From Eternity to the Middle East
If God wanted you to take the Gospel to the most dangerous place on earth, what would he have to do to convince you? For Sarah, her journey to the Middle East progressed one step at a time. The first and most important step was the transformation of her heart. Everything else came naturally from there.
In High School, Sarah definitely wasn’t the future-missionary type. Like so many teenagers, she expressed her defiance to God and authority through drinking and drug use. She grew up in a church-going family, but that was more cultural than anything. Ultimately, it wasn’t a church program that pulled Sarah out of her rebellion. Rather, God first brought her to the bottom—to rehab—before He began to show her what he wanted her to do.
It was in rehab that God showed her the power of life-on-life ministry through some women who reached out to her. “The Lord found me when I was 20 years old and then it was a slow process of learning to live as a follower of Jesus.” Not only did her life begin to change, but she developed a heart to reach out to others: “I recognized very early on that the Lord saved me and allowed me to go through what I went through not for myself, but for others.”
Sarah developed a plan to work with rehabilitating women. She knew she would need some ministry training, so she enrolled at Eternity Bible College. Though her heart for helping people never changed, she began to question her methods: “I had all these preconceived notions of how I would counsel women, but I realized just how unbiblical my thinking was, and for the first time I was confronted with Scripture.” Though this was an important realization, Sarah wasn’t excited about it, at least not initially. “At first, I was upset because my plan was a good one! But I decided that if God was telling me ‘no’ to this thing, then I would just have to trust him to say ‘yes’ to something else.”
As her thinking began to change, she was also exposed to God’s heart for the world. Her eyes were opened to the reality of unreached people groups. “There are so many resources available to help people here in the U.S., but I discovered that there are places in the world where people actually can’t hear about Jesus, so they have no way to be saved.” Initially, Sarah resisted the thought of going overseas. She had no desire to move to the jungle somewhere. “I really wrestled with this, but the Bible never asks me, ‘What would you like to do, Sarah?’ In the end, I began pursuing unreached people groups—not because I felt called or gifted, but because they had no other way of hearing about Jesus.”
On a study trip to Israel, Sarah found herself standing in the middle of an Arab market. When she heard the Muslim call to prayer, she decided that she needed to be in a place like that, a place where she could hear the call to prayer and interact closely with Muslim people.
When she got back home, her first step was to make some Muslim friends. So she went to the local mosque and signed up for an Arabic class. The class was five hours every Saturday and Sunday morning, and she left in tears every day because it was so difficult. As the only non-Muslim in the class, Sarah received a lot of opposition. When they found out that Sarah was a Christian, one woman even stood up in front of everyone and spoke against Christianity, saying that all Christians are just trying to make converts. Though she wanted to argue back, Sarah decided on a different approach, “I started bringing baked goods to class every day. That helped a lot.” Though the professor was hard on her the whole time, the rest of the class befriended her—even the woman who initially opposed her. When it came time for the final, Sarah had another engagement, and the class was blown away that she would sit through the whole course and not take the final. It was a great opportunity to explain that she was there for other reasons.
Another important lesson that she learned during this time was the reality of spiritual warfare and the importance of prayer. God would wake her up in the night with the faces of her classmates in her mind. She found that when she had spent considerable time in prayer, class went great and she could see God using her. When she hadn’t been praying, things were a lot more difficult. So she began to pray for each of her classmates by name. This proved to be invaluable preparation for where God would take her next.
After graduating from Eternity, Sarah went through a missions agency and moved to the Middle East. Initially, she was working with an NGO, but she knew that God had something else for her, and that if she started praying, he would make it clear in time. Within two weeks she had a job offer to teach English at a local university—a role that she feels unqualified for, but that clearly came from the Lord. “At the university, I see my role as sowing seeds broadly. I am an ambassador for Christ in their lives, but I have to trust God to reach them through the people he has placed around them.”
Sarah sees her primary ministry in her daily interaction with two Muslim families. She lives with one in the countryside and the other in the city where she teaches. One family is semi-committed to Islam but not radical, and the other is fundamentalist. Both of these families know that she loves Jesus, but they love her, and they frequently discuss their religious beliefs. When people ask her what religion she is, her family steps in and answers for her: “She’s not Muslim, but she’s not a Christian (a title that is misunderstood in the Middle East—denoting Western customs and Capitalism more than following Jesus) either. She doesn’t lie, steal, cheat, or swear—she’s not like us. She is a follower of Jesus and wants to live just like him.”
Though she faces danger and difficulty every day, Sarah is confident that she is exactly where God wants her. She may be a long way from where she started, but she’s not homesick: “My home is neither there nor here. I think I have the same calling as every other Christian, but I know that God has called me to do it outside of the United States.”
For many of us, following God’s leading is a frightening thought. But as Sarah knows well,he leads a step at a time, and he always provides.