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The Paradox of Ministry in Today’s Middle East

Elie Haddad, ABTS President | 16 October 2014 | Last month I attended the European Baptist Federation’s Council meetings in Bucharest. Baptist leaders from all across Europe and the Middle East participated in these meetings. Several leaders from various Middle Eastern countries gave an update of their ministries. The expectation was to hear about the terrible tragedies that are taking place in the Middle East. We heard some of that, which is no different from what we hear every day in our news media. However, we also heard another side of the story, a story that is not told by the news media. A story of God at work in the middle of all the tragedies. A story about churches being transformed by the dreadful situation around them, moving from a survival-mode attitude to a community of God’s people that has a loud and clear prophetic voice, churches that are discovering how to be agents of hope in the middle of hopelessness around them and agents of reconciliation despite the violence surrounding them. A story about people of different faiths and backgrounds encountering the Gospel for the first time in their lives through the church communities that are caring for them holistically. No one expected to hear stories from Syria and Baghdad about local churches that are taking the initiative of gathering their own limited resources and putting them at the disposal of displaced people that are in dire need of help. Christians in our part of the world are re-discovering their role as they are experiencing a deeper understanding of the Gospel.
What we did not hear in the Middle Eastern presentations is that the churches are seeing themselves as victims. There is this global perception that Christians in our region are victims of the various wars and conflicts that are taking place. Christians are suffering for sure, but not exclusively. Large groups of people are suffering, too. Martin Accad, in his recent IMES blog article ( , challenged our thinking about who is a minority, who is a majority, and how we need to start thinking about the conflict. Martin called us away from the minority complex. Similarly, we need to be challenged away from a victim complex. The Church in the Middle East is not the victim. On the contrary, the Church has the privilege of being a much-needed light in the darkness around it. It has the privilege of being a “city on a hill”, proclaiming the love of Jesus to a needy region.

The Church in the Middle East is being persecuted for sure. Christians are being targeted. But this is not a reason to give up or to run away. As Christians and the Church are being increasingly marginalized, we are discovering that the Gospel works much better from the margin. As Christians and the Church are progressively losing power, we are discovering that the call of Jesus works best through powerlessness, which is not to be confused with weakness. The Church is not weak. Its source of power, however, is very different from what one would expect. The power of the Gospel does not come in numbers or in wealth or in earthly authority. Rather, the power of the Gospel comes from Jesus Himself through the Holy Spirit. The Church is being transformed in our region as it wrestles with what it means to carry on ministry from the margin through powerlessness.

Many appeals have been sent by Middle East Christians to the global Church for help. We need the support of the global Body of Christ to be able to accomplish His mission for the Arab world. We are grateful for the way the global Church is supporting us and empowering us. Actually, we would not be where we are had it not been for the strong backing that we have. However, our invitation to the Western Church today should not be to come and save us, or to come and protect us. We are not victims. We are not looking for a new “Christendom” in our region or for a new wave of military crusaders. Our invitation for the global Church today is to come and join us. Join us in proclaiming the love of Jesus to everyone in the region, to our friends and to our enemies.

For more information, read about the ministry of two ABTS graduates in the midst of armed conflict in our October 2014 Newsletter.