After saying goodbye to our partnering staff and the incredible refugee families we met along the Syrian border, we set off for Turkey—a neighbor of Syria that is absorbing millions of people who have been uprooted from their homes because of persecution and conflict.
The past two days here have been absolutely remarkable—a reminder that even under the most impossible circumstances, God is moving in miraculous ways.
We spent time with our network of church planters, Bible distributers, pastors, and ministry leaders who are doing extraordinary work every day.
One of the focuses of our outreach here is to provide New Testaments to Iranians who are living in or visiting Turkey, which has become increasingly common. In the past year alone, God has enabled us to distribute over 25,000 New Testaments here through the faithful work of our partners.
Because of rampant persecution against Christians in Iran, it’s virtually impossible to access Christian literature of any kind there. Despite the scarcity of Christian literature, we’ve found that the hearts of these Iranians are open to Jesus—now more than ever before.
About 95 percent of those who receive Bibles are extremely eager to hear more about the Gospel. Many even ask for more copies to share with their friends and family.
On one rare occasion, an Iranian woman refused a copy of the New Testament. Her explanation came as a great surprise: “Everyone I know who has been given a New Testament becomes a Christian,” she said.
The Word of God is that powerful! Even people who do not accept it understand its incredible strength.
This is why we believe that providing God’s Word is one of the most effective and sustainable ways to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It is a treasure and a comfort to each person who possesses one . . . every page is touched by dozens of hands, every word is contemplated and shared.
There is no greater gift we can give our brothers and sisters than this . . . the hope of Jesus Christ.
After arriving in Turkey, I had the privilege of speaking to a gathering of 40 Middle Eastern Christians—refugees and displaced people from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Morocco—who are part of a groundbreaking program pioneered by my long-time friend and partner, Pastor Ghassan.
It is important to point out that in their countries of origins, these men and women were not impoverished or uneducated . . . they were prominent, influential, hard-working, and provided well for their families.
War and persecution drove them across borders and into Turkey . . . with nothing left to call their own. Many have literally lost every possession, every family member, every cent they ever earned.
They can’t return home, but are not permitted to work as foreigners—leaving millions of capable people without any way of making a life for themselves. Several are waiting to be assigned to host countries across the region by the UN. It is an extremely confusing and uncertain time.
Although these refugees come from different nations and circumstances, they have the most important thing in common: formerly from Muslim backgrounds, each has been radically transformed by the love of Christ and believes they are called to share the Good News with others.
Ghassan’s vision is to empower and equip these men and women to be ambassadors for Christ within their refugee communities (some are currently living in tent communities of as many as 150,000) in Turkey and in host nations around the world.
They will be enrolled in a rigorous two-week training course, where they will be provided with food, lodging, spiritual resources, and strategic insight from Ghassan and his team, who will be their guiding support system long term.
Looking into each of these faces, I knew I was seeing the future of the Gospel in the Middle East and beyond. These are His workers in a field that is ripe for harvest, but riddled with difficulty. They will undoubtedly face persecution, hardship for their faith. Some will even be called to pay the ultimate price for following Christ.
God impressed it on my heart to share from James 1 and to use my own story of enduring cancer to encourage these courageous believers to press on, even when circumstances are immensely painful, even when God Himself seems distant.
The concept struck a chord with many who have been through more suffering than you and I could ever imagine. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Afterwards, we met with several refugee ambassadors who were eager to share their testimonies with us. I was absolutely floored.
I met “Abbas” (name changed for security reasons)—a former Captain in Saddam Hussein’s army. I want to tell you what God did in my life, Abbas said.
After college, I became very disillusioned with religion. I left Islam and followed nothing. One day, a person gave me a Bible. I read through it and thought it was foolish . . . how could people believe this?
I spent 13 years studying other philosophers. Then, one night I had a dream that someone took my hand and opened a Bible with it. I felt something speaking to me face to face. My old philosophies fell away. I read Matthew 11, a personal invitation to come to Jesus. I said out loud, ’Who are you?’
A voice replied, “I am Jesus Christ . . . learn from me.”
I wept and gave my life to Christ. Since that time, I haven’t stopped learning from Jesus. I continued to pray for my wife and children. My marriage was not going well and we had been thinking of divorce. One day I wrote a letter to my wife, (who was an atheist leader at the time) telling her that Jesus changed my life and He can change our lives. Soon after, my wife began having strange dreams. Through these dreams, she also met Christ and received Him as her Lord and Savior.
Abbas, his wife, (now called “Faith”) and their children were forced to flee Iraq when the army discovered Abbas had converted to Christianity. He and his family were interrogated and brutally beaten . . . the situation was dire.
Miraculously, they escaped to Turkey where they were able to find a church and are eager to tell others about Christ.
“We count the hours between Sundays because we love attending church so much,” Faith told me.
Every story I heard was a testimony of God’s extraordinary presence. This is why we are so passionate about equipping these leaders to influence their communities.
They have given up everything to follow Jesus. They love freely and without hesitation. They are generous with what little they have and seek to encourage everyone they meet. These brothers and sisters are willing to risk it all for the ultimate prize of knowing God and making Him known.
God is moving in the Middle East, and we need to move with Him.
I invite you to get involved today. Commit to praying regularly for these believers who face daunting obstacles every day. Pray for our field leaders—for Ghassan and his staff, for our strategic distribution partners, for each and every church planter, pastor, and refugee ambassador.
Finally, prayerfully consider what God would have you do to assist our brothers and sisters bringing the Gospel to the Middle East. Each one of us can play a small part in sharing the life-changing hope of Christ in some of the most hostile and chaotic places on earth.
Stand with me today in support of these incredible believers.