Open Doors’ online presence in the Middle East is growing rapidly. Social media projects focused on supporting believers in the Arab-speaking world have now received a combined total of 500,000 likes. Each week these Christian online communities are reaching thousands.
Open Doors supports several websites and Facebook communities through which Christian values are conveyed and testimonies shared in an Arab context. Both Christians and Muslims are being reached by these Bible-based online communities.
Of the 355 million people now living in the Middle East, about 50 percent now have access to the internet. Alex*, an Open Doors worker involved in online outreach explains how it works. “Social media has a rapidly growing influence on the way people think about politics and society,” he says, referring to the Arab Spring that was fueled by online media. “This means the internet offers a vast amount of opportunities for our organization as well. Much in the same way as Brother Andrew started our ministry 60 years ago by smuggling Bibles in his Volkswagen Beetle, we can now use the internet to ‘hide’ the Good Message in a smart way and present it in the Arab world.”
The websites and online communities are visited by people from all over the Middle East—from Morocco and Libya to the Arabian Peninsula. An online support team, operating from within the region, is available to minister to online visitors. “Every week there are about 35,000 interactions on the largest Facebook page we work with. This means that people ‘like’ or ‘share’ our posts, or ‘comment’ on them,” says Alex. “In an average week, our team has daily interactions with 35,000 people who visit our page and are usually engaged in at least 25 deeper conversations leading to in-depth heart-to-heart ministry.”
Though reaching half a million likes is a considerable milestone in Open Doors’ online presence; numbers are not the ministry motive. “Our ambition is not in reaching numbers, but in reaching people,” Alex says. “The goal is to get people engaged not only in an online Christian community, but also in an offline community —a local church.”
One of the social media projects Open Doors supports focuses on family values, instructing parents on how to teach their children Kingdom values as they grow up. “For example, If you grow up in a culture where boys and girls are valued differently as reflected in parenting, it is important to share stories of a God who values everyone equally,” Alex explains.
Among the visitors who connected through the sites last month was a lady from Iraq. “This lady always likes to visit our page because she feels that the page makes a difference in her life and plays an important role in her spiritual growth,” a local follow-up worker shares. “She wanted to let us know that she shares the posts, stories, and subjects from the page to stimulate discussions with her friends. She notices a big difference in her friends’ lives in the midst of all the difficulties they face in Iraq right now.”
Other visitors are struggling with loneliness and begin seeking God in their despair after reading one of the uplifting stories posted online. One such example is a young man from the Arabian Peninsula. “He was suffering from loneliness,” shares the follow-up worker. “He contacted us and we are following up with him and speaking with him about his relationship with the Lord. We are encouraging him to keep praying and reading the Bible. He replied, telling us that he feels safe with us and that we’ve helped him grow spiritually and overcome his loneliness.”
Through online media, Open Doors is able to connect directly with Christians in closed countries where churches are struggling to provide a public witness. Many Muslims that may be open to Christ are also seemingly more comfortable communicating about this through anonymous online conversations. Many cannot communicate publicly and openly about these issues because of the strong cultural pressure to keep acting as devout Muslims.
*Names changed for security reasons
Father, we thank You for the technological means You use to further Your kingdom work; that through the internet and social media the Good News of Christ is being heard by people throughout the Middle East, people who otherwise don’t have access to it. Thank You that these means enable Your servants to minister in new ways in this part of the world. Empower the development staff as they create new initiatives to reach out to Christians in the Middle East who are otherwise isolated from fellowship with other believers. And, we pray for follow-up workers as they engage with these Christians online. We pray for Your Spirit to guide new Christians in the Middle East to specific webpages where they can find answers to their questions about Your Word, and as they seek to love and serve You with their lives. In the Name of Jesus, who is gathering His church in the Middle East and beyond, Amen.