Ready and available

01 Mar, 2016 | Near East
Nicole James
When Kyle*, Seth* and Dan* arrived in the Near East to join the MENA Traveling Team (MTT), like most recruits fresh from OM’s GO Global Orientation conference, they had little experience with life in the Arab world. They didn’t speak the language. They didn’t even know how to get a taxi.

By the end of their year in the Middle East and North Africa Area (MENA), however, the MTT participants not only knew how to hail a cab and use basic Arabic to communicate, they’d also grown immensely – personally and spiritually – as a result of their varied travels across nine countries. They also left a legacy across MENA, having distributed over 10,000 Gospels within 12 months.

“To know that, through the team, we have made the Gospel available to over 10,000 people in the MENA region is unbelievable actually,” MTT leader Paul* said. “We’re meeting an actual need of the field that long termers can’t accomplish.”

Unlikely encounters

During their year travelling around MENA, the group said some of the most memorable encounters were completely unplanned, “random encounters in random places,” team mentor Tim* described.

Once, while walking back through a city in the Near East after distributing literature, Kyle and Tim met two men who wanted to know more about what the MTT members were doing as well as what they believed. After awhile, an older man sitting nearby joined in, asking them what they had been discussing. Upon hearing the topic of conversation, he said, “That’s great! I’ve been hoping and praying to get a Bible for five years now.” Luckily, Kyle and Tim had an Arabic Bible in their bag, which they promptly gave him.

Another time, in a different country, a young man approached the MTT group and started talking to them. “He was tired of Islam,” Tim explained, “and he didn’t know anything about Christians.” Then Tim and the other MTT guys explained some of their faith to the man and gave him a Bible.

“He was one of those guys, as soon as he got the Bible in his hands, he just started reading and kept reading for a good while,” Tim remembered. “He gave it back to us, and we said, ‘Oh, you can keep it.’ Immediately, as we said he could keep it, his face just shone.”

“I feel very privileged to have those [encounters] where I have not done anything to prepare the ground,” Tim shared. “God has led us perfectly to that person who He has been working in and allowing us to be part of it, in giving the Word and sharing.”

Expect the unexpected

From sleeping outside in the desert during a sandstorm, to being run out of town by an angry sheikh, to mailing thousands of Gospel tracts through the postal system, to being pelted by raw eggs—each country offered unique adventures, according to the MTT members. Despite the constant variables, for Kyle the experience proved “very much what I expected because I was told to expect the unexpected…You basically have to be as flexible as possible. You have no idea where you’re going before you sign up.”

If anything, the amount of training between trips – ranging from finding water in the desert to telling people the Gospel – surprised him the most. Each training module carried purpose, preparing the team for their next outreach.

Tim said the group often worked by themselves in the countries they visited. Despite his two years of prior experience in the Near East, spontaneous planning, at times, challenged the team. “We’ve had a lot of own initiative in every place we’ve went to,” he explained. “Freedom can allow you to do things, but when you’re new to a place it can be difficult to know what to do and how to do it.”

The men gained momentum as they progressed through the year, Paul noted. “Each training phase that we finish, they have just a little bit more confidence in what they’re doing. You can see it in the amount of questions they ask about hotels, busses, etc. The first outreach, they had very specific questions. They asked about everything, which is a symptom of being nervous about not knowing and not having the knowledge and skills to improvise on your own… Now I can say, ‘Here’s a general picture of where we’re going and what we’re doing.’”

Re-route to Serbia

Paul highlighted flexibility and diversity as two especially successful elements of the MENA Travelling Team, particularly near the end of the year.  These characteristics played out not only individually but also corporately as the group re-routed one of its final trips from North Africa to Serbia, ten days before their plane was scheduled for departure.

With OM workers on the ground in southern Europe and the Balkans desperate for additional volunteers to support their small teams’ burgeoning efforts to assist in the refugee crisis, relief coordinators called on those within MENA to lend a hand. “A few people were able to say yes and go, but for the most part, most of us can’t. We have language classes, friendships and jobs,” Paul explained.

MTT, however, was different. “I talked to the field leader in North Africa,” Paul recalled. “I told him I would like to be able to answer yes [to Serbia] because it’s an immediate need.” The field leader agreed, and four days before the team’s would-be trip to North Africa, Paul purchased tickets to the Balkans instead.

Spending two and a half weeks in Serbia among refugees, MTT members “were able to bring their language, their understanding of Arabic culture and Islam and how to interact with that people group,” Paul said. “It was a cool thing for me because our whole purpose is to be in the MENA region, but I always preach that flexibility is what MTT is… Even in the first year of MTT, we’re changing to meet the needs.”

For Dan, making relationships proved just as important as meeting needs. “What we’ve done has been cool, but what’s been more meaningful for me is the people that we’ve been able to partner with. It’s really been cool to come alongside these people that are already doing incredible work,” he said. “We’re different than normal short-term teams…We have some Arabic skills, we show up and go to work. We’re able to encourage the teams [on the field] because we’re not tourists.”

MTT finished its first year in late December 2015. Kyle transitioned to team mentor, welcoming three new participants in January 2016. For more information about how you can be involved transforming lives and communities in MENA, check out job opportunities:

*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

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