Refugees become Middle East disciples

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Missions

The couple sitting across from Nathan*, a Converge global worker, fled Syria and arrived in Lebanon with hopes for safety and security.

The adjustment and new start haven’t been easy. But they found their needs met in an unlikely person. That relationship has changed everything for them and their children.

Six years ago, the family connected with some Christians. One man in particular, became good friends with the husband and invited him to a Lebanese church. The husband came to Christ and was baptized.

Normally, Nathan explains, married Muslims who find Christ to be the Messiah have major challenges in their marriages. In some cases, the spouse who doesn’t choose Christ as Lord divorces the new believer.

But the wife started asking a lot of questions and considering Christ from a new perspective. Seeing her husband believe, Nathan explained, really spoke to her. When COVID-19 concerns eased, Nathan was able to gather in-person with them to study the Scriptures.

Now, the beauty and the hope of the couple is they are studying God’s word together with Nathan through the local church. Both refugees have now trusted Christ as Lord. The wife is willing to be baptized as well.

“When we can see a husband and wife come to faith together, that’s one of the biggest wins,” Nathan said. “That home is united and inside the home, the couple is a united front. And they can raise their kids knowing who Jesus is. It makes a world of difference.”

There’s more reason to praise God: the formerly Muslim couple can help start a gospel movement around the Great Sea. That’s why Nathan, who serves with Converge’s Great Sea Initiative, is in Lebanon. He serves under the leadership of a Lebanese church’s pastor.

Nathan befriends Muslims so they come to Christ and learn to make disciples. Then, those men and women can invite other Muslims into a discovery Bible study.

Related: Go and make a friend

“If we want to see the many reached, the way to do that is invest in a few now,” he said. “If we can invest in a few, we can reach the many. We have the potential for impacting a far greater number of people.”

The newly converted couple in his current Bible study is learning Scripture from creation to Christ. The group finishes with Christ’s resurrection. Then, Nathan will invite the husband and wife to invite other Muslims to study the Bible from creation to Christ.

“We are able to encourage movement in a way that people are equipped to share the truths of the gospel from a very basic level,” he said. “If we can equip these believers who are from these backgrounds to go back into their communities and share the truth of the gospel, the potential of being able to see movement happen in more than just one group, more than just one area, the potential is infinite.”

What is the Great Sea Initiative?

Mitchell* and several others joined the Great Sea Initiative to see that infinite potential realized. These global workers are praying and pursuing a gospel movement among the least-reached peoples around the Great, or Mediterranean, Sea.

This diverse region includes 21 countries. The team has organized the people groups into four main zones, according to Mitchell. There’s the Middle East, then the Balkan Region, Southern Europe and last, Northern Africa. This means global workers in the region navigate culturally Muslim, culturally Christian and increasingly apathetic spiritual outlooks.


“All of the geography of the Bible takes place in this part of the world,” Mitchell said. “This was the epicenter of the Christian movement 2000 years ago, and now it’s one of the least-reached parts of the world.”

Related: Nobody left behind

What are the spiritual dynamics around the Mediterranean?

In the Middle East, Mitchell said the initiative seeks to serve those who are culturally and spiritually Muslim.

“Muslims have also been taught lies about Jesus ― that he isn’t who he said he was,” Mitchell explained. “In the Quran, Jesus is the Messiah. But I have never asked any Muslim what the “Messiah” means and they have any idea. They have no frame of reference for what it means.”

Making matters more difficult is the connection between Western culture and Christianity. Mitchell said a devout Muslim hears talk of a holy God in Christianity. But Western culture often produces violence, pornography, Hollywood and ungodly information.

The difficulty in gospel ministry only increases because of centuries of hostility between Christians and Muslims.

“There’s not a history of the radical love of Jesus being exhibited from Christians to Muslims,” Mitchell said.

A reason for optimism, though, is the familiarity, heart language and intellectual categories Muslims have for religious ideas.

Related: “A chance for God to grab their heart”

“One of the things that I love is it’s easy to talk to Muslims about Jesus. I don’t have to convince them that Jesus was real,” he said. “There aren’t the obstacles that we have in the West.”

It remains to be seen how long it will take for Muslim converts to become disciple-makers. But God is generating spiritual life for many in the Middle East.

“There’s a lot of people coming to Christ in this region,” he said. “There’s a huge need but there’s huge responsiveness.”

The Difficulty of the Balkan region

Next, war between Christians and Muslims has shaped the spirituality of the Balkan region ― Greece and the countries that were Yugoslavia. The Great Sea Initiative is focused on the Middle East and the Balkan region.

