Every trip to the grocery store shows Nathan* and Kristin* why they moved to a Middle Eastern country.
Their purpose is displayed repeatedly among onions, tomatoes and lamb meat. Conversations become opportunities when Nathan goes to the gym or their children go to a gymnastics studio.
“There are people groups and whole parts of this world that do not regularly meet a Bible-believing Christian in their life,” he said. “Just by us going to the grocery store or joining a gym or having our kids in gymnastics, we are interacting with people. We may be the only evangelical Christian that they have ever interacted with.”
Therefore, the gym, schools and grocery stores, commonplace as they are, may hold divine appointments for these Converge global workers. In such ordinary places, they have significant chances to be a lamp on the table, the light of the world.
They’ve been interacting with Arabic people in their country since they arrived in 2015. Reaching their neighbors also includes a large population of Syrian refugees. Meeting people and building relationships is central to the family’s ministry because it’s a cultural custom.
Starting relationships beside little cups
Nathan’s new hobby is making espressos. A friend’s Christmas gift this past year was a manual espresso maker. Drinking coffee is popular among the Arabic friends he has. Espresso is very common, even being sold by streetside vendors in vans.
Raqweh is the other type of coffee. Middle Eastern people regularly invite each other for raqweh, saying ‘come drink coffee.’ Raqweh is a very strong coffee, made by boiling water on a stove. It is served in very small cups as part of an intentional time in relationship.
Drinking the very strong coffee is a communal practice, a natural way for Nathan to share the goodness of God. The emphasis of their ministry is life on life discipleship.
“It’s that incarnational ministry, being here and being a part of the culture,” he said. “It’s all evangelism and discipleship. It’s discipling those who are believers but it’s also the opportunity to rub shoulders with people who would not interact with evangelical Christians otherwise.”
Mitchell* directs Converge’s Great Sea Initiative to plant churches around the Mediterranean. He met Nathan and Kristin 8 years ago in Spain. That time together displayed why Kristin and Nathan have an important ministry, he said.
“They are positioned by a people group that desperately needs the gospel,” Mitchell said. “Kristin and Nathan are a couple who diligently seek to please and honor Jesus with their lives.”
Mitchell added the down-to-earth couple serves among one million Sunni Muslims. They have a clear directive to equip men, women and children to make disciples. Further, he said they love to support, encourage and equip local leaders within the indigenous church.
God is creating Biblical diversity in the church
For Nathan and Kristin, their ministry is in a season of serving under a local pastor who leads an indigenous church. Such leaders have a unique challenge around the region.
On one hand, the community reflects an incredible diversity, including both Shia and Sunni Muslims, Catholics and evangelicals. Their village of 1000 people is next to a sizable city with people from various Middle Eastern countries.
“Our church is in the midst of a very diverse group of people,” Nathan said. “It’s a beautiful picture of what God can do.”
Religious segregation is prevalent among the towns, cities and villages in the country where Nathan and Kristin live. So, Sunnis don’t live with Shia Muslims and Christians wouldn’t live right next to either people group.
But that doesn’t stop Nathan from starting increasingly deep relationships.
“My passions and hobbies like athletics have begun to open doors,” he said. “I’ve been able to use these things to put myself in positions that I pray God will use. That’s part of what we do in going to these places: put ourselves into positions to have gospel conversations when God opens those doors.”
Working together across the globe
The Converge couple has begun Discovery Bible studies in homes. The studies are relaxed ways of encountering God through his word by discussing three questions. First, the group discusses what a Bible passage says about God, then what it says about humans and finally how the message applies to life.
Nathan and Kristin recently went through a study from creation to Christ with a husband and wife, who are Syrian refugees. Even though they are far from their family, in a foreign land, God is meeting them in their difficult moment.
While studying the Bible, the wife really started learning about Christ. So, she started telling her sisters in Germany what she was experiencing. One of those sisters wanted to go to church, but Nathan and Kristin didn’t know of specific churches in Germany to refer to her.
However, they knew Bob Marsh, the regional impact team leader for Europe and the Mediterranean. He knew of churches in Germany, which he suggested to Nathan. They shared those with the woman who told her sister. The power of Converge ― being better together ― reaped a spiritual harvest within the family.
“She has gone to one of those churches and loved it,” Nathan said. “She was very much welcomed into the church. She didn’t speak German, and they didn’t speak Arabic. But they welcomed her in and loved her. Her daughter has started coming to translate.”
The ability of Converge staff to work across countries and regions sends a clear message.
“When Christ is in the center, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Middle East or Germany or America, you’re going to find the same thing: a loving community of people,” Nathan added.
How could a gospel movement start?
God willing, Nathan and Kristin see what a next step could be for this refugee family. He believes the husband and wife might invite the wife’s mother and brother to do a Discovery Bible Study. However, this time, the husband and wife would lead the study with support from Nathan and Kristin.
“That’s the whole reason it’s set up the way it is,” he explained. “It helps to create movements because it can reproduce easily. As long as you’ve been with Jesus, you’re qualified and you can do this.”
God is also encouraging the Syrian husband and wife into learning to make disciples. The husband had a dream one night after he started studying the Scriptures. He told Nathan he dreamed he was sitting in a home and leading a Bible study with some other people.
“All those things together are building his confidence to say, ‘Yeah, I can do this’,” Nathan added.
The locals can do more and more
How long this season of global work lasts for Nathan and Kristin really depends on the Lord’s work through the local church.
“We need to walk alongside the new believers from these indigenous cultures so they can learn and grow,” he said. “There’s a place for coming in and doing a module training or teaching. But nothing compares to the life-on-life discipleship that happens when you are living in the country with people.”
He is confident God will create the gospel movement through servants like them in markets and streets, over espressos and raqweh. At the same time, he knows God wants more and more global workers to humbly serve under the leadership of the locals.
Dennis McMains, who serves as international leader for Converge’s Europe & Mediterranean region, visited Nathan and Kristin before the holidays. That trip to their country showed again what a good partnership they have with their Middle Eastern church partners.
“In his work, he’s got favor among the people,” McMains said. “He has favor among the leaders he works with, the church leaders as well as the non-church leaders.”
They said, even though they are outsiders, they partner well with the local church because they support the pastor’s decisions and seek the people’s desires. While they recognize spiritual need exists everywhere, Nathan and Kristin perceive an undeniable call to the Arab world.
“You cannot tell me that the Middle East has the same per capita Christians or Christian leaders as we have in America,” he said. “That alone speaks to why we need global workers.”
Eventually, in years to come, Nathan believes the people will become leaders of their own self-sustaining, self-reproducing churches.
“Long term, we want to equip local people to do this work,” he said. “There is a role for international global workers, a need for the global worker to go where no one is, where the gospel has a small presence.”
Recognizing the uniqueness of such a call, McMains added Nathan and Kristin are in the right culture with the posture and heart for their work.
“They get it, and they know how to do it,” McMains said.
Nathan has wanted to be a missionary since he was in fourth grade. His passion for that survived a move from Illinois to Georgia, new churches and changing chapters of life. But God has called both him and Kristin to the work.
“The need is definitely there for people to be sent out from places that have a lot of Christians to places that don’t have a lot,” he said. “Not everyone is called to be a global worker. It’s what God has called you to do, and the role God has called you to play in his great plan.”
* Names have been changed for security purposes
Converge International Ministries is praying for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group ― in our generation. Learn how Converge can help your church reach the nations with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ben Greene, Pastor & writer
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.