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A Report on the Middle East Exploratory Trip
By Pastors Bill Oberlin and Lon Allison
Sensing that God may be leading Wheaton Bible Church to do more in the Middle East, an exploratory team from our staff traveled in September to Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel.
Pastors Lon Allison, Bill Oberlin, and Ted Coniaris, and Executive Director Scott Landon went with two goals: first, they hoped to encourage and support our Christian brothers and sisters in the region, including our current partners. Second, they went to look for ways we might do more, believing God is calling us to broaden our support of ministry in this strategic and highly stressed region.
Not only did they accomplish these first two goals, but God surprised them with something they didn’t expect. As Lon says, “He made it very clear to us that this is a ‘Kairos’ moment in the Middle East. God is on the move in shattering and stunning ways.” A “Kairos moment,” as Lon explains it, means “an opportune time” or “the Lord’s time of action or intervention.”
While the Middle East is the cradle of the Gospel, most North American believers have the perception that the Church there is shrinking, hiding, or fleeing. What the team found in the three countries they visited was quite different. While Christians are vastly in the minority—and many live in contexts of persecution and poverty—God is present with them and working in dramatic ways. Indeed, this is a critical moment of opportunity for Christ in the Middle East.
In the past two years, two million Syrian war refugees have flooded across the border into Lebanon, overwhelming the nation of more than four million people. The team was on-site with workers for our ministry partner Call of Hope, which is providing hundreds of refugees living in tents with food, household necessities, and heating oil, while discipling and baptizing the many who have been responsive to the Gospel.
The team visited families in the refugee camps and heard many stories of how individuals have been drawn to Jesus in the midst of their distress. One young woman said, “The terrible things that happened in Syria led us to Jesus. We lost everything that doesn’t last, but we have gained everything that matters most.”
They also saw the wonderful impact of a skill center and Christian ministry to 300 blind/vision-challenged, deaf, and physically disabled persons from Sunni, Shi’a, Druse, and Christian backgrounds—and were warmed by the witness of many who have come to believe in Jesus and are sharing their faith with their families.
While the team was in Lebanon, they were given a copy of a poem—in Arabic—that had recently been written by Muhammad M., a Syrian refugee, who is a follower of Jesus. The following is an English translation of a portion of that poem.
*Crows are a harbinger of destruction in Arabic literature. The writer seems to invoke the image of black ISIS flags flying in the wind.
In Egypt, they met with Life Agape (Campus Crusade) staff. More than sixty churches have been burned there in the turbulence following the “Arab spring,” and vibrant believers face threats from community members and interrogation by government officials. Yet this doesn’t keep these believers from sharing their faith, using new and creative ways (including online media and professional networks) to communicate the Gospel to both the majority Muslim population and nominal Christians of various backgrounds.
The WBC team spent a day in Cairo with WBC missionary Randy Capp of the Egyptian Bible Society, whose mission is to make the Scriptures “accessible, affordable, and understandable to all of Egypt’s people.” They also met a ministry team in more rural southern Egypt that is building a network of house fellowships. Their team of 14 leaders and 160 volunteers has helped launch 400 house churches (including 6,000 participants!) in just six years.
The final leg of their journey took the team to Israel and the West Bank. There they heard sobering stories of believers who are ostracized and often beaten for their faith, but also amazing accounts of answers to prayer—dramatic healings, God-given dreams, and individuals discovering new life through Christ among both Arab and Jewish believers.
In each place the team visited, local Christians were deeply grateful for their encouragement, prayer, and opportunities to worship together. But we believes we can do more. They are currently developing a “consideration list” of ways God may be calling us to:
We urge you, as God leads, to join in this process. As a former teacher of Sharia law, now a Christ- follower, told our exploratory team, “The time is now in the Middle East as things are breaking loose for the cause of Christ.”