A man flips through the Bible. Photo by RJ Rempel.

In 2023, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) area experienced crises ranging from natural disasters to full-scale war, yet gospel workers are seeing God work in unexpected ways.

Crisis after crisis dominated headlines from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) area in 2023: the outbreak of civil war in Sudan, then violent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza; an earthquake, a flood and increasing persecution of believers in North Africa; added to ongoing unrest in the Arabian Peninsula, Near East and North Africa. 

These conflicts, natural disasters and humanitarian crises are affecting millions in an already tense region of our world. The human cost is high. Amid the suffering and seeming hopelessness, it's natural to feel a heaviness of the heart. With so much suffering, will God work through these events? 

OM has recently been hearing from ministry leaders across MENA. While the crises they continue to face are difficult, they are also able to take great encouragement as they see the Lord drawing people to Himself. 

Openness to the gospel

Tom*, the leader of OM's work in MENA, is in touch with local partners in Sudan — a country again experiencing war in a conflict reaching back over 30 years. The latest escalation began on 15 April 2023. Latest figures** put the number of internally displaced people close to 8 million, with around 1.7 million having fled the country. It's estimated that 15,000 civilians have been killed, and more than half of the population is struggling to get clean drinking water, food, fuel or basic healthcare. In such critical conditions, Tom asked A*, “Why don’t you and your family relocate to another city, where life and communications would be easier?” 

A responded, “My house is full of Muslim families who had to flee the capital and are seeking refuge at my place. I have opportunities for the gospel and open hearts like never before. There is no way I am going anywhere else right now!” 

Since war broke out on 7 October between Hamas and Israeli forces, OMers in Israel have discovered a new openness to conversations about God and faith among those they speak with — Jews, Arabs and foreign visitors — as well as strengthened and renewed connections between local fellowships and their communities. Small groups continue to meet and grow, with 21 Discovery Bible Studies (DBS) now overseen by OMers. The team, living under much strain, has been encouraged by seeing two women choose to follow Jesus. 

In a different part of the Middle East, OM partners reported a 100 per cent increase in the number of baptisms from the previous year. This group of national believers shared that not only were individuals baptised, but entire families as well! 

Disaster relief 

As several natural disasters struck in 2023, these opened opportunities for believers to reach out to their communities in new ways.

In one area already ravaged by war, a pastor called for his church to open its doors, prepare food and serve the surrounding community, which is predominantly Muslim and Kurdish. At first, the church members were fearful, but there was a new openness as their neighbours, who would previously not have come inside a church, accepted the hospitality and care. One Muslim man was so touched by the love and generosity of the followers of Jesus that he told the pastor: “You not only fed my body, but also my ears [heart].”  

Through the church’s willingness to reach out, the pastor reported that 20 per cent of those who received help returned for the church service as well. 

Some distance away, OM partners focused on responding to the needs of those living in remote villages. “It's been encouraging to see how Christians and Muslims volunteered to work together and tirelessly for very long days,” shared Darius*. “This has created deeper relationships in the community and led to spiritual conversations among those volunteering.  

“We can see how the Holy Spirit is moving as people see Jesus in us. Both the spiritual openness and hunger are evident. Although many in the villages saw the disaster as a curse from God, it has become an avenue for blessings instead; opening doors for long-term engagement in the villages and opportunities to share God’s goodness and love.” 

Connections through the arts 

Living in a region with unrest and religious persecution, it can be hard to find ways to connect with people for whom just surviving is their main focus. For several years, a few OMers pioneered arts ministries in one such area. “What started as a small individual project has now, through multiple challenges along the way, grown to become one of the field’s main strategic goals,” said David*.  

“Through the arts, we have found multiple ways to partner with local associations in inspiring and developing creativity among the often-neglected unengaged communities we reside in; which, in turn, has given us favour and credibility among our neighbours. Our friendships with open-minded artists have led to many open doors to share about our faith.  

“Ministry through art has been so effective and life-giving in this region that our team is now partnering with Inspiro Arts Alliance, OM’s arts ministry, in hosting a three-month training school for artists to learn how to use their skills to reach people throughout MENA.” 

Good news in grim times 

"As the suffering in our world intensifies, so too does the search for Christ," shared Tom. "We are learning that more and more Muslims have become disillusioned with their religious system and their religious leaders. Many want to turn away from organised religion, but we are also seeing increasing openness to hearing about Jesus." 

Please join us in prayer for more workers for the harvest in MENA. Specifically, please pray for more workers who are fluent in Arabic, have a heart for Muslim people and have an understanding of the cultural, spiritual and discipleship issues they may face. 

*name changed 


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