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The Nearness of God in the Middle East

SEU Missions students in Middle East

Condensing three weeks’ worth of encounters, ministry, people, sights, and stories into a few paragraphs was a challenge. Because of the sensitivity of the places we served in, and to protect future teams going to these areas, specific names, locations and ministries will not be shared; but the stories that we carry back will still be told. 

They are stories that testify of the greatness of God in places that seem unreachable. Everything we experienced in the Middle East as a team goes beyond anything I could ever express in a short space. The vivid joy, the tears shed, the beautiful friendships built, the overflow of God’s love, and the passion and devotion for Jesus that the eight of us witnessed have changed my life completely. The story that God is unfolding over that region of the world has been happening for a long time, and will continue to happen long after us, but what a privilege and honor to have lived a small part of the story with my team. 

Walking Where Jesus Walked

Walking onto the rooftop of where we were staying, gazing at the blue sky above us, was when it fully sank in that we would soon be walking the places that we grew up reading about in the Bible — places that I’ve dreamed about visiting and experiencing. 

Our first day was scheduled to be a tour day where we would get to see some of the places where Jesus walked. We met our wonderful tour guide, who was the perfect person to lead us through the day. She not only took us to these amazing places but helped us understand the rich history and the deep spirituality that each place held. She would have us pause and breathe in the presence of the Lord, helping us to remember why we were there in the first place. 

There was one place where, as a group, we felt the Lord pouring into us the same message. It was such a beautiful, tender and sacred space where we couldn’t help but focus on what God was speaking to us. Collectively, we all felt Him telling us that nothing else mattered but Him in that moment. We remembered the prayer that Jesus said the night He got arrested, what He cried out in blood and tears and the choice He made to surrender His will for the Father’s will. We fell into a deeper devotion to the Lord, allowing ourselves to be filled up spiritually, aware that in the coming weeks, we would be extending and sharing so much of this abundance with others. 

Through spending the day with our tour guide, we got to learn more about her personal story. She shared with us details about some of the hardships and trials she’s faced in life, yet through it all, her faithfulness to the Lord was evident. Her faith remained steady and pure, and it flowed through every word she spoke that day. When it was time to say goodbye, we each embraced her so tightly, not wanting to depart from someone we grew close to so quickly. 

A Painted Cemetery

Our first day of ministry was spent tending and caring for a cemetery, which is one of the few Christian cemeteries in the city. It’s a place where missionaries, teachers, and leaders can be buried as believers instead of being buried in a cemetery of another faith.

We were greeted by the sweetest older man who works at the cemetery and helps tend the gardens. He was a Messianic Jew, who is someone born of Jewish heritage who acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah. In our time with him, I could see how he was filled with so much wisdom and devotion. The first thing he wanted us to do was to have a moment of worship before we got into the work for the day. I thought it was so beautiful how he dedicated time for us to worship and welcome the Lord in the middle of the work we would be doing. Every time he spoke about Jesus, or as he would say, “Yeshua,” his face would light up with love and admiration toward the Lord. He encouraged us throughout our time in the cemetery and gave us permission to share the Gospel with any visitors we met. 

The Gospel was not only heard in the conversations shared amid tombstones and tall trees but also seen painted in the artwork on display at the cemetery. As we helped pick weeds, mow the lawn, and pick up trash, we followed the intricately-detailed paintings that told the story of the Gospel —a story that we not only grew up reading about but now stood amongst. 

Uplifting Spirits

We arrived in a new region during the weekend, and in the morning, we got to experience an Arabic service at a local church. The service was beautiful and intimate, and it was breathtaking to stand in a room filled with different languages and cultures, all gathered together to praise God. 

After the service, we met up with our new tour guide who our team grew to love so much because he connected with us so easily (and would always throw in “dad jokes” to make us laugh). He took us on a smaller tour of the city we were staying in and we got to see new places — each holding sacred moments that we were familiar with and got to experience in a new way. One of my favorite moments was where we were able to stand in a place that held so much significance and splendor to our faith. Our tour guide led us into a moment of worship and we began to sing a hymn that has been sung for generations, and for a moment we joined with heaven singing glory to God in the highest.

While in this region, our group served with different ministries that helped the elderly and children with disabilities. Our team split in half, so that each group could go to a different ministry each day. My group visited a ministry that helps students who have learning and physical disabilities. The students and faculty carried so much joy, and it was evident while we served there. We spent some time helping the blind students with activities that meant to help strengthen their abilities to perform tasks by themselves. The teacher we assisted was also blind and had been working there for many years. It was so beautiful to see how much she believed in her students, pushing them to do the things she knew they could. 

There was an outdoor playing area for the students where they could enjoy some time with a playground set and games. This was probably my favorite part of the day because they all would come so alive when it was time to play. There was one student in particular who was very knowledgeable about where to go and how to do things. He knew a lot of English and even helped two of my teammates translate words from English to Arabic and vice versa. 

We connected deeply with the students and enjoyed spending time with them. Most of the time, we couldn’t understand their Arabic and they couldn’t understand our English, but the language barrier did not stop the genuine connections from being built. We laughed with them, sang with them (and there were some really amazing singers), danced traditional Arabic dances, played tag, and overall had so many joyful moments. I think they poured into us as much as we poured into them because we left with such uplifted spirits. They are all so beautiful — inwardly and outwardly— and they don’t allow their limitations to hold them back from the way they live their lives.

Hope in the Midst of Conflict

To write about this trip without mentioning the ongoing conflict we saw in the area would be a missing piece to the story. The conflict in the Middle East has been happening way before we arrived, and we had the privilege of learning about the deep-rooted history of it on our trip. During one moment on our trip, we experienced a learning day where we were taught the historical context of the conflict and how both sides have interacted with each other through the course of history. It was very eye-opening to learn about it in a way that went much deeper than what I had been taught before. We got to see the conflict through different lenses, through the perspective of each country.

