghdad. Everyone knows that Christians of any means have left the country, and they are a good source of ransom. These family contacts in Iraq tell of rapes, burglaries, and overall terror in going about their daily lives.

These stories from Iraq are so far all about “unofficial” nongovernmental persecution, but many of us believe it is only a matter of time. The government of Iran has now convicted a Christian pastor and sentenced him to death. His crime? Leaving the Muslim faith to become a Christian. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been on our church’s prayer list for a while. Here is a Fox News article on the most recent update on his situation. Pray for Christians in those nations.

UPDATE: If you arrived here because of the link from Challies’ blog, Welcome! Thank you to Tim Challies for the link. Matt Smethurst over at The Gospel Coalition wrote a post about Youcef Nadarkhani. There were some comments concerning rumors about his orthodoxy because of his ties to a non-Trinitarian Pentecostal sect. You can read my response in the comments section. The fact still remains that the name of Christ can not be spoken in some of these countries without persecution.