Light and love for Bedouin villages

09 Mar, 2016 | Near East
Nicole James
Bedouin woman listens intently to a story.  
Photo by Kathryn Berry
Months after Transform, OM’s short-term summer outreach, Farah* stopped by Hayley* and Kendra’s* house for a visit. While Farah settled onto the floor cushions in the salon, Hayley prepared drinks on a tray in the kitchen, filling each cup to the brim. Having lived in this desert village in the Near East for the past three years, Hayley, a long-term worker, knew the hospitality Farah expected.

Once Farah finished her glass of water, the first thing provided in light of the temperatures still soaring towards 30°C, Hayley returned to the kitchen for juice and the cookies she’d baked in anticipation of Farah’s visit. She also grabbed a piece of paper that had been lying in her room for the last few months.

Hayley served Farah the second drink and offered her a fresh-baked cookie, setting the rest on a low table in easy reach of her guest. Then she handed her the neon sheet of paper with a hand-printed recipe for a South African milk tart. “I keep forgetting to give this to you,” Hayley apologized. “It’s from the girl you met during the summer program.”

Translating the Father’s love

Farah had played an integral role during the Transform outreach, translating at the four Kid’s Club programmes as well as joining the team for their daily debrief. “My favourite part of the summer programme was when the kids acted out the different stories,” she told Hayley.

Some of those stories were parables, bits of the Bible that the Bedouin kids not only heard for the first time but also learned by performing. For Kendra, as leader of this year’s Transform outreach, sharing truth with the kids and also their mothers encouraged her most.

The story of the prodigal son especially hit home for them, she remembered. “When we say, ‘Who is the hero of the story,’ the kids say, ‘the father.’” The storyteller then made the point more explicit by adding, “God is like that Father,” Kendra said. “The moms were there, the kids were there, and I know those seeds are there. I was like, ‘Oh, this is why I’m here: to share.’”

Hayley said having other outside believers come to her village, take part in her everyday life and learn to love her friends and neighbours was a highlight for her. Her local friends experienced what it was like to be around a community of people who love Jesus, and the additional support amplified her team’s ability to serve the community. “I felt encouraged and motivated by the fact that they came and participated alongside us,” she shared. “We did plan a special program, but they really were coming alongside with things we were already doing, supporting us and giving us increased capacity for our ministry.”

Dual focus

The international team that came to the field for the Transform outreach focused on two main ministries.

First, Kid’s Club. According to Hayley, Kid’s Club was already an established part of village ministry when she arrived on the field three years prior. A fixed location and up to 60 regular attendees made it an ideal means of building relationships with the kids and their families.

“It’s enjoyable, it’s fun for the kids, it’s educational, they’re able to learn something, they’re able to practice English. It’s good, wholesome fun,” she described. “The kids are always eager to come and participate, to learn and play games and learn crafts.”

Hayley and Kendra’s team normally organizes Kid’s Club once a week at a single location, but with the additional help from the Transform participants, they put on the programme fourteen times spread over four locations. In one village, 102 kids showed up. “It blew our previous records out of the water,” Hayley said.

“That’s the day we shared the prodigal son story,” Kendra explained. “For me, it was the best.”

The second way the Transform team supported village ministry involved teaching English. For the first year and a half that Hayley lived in the village, she taught English a short bus ride away from where she lived. Since then, she’s taught in a handful of other locations. “It’s something I enjoy, and it’s something there’s a huge demand for,” she explained.

Three of the short-term women worked with Hayley for the duration of the Transform outreach, figuring out how to implement the English lessons she’d created for teenage girls in her village.

In addition to the planned programmes, the Transform participants also received cultural orientation, went on local visits, participated in prayer walks and drives, and completed an exploration adventure where they travelled to another village via public transportation, alone but equipped with maps and instructions.

Long-term encouragement

“I’m always delighted when new people come and they really want to learn,” Hayley said. “All three of the Transform groups I have worked with, the participants have been eager to learn, eager to participate.” With this year’s team particularly, she noticed that in “the things that we would ask them to do, they were very eager to listen to us, to really work hard to try to adjust to the culture out here, to try to learn how the Bedouins live and what things are important to them.”

Of course, challenges arose during Transform, inherent to life on the field. For instance, the night before Kid’s Club and English classes started, one of the scheduled locations cancelled. However, even that sudden reworking of plans reflected workers’ normal life in the village. On the morning of Farah’s visit to Hayley and Kendra, regular Kid’s Club had also been cancelled by the director, 15 minutes before the women were planning to leave. Farah, who had agreed to translate that day, was already on her way out the door when she received the message on her phone.

As far as Transform relates to the field at large, Kendra said, “Short term is good because maybe people want to come in the future, and maybe it gives them good experiences… For us, it’s nice because you get new, fresh people, excited people. We get used to the local sheep and the camels, and they’re like, ‘Oh, camels!’ They bring new ideas and also energy.”

Another benefit, according to Hayley, “is just being able to spread our connections and get to know more people.” Months after Transform, she attended a neighbour’s wedding, where she saw some of the girls from the summer English programme. They remembered her as well as the short-term volunteers, she noted: “People here still ask, ‘Oh how are those girls? How are your friends? Where are they? Are they coming back again?”

For some people, coming back to the Middle East is “the final step, the ultimate result,” Hayley explained. But those who never return also play an important part in sustaining long-term ministry. Short-term participants “have the opportunity to represent us, our team, our ministry, our village, our people to their own churches, their own Bible studies and friend groups, and through that, they kind of spread our network globally… which broadens our prayer support. When these people come temporarily, they spread the word on our behalf. I do think that’s a special moment when they go home and tell others about us.”

*Name changed

Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher, and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.

Credit: Nicole James · © 2016 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

OM’s role in the Church is to mobilise people to share the knowledge of Jesus and His love with every generation in every nation. OM pioneers and leads initiatives to redeem lives, rebuild communities and restore hope in over 110 countries.

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