Don’t waste COVID-19: Lessons from believers in the Arabian Peninsula

May 19, 2020 by Christopher Summers in Persecution updates

Because of coronavirus, the whole world now knows what it means to be isolated. Christians everywhere now know the challenge of worshiping without a church building and the lack of physical Christian community. These are new, uneasy and difficult experiences for many of us.

 

But for believers living in the Arabian Peninsula—which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Qatar and others—this reality is nothing new.

The isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can help the global Church gain a deeper appreciation and sense of solidarity with these brothers and sisters in Christ. How can we find encouragement and hope from what isolated and persecuted Christians have experienced for years?

Nagi* was a devout Muslim living somewhere in the Arabian Peninsula. He observed the five obligatory prayers each day and often went to the mosque to pray between midnight and dawn. During one of these pre-dawn prayers, Nagi encountered Christ.

“After a long prayer, I laid my head on the carpet to rest and as I was drifting off, Christ spoke to me,” Nagi says. “I was startled awake, but I also heard another voice telling me, ‘Don’t think about Christ right now. You’re on the right path.’ At that point in life, I had money and was comfortable, but I was far from God.”

Nagi continued his life as a Muslim for 10 more years. Then, the building where Nagi stored the goods for his shop was destroyed in a fire, and everything burned. He grew depressed, but eventually found an online ministry and came to faith in Christ.

Initially, he was convinced that he should leave his country because he felt there was no church where he could grow spiritually, and he was afraid as a believer on his own.

However, as he searched for a way out, he met a believer online. This man also lived in the Arabian Peninsula and he introduced Nagi to another believer living in Nagi’s city. The two began to have fellowship together in a small group.

This face-to-face connection was made possible thanks to modern technology, and outreach via social media. Tamer*, an Open Doors partner working in the Arabian Peninsula, described the work of follow-up and the need for security. “One of our roles and that of our partners is to help connect believers to one another,” he says. “We make sure they have coaching and support and encourage them to start new groups. I understand that you might want to know how we do this, but because of the hostile context we work in, it’s important that the details of this process remain private.”

So, the next time you have a Zoom church meeting or pray with your small group via Google Meet, pray that God will bless these kinds of technologies in the Arabian Peninsula. Remember during this time of distance community that you are standing in solidarity with God’s people who worship this way all the time—pray for them as they grow in faith through online meetings.

‘It’s Christ who holds on to them’

Secret Christians worship in a church—held in an undisclosed location in the Arabian Peninsula.

Christians in this part of the world know that being a follower of Jesus on their own isn’t easy. They also know the power of being kept by grace. “It’s Christ who holds on to them,” Tamer says. “It’s Christ who keeps them holding on to their faith and keeps them persevering through months and sometimes years of isolation.”

For the believers in the Arabian Peninsula, disease has not been the historical reason for their isolation, though the impact of feeling alone is similar. “Believers are isolated, or feel isolated, because they think they are the only believers in the Arabian Peninsula,” Tamer said. “Because they are new believers, some are afraid to evangelize for fear of being expelled by their family, arrested or even killed. Others are very zealous and may evangelize in an unwise way.”

In the Arabian Peninsula, as in most of the Middle East, family ties are extremely important, and Islam is strict. Many new believers keep their faith in Jesus as Lord a secret in their house and from their family. With no public churches for nationals who find Jesus, there are few ways these believers in the region can connect with other Christians. But this can have a positive consequence. Believers have learned to use their isolation as a motivation for sharing their faith with people they know and love.

“As a new believer, I felt alone,” Ibrahim* says. Ibrahim is from a small town, and for him the chance of finding fellowship with another local believer was even lower than that of a believer in an urban area in the Arabian Peninsula. Ibrahim came to faith through a reoccurring dream and through Christian media. “I only had contact with one man from another area who would visit occasionally to disciple me. I asked him if there were any other believers near me, or if I was truly all alone. The man told me that there were lots of other believers like me, but that he wouldn’t introduce me to them.”

Stand with isolated believers

Secret Christians in places like the Arabian Peninsula often feel like they are isolated. But they aren’t—they have a global family in the Church! When you give a gift today, you remind them of that, and encourage them to continue standing strong for Christ. A gift of $50 could provide Children’s Bibles for 10 kids. Will you help by supporting persecuted Christians?

Give now

The man advised Ibrahim, “If you want to meet other believers near you, then go preach the gospel. You’ll meet other believers after they come to faith. If you want to be a part of a believing community, then go and start that community.”

The man wanted to encourage Ibrahim to preach the gospel to his family and his own social network.

“He knew that there were other believers not far from me,” Ibrahim says, “but he didn’t connect me with them personally. He wanted to encourage me and give me the sense that I had a family out there, while also challenging me to go and make disciples.”

As Ibrahim continued to meet with this man, he learned that being a disciple of Christ means more than just believing.

“He told me that it’s not enough just to repent, believe and be baptized,” said Ibrahim. “Before I met this man, no one else knew about my faith. He took me from the point of repenting and believing to sharing the Gospel with those around me. That became my mission. After I started sharing my faith with others, the man did introduce me to another brother living nearby, who took on the role of mentoring me in my maturing faith.”

During this time of isolation, consider how you might share your faith with those around you. Could you help a neighbor with groceries? Could you sew a mask for a friend you know is immune-compromised? Could you call a family member who doesn’t know Jesus and ask to pray with them? Christians in the Arabian Peninsula risk so much to show the gospel—we can learn from their example in the midst of our separation.

While many Christians around the world do not experience these intense pressures, constant isolation or persecution, the global pandemic we are currently in can open our eyes to the realities of our brothers and sisters who do experience these things on a regular basis. We can learn from their perseverance, their courage and their commitment to one another. And, as our hearts are softened, we can pray more specifically and purposefully for them.

Prayer points:

  • Pray for the believers in the Arabian Peninsula, that they will have the courage and the wisdom to share their faith effectively.
  • Pray new believers will quickly find someone who will walk them along the path of discipleship, either online or face to face.
  • Pray strong and mature Christian communities will spread over the Peninsula and that God will add more to His Church.
  • Pray for our local partners on the ground and for those who work through online media to support the (new) believers in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • *Names changed for the security of our local partners.

Top photo:

A craftsman displays the handicraft character of a face mask during a coronavirus pandemic. in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza, Palestine, April 2, 2020. Palestinian craftsman make various types of character according to the COVID-19 situation, in an effort to create awareness of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Yousef Masoud / INA Photo Agency / Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

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