Why the church must remember the largely forgotten believers in the Arab world
Did you know there is a people group vital to the fulfillment of God’s promises in Israel, whom you may not ever have heard anything about? This population segment, too often forgotten or even largely unknown, is the Arab Christian community.
Their story seems small in contrast with the vast, intensifying conflict that marks the war-torn Middle East; but particularly as we see a growing number of Christians worldwide who focus support on the Jewish people and state of Israel, it is vital that we also remember our Christian brothers and sisters and that we show them our support in this critical hour.
The Arab peoples and specifically the Palestinians are perhaps one of the most misunderstood people groups in the world today. Sadly, too many well-meaning Westerners, the terms “Arab” and “Palestinian” are synonymous with “terrorist.” For Christians who stand with the nation of Israel, it is important to understand that this is very often not true at all.
Imagine how painful it must be for our Christian brothers and sisters in this part of the world to be so abjectly persecuted by Muslim religious factions, and on the other hand, to be misunderstood or forgotten by the Christian and Jewish communities.
God has reserved for Himself among the Arabs a remnant people who hear His voice and do His will no matter the cost. And for Arab believers living amid the tumultuous Mid-East conflict, the cost is very high.
In 2007, a young man named Rami Ayad was traveling home from his work with the Bible Society in the region of Gaza, when he was seized and brutally murdered by radical Muslims. Rami left behind a wife and three children (including one yet to be born), and his story has become a sobering reminder of the dangers of living in a region fraught with Islamic terrorism.
Though theirs is not a popular story in the news headlines, Arab and Palestinian believers suffer every day at the hand of those from within their own nations and communities. We must remember these persecuted Arab Christians in love and prayer.
Who Are the Arab Peoples?
If we study the scriptural background of the Arab peoples, we must trace it back to the family of Abraham and his eldest son, Ishmael. Born of Abraham’s Egyptian maidservant Hagar, Ishmael was not to be the son of covenant promise, but nevertheless was appointed by God to a place of blessing in Abraham’s family line.
In Genesis 17:20, God said to Abraham, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”
And fruitful he has been. The Arab peoples now number in the millions. While most adhere to Islam in some form, there is a tiny group of courageous people keeping the flame of the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of remarkable adversity.
For nearly two decades, the Eagles’ Wings Ministry team has taken groups of Bible-believing Christians to Israel to acquaint them with the spiritual and actual roots of their faith in the land of the Bible. An itinerary stop on these pilgrimages is the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Savior.
Unbelievably, the population of Christians in this historically Christian city has dwindled from a vast majority (conservatively at least 70 percent a half century ago), to less than 15 percent today, while the majority of Western Christianity is largely unaware that “on our watch” Bethlehem has become a Muslim stronghold.
Similarly, Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, has gone from having a predominantly Christian population to being only one-third Christian today. What was once a strong Christian majority in these areas has given way to a “Christian Exodus” from the Middle East, largely due to the increase in persecution at the hand of Islam.
We have also worked here in the U.S. to strengthen awareness of and connection to Arab believers. We have been privileged to bring youth from Bethlehem to New York to sow into them and allow them to share their testimonies. Also, we have hosted young Christian Arab leaders to come and speak to groups in the U.S. about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and to give their perspective of the importance of standing with Israel and of linking with God’s heart for the peoples of that region.
Snapshots of Courage
In Bethlehem, our ministry has linked relationally with courageous believers such as Pastor Naim Khoury, pastor of First Baptist Church of Bethlehem. A man who has been shot at multiple times, Khoury’s brother was viciously murdered, and he has endured the bombing of his church by Muslims on more than a dozen occasions. Pastor Khoury and his family have also taken a public stance to support Israel and the Jewish people—a position that has endangered the lives of the Khourys on a daily basis.
The truth is: There are many other groups of Arab believers who have taken similar steps of courage and conviction because of their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
At this time it is critical that we support our brothers and sisters who are suffering daily for the cause of the gospel and who are demonstrating to all of us what it means to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
The global community has just witnessed an unprecedented
movement in the Muslim nations, protesting against heavy-handed regimes and demanding that the voice of the people be heard.
This “Arab Spring” has resulted in the overthrow of leaders whose governments have had a dubious (at best) record of human rights: nations like Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria.
While the assertion of basic human rights such as the ability to vote, non-discriminatory treatment of women and religious freedom, we must understand that the changes we are seeing in the Arab world are not necessarily changes for the better.
Rather, this is a time when we must increase our prayers for these regions, lest an outcome even worse than the prior social and geopolitical climate should take place.
A Promise in the Hour of Need
In this time of uncertainty, the role of Arab Christians takes on a more critical level of importance. Indeed, God has a peace plan of His own.
Can you imagine what would happen if a company of Arab believers, filled with the Spirit of God, would hold their ground and even advance throughout the Middle East, powerfully declaring the Good News of Jesus, the Prince of Peace? What would happen if those—who in the world’s eyes should be haters of God’s covenant purposes—become living testimonies of His power, truth and love?
It has already begun. At the moment of greatest need, God’s
hidden redemptive purpose is springing forth.
As we stand with our Arab brothers and sisters in prayer, giving and co-laboring for the gospel, we will see the glory of the Lord fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.
It will take courage and prayer, but the Lord has given His promise, speaking of those who hold fast His covenant, “I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Is. 56:7).
Aaron Derstine, who has been part of the Eagles’ Wings team full-time since September 2002, serves as office manager and director of the communications department. Aaron ministers regularly in church and conference settings both as a worship leader and teacher. With a passion for ministry among the nations, Aaron has also given leadership to several Eagles’ Wings trips to Latin America and the Middle East.
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