(Photo courtesy of Global Advance)
Middle East (MNN) ― Outside the nation of Egypt, evangelical pastors report that they number only about 200. About 100 of these pastors, along with 40 to 50 of their wives, recently gathered for a Frontline Shepherds conference. The goal of the conference, as with all Frontline Shepherds Conferences, was to inspire and equip the pastors for an indigenous church planting movement.
"Pastors were represented from many different evangelical groups and denominations, and from eight different nations," said David Shipley of Global Advance. "We feel that the Holy Spirit really did something very, very significant; and these wonderful, courageous pastors and their wives did truly leave with a vision in their hearts and with tools in their hands."
All of the pastors face at least harassment, if not outright persecution, for proclaiming the Gospel in a heavily Muslim culture. Even on the way to the conference, one couple had to go through interrogation at the border because they said they were going to a pastors' conference. The interrogation was so severe, the wife fainted.
"God only knows what they went through coming back from the pastors' conference," Shibley said. "These are truly courageous frontline shepherds, and I honor them, and I'm very grateful that we had the privilege of helping them."
Another pastor who came to the conference ministers in a city where several churches have been bombed.
"They now have an army tank from the government that rolls up in front of their church before every service, supposedly to protect them from more radical elements that would want to do the church harm," Shibley related. "This is the kind of pressure that believers here are under. Imagine here in the United States if you had to have literal military protection simply to convene for worship. This is what our brothers and sisters are experiencing in some parts of the Middle East."
Through experiences like this, many pastors have already thought through the question of martyrdom. As a result, they came to the conference with a joyful, single-minded focus on committing their lives to Christ and His church.
"They realize that they could potentially lay down their lives for Christ," Shibley said. "And yet in the midst of that, they are rejoicing, they are victorious. So even with the restrictions in many nations, they are continuing to at least begin new house churches."
At the conference, the pastors and their wives received biblical training and resources - things that are not easy to come by in the Middle East. The conference also gave them the rare gift of rest, and of being on the receiving end of ministry.
"Several of them came up to me in tears...expressing how very grateful they were, and how much it was needed. The wives in particular were so very, very grateful, simply to come away for a few days and rest, and receive beautiful meals and encouragement and fellowship with one another," Shibley said.
Shibley encouraged believers to pray for Christians in the Middle East - not just for the peace of Jerusalem, as we certainly ought to pray, but also to remember the churches in the Arab world.
"I believe that we simply need to pray that, as Jesus said to Peter, I prayed for you that your faith does not fail," Shibley explained. "Not that any of these men are in any real danger theologically - but simply the batterings of living in a massively predominant Islamic culture, where they are holding forth the Word of Life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ - they bear a price, they pay a price for that every day.
"We need to pray that they will remain strong, that they will be victorious in Christ, that they will remain encouraged in the Lord...that they would...continue to see that one day, this area of the world, as all of the world, will be under the lordship of Jesus Christ."
Global Advance runs more than 100 Frontline Shepherds Conferences every year. Learn how you can support this ministry through prayer, through giving, or even by traveling overseas.