I knew it would be an ambitious undertaking, but I and eleven others decided to discover what God is doing in the Middle East. It wasn’t a tour. This isn’t some travelogue. Sure we wanted to see some things—the Pyramids, Galilee at sunrise, the Jordanian desert, and the fortress at Byblos. We wanted to experience Jerusalem at night, taste the delights of Lebanese food, sing in St. Anne’s church, ride in jeeps in Wadi Rum, dance on the Nile, and descend into the tombs of the Valley of the Kings. But most of all, we wanted to see what God is doing through His church. We wanted to pray with those we have been spending years praying for!
In Israel, we discovered that God is moving ministries to become more holistic. It is not enough to proclaim the gospel. Who will listen if it is not accompanied by compassion and kindness? In the Arab world, there is a greater awareness that attracting people to Jesus begins with reflecting the character of God. In a world of so much turmoil, hate, and mistrust, people take notice when lives demonstrate mercy and truth. Light always transcends the darkness.
It’s when you get into the homes and talk face to face you discover what is really going on. We had the privilege to stay in a Bethlehem guesthouse and hear about the struggles facing a Palestinian family determined to live the love of God. We hung out with a retired Israeli officer and heard stories of heroism and passion. We sat with Russian immigrants and listened to how a Savior rescued them from a life of addiction and prostitution. We saw the church actively ministering to a Kurdish refugee family whose infant child faced life-saving surgery. We had dinner in the home of a woman who is leading an effort to educate the next generation of children to be tomorrow’s godly leaders. We danced under the desert stars with Arabs and their music, sharing our mutual faith and exchanging necklaces. We worked in a refugee camp passing out food to desperate families. We shared tea in a home with a family given to giving homeless women a skill to gain a better life—to the glory of God. We sat down to a lavish meal in Cairo with a family, hearing how God is opening the hearts of people as never before, and discovered this reality when attending an evening worship.
This is not to suggest things are easy. There is a price to be a believer in this part of the world. Many have experienced desperate times. Following God has meant a break with families, a loss of health and jobs, the loss of possessions, and things far worse. As hearts open, the enemy works harder.
I have learned over the years to be leery of news reporting. The real news is seldom heard, especially about this region. The news that really matters is overlooked or ignored. Nations and kingdoms and Presidents make the reports, but they come and go. All of their pomposity amounts to a fleeting vapor. Isaiah’s words are so relevant for these days: “Behold the nations are like a drop from a bucket…He it is who reduces rulers to nothing.”
We get so wrapped up in the moment and lose sight of the bigger picture. We get distracted by the noise and acts of radicals and mischaracterize a region. We get focused on the holy land and ignore the sacred church. We get passionate over sports and their heroes and awed by actors and actresses—but the real heroes are the ones who put their lives on the line to serve God. They play their real selves.