You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Authentic (February 15, 2009)
Tom Doyle pastored churches in Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico for a total of twenty years before becoming a missionary in the Middle East. His passion for Israel was fed through guiding tours there, eventually becoming a tour guide for the State of Israel. Tom also serves as the Middle East director for e3 Partners, a global church planting ministry. He is author of Two Nations Under God. He and his wife, JoAnn, have six children and two grandchildren.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $17.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Authentic (February 15, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The Middle East is the place where history, religion, and politics collide head-on. The lead news story of the day often emanates from this volatile region—and rightfully so, because of its instability. By watching the news on television, it would be easy to form an opinion about the people who live there. It would also be easy to form an opinion about the future of the region, and my guess is that your opinion would not be optimistic. How could it be? Is there ever any good news from the Middle East?
Yes, there is good news from the Middle East! In fact, there is great news from the Middle East! That is why this book was written. It is time for Christians to find out what is really going on in the Middle East. God is moving in this region in which Jesus was born, ministered, died, and rose again. This book will give you the news that the mainstream media won’t give you. Rather than viewing this part of the world with a sense of hopelessness, as we’re prone to do, we can celebrate the return of hope.
I’m involved in ministry throughout the Middle East. For the last ten years now I’ve heard people say, “Tom, you should write a book about all that God is doing in the Middle East.”
It’s rather ironic that I ended up ministering in this region. The story started with a trip to Israel. In 1995, professors Charlie Dyer and Doug Cecil invited me to join them on a biblical tour of the Holy Land. My initial reaction was that I was too busy, considering that our church was young and growing and I was the senior pastor. But my wife, JoAnn, convinced me that the church could survive without me for ten days. So off I went.
My life was changed. The Bible came alive, and my understanding of Scripture was transformed. Some people in our church even said that my preaching got better when I returned. (I think that’s why they were so happy for me to go back each year!)
I not only fell in love with Jesus again while in Israel, but I fell in love with the people there. Both Jews and Arabs found a place in my heart. And I was thrilled to discover that there was a vibrant, growing church in the Middle East. It was also refreshing to see Jews and Arabs who loved each other and had come together in the body of Christ. After four thousand years of strife between Isaac and Ishmael, peace between their descendants seemed too good to be true.
Of course there could be peace between them! I just had never been exposed to the Prince of Peace in action with Jews and Arabs. I didn’t even know one Jew or Arab where I lived. But isn’t that what the gospel is all about? Christ came to tear down the wall between Jew and Gentile and to bring peace to both. And I was seeing it! While leading a trip to Israel each year, my love for my Savior and the people of the Middle East grew. I didn’t realize it; but after leading a trip to Israel in 2001, my life was about to change dramatically.
Let me back up about a quarter of a century. In 1974, God called me to attend Bible college and then seminary to prepare to be a pastor. It was a dramatic experience as God clearly began to speak to me through important spiritual leaders in my life about going into ministry. Even though I resisted this for a while, God gave me great peace about serving him this way.
I loved being a pastor! How privileged I am to have served Christ in that capacity for over twenty years. I believe there are two things that pastors, as shepherds of God’s flock, are responsible to do: feed the flock and lead the flock. I was passionate about fulfilling, through the power of the Spirit of God, both of these responsibilities. For two decades I enjoyed giving maximum effort to these two assignments.
A sense of joy and excitement arrives on Sunday morning when a pastor is ready to teach the Word of God and feed the flock. But there is pressure too. Do I understand the true meaning of this passage of Scripture? Will I be able to convey God’s heart to his followers? Will my application of the biblical text bring hope to those who are hurting today?
Feeding the flock consistently is not an easy job, to say the least. I can liken preaching a sermon to having a baby. You’re excited about the birth, but you don’t know what the baby is going to look like. That’s how it is with every sermon! Preaching the Bible week in and week out is tough. Each week the pastor’s sermon is analyzed and critiqued. But more important for the preacher is answering the question, Did I faithfully bring God’s Word to his people today? Being called to teach the Bible and make it relevant to God’s people is a high honor and privilege.