During our time in some of the more difficult areas of this region, our knowledge about the conflict grew even more as we began to hear and read about the personal stories within these places. The art we saw tells stories of grief, pain, and heartbreak, but they also tell stories of hope and strength. 

We spent time with different believers who were born in this region, but have come to know the hope of Jesus and now follow Him. I think they are a perfect representation of the inclusive nature of Jesus, who came not only for the Jew but also for the Gentile. Jesus stands with His arms extended toward all nations, reconciling them to Himself. 

There was a conversation we had with one believer from this region who had spent a lot of time with our group. As we looked over the hillsides, he began talking to us about the realities of being a Christian in this area of the world. He told us how he doesn’t pick sides, he just wants peace. His heart breaks for the treatment of his people, but he doesn’t hate the other side.

As a team, we had to process so many of the emotions we experienced while learning and immersing ourselves in everything that we saw and heard. In the midst of the turmoil, we were reminded that God is not a God of sides. He loves every person, and He came for every tribe, every tongue, and every nation. He came for people and we too are called to love all people.

New Friends at the Center

For the last part of our trip, we traveled to a different region and it was where we spent the most time and did the most ministry. Our contacts in the area were a couple who have such a heart for reaching people in this area of the  world. They are loving, bold, strong people who do everything they can to reach the unreached, see the unseen, and love the unloved. 

One of the ministries we were able to help with was a center where many refugees go to learn English, music, and other skills. It’s a ministry built to equip, teach, and help them live their lives as refugees in the city. The center is also staffed by different volunteers from other countries, whom we were able to connect and spend time with. 

We spent a lot of time serving at the center, helping teach English, playing chess with new friends, and telling stories as we repainted the walls. We bonded over shawarma and washed dishes, learning about each other’s culture and what ministry looks like in other parts of the world. It was amazing to be in a room with so many different nationalities, all with the same goal of pouring out love on the people over this region. 

Reaching the Unseen

The girls in our group also helped serve in prison ministry with our contacts. Many of the girls in the prison were trafficked from all over the world. When they attempted to escape their traffickers, they were put into jails,and ended up alone in a new country with no one to visit them. What our contacts do is secure funds to help buy plane tickets for the girls to go back to their home countries, as well as visiting the girls and trying to show them that they are loved in the meantime.

Each of us was assigned three girls to talk to over the phone. We could only spend 3–5 minutes with each girl, so we had to be intentional with our time, especially with the language barriers. Though we spoke to these girls through a phone and separated by a glass screen, their emotions were palpable, as if we were sitting in the same room with them. We listened to their stories and spoke encouraging words of hope, speaking life into them, and showing them that they were seen and loved. They were all such strong women who were walking hard paths in life, but their beaming smiles remained as evidence of their strength and unwavering spirits.

Over Cups of Black Tea

Some of my most treasured moments from our trip were the home visits, where we visited refugee families and spent time with them. Before going to these families, we went as a group to the local grocery store to buy and make food packages for each of the 42 families. 

It was such a privilege to be welcomed into the homes of these refugees who have given up so much to be in a new country. We were always welcomed with smiles and black tea, which is now a symbol of the memories we created and shared with each family. 

During one of our home visits, three members of our group accompanied one of our contacts to visit a Yemeni family in the city. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the husband, wife, and their 17-year-old daughter. There was a moment when we asked about some of her favorite hobbies, and she shared that she really liked music and poetry. One of my teammates found that the girl’s admiration for poetry was a natural avenue to talk about Jesus. She mentioned how some of her favorite poetry comes from the Bible, specifically from the Psalms. We were able to read Psalm 23 with her, share how the Scripture relates to us, and what it could mean for her life. She asked us if we knew this song that she really liked, which reminded her of the Psalm we read. It ended up being a worship song we knew. She expressed how beautiful the song was and how listening to it made her feel something. She then showed interest in learning about Jesus and the Bible. We didn’t know at the time, but the significance of that moment was that if it had happened two years ago, she wouldn’t have been open to that conversation at all because of her beliefs. To see how divinely appointed this interaction was, that it led to her being interested in reading the Bible and knowing more about Jesus, showed us the ways in which God is actively reaching people in the Middle East. He sees them, and He reaches out to them through the little details in their lives. 

Have You Seen the Man in White?

One of the most impactful moments from this trip that resonated so deeply within my soul, is how actively and personally God is moving in the Middle East. There are countless stories of Jesus appearing to many people through visions and dreams. He is reaching them through other people, music, their surroundings, and the intricate moments of their everyday lives. Throughout this trip, I witnessed how close God is to the brokenhearted, and how He desires to make himself known to every tribe, nation, and tongue.

We encountered people from all walks of life, whose faith was so empowering for us. They showed us that Jesus is worth everything, and that He will do anything to reach the one. We shared so many memories, made so many friends that we still keep in contact with — friends who opened our eyes to new perspectives and loved us as much as we loved them. We walked with the people in these countries, we sat with them, listened to them, and received the wisdom and stories they chose to share with us. 

The story God is writing is beautiful — it’s personal, passionate, hopeful, active, and it will keep unfolding for all eternity. A missionary from the east once said, ”We have to come out of the agreement that the Middle East is a hard place to reach.” The ground is so fertile here. People are hungry for Jesus, and He is making himself known to all.

By Giselle Terrero, SEU Student 

Edited by Emma Stern & Mia Golding, Student Writers 

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Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff travel the globe each year through SEU Missions. Each student-led mission trip has a specific purpose with one overall goal — to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.

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