I have been privileged to serve the national church in the Middle East and to see God at work. Under the local leadership of the Anglican, Methodist, Orthodox and Presbyterian churches, I helped pastors and directors of church-run non-government organisations (NGOs), in particular through administration for community development projects.
I enjoyed working with these denominations and hold them in high regard. Serving God is considered a real honour and privilege and they do it with zeal.
Little Akram was brought to the Anglican-supported deaf school at nine years of age. He had absolutely no idea how to communicate. When his parents left him at the city boarding school in less than a week, instead of gradually settling him in, Akram was beside himself. He felt abandoned, left with strangers who were making funny signs he could not understand. He expressed his bewilderment through sobs and tantrums that lasted for hours. He was so desperate, they even had to lock the front door to stop him dashing outside onto the busy street.
The director and staff put their Christian faith into action and showed kindness to Akram who slowly began to respond. Although Akram was initially placed in a class with four-year-old children learning sign language from scratch, the teacher soon saw he was very bright. He even started to help his fellow classmates. After extra lessons during the summer break, he moved into a class with children his own age the following year.
One Methodist pastor ministered in a very poor village of about 1500 inhabitants, where illiteracy was estimated at 75%. He saw the need to hold literacy classes and after-school classes to help the children grasp literacy and numeracy so they would not drop out of school. The NGO also provided poor families with school bags with essential items.
It was a joy to see how the children had grasped reading, writing and arithmetic skills. I was struck by the testimony of one teacher who admitted that initially the students were obnoxious, and after struggling for some time she was ready to quit. She prayed with the pastor about the situation. God responded by first giving her a loving heart for the children then an amazing turn-around in the children’s attitudes followed.
The NGO supported many village projects and met with Orthodox priests who were working towards bettering the state of their village communities. One successful program provided small loans to villagers for projects that generated income: loans to purchase goats, sheep, sewing machines, or necessary stock for grocery stores, mobile accessory shops, motorcycle repairs and restaurants. The loans transformed the lives of families – widows could make a living using their sewing machines and men could work locally instead of in the cities, thus keeping their families together.
I attended a large Presbyterian church in the capital city. During the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the church found itself a possible easy target as it was situated just behind a now-famous city square. Instead of closing the church building to the public for protection, the church opened their gates, set up a makeshift hospital and ministered to the wounded. The church also allowed Muslims to use their water so they could perform their ablutions before their prayers, as the nearby mosque was unable to cater to the large numbers. This was a friendly gesture that became a great witness to the people. Many Muslims spoke of the church in a positive way.
Thank you, Interserve, for allowing me to assist Arab Christians in serving their communities and see these people living out their faith through active service.
Written by an Interserve Partner recently returned from the Arab world.