Beirut church multiplies itself

When Jesus talked about sending workers into ripe fields — adding that they would be as sheep among wolves — He easily could have been describing missions work in the Middle East and northern Africa today.

With recent turmoil across the region, the Free Evangelical Church of Beirut (FECB) is taking that task of sending workers into the harvest more seriously than ever.

Up from the ashes of war

Beirut bombed out building

The vision for that work began with the church’s pastor, Joseph, in the wake of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990 after more than 1 million Lebanese people had been killed, wounded or displaced.  That same year, Joseph entered seminary in Toronto after leaving his job as Middle East chief financial officer for U.S.advertising giant Leo Burnett.

When he took the church’s senior pastor job in 1994, Joseph (a native of Lebanon) grieved for the families devastated by the war. So one of the first projects the church undertook after his arrival was establishing a home for girls whose parents were either killed during the war or were unable to care for them afterward.

The church built the home, Beit al Safa (Home of Serenity), in the Shouf Mountains southeast of Beirut, at a camp it had owned since the 1950s. Druze militia had taken over the camp during the war, badly damaging the buildings. Phase by phase, the church rebuilt the center, which today houses between 12 and 20 girls at a time.

“We sensed we needed to do something for the community, to help express God’s love in a practical way,” Joseph says. “It was a girls’ home, because we felt this was the weak element in our society.”

Reaching into the church’s own backyard was the first step. The next step: the entire Arab world.

‘They caught the vision’

While studying in Toronto, Joseph felt God strengthen his desire to spread the gospel of Christ throughout the same Arab countries that he’d visited during his business career. He carried that vision through four years of seminary, then back to the FECB in 1994.

FECB WomanJoseph had accepted Christ at the FECB in 1972. He was well-received as a pastor. But convincing people to minister to the same Muslims that many of them had fought during the war was far from an easy sell.

“At the beginning, it was a bit difficult,” Joseph recalls. “Not a bit – sometimes it was quite difficult. Some of them lost members of their families due to the war. Some of them said, ‘Let’s not reach out to Muslims – they were fighting with us.’ They had hard feelings, and were aching from the war.”

“It started slowly, and I think God was making a breakthrough.”

And then that breakthrough gathered momentum:

  • In 1998, when an African man, Isaac, who was studying at nearby Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and attending the church, proposed returning to his home country as a missionary. The church sided with him, helped fund his work and commissioned him to go back.
  • In 2000, when a home-grown member of the church, Shahid, relocated to a nearby country with a tolerance for overt Christian activity to teach theology and evangelize nonbelievers.
  • In 2002, when Zahir, another ABTS graduate, traveled to a third nearby country to plant churches. He started with home groups, which grew to several larger cell churches in his city. “My vision is to see these kinds of groups in all the cities of [this region],” he says.
  • In 2004, when a church member named Ahmad planted a church in the working-class Burj Hammoud neighborhood of Beirut. Burj Hammoud sees a steady flow of Syrian refugees and laborers looking for work, as well as Kurdish and Armenian refugees.
  • In 2005, when Harry, another longtime member of the church, decided to relocate his family to yet a third country in the region to plant even more churches.

“What’s nice is that from the church, some missionaries came up,” says Joseph, who mentors students at ABTSand connects them to the church. “They caught the vision, and they caught it very well, by God’s grace. And now they are spreading it themselves, reproducing this same zeal and heart for missions in their own congregations and church plants.”

Harry, in particular, carries on that zeal for God’s work.

“Many elders from the church told me, ‘You are going to an unknown future in what you are doing,’” Harry recalls. “I told them, ‘The unknown future, with the Lord, is a guarantee for me.”

Despite the precarious situation in the country he ministers in, he turned down an offer to pastor a church in theU.S. “I knew I could not leave, because I love the Muslims and I love the Christians there, and I want to serve them,” Harry says.

Training for the future

Joseph and other leaders from the church want to expand that service by setting up training centers in all the countries where they’ve planted churches. The church uses Acts chapter 19 as a model for its training. The passage details how the Apostle Paul had gathered a small group of new disciples in Ephesus and taught them daily in a lecture hall for two years.

The modern translation is simple: Find new leaders, train them and send them out to plant new churches in new regions of the Middle East and North Africa.

“We want to create this system that can produce leaders continually — that will feed into the movement, into the mission vision by creating an in-house, ongoing training system in every established Acts 19 location we have in the five Arab countries where we actually exist,” Joseph says.

What You Can Do

Pray

Joseph specifically asks that people would ask God to:

  • Open new opportunities for ministry through the current political events in the Middle East. “We want to be ready in the next few years to start new ministries and new church plants in new areas,” he says.
  • Help FECB start new training programs in each area of church planting where the network is established.
  • Build up new leaders who can help existing leaders move the ministry vision forward and take church planting to new levels in existing regions of ministry.
  • Give the ministries favor with the people groups it is working with – Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Druze, Kurds and others.
  • Help Joseph find people to take part of his workload so that he can focus on launching new ministries and leaders. “That’s what I feel my calling is … to identify people, develop them and release them into ministry,” he says.

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