The Middle East: Part 1

It’s taken me a month to even begin putting words to my trip to the Middle East.  There’s a chance if you’ve seen me in person and asked about the trip that I didn’t have much to say.  It’s not because nothing happened; rather quite the opposite was true.  So much happened that it felt impossible to know where to start, or how to do justice to the weight of the things I saw and learned.

And so, long overdue, I’d love to share with you one short story from my trip and one or two things I’ve been learning through this process.  

Let me start by introducing you to Hana (Please note: all names changed name to protect identities).

Hana grew up in a small town outside of Aleppo.  She was curious to learn more about Jesus, but everyone in her town was Muslim so there was no freedom to seek or ask questions, and there were no Christians that she could talk to.

When Hana and her husband left to seek refuge and a better life in Beirut, she was invited to a church with resources to help refugees.  As Hana and her husband started getting connected through the refugee relief programs, she was intrigued by the love she encountered and wondered what made these people so kind and compassionate.  

I met Hana at the church in Beirut, and later my team and I went to visit her home.  While we sat on thin mattresses on the floor of her tiny one-room apartment, the conversation quickly turned to what Hana had been learning about Jesus and some of the questions she had.  She mentioned Lazarus and that she wanted to learn more about his story, so I asked her if she would want to read the story together.  Our translator helped her download a Bible app on her phone, and together we read John 11 and talked about how Jesus not only had compassion for Lazarus and his family, but also that Jesus is incredibly powerful and can conquer death.

Hana kept coming back to how loving Jesus is, as well as how loving the followers of Jesus are.  “The love is unbelievable,” she kept saying in reference to the Christians she had met in Beirut.  And while Hana said she still isn’t ready to call herself a Christian, she did invite our translator to come with her to church, and she said she couldn’t wait to talk to her husband that night about what she was learning about Jesus.

Much like Hana, millions of refugees have fled their homes under devastating circumstances.  In the midst of this mass migration, people who otherwise never would have heard the gospel are resettling into new communities and for the first time in their lives encountering the good news of Jesus Christ.  Not only that, but the hostility and violence of an extremist Muslim sect like ISIS is causing many in the Muslim world to reevaluate their own faith.  So when these refugees flee the violence of their hometowns and are met with the unbelievable love of followers of Jesus, it results in a movement of the Holy Spirit unlike anything I could ever have imagined.  

I heard story after story of Muslims who had dreams or visions of Jesus and are now Christians — our team even met a former ISIS soldier who is now a Christian because of a vision he had about Jesus.  

In the midst of incredible hardship and darkness, the beauty and power of the gospel continues to shine brightly.  One of the most pressing questions I’ve wrestled with while on this trip and ever since being home comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

 “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.”

As I consider the refugee crisis, and stare in the face of the greatest humanitarian crisis of my generation, I’ve been thinking about the gospel in a new way.  Is losing everything, fleeing a war torn country, and living in impoverished circumstances worth it if that’s what it takes to come to know Jesus?  In my comfortable life here in America, this verse is a nice abstract idea.  In the countries we visited, it’s a reality.  Many people did lose everything, and yet they gained Christ.  Many face persecution and death threats from their family if they leave Islam to follow Jesus, yet still choose to become a Christian anyway.  

It’s no wonder there is a revival happening in the Middle East because the followers of Jesus are holding nothing back.  In Hebrews 11 we read about men and women of faith “of whom the world was not worthy.”  As we spent time with the churches, pastors, staff, and volunteers in the Middle East, that phrase kept running through my mind.  I met so many men and women of incredible faith, worked in churches that are a bright light of hope in their community, and walked alongside pastors that are spiritual giants.

It’s been a month since I returned, and the truth is I still don’t know how to adjust to being home.  My mind and heart keep wandering to the people I met, the devastation I saw, and the ways I witnessed God at work.  I’m sure over the next couple months I’ll continue to unpack and process all that I saw and learned, but there’s two things I know for sure coming back from this trip:  there’s a revival happening in the Middle East, and I’ll never be same because of this trip.

Please continue to pray for the churches and the refugees in the Middle East.  God is up to something incredible in that little corner of the world!