May 18, 2023

Entering the Hard Places

Bringing Christ’s presence to the lost and oppressed

by Emmy Duddles

Despite being mentioned frequently throughout the Bible, a persecuted people group from the Middle East has gone largely unreached with the gospel. These people have a deep, rich history, but they have long suffered the effects of racism from other majority groups for hundreds of years—enduring exile, poverty, betrayal, and genocide. 

In the midst of overcoming all of these obstacles and surviving violent discrimination, they’ve also experienced in-fighting and betrayal from within their own tribes and families. This has created a deep sense of mistrust within these people—mistrust of strangers and even of their own families. They still rely heavily on their families and community for their livelihood and well-being, so even if they do hear about the love Christ has for them, they face a difficult decision. If they accept Christ, they risk being ostracized or even killed by their families and communities, the only support system they have. 

The people within this group need to experience God’s love and have a safe place to land when they’ve been rejected. Reaching groups like this is hard—it takes years to build trust and show these people that following Christ is worth the sacrifice and persecution they will likely experience. But God is faithful to open doors for His people to bring His presence to those who have yet to find Him. 

A Sense of Peace

More than a decade ago, an Alliance team in the Middle East established a community center with the intention of building a strong, trusting community for this oppressed people group. Intentionality in fostering relationships as well as the variety of programs the center conducts, such as English classes, conversation nights, and community picnics, has resulted in a meaningful presence for this team. 

“When people walk through the front door of the community center, they say this sense of peace comes over them,” says Jeremiah,* an Alliance international worker serving on this team. “We attribute it to the Holy Spirit that when people come here, they can share their lives, and they have a level of comfort with us.” 

Through these programs, Alliance workers are able to have conversations and build trusting relationships with people who have grown weary of their own religion. Even though it is difficult for these people to trust, they are often open to having religious conversations, offering many opportunities to share the gospel and bring more people to Jesus. 

“The community center is not our ultimate purpose for being here,” Heather says. “That is how we’re able to have a meaningful, impactful presence here. Our ultimate goal, however, is to help build up the Church, to help raise up local leaders, and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ among a people who don’t know Him.” 

Because of the relationships this team has built, they have been able to start Bible studies where those from this people group now pray and worship in their own language. There have been many barriers, as people, especially women, are scared to be associated with anything Christian for fear of retaliation from their families. Despite the obstacles, these Alliance workers have still seen many people come to faith and grow deeper in their relationship with Christ because of this Bible study. 

When this Alliance team first landed 15 years ago, there were hardly any believers in a city of almost 1 million people. Now, there are 150 known believers, some of whom are leading their own Bible studies and small groups to share the gospel among their own people group. 

“It has been a huge encouragement to see that the Holy Spirit is working in this city,” Jeremiah says. “People are coming to faith, and we pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work and multiply.” 

A Longing of the Heart

One night as students filed out the door after Jeremiah dismissed his English class, one of his students, Zakary, stopped by his desk. Zakary started sharing about his struggles in the country and about the different barriers he had to finding work and establishing a good life because of his ethnicity. 

Jeremiah began talking to Zakary about faith. Through this conversation, it became clear to Jeremiah that Zakary had a deep interest in learning more about who Jesus is. “I could sense there was a longing in his heart for a relationship with God,” Jeremiah says. 

They lined up a time to meet outside of the community center so they could continue their conversation. This quickly turned into weekly meetings where Jeremiah would lead Zakary through different passages in the Old and New Testament, discussing everything from the purpose of church to the importance of faith in Jesus. Zakary was also meeting a local pastor, and soon he committed his life to Christ. 

When Zakary had to move to a neighboring city in order to find work, Jeremiah started trying to find a local believer there to continue having Bible studies with Zakary. Though this new city is twice the population of where Jeremiah and Heather currently work, Jeremiah could not find a locally led Bible study or even a single local believer to meet with and disciple Zakary. 

An international worker was able to connect with Zakary, but this search showed Jeremiah what a great need this new city had for more gospel access. The Alliance team back at the community center began having discussions about who they could send to the neighboring city to bring the gospel so that these people would have a chance to hear about Jesus. 

Heather and Jeremiah started praying about whether they were the ones who should be sent. Because of the life they’ve built in their current city, they weren’t sure if they should uproot themselves and their children. “But after taking a trip to that city ourselves,” Heather says, “the Lord wouldn’t allow us to close the door. He really burdened our hearts, and we knew deep down that He was asking us to take this new step of obedience.” 

Launching Presence

In this new city, the people group Jeremiah and Heather work among are even more closed off than where they live now. There’s more devotion to the majority religion and less opportunities for Christian community, which means an even greater risk to following Christ.

“We feel honored to work among this people group,” Jeremiah says. “When we do see people come to faith, we feel like we’re in the first century of the church because we are seeing people who literally have to reject their entire lives to follow Him, like Jesus’ apostles. It challenges us daily to follow Jesus with more passion and with everything that we are.” 

There is one area of the city that has no gospel presence at all—as far as Heather and Jeremiah know, there is not a single believer from this people group. Their plan is to establish another community center in order to meet felt needs and have opportunities to build relationships. 

Among the 50 workers being commissioned at Council 2023, five of them will be joining Jeremiah and Heather to launch this project and create a gospel presence where there isn’t one. Pray for these workers as they create a brand-new team and as they search for housing and a building for this community center. 

“It’s our hope and prayer that the people of this new city will be transformed because they experience the hope and joy we have in Jesus,” Heather says. 

*All names changed

Great Commission Day 2023: Launch Presence

You are invited to be a vital part of Great Commission Day 2023—a special day of giving to send and sustain your Alliance workers and launch gospel presence in some of the world’s remaining hard places. 

Today, more than 4,000 unreached people groups—comprised of nearly 3.4 billion people—remain throughout the world. 

When you make a gift to the Great Commission Day Offering, you join the greater Alliance family in sending new workers, supporting existing ones, and launching gospel presence among lost, suffering, and overlooked people. 

Will you launch gospel presence that brings the hope of Jesus to those with little hope in some of the world’s hardest places? 

To learn more or give to the Great Commission Day Offering, click here.

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