While we read in the news and see on television awful scenes of war, poverty and persecution in the Middle East, we may forget the very human reality of our fellow Christians behind those headlines and images. We are returning from a missions trip to the Middle East, as I write, where we were working alongside missionaries who are supported by Uptown Church. While we went to be helpful in teaching on marriage and parenting, we came away encouraged by the faith, the joy, the love and the perseverance of these saints who call the Middle East their home. Here are a few snapshots of that perseverance:
George is a pastor who planted a church in the middle of a poor community, teeming with people. He had the church built secretly, using his life savings, under the guise of it being a large house for himself, then a community center, because the Islamic government resists not only the expansion but the very existence of the church. George has worked patiently reaching out and building this church, it can take 20 years of gradually establishing a church before the authorities will allow it to exist officially. George and his family live in an apartment over the area where the church worships, his home is a constant open house to the many in need in church and community. Our team, after teaching, was graciously welcomed into his home to break bread. We are struck by their joy, their smiles, and their perseverance.
We visited and helped with a preschool that the missionaries helped to establish and run. The street of the school is among the poorest I have seen. The facilities are, for each new team who sees them, shockingly sparse. But the Christian teachers work faithfully year after year training these ostracized children of minority Christians to understand and celebrate being people of the Bible. Little Lydia wanted to climb in the laps of each of our team members, what a sweetheart. We are struck by the joy of the teachers and the children, their smiles and perseverance.
We worshiped and taught twice with a Sudanese congregation. The pastor comes from the war-torn north and regularly ventures back to minister to the hurting there as he cares for a vast network of Sudanese churches. Many in the church are students, others refugees hoping for a more stable life in this new country. As we taught on parenting, one young mother asks how she can parent effectively when her husband is still back in Sudan. Another mother mourns the difficulty of parenting as a widow, a common problem among the Christians of Sudan. We are struck by the joy of these Sudanese who have left home behind, their smiles are infectious, their love for Jesus, their perseverance in the faith.
Fred was a leader in a Mosque before being lead to faith by a fellow Arab who befriended him and eventually challenged him to read the Bible. Persecuted and imprisoned for his faith, he is now a faithful and skilled worker in the ministry, raising a Christian family. As one who has become a personal friend over my 16 years of visits, his embrace is unusually warm. We were all struck by his smile, his joy in the Lord, even as he recounted his persecutions and his perseverance in serving the Lord these many years.
We went to encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith but received from them an unforgettable lesson in perseverance. We may at times think of perseverance as grudging, dutiful, slogging along in the trenches. But here in this Middle Eastern country perseverance also comes with a warm smile and deep joy.
Author: Dr. Tom Hawkes