MENA (MNN) — The Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is home to many of the world’s hardest-to-reach unreached people groups. According to Joshua Project, the number of unreached people in this region represents 259,615,767 individuals.
These communities do not know Christ, but it doesn’t mean they reject Him. In fact, “Being marginalized and the kinds of despair and emotions that come out of that are actually one way the Holy Spirit reaches people,” Aylin Mardin* says.
“Because of the treatment they’ve received from the Majority population, they are more open to the Gospel.”
How many people do not know Christ?
The first Arabs in the MENA region were called Bedouins and were tribal nomads from Saudi Arabia known for their love of poetry and war. Today, people groups throughout the region speak various versions of Arabic, reflecting the widespread influence of Arab culture. This leaves non-Arab people groups on the fringe.
Mardin works with believers trying to reach non-Arab unreached people groups in MENA. It’s part of a new collaborative effort described here. Statistics vary by source, but “there are quite a few different non-Arabic people groups within the [region],” Mardin says.
According to data received from field workers, at least 14 unreached people groups in nine MENA countries are non-Arabs. These 14 groups represent more than 24.9 million people.
Mardin collaborates with various ministries to reach “the Kurds, some of the Berbers in North Africa and the Middle East, and then people who don’t fit into any group, like the Zaza in Turkey.”
Approximately 1.5 million Zaza live in southeastern Turkey, and most follow Sunni Islam. While there are several different dialects of the Dimli (also known as Zaza) language, many speakers consider themselves ethnically Kurdish. Pray for this people group.
Why are they unreached?
Christianity originated in the Middle East, and there are thriving fellowships scattered throughout the region. Plus, “more Muslims have come to Christ in the last 30 or 35 years than in the 1,450 years before that,” Mardin notes.
So why are people groups like the ones listed above unreached? Mardin says believers often assume a lack of funding is the reason. However, “that is almost never the case… there are much more entrenched political and social issues for why these people are unreached. For example, the people I’m working with are in very marginalized communities within the countries that they live in.”
No matter which country they’re in, Kurds face discrimination and oppression. Even in Northern Iraq, where they are a majority, Kurds operate a ‘country within a country’ whose future is unknown. The Berber people originated in Morocco, yet “the growth of the Arab population within Morocco has made them now a marginalized community,” Mardin says. Because of years of repression and neglect by the Turkish government, the Zaza live in poverty in rural mountains and valleys as subsistence farmers and nomadic shepherds.
The good news? Difficult is not impossible.
God is moving among the Zaza. In 2018, Mardin says believers partnered with a Turkish church to proclaim Christ in Zaza communities. Through a series of unexpected blessings and miracles, Mardin says the group received permission for a two-night creative arts outreach. A large group gathered to “heckle” the performers, but God had other plans:
Two of them – Hasan and Hüseyin – spoke long into the night with the local believers who had traveled with the team. That night, both of them had dreams of Jesus, and the next day, they prayed with the believers to follow Jesus. Hasan and Hüseyin laid the foundation for the church in that province where, within a matter of months, a church of twelve had formed – the first church of majority Zaza speakers in the country.
Now that you know, how will you respond? “These people who still remain unreached [need] prayer by the Body of Christ worldwide; that’s really going to be a big factor in seeing them come to know Christ,” Mardin observes.
“God wants people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation to be worshipping before the throne. If there are people from these tribes, tongues, people and nations who are not yet there…the body of Christ [needs] to make sure those people are represented.”
*– Name changed for security purposes.
Header image courtesy of Prayercast.