I’ve been thinking about my privilege serving with SAT-7 for now 11 years. What have I seen? What have I learned?
Bar none, the thing that impresses me most is the resilience I’ve seen in how Middle Easterners and North Africans embrace and express their faith.
I’ve met believers from several different countries, many of which are noted for suppression if not periodic persecution of the Christian Church. Some of these friends have directly experienced this kind of difficulty. Yet they are upbeat and optimistic, knowing “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
Some of my Middle Eastern Christian friends have lost friends or family members, yet they trust our Sovereign God.
Some have witnessed churches destroyed and rebuilt, or some have worshipped in secret, yet they praise God.
Resilience. Amazing, and to me, convicting, for I know I have not always been as faithful.
Perhaps not all, but certainly many of my Middle Eastern and North African Christian friends possess an admirable and, I’ll say, workable (meaning it influences their thinking today) understanding of the history of the Christian Church.
Sure, Americans in general, don’t get high marks for being history conscious. In part, because our culture tends to be forward-thinking, always embracing some new version of “Go West young man, go West.” And partly, we don’t get into “old” because “old” for us is maybe 250 years. In the Middle East, a nearby building or at least a notable archaeological site might be 2,500 years old, and many buildings reach back a few hundred years. This, of course, doesn’t even account for the Pyramids.
Middle Easterners understand “old.” They value history, and believers also value the history of the Christian faith. I’ve walked through sections of Old Cairo with a young man who gave me what amounted to a university seminar on iconography, architecture, and more. Great stuff.
The lesson for Americans is that we could improve our wisdom today, and our appreciation and perspective, if we learned more about the knowledge of yesterday, especially relating to the history of Christianity and the Church.
My Middle Eastern and North African Christian friends have taught me time and again to become aware of what’s happening to believers in other countries.
The United States is so big, geographically, that for this and other reasons we tend to focus upon ourselves. This is not all bad, but it limits our grasp of what God is doing in the universal Church the world over.
Middle Easterners live in a region where the largest country, Algeria, is about two-thirds the size of the U.S., and the smallest is Lebanon, smaller than Connecticut, about the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Yet the region is home to more than 500 million, speaking mostly Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish, versus 331 million Americans.
A kind of regional consciousness, and the fact that many of these countries routinely suppress the Christian Church, gives Middle Eastern believers a sense of the Church across borders. The Church universal is more self-aware in the Middle East and North Africa.
On multiple occasions, SAT-7 has hosted live, call-in prayer programs in which adults, and even children, in one country call and pray fervently for believers under duress in another country. It is genuinely moving to hear.
Would that American believers develop a greater interest, not just in missions a la evangelism, which is incredibly important, but in what God is doing around the world in this age.
Middle Eastern and North African believers have long since learned the wisdom of “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). In other words, governments, regimes, politicians, and rulers have rarely been the friend of the Church in the Middle East and North Africa.
Unlike the U.S., where American Christians have long enjoyed the blessings of the First Amendment, in the Middle East and North Africa, freedom of religion is generally curtailed if not denied. So Middle Eastern Christians have learned to place their faith where it belongs, upon Christ and His Word and work, not on the whims of partisanship or ideology or given leaders.
One might legitimately wonder if a time is coming in the U.S. when the Christian Church, Christians, Christian activity in society, and certainly Christian and Biblical values will come under attack if not suppression. In some ways, this has already begun. What God’s providence is for the future, I do not know.
I do know that Americans can learn from our Middle Eastern and North African Christian friends on how to live out our faith in an unfriendly culture or government, how to be resilient in faith, and how to care for believers here and abroad as God continues to work His perfect will.
I salute my Middle Eastern and North African Christian friends for their faith and “how they wear it.” I thank them for what they have taught me.
May God bless and keep them, may He magnify His name in this critical region, and may many more Middle Easterners and North Africans come to saving faith in Christ.
Dr. Rex Rogers
President, SAT-7 USA