When I was a child and my family moved to the United States, many worried about us. They worried about gangs, drugs, and kidnappings. That’s because, in our view, the United States was an incredibly dangerous place. Now, certain parts of the country might fit this description, but every American knows that not all of America is the same. This is true of the Middle East. There is great diversity in the region.
Yes, there are deserts throughout, but you can also find some of the world’s most beautiful ski slopes and beaches. Many countries prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol, but you can find one of the world’s top-rated bars less than a five-minute walk from our church in Lebanon. There are many Muslims in the Arab world, but don’t forget that this is the birthplace of Christianity. Not all of the Middle East is the same.
If you’re preparing to serve in the Middle East as a missionary, it’s important to know that the gospel of Jesus has been preached here since Jesus himself walked the earth. There is a historic Christian presence in the region and, therefore, a general consciousness of Christianity. Over the centuries as different political parties, rulers, and regimes have come to power and with the influence of varying religions, there have been positive and negative expressions of Christianity in the region. As a result, you’ll find those who are open to the message of Christianity, hostile to the message, and largely indifferent to it.
Though the Christian presence in the Middle East dates back to the early church, there is a gospel absence.
Though the Christian presence in the Middle East dates back to the early church, there is a gospel absence. Sadly, for reasons that are too many to mention here, the gospel has largely been lost throughout the Middle East. And so, allow me to mention three quick points that any aspiring missionary to the Middle East should know.
View Language Learning Rightly
Learning Arabic and the local dialect is good and helpful, but it’s not everything. Certainly, in some areas, it is more crucial than others such as a rural village in the Syrian mountains. But you can reach millions of Arabic speakers through the English language. Don’t overlook this wonderful opportunity!
As you consider your missionary ambition with your church, think together about where you’re being sent, what you’re being sent to do, and whether you need to prioritize learning Arabic, or not.
Understand the Proper Place of Contextualization
You can’t be a faithful missionary without some basic contextualization, but contextualization isn’t everything. You don’t need an expert knowledge of Islam or a deep grasp of Arab customs and culture before you can make genuine friendships. Prepare well, but when you are there, build friendships and tell people about Jesus.
You don’t need an expert knowledge of Islam or a deep grasp of Arab customs and culture before you can make genuine friendships.
I’ve seen it over and over where a person would make a cultural faux pas, but their humility and genuine love for Jesus and the person covered any mistake they might have made. Proper contextualization has its place, but it’s not everything.
Remember the Centrality of the Gospel
The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Without a bold and clearly proclaimed gospel message, language learning and contextualization are meaningless.
Since biblical Christianity isn’t rightly represented in the Middle East, and because the gospel is largely assumed by those who identify as Christians, a missionary needs to be clear on the gospel. It’s vital to understand the depth, beauty, and power of the gospel because if you don’t, you will lose heart and your efforts will be fruitless.
In the Middle East, we need a real display of the gospel in renewed lives. Those who don’t know Christ need to see Christ in you. And when you’re able to explain the reason for the hope you have, with joy, passion, and clarity, nothing else is as beautiful or as important.