Jordan (MNN) – There comes a point when the lines between ministry and work get blurred, and when they do, casualties occur. The same thing happens when ministry becomes an idol or expectation rather than an honest heart search and a conviction to serve others.
By unintentionally harming the people the Christians came to serve. George, an Arab Christian living in Jordan associated with Program for Theological Education by Extension, shares his thoughts.
“Some people from the West try to save us, but this has two problems. The first one is really the one who works in the heart is God himself. So when they try to help us out of our problems and many difficulties, persecution and all of this, they can’t,” George says.
“They may stop some kind of persecution, difficulties that we face, but really, they cannot change the hearts of those who cause this persecution. It’s God who can really change the situation. But in addition to that…some of those who try to save us sometimes unintentionally create more problems.”
When Serving is Damaging
One example—religious freedom. Freedom of religion in the Arab World varies from country to country and some organizations have taken it upon themselves to defend religious freedom in the region. However, despite their good intentions, this can be problematic.
Because of the way some of these organizations choose to support religious freedom, specifically for Christians, they have insulted governments and caused more problems. Christians these organizations were trying to defend become greater targets in their countries. Furthermore, as George has said, these organizations cannot change hearts; only God can.
Rather than attempting to change life as they know it themselves, Arab Christians like George are trusting God. But when people do help, George wants them to be aware of how their actions and words could impact the local Christians and hurt them. A piece of advice he offers—be respectful to the culture, the people, and the government. Even the Bible, in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Timothy, talks about submission to governing authorities.
Learn About the Local Culture
Second, get educated. Learn about the complexity of the situation impacting local Christians. Ask local Christians about their experiences, listen to them and learn from them. If Christians do not listen to the local body of Christ, their mistakes will negatively impact those they are trying to help.
“When some of them have some political position, stances, and they try to in a way convince us as Christians here or convince the government of these stances, this also does not help us. Let’s really try to separate politics from religious freedom. Politics and religious freedom, although they are in a way connected, are not the same thing,” George says.
Working vs. Serving
Finally, George says when Christians, particularly from the West, come to work alongside the local church, they need to serve, not save. Many Westerners have come to the Middle East, and other regions, with a savior mentality rather than an intention to serve. This has also dealt damage to the local Church.
“We welcome everybody who wants to come and help us. There are a lot of things that we need help with here in the area. If they want to come and help us, we need it. We cannot deny that we need it,” George says.
“The thing is that sometimes they think that they are here to save us., that we are just ignorant and we know nothing and yeah, there are many things that we do not know and we need to learn, but this kind of mentality does not help us.” Some of those who came from the West [are] trying to lead, and they make the ministry be centered around them. If they leave, the ministry does not continue. They make programs and they ask locals to come and help in their programs instead of seeing that we need them [in the] ministries [we have] in the area.”
“They can add some input into it instead of creating something and attracting others to be the [center of this new thing].”
When Serving Helps
There have been situations where outsiders create a ministry that becomes central to the local community. But then when they leave, so does the ministry. George asks for Christians to search their hearts and ask themselves why they are leaving their home country. Is it really to humbly serve others and walk alongside a local Church to build it up, or are they traveling to a different country to ‘save’ it?
“Leaving your country in itself does not mean that you are serving God, even if it’s religious work. Religious work does not mean it [is] ministry, it means work sometimes. This is something related to the heart,” George says.
Christians should search their hearts before traveling abroad not because local Christians do not want help from their brothers and sisters, but because they want the help to be pure, honest, and God-honoring.
George says PTEE has had non-Arab Christians serve with the ministry in the past who really had a heart for serving and building up the local Church. These Christians made a positive impact on the seminary program and the community, but they also served with honest hearts and open ears.
“Some Western workers come and make…their communities here in the Middle East instead of serving the locals and serving the local churches and helping in whatever way needed…They need to be aware of this when they come to serve, not work…they need to have this mentality and they need to be part of…at least the church community,” George says.
PTEE was established in 1981 by Arab Christians and Western Christians living in the Middle East. They saw the need for on-location, Biblical, theological education at the seminary-level which was not accessible to Arabic-speaking Christians living in the Arab World. Together, the foreign Christians and the local Christian leaders, through God, took the by-extension seminary from an abstract idea into a reality. Today, PTEE is run by Arab Christians for Arab Christians.
However, George says the seminary has room for foreign Christians who fit a specific skill set in administration, some academia, finances, and other areas.
Responding Through Prayer
Would you walk alongside PTEE and reconsider how you choose to engage with the global Church? Search yourself through prayer and also by asking, why do I want to help? Ask God to shape your heart.
“They need to make sure they come remembering that as Jesus left everything, we at least need to make our work and ministry centered around Jesus himself and around the people [that] to whom we are going,” George says.
“This is ministry to God, not to themselves.”
Header photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash.