God restored what was lost

 In North Africa and the Middle East

15 APR, 2015 | NEAR EAST

Nicole James

After 31 years spent building a career and a community in her home country, Esther* answered God’s call to move to the Middle East.

“You lose your language, your ability to communicate, your community, your church, your work,” she said. “I felt a real sense of loss when I left.”

Yet ever since the Lord told her to go, several years earlier while she was praying after a missions meeting at church, Esther knew her life plans had been turned upside down. When she finally arrived in the Middle East, nervous about moving in with locals, daunted at the task of learning the language, she saw God faithfully organise each detail as she obeyed His leading.

Two years into Esther’s ministry, the political situation changed in Syria, the country she’d claimed as her new home. Her team dissolved, some leaving for pre-arranged purposes, some for further study, some because of government mandates. “I left because there was nobody [on the team staying],” she stated.

She moved to a neighbouring country to lead a new team, uncertain about the decision, struggling with grief during the transition.

“You just feel like you’re abandoning people. You’re starting again with everything: a new country, a new dialect. It’s really difficult,” she said. But again, God was faithful.

“He uses every single bit [of your life] to weave it into this rich story. Nothing goes wasted, good or bad. Whether you’ve obeyed Him or not obeyed Him, He still redeems it and brings it back into this picture, even if it’s not according to how you want it to go,” she said.

As the political situation escalated in Syria, streams of people began pouring over the borders into nearby countries. Soon, she was surrounded by the very people group she had left. Her initial grief during these transitions had prepared her to effectively minister to Syrian refugees facing the loss of friends, family and careers due to the war in their home country.

“I feel like God has restored all that [I lost] and given me even more,” she said.

Spiritually, God has opened doors in Esther’s current community that were never available inside Syria when she lived there. Previously in Syria, “you could go in and have conversations with people about Jesus, you could give out literature, you could have all these chats with people, but you only ever got so far,” she said.

Now, Syrians are asking her to read the Bible with them. “It’s a completely different atmosphere,” she said. “I’m able to be very open. People know that’s what I do—read the Bible with people. I don’t even need to go looking very far for the opportunities.”

Reaching families

At the beginning of the year, Esther visited Nadia*, the mother of a family she had met, who had experienced a medical emergency. Before Esther left, she prayed with Nadia, and the women read the Bible together.

“That really put me at peace,” Nadia said. As Esther continued to visit Nadia and her family, she recognised how open they were. She started doing a regular Discovery Bible Study in their home, talking with different members of the family each week.

After almost 10 months of studying the Bible, the family told Esther of their commitment to follow Jesus. “We’ve decided,” they announced.

“It’s a good example of God bringing somebody into your path, and God working in their lives,” Esther said.

Teaching the next generation

Esther met Sandra* in another chance encounter. Esther had been discipling Sandra’s aunt, one of the first believers in the community, when Sandra and her siblings, displaced from their home in Syria, arrived at their relatives’ home.

At the time, Esther was leading a Bible study group for teenagers. “All we did in the teenage meetings was read the Bible and pray and ask them questions. Then we drank tea. Then they went home,” Esther said. Over a shared dinner with the family, Sandra’s uncle encouraged his niece to attend the meetings.

Sandra started going, attending church on Sundays, and, by the end of the year, she was following Jesus. “She was like this shining light,” Esther said.

Several months later, Sandra left the country with her family, looking for work elsewhere. Although Sandra had to leave all the family’s Bibles behind, she managed to obtain more from a church as she travelled, bringing them with her across another border and, eventually, giving them all away to her sister and a neighbour.

When Esther asked Sandra how she was personally reading the Bible, Sandra said she’d downloaded it on her mobile phone. “She’s totally being a blessing, and she’s 16. It’s really encouraging,” Esther said.

Experiencing grace

For Esther, the work of discovering people who are attentive to the Spirit continues to unfold. Openness and spiritual opportunities abound.

“Step into what God’s given you to do on a daily basis, and He’ll bless you. Being obedient in small decisions—it’s still a journey I’m on,” Esther emphasised.

“I am the most reluctant church planter in the world. I like hanging out with people. I like loving people. I don’t have amazing Arabic. I’m not a brilliant Bible teacher. But somehow or other, God puts me in people’s paths. It’s His grace.”

Pray Esther and her team will continue to discover people who are seeking God. Pray the Word takes root among Syrians, so that future generations are raised up to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

*Name changed

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