Leading the flock is also an honor, though it will drain a pastor of every ounce of energy. There are highs and lows. One week you may experience the joy of performing a wedding; the next week you may be called upon to perform a funeral. Like feeding the flock, leading the flock is not an easy job. People have problems. They die. Their marriages fail. Their children walk away from God. Then the pastor is called in to help God’s followers get through the crisis. How awesome to bring God’s love and compassion to his people in time of need. Only God can heal the hurts and give his people the strength to make it through the difficult trials of life. The pastor gets to see this up close and often. This too is a privilege.
Go East, Young Man!
This was the world in which I lived. This was my calling, and I thought that I would be feeding and leading the flock for the rest of my life. But on the first Sunday in June 2001, God called again. I had just preached a sermon at my church, Tri-Lakes Chapel in Monument, Colorado; and while we were worshiping near the end of the service, God began to speak to my heart. The message was clear: This is the last sermon you will preach at Tri-Lakes Chapel.
This impression came across so clearly that I responded, Lord, is that you? Or am I imagining this? I was in a state of shock. The people sitting nearby must have thought, Is the pastor having some kind of meltdown? He’s just staring straight ahead!
I left the service shaken and immediately headed for my wife, JoAnn. JoAnn and I have been married for twenty-eight years. She is an amazing wife, mother of our six children, and now grandmother. She also has an insight into people and situations of which I am often clueless. I said, “JoAnn, the strangest thing just happened. I think God told me that we are going to leave the church. I don’t understand this, do you?”
“Yes, I do!” she replied immediately. “Over the last few months I have felt that God was beginning to release us from Tri-Lakes into another ministry field altogether. Let me ask you a question. If you weren’t a pastor, how would you want to serve God?”
I thought for a moment and then said, “I think it would be in missions.”
JoAnn then asked, “And where do you think that would be?”
That was an easy one. “In Israel and the Middle East.”
“So do I!” JoAnn replied. “Tom, I believe that God is calling us to leave local church ministry and to serve him on the frontlines in missions.”
We didn’t waste any time. The next day I went to the elders and told them what was on our hearts. Wanting to make sure this wasn’t just a whim, they graciously counseled me to take three weeks off and seek the Lord. That was great advice, and I will always thank the Lord for their godly direction. Those three weeks were pivotal in our spiritual journey. Both JoAnn and I began to sense God’s calling so strongly that it erased any doubts that we might have had previously.
Making the jump from pastor to missionary sounded like some sort of midlife crisis to some of our friends, and not all of them were as enthusiastic as we were. But God was burning into our hearts a call to go to the mission field. We lived in the Colorado Springs area, where well over a hundred ministry organizations are located. Many staff members of those organizations went to our church. With so many great ministries in existence, how were we to know which one to join? We needed direction from God—and that direction would come quickly.
A longtime friend, Curtis Hail, called and said that he was going to be in our area and wanted to drop by for a visit. Curtis had served in missions for about fifteen years, and I had been on mission trips with him to the Soviet Union and Argentina. Curtis and Nathan Sheets had just formed a new ministry called EvangeCube. Curtis stunned us when he said, “We’re looking for a Middle East director—someone who will work with pastors.”
JoAnn and I broke into laughter. “Are you serious? That is exactly what we believe God is calling us to do!” When God is in something, he sure knocks down the barriers. We have found that those barriers often are not real but only in our minds. After some concentrated prayer, we knew that God had opened the door for us at EvangeCube, which later changed its name to e3 Partners.
At the end of June, we said goodbye to our church after nine wonderful years of ministry. I was supposed to preach a farewell sermon, but in both services I broke down and began crying. I couldn’t get any words out. I felt so badly that I wasn’t able to preach one last message to these people I dearly loved. But JoAnn reminded me that God had clearly impressed on my heart on that first Sunday in June: This is the last sermon you will preach at Tri-Lakes Chapel.
