By Ryan Shaw
Ryan Shaw is the SVM2 international lead facilitator.
The reverberations of the bomb shook the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary guest room where we were staying. It was 6:20 am on Thursday, July 12th and the airport in Beirut, Lebanon had just been bombed by Israeli F-16’s.
In the coming days and weeks more bombings would take place as Israel retaliated for the kidnapping of two of their soldiers by Hezbollah. Looking out the window of the room in the hills above the city, we watched plumes of smoke in the distance and saw parts of a beautiful city being slowly laid waste.
Our group of seventy was meeting in Beirut for a conference before dividing up into teams of 6-7 and embarking on outreach throughout the Middle East.
Many questions arose in my mind as this was taking place. The most prominent was how such circumstances played into the purposes and plans of God for the region. Initially I found myself negatively asking how this destruction and loss of human life could come.
“This region has been prayed over for almost a decade since the ‘Praying Through the Window’ saturating prayer initiatives during the mid-90’s… and now this?” I thought. Over the next two and a half weeks the Lord would give me a totally different perspective.
My conversations with people throughout these two and a half weeks gave me a completely new understanding of the hunger in the hearts of people throughout the Middle East. One conversation was with Abdullah, a 22 year old Jordanian man, “Can we meet tomorrow?” he asked.
“I must have an answer to my question!” he bluntly declared. Two of us had already spent an hour and a half in spiritual conversation with him. We articulated the critical pieces of the gospel, and he seemed genuinely interested.
We had given him a New Testament and other Arabic literature as well. We made plans to meet the next day and wondered to ourselves the specifics of his “question.” Abdullah came the next morning having read the three pieces of literature in full over a 24 hour period (except the entire New Testament).
We met for 3 hours in a Starbucks and opened up the Scriptures as he asked questions about following Jesus and the ramifications of doing so. His “question” surrounded his disgust with the hypocrisy of his friends who called themselves Muslims but who drank and did not live moral lives.
His heart was spiritually hungry for truth that was real and this young man personified what we found among many in the country of Jordan.
Many long-term message bearers living in the Middle East have communicated seeing a similar spiritual hunger and disillusionment with Islam increasing. It seems in many ways that this disillusionment could be a critical factor contributing to the timeliness of the hour spiritually for the Middle East.
I also wonder how a natural war breaking out could positively aid in helping street level Muslims be pushed more towards the loving arms of Jesus Christ. Research indicates that more Muslims in the Middle East have come to faith in Christ since 9/11 then in the previous 200 years of outreach to them.
God often uses painful circumstances to bring about transformation and openness to His love in a region or a city. He is shaking the Middle East and many Muslims are asking deeper questions and pursuing true peace that has eluded them through Islam.
Could the natural war also be a reflection of what is taking place in the spiritual realm in the Middle East? Scripture declares that the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and that the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12).
We know that this is not referring to natural force but spiritual force ushered in through prayer and intercession and the bold proclaiming of the gospel in both word and deed. Those who have labored for centuries in the Middle East have had great difficulty and now the hard ground is breaking.
Could their toil and labor and sacrifice coupled with the intense intercession of millions over the past decade focused on the region be finally affecting the first-fruits of transformation and breakthrough? I wholeheartedly believe so!
Signs and wonders, dreams and visions have greatly increased in the last ten years. During this summer’s outreach, two girls serving in Northern Iraq encountered a young woman who had only months previous had a dream of Jesus coming to her and beckoning her to join His family.
She had no clue what this meant but when she shared it with the girls they opened up the Scriptures with her and discipled her. In Beirut last year a young man had a dream where he saw the face of a specific western girl. Not knowing who she was he forgot about it.
Then a few weeks later the same girl was in the park talking to people about Jesus, and he was overwhelmed that God would communicate in such a way with him. He promptly gave his life to Christ.
These are accounts you will not hear about in the media. The enemy’s hope is that through the media believers will be scared away from this region and that the convoluted politics will cause a hopelessness to arise.
Instead, my prayer is that his plans will indeed backfire and that the media attention will only fuel the passions and desires of God’s people to venture into this region with long-term vision, following hard after Him.
Transformation is happening in small steps and needs to be continually fueled by the prayers of the saints and by those who will respond to the call to go into the region and incarnate the love of Jesus Christ. We must respond now to such an opening! Who knows how long it will last.
Fred Markert, a noted mission strategist and base leader for YWAM (Youth With a Mission) in Colorado Springs, tells us that, “If we do not see 200,000 new missionaries raised up in the next 10 years, we could be set back significantly in the cause of world evangelism.”
Inferred in this statement is that these workers need to be sent to the areas of the world that have the least access to the gospel and the lowest number of workers….places like the Middle East. Openness to the gospel in various regions, cities, and towns comes in cycles and it cannot be assumed that openness now means openness 5 years from now.
Hence, a sense of urgency fuels our saturating prayer for the region and calling our campus ministries and local churches to fast and pray for laborers to be raised up who will go as message bearers.
As we begin a new academic year and students are going back to campus, I want to exhort us to keep this part of the world ever before us. Will you commit to stand in the gap in disciplined prayer for the Middle East? Why not start a Global Prayer Team in your church or campus ministry focused on the Middle East.
How about signing the Message Bearer Creed stating your intentions to serve God in the nations once you graduate and committing to go to a city in the Middle East to serve? We will help you connect with the right mission agency that fits your situation.
Maybe God has called you to give to the expansion of the Kingdom. May I encourage you to give lavishly to workers and ministries serving in this region that new works and ministries can be launched.
We’ve sat and watched the global drama of history unfolding before our eyes. Now it’s time to respond and engage in the redemptive plans and purposes of God for this particular region of the world. Don’t let the perceived “cost” hold you back.
Serving God only seems costly when we view our situation from a low and finite perspective. When our sights are raised and we see from God’s perspective we quickly understand that it is not costly, but a true joy, delight, and privilege to participate in God’s in-breaking Kingdom.