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THE UAE’s X-FACTOR

18 May

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Overflowing churches are not what you expect to find within this Islamic nation. With guest workers comprising about 85% of the population of the United Arab Emirates, however, the government graciously granted land upon which churches could be built. Hundreds of thriving congregations now exist in this part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Christian hospitals, pioneered in this area before any others existed, were largely responsible for the government’s accommodating attitude. IMG_1135When the Oasis Hospital was opened by Christian workers in Al Ain in 1960, a church was established on part of the original land grant. Later this church was officially separated from the hospital, but the same compound is today used by no fewer than 32 groups of worshipers every week. Roman Catholics have their own property, as do Orthodox and Anglicans.

The compound’s largest congregation is the international, English-speaking church, numbering 400 to 500 people. Among the kaleidoscope of other fellowships are Arabic-, Afrikaans-, Filipino and Urdu-speaking Pakistani congregations, large Malayalam- and Telagu-speaking groups for Indians, and a Thursday evening evangelical Episcopalian church. Loud calls to prayer often intrude from the mosque right next door, but that doesn’t inhibit the enthusiasm of church gatherings. All maintain a distinctly evangelical viewpoint and programmes such as the Alpha Course and Perspectives series have been run on a regular basis.

“We’re maxed out!” declares Pastor Stan Rubesh of TEAM, who has lived in the UAE for 22 years. For the last 12 of those years he has been responsible for the church centre in Al Ain, pastoring the international congregation for a time. The pastor adds that he gets a constant flow of applicants to use the compound, especially with the growing difficulties relating to gatherings in hotels and other venues.

Rubesh says he has seen the birth of Sri Lanka and Nepali fellowships, and is anticipating that other linguistic/ethnic groups will also be reached in a similar manner. A recent convention held for Nepali Christians attracted 500 men and women, most of whom met the Lord after moving to the UAE.

The UAE government grants residence visas for church workers who are affiliated with recognised church groups, but most congregations are led by lay pastors. The churches actively pray for and reach out to the unsaved, and are able to sow many seeds amongst the expatriates who work there; often they live in labour camps where construction companies and others accommodate thousands of workers in sometimes poor conditions. Other believers show the love of Jesus through medical care and education.

The number of purpose-built worship centres has increased, and the mind-set of Christians has matured. More are now concerned about the need to reach other foreigners who don’t know Christ. The United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD) has so far planted three other flourishing bookshopchurches in the country. Congregations are even taking the responsibility of sending people to minister cross-culturally in other countries. An increasing number of youth have volunteered for missions. At any one time, five to 10 are serving somewhere in the world with OM International.

OM feels the time is ripe to establish a full-time representative to churches in the area, to encourage their mission vision. “We are uniquely positioned to demonstrate a different approach to missions and mobilise, recruit and raise money,” explains a spokesperson. “This is a message that you can preach publicly within UAE churches. But to really birth this vision we need people, young men in particular, who are looking for adventure.”

Although there is as yet no national church among Emiratis, Christian workers call the United Arab Emirates a beachhead. “God has put His stake in this land. There is an openness here that is in no other place in the Arabian Peninsula. With hundreds of churches and thousands worshiping the Lord in the UAE, something has got to happen!”

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Dreams in the desert

29 Apr

God is preparing the way for a spiritual awakening in the Gulf

IMG_0907It’s the planet’s largest importer of gold and boasts the tallest building, the fastest power boats, the richest horse races and the biggest shopping mall. The United Arab Emirates delights in breaking world records–maybe because Emiratis themselves still marvel at their newfound wealth. The discovery of oil has catapulted the UAE from camels to Cadillacs, from shifting sands to six-lane highways and from tents to state-of-the-art office blocks–all within the space of 50 years.

