Wars. Rumors of war. Fighting, killing, and carpet bombing. These are just a few of the images and thoughts that come to most of our minds when we think about the Middle East. We are inundated with images of terror, radicalism, and chaos–yet, after spending almost two weeks in Egypt, I can say that the reports are greatly exaggerated.
Pastor Carey Akin and I left in June to come alongside and help train almost 200 men and women from Upper Egypt, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Sudan over the course of five days. The conference was hosted by the International Leadership Institute and their partners in the Middle East, and saw pastors and church members, young and old, coming from difficult circumstances to be trained in the eight Core Values of Christian Leadership. The hope was that these men and women would take what they have learned and multiply it in their contexts all over Egypt and parts of Sudan.
It was a marathon of teaching and relationship building for Carey and me, allowing us to hear stories that humbled us and caused us to rejoice at the wonders of God. One story came from an Egyptian missionary working in the Darfur region of Sudan; he and his wife are the only Christian workers for hundreds of miles and since Christianity is illegal in Darfur, he uses his woodworking business as a way to hire help, giving him the opportunity to witness to and disciple these folks. In the past few years, he has seen hundreds of people come to Jesus through this method! Another Pastor we met had seen great violence done against his family due to his wife’s conversion to Christianity. In spite of this, his church was vibrant and glowing. Still others in the group came from Yemen and were the only Christians they knew of in their entire city; despite circumstances beyond belief, the joy of the Lord shone through their life and leadership.
From this Gideon’s army-sized group came the declaration to disciple over 300 other people in Egypt and Sudan, as well as plant multiple churches all over the Middle East. The church is growing, people are coming to faith, and the tides are beginning to change. Isaiah 35: 1 prophesies that, “The wilderness and the land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.” This was coming true in front of our very eyes.
I implore you to continue to pray for the Middle East. Pray for the vibrant and growing church there; pray for people to come to Jesus through the church and even through supernatural encounters. Pray for peace and resolution to the Syrian war. Pray that God would break our hearts for the region of the world that gave us Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Jesus. The reports that only bad is happening in the Middle East are greatly exaggerated, but the reports of God moving all over the region are far from exaggerated; the Middle East shall be saved!