God draws near through His people

written by Inger R.

“Would you like to come for coffee?”

The question was directed at Hamid* who is from the Middle East and put his faith in Jesus during the coronavirus pandemic. Declining the kind invitation from members of a church in Switzerland, he explained to Swiss OM worker Salome* that he doesn’t drink coffee.

“You don’t have to drink coffee,” Salome responded, clearing up the misunderstanding. “It only means they want to spend time with you!”

As churches in her home country wish to share God’s love in their international communities, Salome offers intercultural coaching. In response to requests, she comes alongside local believers who wish to learn from her experience of serving in the Arab world for 23 years. “Because I know quite a lot about Islam and Middle Eastern culture, it helps me to know what to expect and what individuals mean,” she described. “I do a lot of explaining about cultures, on both sides.”   

The set time and exact place to live

Salome’s journey of following Jesus began she was 20 years old and seeking purpose in her life. She had heard the gospel from various contacts and desired the peace she could see in one of her colleagues. “When I experienced Jesus, who forgives, gives new life and the assurance of eternal life, I wanted to tell others — to help them find what they are looking for,” she said.  

She moved to the Middle East after sensing God’s prompting to leave Switzerland. “I didn’t want to go, and it unsettled me that there was something God wanted me to do,” she remembered.

God had spoken to her through a prayer meeting for the Middle East at the time of the Gulf War in 1991. She gave up her employment in homecare without knowing the next step. An OM leaflet about serving among Arabs further guided her to move first to Israel and then to another neighbouring country. During the following two decades, Salome and OM colleagues shared their faith as they visited Muslim Arab villages, distributed literature and started an income generating business for ladies in the community.   

“I learned it is important to take time to befriend people, but I really can’t make them believe,” she said. “I learned I can sow seeds, and I need to leave it to Jesus when it is sprouting. He can also send others.” After returning to her homeland in 2015, while many from the Middle East were fleeing to Europe, Salome continues to build friendships among Arabs.  

“I was a stranger in your country,” she often tells those she meets from that region. “I know how it is to need a friend.” Salome can picture where they have come from and understands what it involves to move abroad, learn a foreign language and get to know a new culture. Thankful for everyone who helped her adjust, she now does likewise as part of a team. “I was in a country where people invited me to dinner,” Salome mentions to Swiss believers, grateful for the hospitality she enjoyed when far from home. “Time is the best thing we can give,” she emphasised. “It’s important we take time to talk and listen to those around us.”  

The chance to seek and find God

Today, as Salome teaches German to newcomers in the country, leads Bible studies and helps them in practical ways, she meets individuals from Muslim backgrounds who welcome spiritual conversations. “I want to read the Bible,” one refugee declared, accepting a copy. “I never had the chance in my own country.” Someone else observed the local Jesus followers and wondered at their good deeds. “You do things that make me interested in your God!” he told Salome. Another man accessed the Jesus film in his minority language as she suggested. “When I watched this movie, I realised I lived in darkness,” he confessed. “Now I see.”

The OM worker is witnessing God changing lives like never before. “There is a greater openness,” she said. “More people from the Middle East are coming to faith and sharing about it.” Similarly, in Israel, a church has been established in the area where Salome’s team went on outreaches many years ago. “Believers from other villages are attending,” she reported. “I believe we were part of what God is doing now.”

With great urgency, Salome now motivates local churches in Switzerland to use the opportunities they have. She encourages them to work together, each using their gifts to reach out in their community. “I hope and dream and pray our churches would become more intercultural where people from other backgrounds and cultures not only attend, but play an active role,” she expressed. “I believe it is the time for Muslims to realise who Jesus is and that He is there for them as well.”   

“[God] determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”- Acts 17:26b-27 (NIV)

*Name changed  

 

Switzerland: A volunteer talks to an Arab tourist during a summer outreach in Interlaken. Photo by Anja B.

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