OM workers Henry* and Christine* recently moved to Europe, after 23 years of living and serving in the Near East. A few weeks before they moved, they attended a goodbye service held by the local Kurdish fellowship where they’d mentored, discipled and encouraged Syrian believers.
The Kurdish group, which has existed only two years in its current form, seemed eager to champion the couple’s expanding ministry frontiers. “A number of them have the vision to see something happening in different parts [of the world],” Christine said. “Some of the fellowship has left to Europe… It’s very much on their heart to see ministry to them there. They were very excited to pray for us, that they could send us off.”
At the farewell gathering, the men gathered around Henry and Christine to pray for them. Afterwards, the leader stepped forward. “I want to anoint your feet so that wherever you go, God will give you the land and the people before you,” he told them.
“I was so humbled by that. They were praying for us to go to [Europe] and see much fruit and to reach out and serve,” Christine recalled. “This picture, the way that they prayed for us, the way he humbled himself to anoint our feet was such a beautiful gesture and an expression of their hearts to see God’s kingdom come.”
Having vacationed in Germany a few months prior—as the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe unfolded, capturing the attention of international headlines—Henry and Christine felt God leading them to transition their long-term ministry to a new location.
“Europe has set up a good relief network,” Christine explained. “On the practical side, I think there are a lot of good things happening there. When it comes to the spiritual side and the cultural understanding [of ministry among Arab refugees], sometimes that’s lacking.”
Kurds from all over the Middle East have headed to Europe, fleeing on-going conflict but also leaving the kind of training and support Henry has offered. “We don’t want to leave them alone,” he said, referencing their relocation. “We [will] try to help them and help the churches.”
Originally, Henry and Christine’s vision was for the Sunni and Shii’a Muslims, not the Kurds. But after being kidnapped and forced to leave the city they intended to stay long-term, the couple relocated to a Kurdish area. A few years later, when they moved countries again, a Kurdish pastor contacted Henry. “He had a vision to train Syrian Kurds, so we started to train Syrian Kurds with him,” Henry said. “At that time, the fellowship was only a very small group of people.”
When that pastor left, another leader emerged, and the group grew to about 40 people. For a few years, the fellowship fluctuated, sometimes functioning well, sometimes not. In 2012, however, large numbers of Kurdish refugees arrived in their area. Whereas the Kurdish believer group up to that point had mainly consisted of single men, that year “we actually started to see hundreds and hundreds of Syrian Kurdish families,” Christine said.
During that time, the couple “encouraged the Kurdish believers with literature, to do outreach and to start Bible studies,” Henry said. They also asked the local centre coordinating work among the Kurds to start a weekly meeting. “We didn’t have the responsibility for it, but we just encouraged them,” he emphasised.
About 250 Kurds now attend weekly meetings at local churches, Christine estimated. In the years of growth, she and Henry never led the ministry but simply supported the Kurdish believers, consistently “mentoring, encouraging, standing by them in times of difficulty, encouraging them to persevere, [and] walking alongside them.”
“Sometimes we feel like we haven’t given much, but it seems like some of these little things have touched them or given them an example to follow or challenged them to really keep on going and persevering in their ministry,” she said.
For example, one Kurdish believer told Christine about her first encounter with Henry. He’d walked up to her family’s sixth floor apartment, in a building without an elevator. Then Henry saw that the family didn’t have a Bible, so he walked down the stairs and then back up again to bring them God’s Word. “That so touched her because no one would do that,” Christine explained. Six flights of stairs were reason enough for most neighbors to avoid visits, people of Henry’s age in particular. “But here he is and he really wants us to grow and come know the Lord and just to help us and encourage us,” the believer said.
In a neighboring country, too, where Henry travelled every few months, he encouraged the Kurdish believers by becoming like them. “In winter, it was freezing cold, and in summer, it was so hot,” Christine said. “These guys didn’t have all the comforts, and Henry would be willing to stay with them.”
“Through the 23 years [in the Near East Field], we had ups and downs. We had some really exciting times and some times to plow on and keep on. What God is doing among the Kurds right now, we never had planned. God, through His ways, brought us around,” Christine encouraged. “That’s a lot of my story: God giving me the grace, stretching me, blessing me and preparing me for something new. As we trust God, He’s faithful.”
“Henry and Christine leaving creates a very big hole, both relationally and in terms of ministry for us as a field,” stated the OM Near East Field Leader. “They’ll still be involved with the Kurds, and we see how their move to Europe and focus on mobilizing churches there is a really good fit for them. We’re excited for them to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Pray for Henry and Christine as they transition to life in Europe. Pray that God will use their cultural and ministry experience to reach many Syrians, in order that they may come to know Him. Pray for more workers and churches in Europe to join the work among refugees.
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