The Arabian Peninsula Partnership
The Gospel for every person and a church for every people in the Arabian Peninsula amongst indigenous peoples
By the sweat of your brow!
"I never would have expected to meet someone who was so ready for the gospel," wrote Johnny, an oil engineer who worked in the Arabian Peninsula. "My friend Ali had a dream of Jesus, jump-starting his pilgrimage in search of the truth. He took me into his confidence because he did not dare to share it with his family. For hours we poured over the Scriptures, often deep into the night. What a joy it was to walk with him through this amazing adventure of discoveries. He was so excited about every bit of Jesus he encountered, absorbing everything like a sponge. I felt on top of the world to see him so joyful, and we shared many tears of joy together.I can only pray that God would protect him from the pain and persecution that lie ahead when his family would find out about his new belief. Yet it is God who has done it all up to now, so He will be able to carry Ali through the next chapter of faith too." Seeing visible fruit is such a highlight in every worker"s life, seeing God's powerful hand at work in someone's life.
"Why are you so different?" asked a curious co-worker in Matt's office. "You are not like the other Westerners I have seen on TV. You don't drink or smoke or swear. You are interested in me and took great care to learn our local customs and culture." The perception that the values and actions portrayed by Hollywood come from the "Christian West" is quite common. Muslims in general are quite thankful that they are not as bad as the "Christians" portrayed by TV soap operas. "You are so good, you should become a Muslim too," he continued. Living a life of good deeds is high on the agenda of most Muslims. When they see a foreigner in their midst whose lifestyle is different than expected, they are drawn to him or her like a magnet. Just what or who is it that makes them so different and attractive? Of course we know the answer : Jesus!
"I feel like a glorified driver. All I seem to do all day long is to drive my wife or kids around," groaned Charley, one of the men working in Saudi Arabia. Women are not allowed to drive there, so their men need to take them around, or hire a driver for them. "It feels to me that my wife has much more of a ministry than I have. She is visiting all the other ladies around the city, seeing progress, hearing stories, making headway, while I just drive or work at my office all day." For many men who have to follow the cultural norms this causes tension and frustration. Some are able to use their jobs as a platform for ministry and witness, while others are frustrated by their lack of time for meaningful relationships due to their long hours in the office or field.
"I know my work matters to God, but somehow I feel I should do more." Yet God might ask us to just be obedient to His voice, content to do only what He tells us to do."My wife's love language is quality time. Yet I don't find enough time left to spend with her. The pressures of work, ministry and Arab friends seem to absorb so much of my time that my wife feels left out, abandoned and neglected," confessed Peter to his friends at the coffee shop. Peter found himself to his own surprise to be spending more time with his friends than his spouse or family. Often friendships in the Middle East demand a lot more than those in the West, asking you to be available at any time, day or night, expecting you to drop whatever you were doing to spend time with them. It is not uncommon to hear complaints like "why are you not visiting me more often" or "why are you in such a hurry to get home". Finding a healthy balance between family life and ministry will always remain a challenge in the Middle East, where a high emphasis is put on segregated relationships in the wider community. "That means that even if we as a couple should visit the same family, we will visit them at different times or places. Men will visit men, ladies will visit ladies." It is highly unusual to visit together as husband and wife in some of the Arab countries. Yet God plans for families and singles to influence nations for His name sake.
"I have a PhD, but the only job I could find was to teach in a secondary school," sighed Luke one evening over a cup of sweet Arabic tea. "I had to swallow my pride for the sake of God's calling, and enter a field that's not even my field of expertise. I feel like I'm losing my professional skills all the time, yet I have great relationships with my students. They constantly ask me about my faith and beliefs, and we spend many hours a day discussing things. Ministry-wise, it's a winning situation, but deep inside I feel like I'm losing something of my identity too." Some tentmakers are forced to choose between their careers and their calling for ministry, while others have the pleasure of combining both. Yet God will make wise that which is foolishness in the eyes of the world.
