Senior Cross-Cultural Service Student
Upon returning home after a couple months in Asia, I frequently get asked the question, “So, what’s it really like to minister in the Middle East?” Growing up as a MK in South America, I thought I had cross-cultural life and ministry figured out. Little did I know all the lessons God would teach me this summer about culture and ministry in a Creative-access nation.
Since the place I was in claims to be 98% Muslim and following any other religion is considered national treason, disciple-making looked vastly different from anything else I’d ever experienced. Any form of public witness is banned, so, as a missions intern, I had to learn how the missionaries work around this apparent hurdle. Oftentimes, the disciple-making methods missionaries use do not resemble those used in the “average” mission field at all. Instead of hosting rallies and big activities to attract the highest amount of people possible, you do evangelism rather privately and with a more personal focus. Sharing the Good News looks more like being a candle in the darkness instead of a spotlight.
So, rather than handing out tracts, you meet people at public spots that don’t draw attention or put them in danger for wanting to know who Jesus is. Instead of walking around a city knocking-on doors to share the Gospel, you host people at your house and invite them in to see how a Jesus-follower lives. Instead of open-air preaching and teaching, you share long, Christ-centered conversations over numerous cups of hot chai. You go out of your way to intentionally incorporate Jesus into every situation. Thread by thread, you begin weaving the tapestry that depicts the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Following this method does not bring results fast or in great numbers, but there is no other way to do evangelism in a place that is so hostile towards the Gospel. The missionaries I worked with have been serving in the same area for seven years, without ever being able to lead a soul to Christ. “What on earth are they doing, then? Are they really investing their time well?” you may ask.
Observing what the daily life of a missionary looks like, many would be tempted to say that nothing is really being accomplished towards Kingdom expansion. Missionaries work full-time jobs that allow them to stay in the country legally, and they take their kids to local schools. They spend many hours hosting or going out to eat with their Muslim coworkers and take their kids to play-dates with Muslim families to be able to establish redemptive connections. On Sunday, they meet with local believers for worship. They teach Sunday school, help lead music, and prepare food for fellowship time. But missionaries don’t run the show. For safety reasons and because locals will always be more effective in communicating with their own, missionaries limit themselves to supporting and assisting the nationals who lead the congregations.
So, what’s the difference between those working in the Middle East, and the average person in the US who is a faithful light at their job during the week and hands out bulletins on Sunday? Why isn’t he called a missionary? From what I was able to observe, the difference is not only doing it cross-culturally. The bottom-line is that being involved full-time in “normal” life is basically the only way to make disciples in Creative-access nations. Missionaries live non-glamourous lives, immersing themselves in the culture to be like the people around them and meet them where they are. It’s about being faithful in the mundane, making “insignificant” tasks vital for the furtherance of the Gospel. This is the best way to establish trust in an honor-shame society. You must take time to see through the lenses of the honor-shame worldview, which prioritizes a long process of back-and-forth exchange, building the foundation for strong, loyal relationships that will open so many more doors.
So, move into their neighborhoods, work at their businesses, go the extra mile to show that you want to be a part of their lives, so you can show them how to find life. Isn’t this what Jesus came to do? He used every situation to minister to the Middle Eastern hearts he had around Him. This is exactly what redeeming time well for the cause of Christ looks like (Ephesians 5:15-17).
Because we are creatures of habit, making sure to be intentional is key, lest we forget why we are really in the mission field. God used Galatians to encourage me this summer. In chapter six, Paul reminds the Galatians about the important role that strong bonds play in this community-centered culture. He talks about strengthening each other and sowing in the Spirit to reap everlasting fruit. He warns the believers to not measure success by comparing. Rather each person must work diligently and not grow tired and impatient because of the lack of fruit. And here lies the danger in any ministry setting but even more so in the Middle East: missions in these very resistant lands does not bear the same results as it does in other parts of the world. I was drawn to verses nine and ten especially, where Paul says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” God has called each of us to be faithful and persistent, knowing that if we let Him carry us through, He will bless us. His blessing may not look like what we would imagine or come in the timing for which we would hope, but it is His perfect will. What a privilege to serve God by strengthening believers who are suffering because of His name!
Since Missions is shifting away from what has traditionally been done for centuries, our expectations and strategies need to change accordingly. Missions in the 10/40 Window is not a simple task. It demands courage, perseverance, patience, and faith that God will accomplish His purposes through us in such a hostile land. But missions in the Middle East is possible, and the glory of Jesus Christ is more than worth it. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58).
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.