My days as a pastor were now over. It was on to the mission field!
The next few months were dedicated to raising support for our new ministry. The thought of raising support was intimidating and funny at the same time. As a senior pastor, I loved missions; and missions became a major part of our church life. But I had often said, “I don’t know how our missionaries do it. I could never raise support. With six kids, that would be insane!” Ironically, that is exactly what God called us to do. And we soon found out that his ability to provide is more than we can imagine. He has been so faithful.
Middle Eastern Terrorism Goes Global
Within a couple of months, something happened that changed everything in our new ministry.
As I was driving home after dropping off our daughter at school, ABC News interrupted the radio station I was listening to with this: “An airplane has gotten off course and has just slammed into the World Trade Center.” Since I had led tours to Israel and Jordan, I was tuned into the terrorism threats that emanated continually from the region. My first thought was There are no flight patterns through Manhattan—this is a terrorist attack!
When I got home and turned on the TV, JoAnn and I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. America was under attack.
After the four coordinated strikes, the country was in shock. The stories of those who had lost their lives were devastating. This tragedy woke us up to the fact that we had enemies who were calling for our nation’s destruction. I remember being glued to the television and watching Fox News go live to the Gaza Strip where crowds cheered in the streets over al-Qaeda’s attack on us. As the drama unfolded over the next several days, I wondered more than a few times how we could ever go to the very places that were the hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism.
I wasn’t the only one who had questions. Here are a few of the questions we were asked after 9/11: “Won’t you be killed if you go to the Middle East?” “They hate Americans in all the Muslim countries. Can’t you go somewhere else?” “Are you sure that God didn’t say the Far East instead of the Middle East?!” “How can you even think of going there with your wife and six children?” (That last one really hurt.)
And these were the comments just from our relatives!
As the days went by, however, JoAnn and I came to the realization that this was indeed the time to be involved in missions in the Middle East. We realized that it is normal for us Americans to typecast people. “We’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys. We wear the white hats and they wear the black hats.” It would be easy to conclude from the news that all Muslims are terrorists (and watch out if you ever see them—because they probably have bombs strapped to their bodies). But the Muslims we met in Israel and in Jordan were far from that. They were just normal people. We had friends who practiced Islam, and they didn’t hate us or the West.
More important than that was the fact that people in the Middle East are created in the image of God, just like everyone else in the world. They need and deserve to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ, who died for their sins as well as for ours. JoAnn and I weren’t naive. There was no question in our minds that Islamic fundamentalism is a threat to global security. And if we wanted to share Christ in the Middle East, of course there would be dangers. But that certainly didn’t erase the Great Commission of Matthew 28, in which Jesus commanded us as his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Notice that Jesus didn’t say to “go and make disciples of the nations that like you and are relatively friendly.”
The Door Is Open
A good friend of mine in Jerusalem recently said, “As believers, we often hear people say, ‘These people are open to the claims of Christ,’ or ‘The door is wide open in this country for the gospel.’ But I don’t see that as a biblical concept. The question is: Are we open to sharing the gospel?”
I agree. After all, Jesus promised, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). In other words, with Jesus all doors are open. He has sent the church to all nations, no matter what the current trends appear to be. I believe that we can get into any nation with the good news of Jesus Christ. And there is a new generation of Christians in the Middle East today who believe, deep in their hearts, that with Jesus all doors are open. In reality, if you don’t have that attitude, it would be easy to give up and quit.
So, in 2001 we joined a group of believers in various ministries who are passionate about sharing the life-changing message of Jesus Christ in the Middle East. I have personally seen that Muslims in the Middle East, and throughout the rest of the Muslim world, are eager to hear about Jesus.
