God is still working his purposes out in every nation, as the New Year comes in. A round-up from some Middle East mission organisations highlights what some of these might be, in war-torn lands.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled from Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan to the West, migration on a scale not seen since the Second World War.
Mike Parker of MECO UK & Ireland says, ‘Our calling is to see these transitions as our brothers and sisters in the Middle East see them: as opportunities for the gospel’. He quotes Pastor Nour of Jordan saying, ‘Nothing is an accident; the Lord is moving people from area to area for a purpose’.
While this is a challenge for Christians in the West, another challenge remains for those left behind. According to MECO, many Christian leaders in the Middle East are calling on the West, not for visas, but for help so they can ‘live and work and witness as Christians in our country’.
Indeed, this push-back in the region means a witness to Christ remains. Many Muslims are starting to question their own beliefs in the light of Islamist oppression and are turning to Christ.
But where can they hear the gospel? This is where front-line missions are helping to bring light in the darkness. Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International, told ET, ‘God is at work in the shaking that we see taking place around the world.
‘In Iraq, for example, Christian refugees have been fleeing to the relative safety of Kurdistan, along with Muslims and Yazidis. Release has been strengthening the church in Kurdistan. As a result, many Iraqis are deepening their commitment to Christ and some are coming to Christ’.
The same picture is emerging around the Middle East, with ‘nominal Christians being renewed in their faith’, Mr Robinson said, adding that, ‘The horror of Islamic extremism is driving some God-fearing Muslims to Christ’.
Trans World Radio (TWR) began broadcasting in Central Asia/Middle East/North Africa in 1965. One listener from Iraq contacted TWR to say they had been listening in Mosul, Iraq, for more than 17 years, and had become a Christian as a result.
In 2014 TWR began broadcasting from a new transmitter in an undisclosed location in the Pakistan/Afghanistan/North India region. In the first year of broadcast, the team received more than 12,000 calls from listeners, ranging from ‘I just want to follow Jesus’ to ‘I just want to break my radio’. It has also been broadcasting ‘Hope for Syria’ since 2013, for those unable to leave their homeland.
The Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF) speaks of a dire need but a greater God. ‘In Iraq, churches have either disappeared or greatly diminished. Soon there might be little or no Christian witness in Iraq. A similar thing could be said about Libya.
‘But for the intervention of the army, Egypt would have gone the same way. If Assad is deposed in Syria, who knows what regime might take control?’
Yemen is also under attack by Saudi forces, leaving many in great poverty and hardship. MERF has contact with isolated believers, helped by the Arabic gospel broadcasts, but it is difficult to give practical aid.
The statement continued: ‘Overall, God’s sovereign purposes are seen in the good response to the MERF Arabic media programmes. Isolated believers gain comfort from the messages, but many Muslims, disaffected by all the violence and conflict in the name of Islam, are showing interest in the gospel of Christ’.
Romans 11:1-6 reminds and encourages us,:‘Has God rejected his people? By no means! God says: I have kept for myself 7000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace’.