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Pastors in Jordan talk about Ministry during COVID-19

Pastors in Jordan talk about Ministry during COVID-19

What is it like to be a pastor in the Middle East during the time of the coronavirus? Jordanian pastors David and John gave Voice of the Martyrs Australia an insight into how things were and still are for their churches and congregations in this season.

Pastor David is an active evangelist who frequently suffers persecution from Jordanian authorities and local Muslim leaders. He leads the ministry of his local church and has developed many projects throughout the country to reach out to locals and refugees. In recent years, he has baptised over 300 people, many of whom are Muslim background believers. Because of this, he is constantly being monitored by the community.

Pastor John leads alongside Pastor David in their local church. He is their liaison and administrator for all the ministry they do together. Much like Pastor David, he also frequently experiences persecution.

What is it like to be a pastor and Christian in Jordan under the curfews in place due to COVID-19?
Pastor David: It is not easy to be a shepherd in this time. It is hard being away from my people. I want to visit and encourage them but we have to stay away from them physically. For me, phone calls and Facebook just aren’t enough. There are also many people who need help. We know that they’re there but we’re unable to approach them.

Pastor John: The difficulty lies in not being able to fulfil the needs of others and move freely to help. We tried to get permission to be able to go out and meet the needs of so many, but we were rejected. Also, not being able to do church services properly. Not everyone follows the online services and we can’t reach out to the families as we normally would. We try to do our best with whatever means we have, but sometimes it is not enough.

Do you think that Christians have suffered any religious persecution in Jordan because of the coronavirus?
PD: There is no problem against Christians and religious persecution in Jordan because of the coronavirus. The government has imposed the same restrictions on all religions in the same way. However, the government recognised more the traditional churches, like Catholic and Orthodox in comparison with the Protestants and gave them more permissions to move and help the needy.

PJ: The word ‘Christian’ is used here to describe all kinds of Christians from different denominations. Some are being treated differently. You may find a church priest moving around and not being questioned, but a pastor is not allowed to move freely outside his house. The lockdown is for all religions, Muslims, and Christians. But there is a privilege given to some. Also, persecution comes from the others as well. Our names are not mentioned even when we give or offer any help to anyone. People deny us and don’t want to recognise us in any way. Whatever we do, Christians give the credit to the historical churches. It’s something we have suffered for a long time but has increased in this period.

How has God given you the wisdom to encourage church disciples and minister God’s Word in this time?
PD: The church has leaders and pastors who are meeting together daily through WhatsApp, discussing the needs of the people and, even with the limitations, how we can act and support our congregations. As well as WhatsApp groups, we are also communicating and encouraging people through the church Facebook page and broadcasting the Sunday service. We’re also in touch with them by phone to see how they are doing. During the quarantine, people seem closer to God and they feel more in need of the church’s support. They are interacting so well with each other; it has been amazing to see.

PJ: Yes! This is what makes us happy and rejoice in the Lord in this critical time. Though it wasn’t as we desired, we were able to use our social media, WhatsApp and Facebook, to encourage others. We receive lots of phone calls from people asking for prayers. We are in touch with the church congregation daily. We created a WhatsApp group for this purpose and the Holy Spirit is encouraging all.

Is it possible to predict losses because of the coronavirus crisis? How do you think the church will be hurt by the crisis?
PD: The church lost donors and partners who were vital in providing ministry funds to buy food for people. It is really important that the donors keep their commitment to helping the church, even during the crisis, in order for the ministry to be able to meet basic needs.

Also, the work in Jordan is carried out by volunteers who visit from all over the world. We have a guest house that receives the volunteers and serves as a means of generating income. This in turn raises funds that are used primarily to pay the annual rent for the seven physical spaces we use in carrying out our ministry.

Due to current travel restrictions, we will not be able to receive volunteers for the time being, which considerably decreases the ministry’s budget.

PJ: It will take time for us to be able to gather the flock again. People became used to being home and have gotten used to laziness. Yes, there will be losses but we will, in His name, reach out and come back to our beginnings. Even better!

Do you expect new prospects for the church after this crisis?
PD: I hope that people will draw closer to God and will realise how short their lives are. I believe that people will become more committed to the church and that this is a good opportunity for the church to grow because Jesus is the only hope and light for this darkness.

PJ: I think it is a must! We need to pray and plan well after we come back. God has put into my heart to do lots of worship, for we miss singing to the Lord as a group of people. I might say that I do have a dream which is to see the church growing and the people rising and all coming to worship and listen to the Word of God. The true family must reunite and restart to go after the Great Commission that the Lord has commanded us to do.

If you would like to support these two pastors and others doing similar work in restricted nations, please donate to our Front Line Ministry fund.

Our Front Line Ministry fund directly assists pastors, evangelists and full-time Christian workers who courageously minister in the face of hostility and persecution. It includes provision to support underground Bible colleges, leadership training, evangelism resources, computers, transportation, small business equipment, pastor support programmes and equipping churches with resources.

