You may think that the church is having a hard time in the Middle East and North Africa, as it struggles with the rise of armed fundamentalist militias, government crackdowns and civil war.
You would be right, but that is only half the story.
According to Martin Accad, director of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Lebanon, who will be speaking at the BMS World Mission Catalyst Live event in October, this is one of the most exciting times for the church in the Middle East for years.
“In this part of the world, there has been more fruitfulness in ministry over the last three decades than there has been over centuries,” Accad told Cliff Vaughn in an interview with EthicsDaily.com.
“It is pretty obvious that God is doing something new. It is not that our techniques have become better; it is not because we have become smarter. I think God is truly at work, he is redeeming this region, he is meeting people, people are seeing him in dreams and visions.”
BMS World Mission worker Arthur Brown, who works with Accad at IMES, agrees.
“In the region lots of exciting things are happening,” Brown said. “It is a volatile time as well. God is using the emergency situations to bring people towards the Church, which is incredible.”
Brown and Accad organized the Middle East Consultation June 16-20 at IMES to explore discipleship in the Middle East and North Africa.
The consultation had input from five theologians but the emphasis was on listening to stories from people across the region and discussing the theme in groups.
“The thing we were trying to do was to listen to what God was doing rather than talk about what he should be doing,” Brown said. “It was an opportunity to listen, not judge, not critique, but to just explore what he is doing and be wowed and amazed by what he is doing.”
Some of those who shared were Muslim-background believers, who had come to Christ through a dream or vision.
The question this raises is how the Church should respond to people having this experience of meeting Jesus?
One approach suggested at the consultation was using the Quran alongside the Bible.
“Some will start with the Quran, introducing Isa [the Islamic name for Jesus] and then use the Bible over time,” Brown said. “As you help someone interpret their dream, using their existing frame of reference is a really helpful tool.”
For other Muslim-background believers, there is the challenge of being accepted both by their historical community and the church.
It was not only Christians that spoke at the consultation. Sheikh Mohammed Abu Zaid, senior judge of the Sunni religious court in Sidon, discussed the issue of apostasy from an Islamic perspective.
“An important part of the consultation was to hear the voices of Muslims in the context of where we are seeking to disciple and witness,” Brown said.
Listening to God and to each other was not only the focus of the consultation but also a lesson for church leaders to take on board.
“The strong message was you need to be alongside those that are coming to faith from whatever background, to get to know them, journey alongside them, and be there during the highs and the lows,” Brown said. “We need ideally to work with them to develop a narrative that helps them explain their faith within their community that avoids them being rejected by it, if that is possible. We need people to listen.”
Chris Hall is the editor of BMS World Mission’s Engage magazine. A version of this news article first appeared on the BMS website and is used with permission. You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrishallnewb and BMS @BMSWorldMission.