Since I began traveling extensively in the Middle East, I have also learned that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and not into jihad. They just want to feed their children, send them to good schools, see them get married, and enjoy a houseful of grandchildren running around their home when they break the fast each evening during Ramadan. From Egypt to Iran, the Muslims we talk to are sick of the Islamic fundamentalism that isolates them from the world and makes them all out to be bloodthirsty killers. We must reach out and love these people with the love of Jesus.
Arthur Blessitt has carried a large wooden cross in every country of the world. That amazes me, and it also makes me proud that someone would have the nerve to do such a thing. Showing up with a cross in some places on the globe could get you killed. Arthur has been in such danger many times. I am honored to call Arthur a friend. When I am with him, he always reminds me: “Tom, just keep it about Jesus! That is our message, and it’s a simple one. Once we get off of that, we lose people.”
How true that is. As we soon found out in our ministry in the Middle East, Muslims were ready to talk about Jesus. We also found out that they weren’t all calling for the destruction of America.
I remember walking through the streets of the Gaza Strip a few months after 9/11 when a woman in an abaya approached me.
“You’re from America, aren’t you?” she asked. “I can tell by your blue eyes.”
“Yes, I am.”
She continued: “Did you see on the news the people in Gaza celebrating in the streets when the buildings collapsed in New York City?”
“I am afraid I did,” I replied sadly.
“Well, I wasn’t cheering. I was crying for all of those families who lost their loved ones. That was a tragedy, and many of the Muslim people were grieving with you.”
With that, the woman walked away. She obviously needed to get this off her mind, and I was glad to be the one to hear it. I believe that God prearranged this conversation for my sake and for the sake of the small group with me. Here was this woman reaching out to me, which would have been considered out of bounds since she was a practicing Muslim. But she did it anyway.
I thought to myself, We can work with these people! This woman’s message showed that she cared and that not all Muslims want to wipe out the West. Her heart came through, and I could see her grief as she recounted the tragedy that America had just endured.
I have been privileged, over the years, to minister in Israel—including the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—Iran, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan. Some of the books I have read recently about the Middle East were written by people who don’t spend much time there but were merely reacting to the news that they hear on television or on the Internet. But there is so much more—a story that is not being told, in my opinion. Since I work in the Middle East, I am privileged to see this story unfold time after time. The story is this: Jesus is reaching out to the people of the Middle East in a powerful way, and the people are responding in record numbers. Millions have given their lives to Jesus Christ in the last ten years1. That’s right—millions!
This story is more important than the latest suicide bombing, the latest threat of war, or the latest prophecy about Jesus’ return. Of course I believe all of those things are important; but often lost in all of that is the fact that Jesus is building his church in the Middle East and that it is filled with former Muslims.
Maybe Jesus will return in our lifetime. How humbling it is to ponder that we could be the chosen generation that welcomes his arrival. But if biblical prophecies point to that, then we, as Jesus’ church, need to be making the greatest effort to reach the world with his message. Once Jesus returns, it will be too late.
One of the most important regions of the world is the Middle East. After all, this is where the church was birthed. For centuries the church has been small and almost unnoticed. We can no longer say that, however. Jesus is not being ignored in the Middle East today. The new generation of believers who serve Christ is willing to give their lives to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to hear of Jesus’ offer of grace and forgiveness. They are willing to risk everything to make sure that new believers have a Bible and can grow in their new life in Christ. They put themselves in harm’s way daily as they start new churches in places that have had no Christian presence for centuries.
In our work in the Middle East we have met some of the most godly, loving, and committed believers we have encountered any place in the world. They are constantly watched and often persecuted. They have a special calling as they live with the understanding that today might be their last day. Yet they often state, “We pray for you believers in the West every day.”
Many of the leaders we work with were at one time terrorists. In the following chapters you will be introduced to many of them. God miraculously transformed them, and they will never be the same. Their testimonies remind us of two things:
1. No one is unreachable . . . not even a terrorist.
2. The worst place to be a believer is really the best place to be a believer.
1. Joel C. Rosenberg, Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle
East Will Change Your Future (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2006), 211.