Providing people care training to Arab believers

written by Nicole James

When Helen* and her husband, Tom*, moved from Germany to the Middle East over thirty years ago, resources to help Jesus followers thrive individually as they served God in other places were just starting to emerge. One of OM’s signature people care courses, Face to Face, only existed in English as a five-week immersive experience in Wales. Several years later, leaders redesigned and shortened the course, offering it for the first time on location in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Helen and Tom were part of the first group to participate. “I still remember that very vividly,” Helen shared. Though she grew up with believing parents and a grandmother who demonstrated God’s love to her, Helen said Face to Face “was very liberating, very life giving to understand more how I see God, to understand more how my family has shaped me… That was very, very helpful for me to understand myself better.”

Helen, who today is part of the global Face to Face leadership team and has training in systematic and trauma counselling, said the course’s goal is for Jesus followers to be renewed in their faith and for individuals to discover who they are and how they view God, to learn more about His character and to understand how they work and can make better use of their strengths. “It’s more a personal development course and not a course for people who are struggling,” she explained.

Training Arab believers bears fruit

While Germany has hundreds of years of history sending believers to other countries to share God’s love, leaders like Tom and Helen now recognise the role that believers from MENA—both those from Christian and Muslim backgrounds—must play in seeing God’s kingdom spread further and faster amongst communities without access to the gospel. In order to develop Arab leaders, access to material to help them be emotionally and spiritually healthy is crucial, Helen explained.

“We had been thinking about what we can do for our Arab team members but also for people who become believers from that area who often need so much inner healing. They need a lot of setting that picture of God right, working on so many wounds and losses and traumas and family issues and relationship issues, that we thought all the Face to Face course was actually quite a good tool to start working with people,” she said.

Together with a small team, Helen contextualised some of the material for people from the Arab world. Then she and three other leaders, alongside an Arabic translator, offered Face to Face in Arabic for the first time to a group of seven participants from the Near East and North Africa in November 2018. Since meeting for two weeks straight would prove nearly impossible for most families in MENA, they split the course into three five-day sessions, with the first group finishing Face to Face in January 2020.

Although the timing of splitting the course was not ideal—“I would not recommend doing it over such a long period of time,” Helen noted—the transformational content bore fruit almost immediately for the participants themselves and those in their communities back home with whom they shared the material. “We probably have a slightly different goal than the English or German Face to Face courses because they don't really have the goal of multiplication,” Helen explained. “But then I think: well, in the Arab world there's so many people; there's so much need. I really would like those who take part to be able to multiply and pass it on.”

Two months after the training, one of the participants noted: “I passed everything you taught us onto my wife. Can she please come next time as well? She really needs this material for the work with the ladies in our church.”

Another commented: “We changed things in our family life, and I can see positive results in my children.”

The women who participated shared the material in weekly ladies’ groups in their home countries. One woman even shared the material in her church, with her husband standing next to her, in order to address a mixed audience. “They sent me videos and pictures of how they set stuff up… and it was just amazing,” Helen said. “They also had stories about how people really could start to see things in a different light, how they could forgive and what changed in their lives.”

Next steps for sharing

While facilitating another in-person course has been postponed for the last year due to the coronavirus and travel restrictions, Helen has been in touch with one of the participants from North Africa, brainstorming other ways to share the material. Lamia*, who also has some training in in counselling, has developed several three-minute videos in Arabic about different topics addressed in Face to Face. Some of the first videos she produced deal with anger: God is slow to anger; anger as an emotion; and how to deal with anger.

Helen, Lamia and some of the other women who participated in the pilot Arabic Face to Face course plan to form virtual groups on WhatsApp with eight to ten people once more videos are available. They will provide one video to the group each week, along with some questions—“some more general but also personal questions, like: Every time you get angry, what triggers you? or: How do you deal with your anger?” Helen said. “We hope that some interaction would take place, and people can learn from that.”

Helen also hopes to travel more with her husband in 2022 and facilitate additional trainings on the topics, particularly for men. “Traveling extensively in the MENA region and having lived in North Africa for 14 years, I have talked to and seen many women and heard their stories. I know the region very well, and I am convinced that reconciliation and justice in the region can only start to happen if we give them tools to work on a better understanding of forgiveness, about healing their emotions and trauma, a deeper understanding of who God our father is, to find significance and life-changing strength,” Helen said. “Again and again, we hear them say: ‘We need this in our teams, in our families, in our churches, in our tribes and in our society.’”

Face to Face is OM’s two-week personal development course following the Lord’s invitation to “come aside with me to a quiet place”. It is for Christian workers who have been involved full time or part time in mission work or other Christian ministry for at least two years, and who want to develop their relationship with God and grow in self-understanding. Each day begins with worship and study on the character of God, followed by topical teaching. There is interactive teaching directed at different learning styles, experiential workshops, individual processing time with one or two facilitators, community groups and personal reflection time. The Face to Face material is available in English, German, Spanish and Arabic. For more information, visit https://www.om.org/face2face.

*name changed

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