Not all Western imports to the Arab world have been beneficial. Drugs and alcohol are serious problems, and an over-indulgence in fast food has turned one in five residents into diabetics. The initial oil wealth has attracted enormous levels of foreign labour– western management and expertise combined with low cost manual and semi-skilled labour from South Asia –and this has resulted in spectacular economic development. It has also resulted in bizarre demographics, with expatriates making up 85 per cent of the population.

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Even Islam takes second place to the affluenza virus. Newly arrived Christian workers are bewildered to find churches abounding in all denominations; the government has even gifted them with land. In December, malls carry all the trappings of Christmas. And nowhere do fierce mutawa–the religious police so notorious in neighbouring Saudi Arabia–strike fear into the hearts of less-than-conservatively-dressed tourists. Life is deceptively easy.

Although religious police do exist, they concentrate on deflecting extremist elements like Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Nobody wants terrorists rocking the boat of prosperity. The real difficulty for foreigners lies in getting close enough to the Emirati people to share the truth of Jesus Christ. Nearly 100% are Muslims and although a good number are secularised, Islam is still an important part of their identity. Mosques are within walking distance in every neighbourhood, by law; there are even places for prayer in shopping malls. Every day they join the billion all over the world who bow toward Mecca.

IMG_0944Locally-born residents are easy to spot, the women veiled head to toe in black, men elegant in flowing white dishdashas and head coverings. But how does one make friends with them?

Expatriates require a visa, which means most of them, including Christian workers, must have full-time jobs as bankers, teachers, architects, business consultants, and so on. “It’s very easy to lose focus, to get busy and lose the way,” confess these workers. “You have to be intentional in ministry even when you’re tired, and make an effort to learn the language.” But the fact that almost everyone around you speaks English or Hindi or Urdu or some other language makes learning and practicing Arabic doubly difficult.

“The UAE–and Dubai in particular–is one of the toughest nuts in the Gulf to crack because of the economic prosperity,” admits another worker who has lived in the area for 13 years. “However, this is the front line. This is where my heart has always been directed, and that’s why I’m excited to be here!”

Major  ‘quakes’ in the Arab world

He points to three major shake-ups in the Arab world identity in recent years: 9/11, which made many Muslims question the ethos of Islam, what it is really about; the big economic crash of 2008, which hit Dubai – the business hub for the Arab world – particularly hard; and the “Arab Spring” of 2011–a season of great political upheaval for many societies in which ordinary Arabs discovered they could effectively challenge authority, both political and religious.

“God is unsettling all the assumptions that have recently governed the Arab world. While it looks stable, a lot is going on underneath. Western education has undermined a lot of Islamic assumptions and there is vast disillusionment, especially among young people. The trickle of pent-up frustrations of women is also becoming a deluge. Things are falling into place, so we must be prayerful and as ready as we can be. It’s not us who will decide when the change will come, it’s the Holy Spirit.”

How then should world Christians intercede? “Pray that God will equip His people with boldness,” he says. “It’s so easy here to be inhibited by security concerns. Also pray for personal holiness. The temptations we face here are no less than what we have at home. But if we have a heart for these people and we are focused, faithful and holy–we will get to be part of a truly amazing work of God!”

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Philippines: Running the relief marathon

12 Mar

IMG_1217It’s Sunday morning in Tacloban. Last November this city gripped the world’s attention after mega-typhoon Haiyan smashed into the Philippines, claiming 6,000 lives. I am sitting in the Tacloban Christian Church (TCC) where I can still see the high water mark left on the walls from the 16-foot tidal surge that flooded the sanctuary. Some of my OM co-workers who arrived here a few days later helped scrape away the mud and debris so the church could be used as a relief centre. Three months later there is still no electricity, and the pastor and his family have only a limited water supply. The church van parked outside is unusable, its engine corroded by salt water.

“Tacloban went on world display because of this typhoon,” TCC Pastor William Dy tells his audience. “There is ‘global warming,’ and there is ‘global warning’. What does God want to say to us?”

For such a time as this

After the service I talk with Jerry  “Sambo” Yaokasin, a former pastor who attends this church and who was elected vice mayor only six months before the disaster. “People say to me, this is a bad time to be in office. But I think it’s the best time! I strongly feel I’ve been put in this position for such a time as this. We Christians are instruments of God, put here to make a change and to speak for Jesus Christ. I think this situation has opened doors to the gospel.

He adds, “When I graduated from seminary I worked in a Cebu church, and the first relief goods we IMG_1239received was from that church. I feel Christians have to unite and show that it makes a difference to follow Him.”

Over the next few days I inspect some of the other hundreds of churches that have been affected–some only left with bare foundations. Other congregations have stretched tarps across partially-destroyed roofs or walls. The auditorium of the King Jesus Community Church is crammed with small tents and mosquito nets that shelter a  team doing medical work. On Sundays the tents are taken down for services. Pastor Nilo Timkang and his wife look tired. Their family lives in a tiny room attached to the church, and she gets up at four each morning to care for the teams.

“But God is doing great things in people’s lives,” affirms the pastor. “An OM social worker did 277 case studies of families in the nearby communities—the poorest of the poor—who we are helping. Now three-fourths of the people who come to church are new!”

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Pastor Nilo’s fellowship is part of a network of Christian churches and agencies that have gone all out to minister to the area’s stricken people. But pastors families, too, are victims, and after months of continuous coping amidst inadequate conditions they are exhausted. After assessing the situation, OM International’s Philippine Field Leader, Sally Ababa, recognised that the best help OM could offer was to empower, train and sustain God’s people so they could carry on with their strategic work. OM also served as a buffer between churches and the offers of teams and relief goods that came to Tacloban’s vice mayor.

Sally Ababa is convinced that the Lord was preparing her all of her life for this moment in history. “I still feel the pain of all that has happened, of course. But God has given me an avenue to exercise my passion for people–and when your passion can be used to meet one of the world’s greatest needs, it’s amazing. That’s how I survive: being a channel of God’s light and salt to the community.

“Our OM staff is no stranger to crisis situations,” she points out. “We have been in training for many years. Eighty percent have graduated from community development courses.”

In the last few months, a partner organisation has provided three short but intensive training courses in relief work for OMers and church leaders aimed at helping them to make emergency decisions and relate more effectively to NGOs. Training in trauma counselling was also put to use among displaced people, and in February Epic Solutions, another partner agency, held sessions in Cebu and Manila that were particularly aimed at helping individuals who had lost their livelihoods to start small businesses. This March, OM is hosting a “time out” for about 30 pastors and their families who have been in the thick of relief efforts over the past months.

“We want to give them some space and time to process and get debriefed from their traumatic experience,” explains Sally, “so that their need for inner healing and spiritual formation can also be addressed and they can anchor their hope in Jesus Christ alone.”

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In it for the long-term  

When asked if OM has hosted relief teams from other countries, Sally says she had to make some hard choices. “We couldn’t accommodate teams– and we couldn’t ask churches in the disaster area to take them, either, when they were already exhausted. Our OM staff members were also personally affected by the disaster.

“It would have been easy–and tempting–to spend all of the money that came in on mass distributions,” she says. “We have chosen instead to build up local capacity to deal with the emergency over the next months and years. The big NGOs come and go. They are essential but their help is short-term. OM’s goal is long-term: that no one in the Philippines [not just in areas in the news] will die because of hunger and thirst. Relief and development is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

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Awakenings

3 Feb

Zanzibar is an island paradise that could use much more of the Son

ZANZIBARsailboatsTourist brochures call the Zanzibar archipelago the Spice Islands: the ultimate, exotic Indian Ocean experience. For centuries, however, Zanzibar was more of a favored destination for Arab traders than tourists. The islands were a transit hub for ivory, spices and hundreds of thousands of African slaves.

Zanzibar won independence from Britain in 1963 and a year later joined with Tanganyika to create the country of Tanzania. Unfortunately, the relationship has often been uneasy and one party, the Citizen’s United Front (CUF), has made it their goal to reestablish Zanzibar’s independence. Ninety-seven per cent of the 1.3 million population is Muslim and a radical faction within the CUF called Uamsho, meaning “Awakening” in Swahili, also wants to see the islands return to Sharia law and the Muslim way.

Pioneering

Early in 2011, two Christians formerly with Campus Crusade for Christ moved to pioneer new work in the small, 90 by 30 kilometer island in the sun. Theo* and Astrid were already aware of the rise of radical Islam. During their first years several church buildings were damaged or burnt down by extremists, and a Catholic priest was shot dead. This August Zanzibar hit the headlines again when two 18-year-old girls from England, volunteer teachers for underprivileged children, suffered severe burns from an acid attack.

In September the violence came even closer. An elderly Catholic priest was attacked with acid just after leaving an internet café; very near the Christian couple’s apartment. This made the fifth attack since last November, and although no group claimed responsibility, suspicions have focused on Uamsho and external radical influences.

“According to rumors, Uamsho has sent some young men to the Middle East for jihad training,” report the couple. “Intimidation and radical speeches are sowing fear and division. The vast majority of locals want peace, but when they are forced to make a choice they will go with Islam. Many are illiterate and will do whatever their imams tell them to do.

“The government is looking into all these matters,” they add, “and they are making progress. Death threats against pastors are being dealt with successfully and according to reliable sources, perpetrators have been arrested in Tanzania where the attacks been orchestrated.”

The minority church

Local Christians, however, are still scared. “The majority do not have assurance of faith and we sense some strife between different denominations on the island,” says Theo. “Many pastors have not received any training, theological or otherwise. TV Christian channels are their teachers. Leaders are in need of skills to develop projects, coach individuals, plant churches and handle many other aspects of shepherding God’s flock. Believers have a great need for guidance in discovering their talents and potential vocations.”

After immersion in the culture and learning some Swahili, Theo and Astrid started a street church. Because people are so dependent on the tourism industry it is hard for them to find time for discipling believers. Theo has learned to fit his time around their different schedules, regularly visiting new Christians and following up the many contacts he makes with non-believers on the streets. Theo is enthusiastic about this ministry and says, “I can’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit is going to do!”

At the beginning of 2013 Astrid started what she calls the Butterfly Project, teaching Christian and Muslim ladiesZANZIBAR2women basic skills in first aid, nutrition, sewing, knitting and other subjects. The idea is to develop some women who will take over the project and teach others: reaching individuals, then reaching communities. So far this idea has met with great success.

Astrid and Theo ask prayer that a greater hunger for truth will emerge among Zanzibar’s Christians and that they will demonstrate more unity. “Christians need to be able to give the answers that Muslims are seeking for when they ask questions about Jesus. Those who receive revelation and new life must have a safe refuge to go to. Pray that Christians will be ready to receive new believers into their homes.”

Although slaves are no longer bought and sold from this beautiful island, the majority of people know what it is to suffer spiritual bondage. Ask God to bring a different kind of uamsho or awakening: one that will lead to life rather than destruction.ZanzibarBoy

*Names changed

FOREVER GRATEFUL

16 Dec

When I asked how he happened to join OM International in Belgium 16 years ago, Govert Minderman flashes a pirate-like grin and jokes, “They left the front door open!” But before that, Govert had taken a few seriously wrong turns.  His story really goes back to when his Indonesian Govert Mindermanparents were interred in a Japanese concentration camp in the 1940’s. During those harrowing years his father was forced to watch his wife being raped by soldiers. He also saw his brother cruelly beheaded.

Govert says his mother was a strong Christian.  “Later, I asked her what she did after she was attacked. She said she dropped to her knees and prayed that God would redeem those soldiers. She also prayed that hate wouldn’t enter her heart, so that she could raise her children in love.”

After they were liberated, Govert’s parents were given the choice of returning to Indonesia or moving to the Netherlands. They chose Holland. In spite of his mother’s powerful faith, Govert began running with wrong crowd as he grew older, drinking and taking hard drugs.

 “I was on drugs for 25 years,” he admits. “By the end of that time I needed 500 Euros a day to support my cocaine and heroin habit. I even robbed a bank to get money. The woman I married was also on drugs. When we had a daughter, the welfare department threatened to take her away unless we stopped our addiction. So I went to a rehab center to try to get free of it. My wife started going with another man, and we divorced.”

LOST & FOUND

Of his salvation experience Govert simply says, “God found me.–I didn’t find him. He let himself be found! My mother told me I needed to pray and when I was sick from drugs I prayed. But the answer didn’t come until years later.” The “hound of heaven” relentlessly pursued Govert over many paths until he was ready to stop and acknowledge his need. Accepting Jesus as Saviour changed him from the inside out.

Not long after that, Govert attended an OM new recruits’ conference in the Netherlands.. “Meeting Al Meyer [manager of the Zaventem, Belgium, conference centre] and fellow believers there was one of the most blessed times of my life. I wanted to join one of OM’s ships but I had injured a tendon, so was advised not to. Then someone suggested that I should help at the base in Zaventem, Belgium, because I like practical work.

Zaventem, Belgium buildings“Just the fact that I could be part of a ministry is such grace. –To BE church rather than just go to church! In Zaventem we were ten nationalities together. I helped with building, maintenance and repair at first. Now I also like doing hospitality for ZavCentre. It’s the Lord who gives a smile, who fills my heart with joy!”

For a number of years Govert assisted disabled OMer Jonathan McRostie, and remembers once struggling with another friend to carry him and his wheelchair up a set of steps to a meeting room. Jonathan suddenly asked his helpers, “Do you know what this reminds me of?” Govert’s friend, groaning under the weight of the chair, mumbled that he wasn’t  interested. But Jonathan went on, “Remember the friends who carried the disabled man to Jesus and made a hole through the roof?”

 “Suddenly,” smiles Govert, “ that chair wasn’t so heavy!  You know, moments like that are really precious.”

 In his spare time, Govert enjoys playing his guitar and doing prison ministry with friends. “I like to play music, to have fun. But the most important thing is God’s Word. We always try to share that, or give a testimony.”

Govert will always suffer heart and kidney problems as a result of his long years of drug abuse. But few visitors to ZavCentre go away without noticing his cheerful spirit. Govert is very aware of how much he owes the Lord for turning his life around. “I’m a blessed person,” he states simply. “Whenever people ask me how I’m doing, I always say I’m grateful!” —Forever grateful.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Europe-Restoring-Hope-Deborah-Meroff/dp/3941750062

Read Debbie Meroff's book and learn how it's possible to transform a continent

Read Debbie Meroff’s book and learn how it’s possible to transform a continent

Angola: Training up a nation

20 Nov

Helping a war-ravaged society heal itselfAngolaFlag

Why should a country that exports oil and diamonds have to import half its daily food? Over a dozen years after the end of a brutal civil war, Angola’s economy is slowly rebounding. Yet residents can only expect to live an average of 54 years, and child and maternal mortality rates remain among the highest in the world. This country clearly has a long way to go; so does the Church.

AngolaTeam2Yet after many years of investing themselves in this southwest corner of Africa, Wessel and Joan van der Merwe say that their hearts overflow with joy to see a dream come true: Angolans are becoming missionaries in their own country. Marta, one of the most promising students in OM Angola’s 10-month mission course, now feels a strong call to join the team long term. Nando, another student who took Petra College’s correspondence course on children’s work this year and attended the “Walking with the Wounded” training in South Africa, has already joined OM. Unfortunately, while both of these young people have promises of some financial support, it is not enough for them to stay long term.

Training in God’s Word

Meanwhile, the demand for Bible correspondence courses continues non-stop. With the help of local believers, the materials are being translated into another language, Luchachi. Wessel and Joan are looking to God to provide the necessary printing costs.

“One very big need, however,” they add, “is the constant demand for Bibles! We cannot keep up with the need for Scriptures in Umbundu, Cokwe and Luchachi languages. People come daily to our base to ask if we have received any more copies.”

Bible school training

Raising up qualified leadership for Angola’s churches has been a priority for OM since its beginning. When the team saw that existing seminaries were often too expensive for the average person, they created a programme that would allow students to work and study at the same time. Seven Bible schools have now been established in Uige, Luanda, Menongue, Kuito Karnivale and Calai. Other institutions assist; Veritas College, for instance, offers a course called “How to interpret the Bible with the Bible”. The Africa Leaders Institute in Namibia has also been involved, and the Christian Reformed Church in South Africa is committed to helping with both training and financial support of Angolan leaders in the same denominations.

Equipping children and youth

With forty-four per cent of Angola’s population under 15, OM has a wide-open door to share God’s Word with the next generation and teach them basic English. Children’s clubs have been effective in reaching the un-churched. Programmes held every Saturday are impacting about 400 children in just two communities.

Thanks to contributions from a supporter in England, construction has begun on the foundation of OM’s children’s centre in Menongue, another long-awaited dream.

“A lot of work remains,” note the van der Merwes, “so we ask you to trust God with us for the time, hands and outstanding finances still required. We also ask prayer for a speedy registration process with the government and for wisdom, discernment and protection against all forms of corruption. Plus an individual or couple must be found to live on the premises and co-ordinate the work in our absence, whenever we go to Luanda or South Africa. With God’s help, our centre will assist very needy children and orphans to reach the full potential He has for them.”

Meanwhile, the team continues to train pre-school teachers and Sunday School teachers for Angola’s churches. “So many do not feel well-equipped. We praise the Lord for opportunities to help teachers learn how to build relationships with their children, as well learn how to prepare and present well-balanced lessons.”

Discipleship training for teens

Youth who once attended children’s clubs and are now trying to stay faithful to Jesus in their teens AngolaDisciplingprisonyouthalso need training. Some committed Christian youth are volunteering their time to minister in the local prison in Menongue.

“Early every morning at 6:00, young people who were using–and sometimes still use—marijuana show up for discipleship training, ready to be equipped with God’s Word,”affirms the team. “We are very encouraged by their zeal, but sexual temptation is very big here. One of the devastating statistics of Angola is that 43 per cent of youth have had sexual relations by the age of 15.”

OM Angola hopes to build relationships with the ever-increasing numbers of youth who are using drugs by making their property available as a soccer field. “We are excited about the opportunities for introducing Christ’s way through the rules of the game. Please trust God with us for His time to start this ministry, as well as the right people to co-ordinate it.”

Advocacy courses for church leaders

Meanwhile, training is helping to close the gap between church leaders and the children in their churches and communities. This year OM Angola held its first advocacy course with the support of Petra College, which partners with the team in children’s ministries.

The team’s goal is that each leader and Sunday School teacher will make sure their children have assurance of faith in Christ Jesus, so they will experience His sincere love for them.

Angola’s greatest hope does not lie in its oil fields or diamonds, but in its next generation. Will you join in asking God to raise up more Angolan young people to reach the world in which He placed them?

The Maltese Cross

1 Nov

Sharing God’s good news with local people and foreigners on Malta gives the cross a whole new meaning.

MaltaCrossThe cross is a cherished and significant symbol for one particular island in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta is not only one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world, it is one of the most Catholic. Almost everyone is baptised into the Roman Catholic Church at birth. Tourists are struck by the prominence of crosses and images of saints all over the island.

 Malta took a strong stand for Christianity when the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on its shores, but countless battles have been fought on its soil. It was thanks to the Knights of Malta, whose symbol is the Maltese Cross, that the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were halted from their advance into Europe. During World War II the island served as a British outpost, and King George VI awarded the people the George Cross for their valiant stand, helping to free Europe and North Africa.

The cross has also been the underlying motivation for Dutch workers on Malta, Dirk and Wil Knies. While serving on board OM’s ship Logos II in the Caribbean during 1996, the couple were in a car accident that left both of them badly injured. Forced to leave the ship ministry, the Knies moved to Malta in 1998 to start something new

Evangelicals in the MinorityMaltaSea

Dirk estimates that there are perhaps 800 to 1,000 believers and 12 to 14 evangelical fellowships on the island, although some are tiny and meeting in garages or homes. He believes that visits by OM ships over the years have helped to break the religious ice. But, he adds, “The church is still small. The ground is still hard. Catholicism is an important part of life here. A Maltese who steps out and becomes an evangelical Christian will be isolated from his family.”

Last Easter Dirk and a few friends shouldered a giant wooden cross and carried it across the island for eight days, stopping frequently to talk with residents.

“To most people Easter is just a traditional religious feast,” he observes, “they don’t know what the cross is really about. But six people came to Christ!”

Dirk and Wil found themselves focusing more and more of their concern on new arrivals from the Middle East and North Africa. Malta lies only 176 miles east of Tunisia and 207 miles north of Libya, and its proximity has lured thousands of men, women and children to chance the perilous sea crossing. The UN’s refugee agency estimates that approximately 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers landed on the coasts of Italy and Malta during the first six months of 2013 alone. Often these desperate people pay $1000 or more for transport in unseaworthy boats. While Malta’s search and rescue efforts have saved many lives, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea in 2012 alone. Those who do manage to reach Malta may be sent back to their home countries or held indefinitely in a detention camp.

“We get boats all the time,” relates Dirk, “people arriving in horrible shape.”

Finding Refuge

Distressed by the condition of such refugees and seeing many Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East hiding in fear of authorities, the couple began to help them both practically and spiritually. They even took some of the men into their home for long periods of time, assisting them to find asylum in other countries. They have also had the joy of seeing Muslims discover a more permanent spiritual refuge in Jesus Christ.

MaltaDirk1Over the years Dirk has volunteered to lead OM teams into North Africa. He often takes along a Maltese flag; using the cross that it features to share about Jesus’ sacrifice. “I’ve been pulled into the police station a few times, but not imprisoned.” He shrugs. “I’ve never really suffered.”

The Cross in a Box

This summer Dirk hosted his fourth OM Transform team on Malta. One of the evangelism tools he has designed for their use is the “Little Big Gift,” a cross with pictures and Bible verses from Romans that folds into a small box.

“I love to train people and put stuff in their hands that works,” he says. “We need to multiply our efforts so that more will get out there to evangelise. I’ve tried the Little Big Gift everywhere and given away 1500 or 1600. Nobody has ever really refused, even in the Middle East. I used it once to share God’s gift with a lady at a bus stop and after 10 minutes she said, ‘I understand! I want Jesus in my life.’ She got on the bus a new person.”

Dirk calls himself “a pipe through which God’s love, grace and blessings flow.” “For over 40 years I’ve witnessed to the average man on the street as well as presidents, princes, police and others in authority. I’ve shared in palaces, government buildings, schools, factories, shacks, tents and on hundreds of streets in the darkest countries of the world.

 “At times I’ve felt like quitting,” he admits. “Believers with a Muslim background often hurt us; many times we’ve been cheated, deceived and in some ways stabbed in the back. There are times that I’ve failed too. I’ve let down my Lord and my family. But the one thing that has always kept us going was continuing to look to Jesus. ‘For us, to live is Christ; to suffer for Christ is honor; to die for Christ is gain‘” (Phil. 1:20-23, 29, 30).

Dirk values your prayers as he continues to shoulder the cross on the island of Malta.