Reaching an Ancient Region in a New Way
The lands of the Bible still need its message.
The Great Commission given by Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), is an enduring mandate that we are to follow in every part of the world until the end of time. It has been the mission statement of the church since its beginning. And while the call itself is enduring, the way in which it is carried out has been adapted for various times and places.
One such place is the region of the Middle East. For various reasons in the past, the church was more vibrant, with stronger membership growth. However, there are always dynamics that seem to affect church growth and opportunities. In the more recent past some Christians in the Middle East, including Seventh-day Adventists, have, for certain reasons, left the region for places that offer greater opportunities to live their faith without hindrance. As a result, the indigenous Seventh-day Adventist membership in the Middle East is considerably diminished. This has made it more difficult for the church, because a church’s witness is strengthened by having a growing group of witnesses.
A Strategic Plan
Searching for ways to meet these particular challenges, the Greater Middle East and Mediterranean Survey Commission was formed in 2010 to study the work of the church in that region. After analyzing the historical, demographic, and statistical data, the commission gave its report to the Annual Council delegates on October 9, 2011, recommending that the countries of the Middle East be attached directly to the world church headquarters as the Greater Middle East Union (GMEU). Prior to this action administrative oversight of these countries was divided between two world divisions, Trans-European and Euro-Africa. While the church is grateful for the positive ways in which these divisions helped to foster and nurture Seventh-day Adventist activities in the Middle East, the survey commission reported that having this region united directly under the world headquarters would be conducive for church growth in the region, as well as provide certain logistical advantages. It would also group countries together that have similar cultures (see map).
Focal Point for World Church
With these administrative changes the Middle East is now a focal point for the entire world church. I encourage all our members to take a strong interest in sharing the wonderful Advent hope with the more than 500 million people who live in the territory of the Greater Middle East Union. These precious and wonderful people are children of God, and they have likes and needs just like the rest of us. It is our privilege to carry this great burden and be passionate about the good of the people in some of the oldest civilizations on the planet.
Our great task today is to try to rebuild a foundation of witnesses in this region and share our important message of hope through every possible means. We want to assist local communities, guide people in finding meaning and purpose, and help them experience life in all its fullness—physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
Growing Up in Egypt
This is not just an administrative matter for me. I identify closely with this region, since I grew up in Cairo, Egypt. My earliest memories have to do with this area that at times is called “the cradle of civilization.” Places such as Libya, Lebanon, Italy, and Egypt comprised my entire world, and until about the age of 8 I never left that world.
When you grow up in a particular culture, you are influenced by many things that stay with you for life. Middle Eastern food is still my favorite. I remember eating ta’miyya (Egyptian falafel) and going with my mother to buy freshly roasted corn on the street corner. It was delicious! And the memory of drinking pure fresh mango juice in Cairo has stayed with me as a highlight of what God has produced in that fertile Nile delta.
The Middle Eastern culture is a very ancient and intricate one. Arabic is one of the most beautiful and expressive languages in the world. The wonderful benefits of learning the culture of another part of the world are beyond any educational experience. And I have learned that the greatest asset of the Middle East is its people. True, the Middle East has oil reserves and antiquities, but the real resource of the Middle East is the population—its people.
The Middle East is currently going through certain social and political changes. However, even in the midst of change we are still tasked with the bigger goal of fulfilling the gospel commission. This is an enduring goal—with an adapted strategic method.
How You Can Be Involved
There are several ways you can help fulfill the Great Commission in this region of the world. First and foremost, keep the Greater Middle East area high on your prayer list. Pray for the dedicated church members, pastors, and leaders we have in that area. Pray that they will stand firm for the Lord and give a positive, loving witness to those around them. Second, you can participate by being faithful with your tithe and mission offerings—such as Sabbath school offerings and the World Budget Offering, which support the work in the Middle East and around the world.
In addition, you can support special initiatives that will be announced to assist with various unique opportunities. Individuals or local churches can decide to help sponsor a particular program. Children’s Sabbath schools can have a mission emphasis on the Middle East, the place where Jesus grew up. There are all kinds of ways to help our children know that they need to think about and pray for this special area of the world.
You, your congregation, or conference can contact the General Conference Secretariat for information about how you or your group can help with various projects in the Middle East region as either employees or volunteers.
Access for Everyone
The Middle East is a special place where people face various challenges. Current developing events in the region can open new opportunities to assist those who normally wouldn’t be open to hearing a message of hope from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It remains to be seen what direction these situations will take, but we do know that during a time of change, people are more open.
Please pray that God’s church will use these opportunities to maximize the current receptivity in that important and ancient region. Pray that people might have access to God’s precious words of hope, salvation, and redemption as the three angels’ messages are proclaimed, pointing to Christ’s soon second coming.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.