Why the church must seek opportunities to minister to Arab believers
Egypt has been in the news a lot during the past 12 months. News footage of protesters in the streets has played in the background as we share family meals and live our everyday lives. Often the images of what’s happening are violent, and make us thankful we’re not caught in the crossfire.
As the mission field in our post-Christian society gets nearer to our own doorstep, there’s a tendency to focus our efforts only on those within our safe, familiar cultures. While we should adapt our missions philosophy to the 21st century world, we shouldn’t ignore foreign mission fields and less-reached people groups. In fact, what we will find is that, as other parts of the world experience civil unrest, our outreach is needed more than ever.
My wife, Judy, and I flew into Cairo, Egypt, just five days after 25 people were killed in a fresh burst of bloodshed in that city. We were on our way to Alexandria for a ministry appointment. Many of the victims killed in this clash were fellow believers—Christians who were killed while protesting the burning of a church in the southern province of Aswan.
Before leaving on this journey, we saw that more violence was breaking out. I wasn’t sure I should travel to such a hostile place with my wife. We are co-pastors of our church, and I serve as president of Elim Fellowship, a network of 900 ministers, 150 international workers and 200 churches. We need to consider the people who depend on us in these organizations when we put our lives in harm’s way. However, we carry such a burden for this nation.
I have been ministering there for 10 years now, and didn’t want to deny the Christian leaders in Alexandria the ministry they needed because of fear or doubt. In fact, the day after the attacks happened, I received an email from the conference organizer from Operation Serve International expressing how hungry the pastors in the region were to receive refreshment from the hand of God. After prayerfully consulting with the leadership of Elim Fellowship and Love Joy Church, Judy and I decided to go.
We were greeted by 250 national Arabic-speaking pastors who came for four days of intense training on how to lead like Jesus. Judy and I taught on leadership principles and ministered individually to many of these men.
Several pastors commented on the hardships they deal with day-to-day. One pastor had his car torched by a Muslim neighbor whom he had considered a friend. Another pastor’s house was ransacked just a day before the conference. Everything he had was stolen.
The economic situation for Christians in Egypt is even worse than for their Muslim neighbors. Not only are they persecuted; they are also discriminated against in hiring and in every aspect of life. We stayed in the same compound with them; we ate together, shared together and cried together. They expressed to us how encouraged they were in their spirits to continue on in their ministries in spite of the opposition they face.
Christians make up a dwindling 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million-plus population. It is humbling to speak to pastors who are not only willing to lay down their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ, but live and work in a place where that is a real possibility every day. God is doing a work within the Arab Christian community, and your connection to the Arab world matters. As we continue to see increased turmoil in the Middle East, we cannot forget that we are called to minister life and hope in the midst of it.
Ron Burgio is the president of Elim Fellowship, an association of 900 pastors, ministers and missionaries, as well as 200 affiliated churches. He has been senior pastor of Love Joy Church in Lancaster, N.Y., since 1984. Along with other pastors in Buffalo, N.Y., he gives visionary leadership to the region. He is the author of Living in the Spirit of Revival. He often ministers to missionaries, pastors, leaders and churches in various cities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Europe, Asia, Central America, Africa and the Middle East.