“That piece of the world is marked by the Christian majority doing atrocious things,” he said. “For a lot of that region, the idea of Christianity is rather abhorrent. ‘Those are the people that burned my house and killed my neighbor.’”

Nevertheless, Converge global workers are prayerfully asking God for an outpouring of his grace, power and love through the Spirit.

“We’re asking God for a gospel movement among an unreached people movement in each of the 21 countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea,” Mitchell, the initiative leader, said. “The goal would be to have people who are regularly praying. There’s no more important thing to a gospel movement actually taking root than the prayers of the saints.”

So, Mitchell said, the team is trying to find 1000 people who are willing to be alerted to urgent prayer requests. They hope that when such a need arises, 1000 people will pray within 24 hours.

Related: What missionaries desire most

The churches in the Balkans and the Middle East desire to build training centers for making disciples and leaders, something the Great Sea Initiative supports.

Southern Europe and North Africa lack transforming Christianity

The third zone for the initiative is Southern Europe, which has a long history of Christian faith. This includes Spain, France and Italy.

“For us, [the region’s history] creates a cultural Christianity that is devoid of any real transformation in people’s lives,” he said. “There’s the immigrant population that looks around and says if that’s Christianity, what’s the point?”

Related: Setting the table for friendship evangelism (building relationships with Muslim men in Spain)

Lastly, the initiative focuses on the North African countries Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Some of the earliest and greatest original thinking by Christian theologians originated here. For example, Augustine of Hippo lived in North Africa. He wrote with great skill on the church’s beliefs and personally knowing God.

“It is a place where Christianity is virtually nonexistent,” Mitchell said. “But the underground church is strengthening in Morocco and Algeria.”

Getting a start with North Africans

Mitchell and his family got their start ministering to North Africans who lived in Spain. His desire there was to have the first Muslim-background church in their city.

In his former career, Mitchell worked in the business world, specifically in the hospitality industry.

“I never had a shortage of people who needed to hear about Jesus,” he said. “I loved sharing about Jesus. Some of my favorite memories are sharing about Jesus at 2 a.m. when we closed down the restaurant.”

Those opportunities made foreign service seem unnecessary. “Why would you move three thousand miles away?” he often wondered back then.

Now though, he has a narrower focus on who to serve. And he still has plenty of great memories, coming from the time he and his family served North Africans in Spain.

“It’s fun to share the gospel in another language and watch people’s hearts be transformed or challenged,” he said.

Related: Knowing God’s heart

However, in 2014, God shared a different call. The Lord wanted something other than the first Muslim-background church in Spain.

“I’m moving tens of millions of people right now,” Mitchell sensed God saying. “Millions of people don’t move unless God is behind it somehow.”

A Perspectives Course in World Missions deepened the Mitchells’ desire to see more people know and follow Christ. Mitchell learned there were billions of people without access to the gospel.

“The idea of unreached people groups changed my life.,” he said.

That shifted his goal from one church of Muslim-background believers to a movement that could greatly multiply Christ’s people.

“When you start to say, ‘I want a gospel movement,’ that starts to change the way you do ministry,” he said. “What do we do to make the DNA of the ministry about developing leaders to make disciples who make disciples?”

God will provide those leaders and disciple makers

As Nathan finished up the Discovery Bible Study in September, hope is present that the new believers across from him can start discipling others.

The wife has started sharing the stories of Jesus and the Scriptures with her sister. Her sister lives in Germany and desires what Nathan and the couple have experienced together in the local church.

“I want to find a church like your church,” Nathan heard of the sister’s response.

Related: Planting seeds that grow: How individuals and churches can begin a gospel conversation

Converge staff in Germany helped that woman find a church.

“One of the things I love [is], when she first went, she talked about how welcoming they were and how much they loved her,” Nathan said. “They were just welcoming her in.”

The woman sharing her hope with her sister in Germany created positive results. Nathan values individual people who can be the foundation for a gospel movement in the Great Sea region.

“It’s helpful to be reminded of how amazing each of our stories are. There are people who will identify with our story, but if we never tell our story, they won’t be able to identify,” he said. “We’ve got to share what God’s doing; but if we don’t share, how’s it going to impact anybody?”

*Names have been changed due to ministry occurring in a high-security region.

Converge International Ministries is praying for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group – in our generation. The Great Sea Initiative is among a growing number of regional initiatives to help support this vision. Learn more about how you and your church can partner with Converge to help more people around the world meet, know and follow Jesus.

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.

Additional articles by Ben Greene