To support this project go to  vom.com.au/donate

Esther’s Story

Esther’s Story

Raised in a strict Muslim family in Egypt, Esther was given the responsibility of teaching children the Koran in the mosque, but through her teaching she found Jesus.

Esther’s parents divorced when she was young; her mother and grandfather raised her in the Islamic faith. Her grandfather was an Imam at a local mosque and taught her about the Koran and gave her the responsibility of teaching the children.

One of the young children she was teaching was researching for an assignment and began asking her a number of questions about Mohammed and the book’s validity. Esther was unable to answer the questions and she started to uncover inconsistencies in the book.

After this, the little girl moved on but Esther continued to research for two years.

“I came to the conclusion that this book is not God’s Word. Knowing that filled my heart with fear.”

Doubting the Koran is considered an offence with consequences and Esther became ill with stress. She began seeing a doctor and on her way there, she would walk through a Christian cemetery. Each time she walked past a cross, she felt immense peace.

“I often told the children in the mosque that this cross is just a piece of wood or iron – why would you worship it? But now it was providing me with so much peace,” she said.

Even though she felt apprehensive, she wanted to warn people about Mohammed’s teachings. Soon, she began anonymous social media pages to urge people that the prophet Mohammed was a liar.

“I wanted to warn people,” she recalled.

In time she found Christian forums and one day, through the forum, she received a message from someone who told her to stop focusing on Mohammed’s lies and look to Jesus.

She began her search for a Bible but it was difficult.

As Esther was fully covered in Islamic dress, it was difficult for her to buy a Bible in Christian bookshops and when she asked Christian neighbours for one, they refused. They assumed she was tricking them as they knew she taught in the mosque.

She soon met a young 14-year-old boy in the forum who said he would bring her a Bible and travelled over six hours to deliver it.

“When I held the Bible in my hand, I felt that it had the answers to all my questions,” she recalled with tears.

“I was so hungry to read it that I finished it in four days but I didn’t understand a thing. I didn’t even know how to pray.”

Esther contacted the young boy who gave her the Bible and he suggested she attend a church discipleship group for Muslim background believers in her area.

“In the mosque, I was taught that evil things like adultery would happen in the churches and so I refused to enter the church building, but the pastor’s wife spoke to me outside.”

The pastor’s wife told her to come inside and look at the church to see there was nothing to be afraid of. Eventually Esther went into the church and the pastor’s wife prayed for her.

“I felt different; it wasn’t what I expected,” she said.

When Esther walked into the discipleship group the next day, she saw about 30 people who, like herself, had found Jesus after Islam. Some of the women were even wearing hijabs.

“I had always been taught that many Christians were coming to Islam but not the other way around. I thought I was the only one!”

Esther accepted Christ that day and when she left the meeting, she felt God speak to her.

“The Lord reminded me of all the sins I had committed and I was crying and shouting in the street. I couldn’t see anyone but God in that moment,” she said.

“Later, I knew it was repentance and God showed me the heavens open and I saw Him in a different light for the
first time.”

For two years, Esther was discipled in the church and studied the Word before the leaders encouraged her to join their evangelism group, where she developed a passion for missions.

She had already begun evangelising in the streets but felt God call her to other nations – especially the country, Mauritania. She soon had the opportunity to travel to Turkey and spent two weeks ministering there.

When she arrived home, she continued to evangelise in Egypt but she and the other team members were arrested in the street.

“The security officer questioning me, knew everything about me, even that I had been to Turkey to evangelise and gave me a stern warning to stop.”

Before releasing her he told her, “If I hear about you evangelising or preaching, I know how to make your life difficult. I will punish you.”

Despite the threats, Esther continued to evangelise and even began arranging another mission trip, this time to Mauritania.

The day came for her to go but she was arrested at the airport. The same security officer questioned her and Esther admitted to him that she was indeed travelling to evangelise. He gave her another stern warning and even threatened her mother.

Months passed and Esther planned another trip – the plan this time was to spend a year in Tunisia preaching the Gospel.

The morning of her departure, she was again arrested at the airport. This time, she was kept in an underground room for three days.

The same security officer came to her for questioning.

“He was angry and aggressive and kept me waiting all day. He told me he would fill my heart with fear but the Lord had promised me no one would touch me.”

Instead, the officer played loudly an audio recording of men and women being tortured. He told her that these were former Muslims too.

The security officer opened the Bible and told her, “I know Jesus said to go into all the world but I will not let you go. I will follow you everywhere you go.”

He again sent her home with another warning telling her that as long as he was around, she would never be allowed to travel. Esther was filled with such fear she collapsed.

Over the next few months, the sounds she had heard haunted her. For a whole month, she couldn’t sleep and needed to seek professional help to heal the trauma.

After three months of counselling, she was set free from the fear and God promised her she would never be in that place again.

Recently, however, Esther left the mission group.