"When my contract was not renewed, it felt like the world was coming to an end. I worked so hard professionally to get ahead, and then suddenly I was without a job. My identity of who I was and the respect and self worth it brought were suddenly stripped away. I felt like a failure, miserable and without direction. I have applied for many jobs since, but as the days become weeks I feel I should maybe apply for a job back home. Maybe God's plan for my ministry and life here is over?" Adam's life came to a standstill when he lost his job, bringing him to a healthy time of evaluation and reflection. Losing one's security and self worth heavily impacts the self image too, no matter where you live. Many men went through a crisis of belief when they lost their jobs. Some were penalized due their ministry and outreach, while others will never know why they were fired. "The first job I applied for back home accepted me. It's hard to believe that God would like me to return home, after investing so much in the language and culture. It seems like such a waste to me, pulling us out of here with no one to replace me." Yet God is our real boss who sends us where He wants us to be a blessing.
"I feel so small and useless even the kids laugh at me," confessed a network engineer who started to learn full time Arabic at one of the local language schools. Becoming a child again is a painful process for many, learning to say "Hi" and "Goodbye" all over again. Having so much to share and say, and yet not having the vocabulary or grammar to communicate is a constant struggle for language students. Many were on top of the ladder in their profession, and yet had to start all over again from the bottom with the language, slowly climbing and slipping until competence is restored. Perfection will elude most, leaving them with a growing sense of "I will never make it" or "I've just realised how little I know". Yet God will communicate His love with or without language to the people through their lives.
"My midlife crisis crept up on me unawares, leaving me restless and uneasy in my profession and ministry. Some of my friends changed careers, did some further studies, or made some foolish decisions regarding their marriage or finances. I wish I knew what God wants me to do next. I have a vibrant ministry, great relationships with locals, wonderful opportunities every day to witness, yet there's that nagging feeling that I am missing out on something," said Philip in a moment of reflection. Some men (and women) feel they are in a rut, while others feel they are spread thinly all over the place. Yet God uses them as His instruments of light in all stages of life. It's God's work after all.
"I am the only worker left in this town. The only other family here was forced out of the city by the local Islamic religious leaders. This is such an isolated town, with few job opportunities or attractions for foreigners. I just can't understand why I have to work here alone, or why God does not call others to join me. For years I have prayed for more helpers, but none came. For me it's only an act of obedience. Evangelism is not my primary gift, so I find it an effort to meet local people at the coffee shops. I would have loved to do discipleship with someone, but the only interested Arab moved away too. If it were not for God's calling on my life, I would have left long ago to another area to be part of a team of like minded people. Yet I do not sense God has given me permission to move away yet," wrote a Christian worker from his office. Dealing with the reality of missions, where we are often placed in less than ideal situations, is hard. Our calling is tested over and over again. We are often stretched thin beyond our experience and training, stripped from our self reliance and confidence to become totally dependant upon God. Even if our expectations are not met, God is able to make us fruitful in His kingdom. Even if we are only sowing seeds, someone will follow who will be able to reap the harvest.
"I wish I could do something for him. I feel so helpless," said Joe in a moment of reflection. "Mohammed was my first friend and convert in this region. He grew to love Jesus, and flourished in his faith. Then his wife discovered his Bible, and his family turned against him. It was not long before he ended up in jail for his belief and testimony. I so wish I could have changed the course of history, sparing him the pain of persecution. Somehow I feel a bit guilty for not being there for him in this time, but its impossible for me to visit him in jail. I can only pray for him daily, trusting God that this time of hardship and isolation will be used by Him to bring forth even greater fruit in his life. It feels like a sword in my soul every time I think of him in his cell, suffering because he loves Jesus, mocked for his faith, ridiculed for his beliefs." Walking the road of discipleship with someone is often more painful than witnessing to those who don't want to hear. Yet God is at work: it's His child after all!