AMAZING THINGS GOD IS DOING IN HIS CHURCH IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Before the war started in Syria in 2011, stories of Syrian Muslims becoming followers of Jesus were rare. Five years later, it is not uncommon to see new Muslin-background believers worshipping God with their whole hearts in churches throughout Lebanon and Syria. How can this be? How is God at work in their midst? Area pastors answer your questions about the state of the church in Lebanon and Syria.
1. In the West, we hear of persons from Islam coming to Christ. Is this true in your city?
A pastor from southern Syria: “Yes, this is true in our city. People are more open to hear from the Bible after they have seen atrocities and violence happening in the name of their religion. After they start following Jesus they feel true peace, especially because their sins are forgiven and they now have assurance of salvation, which was missing in their old faith. Others mention that they were raised to believe that the Bible is corrupt, and when they find out that it is truly the Word of God they start reading it and their lives are changed.”
Other pastors agreed, suggesting also that, “they are now displaced and their closest family members can’t see where they are going and what they are doing. They are away from their tribe control.”
In one part of Lebanon, a pastor began planting home churches to accommodate the increased need for services and they have continued to see tremendous growth. “Our church now has more than twenty home churches,” he says, “and we believe it will grow much bigger. We have more than a hundred families waiting for us to start with new home churches.”
2. What specific challenges does this bring to your church?
“Are these people truly believers, or are they coming because we are helping the needy people? Are they coming to spy? But this is also encouraging us to put our trust in God. Whatever their intentions are, we believe the Holy Spirit will work in their hearts,” shared a cautious pastor from Syria. “We do this ministry with caution, keeping away from publicity and social media. We don’t tell anyone about the work,” adds a colleague from Damascus.
“The whole church is one Body now. I would say that about seventy percent of our team involved in the ministry with the refugees are refugees themselves who have come to Christ,” says a Lebanese pastor. “We are trying to equip them in this way to be future leaders when they go back, God willing, to their country in the future.”
3. I presume these people need another type of discipleship as they were created in a different mindset. Could you tell about this?
A pastor from southern Syria disciples’ new believer one-on-one when they first come to Christ to alleviate their fears of being discovered in their community as followers of Jesus. In all cases, the discipleship models address basic biblical knowledge, special lessons regarding the comparison between the Christian faith and their former faith in Islam, challenging of their worldviews and encouragement to remain faithful in persecution to serve the Lord in winning others to Christ. The pastors agreed that the process takes time.
4. How did/do your church members respond to these newcomers?
“Our church members show love and hospitality,” explains a Syrian pastor. “They show them they are welcome and they help them find their way. We have designated people who would call later and invite them again to church or visit them to build stronger relationships.” A pastor in Damascus added that, “But before we allow them to join as members of the church, they need to wait for twelve months taking lessons and attending church meetings.” Regarding concerns of some church members, one Lebanese pastor says, “When they see God’s hand and how God is working in their lives, everyone praises the Lord.”
5. Did the coming of these new people change the way you preach/teach during the service?
“We teach and preach the Word of God regardless of who is listening,” one pastor declares. “The Word of God doesn’t change. Of course, I include in my teaching special teaching to encourage these newcomers and to make them think and go back to read more and investigate the truth.” Other pastors agreed, adding that they include encouragement to think and read more, provide more frequent explanations of things, or focus more on ideas these new believers have carried over from their old religion. They may add special meetings for them, “with sermons with a different approach, using some of their beliefs and not offending them.” Though they may tailor their approach for these believers, they do not compromise the truth.
6. Do you think this will change the church?
“I believe they will change not the church but the community,” says a Syrian pastor. “As they live their new faith and speak with other people around them, we pray and believe that more people will come to Christ because of them. Jesus said we are the light and the salt of the world.” A Lebanese pastor adds, “The church already changed. They are becoming the majority.”
7. What could the world pray specifically for these new believers?
· For the Lord’s protection from persecution and harm, and for perseverance
· To stay strong in the faith and grow in their knowledge
· That when people see their lives changed, they would ask for the reason of this change and that God will give believers wisdom and courage to give a reason for their faith
· That the whole country becomes open to the gospel
· That laws will be changed so that new believers can publically say they are Christians
· For new believers to find marriage partners because it is not acceptable there for people from different religious background marry, even if they are now both Christians (this is especially a problem for the girls)
· For change in laws to secular constitutions that allow them to marry whoever they want and worship freely
· That their ministry will be fruitful among their own people
How glad we are, Father, for the miraculous way You are building Your church in Syria and Lebanon before the eyes of the watching world. Thank You that You are causing the scales to fall from the eyes of Muslims to heal their spiritual blindness; that You are opening their eyes to see the beauty of Christ and His gospel in Your Holy Word. Equip Your church, Lord, to teach and disciple them that they might be strengthened to face the trials that will surely come their way. And, equip these new believers to share their faith in Christ with God-honoring boldness and compassion that the gospel message might go out in power and authority among their family and friends, bearing much fruit. We pray for them as they seek to establish godly marriages, and we pray for protection from persecution. In the Name of Jesus, who is reaping a rich harvest as He builds His church in Syria and Lebanon, Amen.