“My heart broke for the nations,” she said, “but I can’t travel so I couldn’t stay any more.”

Esther still continues to be a witness and even led her mother to the Lord a year ago, and she is hopeful she will one day travel again.

“I believe I will not die in Egypt,” she said.

“I know the Lord will let me serve in another nation, maybe even Mauritania.”

Voice of the Martyrs Australia continues to support the discipleship and outreach group of which Esther is a part.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate

Voice of the Martyrs Australia is an endorsed deductible gift recipient (DGR) by the Australian government. This means you can claim tax deductions for all donations over $2 to Voice of the Martyrs Australia on your tax return.

Foundations Laid in Turkey

Foundations Laid in Turkey

Turkey is a diverse nation, made up of many ethnicities, but it is the recent refugee crisis that has been the biggest contributor to cultural and religious diversity.

The 2011 civil conflict in Syria has seen a rise in Syrian refugees and Turkey now houses over three million of them. Designated sites have not been adequate to hold the number of people seeking refuge in Turkey.

Many displaced refugees, particularly from Iraq and Syria, can be found throughout the country without the support they need to survive.

Initially the government welcomed refugees, but this has changed as public opinion has become increasingly negative. There have even been violent incidents between local Turkish people and the refugee community and now authorities have encouraged them to return home.

Adding to the increasing challenges, refugees do not have permission to work. Some work illegally but the majority live in extreme poverty with informal or low-paid work in deplorable conditions.

Turkey’s prominent religion is Islam to which more than 90% of the population adhere, and leaving the religion is seen as a betrayal of a person’s identity and a shame to their family. Muslim background believers experience the greatest persecution and pressure from their family, friends and community to return to Islam.

Muslim converts make up the majority of all Protestants in Turkey and are having significant difficulties exercising their religious freedom. For example, they face restrictions on their being allowed to build places of worship. Despite the apparent freedom of religion, Turkey is still considered to be a restricted nation.

Recently, a Voice of the Martyrs supported frontline worker made three visits to Turkey, to lay the groundwork to plant a church among refugees. Assisted by local Christians, the pastor visited refugees to donate food coupons.

Among the beneficiaries were Shia Iraqis and Kurdish Syrians; both groups are minorities in Turkey and the most discriminated against.

During these trips, he said the most incredible experience was seeing the Holy Spirit comforting those who were suffering, and he was able to lead four Muslims to the Lord.

There is great potential for church planting among refugee groups across Turkey and a local pastor has indicated his availability to undertake the dangerous but important task.

Local frontline workers continue to ask for prayer that God would provide the resources they need to begin the work that lies ahead.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate

Voice of the Martyrs Australia is an endorsed deductible gift recipient (DGR) by the Australian government. This means you can claim tax deductions for all donations over $2 to Voice of the Martyrs Australia on your tax return.

Issa’s Story

Issa’s Story

Issa, a Muslim background believer, left Islam for Christianity two years ago. Filled with zeal for his new faith, he decided to inform his family about his commitment to follow Christ. Outraged by his confession, they started to beat him. In the scuffle, they noticed Issa had drawn a cross on his wrist, similar to the tattoos worn by Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians. Seeing this caused further anger and, as a result, one of Issa’s brothers sliced Issa’s wrist and severed his artery.

In fear, Issa fled the house and took himself to hospital. After receiving preliminary first aid, he fled to Upper Egypt, fearing his family would pursue him. Still suffering from his wound, he heard about VOM’s mobile medical clinics and went for treatment. There one of the surgeons provided him with the comprehensive care he needed and he has since recovered.

Please pray for Issa’s continued protection. Pray that he will be an effective witness for the Gospel. Pray too for his family, that they will come to know the message of salvation through Christ.

Voice of the Martyrs, together with our partners in Egypt, is funding mobile medical clinics for Christians suffering from persecution and poverty in Egypt.

Providing medical care for these believers not only assists those suffering from illness or injury but is also an opportunity to provide spiritual encouragement.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate

Voice of the Martyrs Australia is an endorsed deductible gift recipient (DGR) by the Australian government. This means you can claim tax deductions for all donations over $2 to Voice of the Martyrs Australia on your tax return.

Training Future Leaders

Training Future Leaders

In 2002 when Rebekha Bibi first accepted Christ, her family tried to kill her. VOM helped her through this trying time and supported her desire to reach Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan. Rebekha’s love for God grew and soon she could attend a VOM-sponsored Bible college for two years.

Today, Rebekha travels from village to village sharing the Gospel. She is one of only a few females doing this kind of evangelistic work in Pakistan’s Muslim-dominated culture. Her Muslim background helps her speak more freely with Muslims and also validates the power of the Gospel.

Rebekha distributes VOM life packs, and VOM provides her with Bibles and Christian literature for her evangelism and training work.

“I have no fear from any fanatic,” she once told a VOM worker. “I am strong in faith. If God wants me in this area, nobody can stop me.”