By Etienne Piek, Mergon Foundation regional manager: MENA
A Kingdom perspective on the MENA region
The Middle East and North Africa has been a region of conflict and major socio-political shifts over many decades. The refugee crisis of the last decade (Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan) as well as economic instability due to corruption and the destructive work of extremist groups has deepened the crisis. One could easily assume that this is the most hopeless season in the recent history of the region, but there is another narrative… one of new opportunities and breakthroughs for the gospel to transform lives and bring hope in the midst of darkness and despair.
Recent trips to Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan confirmed that this is indeed a season of the greatest harvest ever in history. People in the region are disillusioned with the majority religion and their lives have been destroyed on so many levels. They are desperate, asking existential questions and are open for an alternative that will bring hope and restoration. This alternative is found in the gospel of Jesus and as believers and Christian organisations address the primary needs of food, shelter and work, many open their lives to Jesus. Testimonies also confirm that around 33% of all those who come to know Jesus have a direct encounter with Him through dreams and visions!
Our Mergon partners in the MENA region embrace these opportunities despite the challenging context. We are so inspired by their commitment and dedication to stay in the region and to reach out in love to the disillusioned, broken, hopeless and displaced. Let us not forget that they are personally affected too and have to steer their own families through the storm. Simultaneously they have to resource their Kingdom activities in an environment of scarcity.
From our perspective at Mergon Foundation, it is critical to be aware of the challenges that these partners face and to support them strategically.
We propose that the following should be part of a funding approach to the region (at least for this season):
The ministry of presence: The biggest resource we can give at present is to be physically close to our partners. Many have run out of resilience capacity and need someone to just be with them and pray with them.
Leadership and team health: An investment that would allow leaders and their teams to take a break from their emotional warzone will yield much in terms of future resilience and capacity. If only for this season, funders have an opportunity to also focus on the faces behind the activities and numbers, becoming partners who equally share in the burden of a demanding season.
Collaboration and synergy: We all acknowledge that the challenge/opportunity in any given nation is bigger than any one organisation. There is much to say for collaboration and synergy between funding agencies. Working together and serving as complementing partners will lessen the burden on ministries to respond to the unique requirements of individual funding partners and create a safe environment of cross reference and support.
We are seeing how compassionate action through ministries like feeding programmes, skills development and education is also opening the door to the gospel in unprecedented ways. In addition, mercy and truth together are on seamless display (Ps. 85:10).
“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
The reality of the broken context is an invitation and opportunity for ministry partners to love well and bring the Kingdom of God tangibly close to people. Ministry focused on children, youth, and women within, especially the displaced communities, seems to be at the centre of God’s heart for this time and season.
Key opportunities present themselves in the following areas:
Education: Specifically in displaced communities, the need for education is significant. Since children and young people are the focus and women can be trained as teachers, education serves as a key to bring hope, shape lives, and engage in a long-term discipleship journey.
Vocational training: The Middle East region is the region in the world with the highest number of unemployed young people. Displaced communities also rarely have access to generate an income – despite the wide variety of skills available. Vocational training not only restores dignity, but also provides an opportunity to share Christ’s love and disciple others to do the same.
Engaging atheism through apologetic platforms: Many in the region are not just turning away from the majority religion, but from religion in general. Apologetic platforms create an opportunity to engage around deeper questions of life and religion. The approach is being used effectively to engage (rather than convince) in love and allow individual journeys of exploration.
Technology: The development and use of technology have become extremely important in the region. Supporting ministries who utilise this tool for evangelism and discipleship exponentially expand their reach within the region. It also creates opportunities to train indigenous converts to reach their own with contextually relevant content, whilst receiving an income.
Traveling within the MENA region stirs two strong emotions: on the one hand one’s heart is broken by the level of hopelessness due to the hugely challenging context. On the other hand, one is so inspired and touched by the commitment of those who choose to stay behind to be instruments of hope and change. Let us make use of every opportunity to pray for and support those who lay down their lives to see His Kingdom come!
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