Christians from far away can look at the trouble in the Middle East and pray, “Lord, did any good come from the Arab Spring? What of the thousands of people who were forced to flee their homelands in recent years, many of them professing Christians? And what of the people of Yemen living through civil war?”
The title of the book is a good one: His Presence could not be Hidden, taken from Mark 7:24. The book gives a history of the Middle East Christian Outreach (MECO) from 1860 to 2006.
From the beginning, Elizabeth Thompson and Annie Van Sommer shared “a deep commitment to soul winning, the same deep compassion for the downtrodden who were without knowledge of Christ and the same practical turn of mind.” Places such as Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26),” saw a clerk in a silk factory given an Arabic bible and he became “the first Protestant in Antioch.” World War I saw a great disruption to the work, as did World War II, and then repeated political unrest and civil wars in various countries.
Parts of the book should give us cause to think. The author describes the “almost Darwinian” optimism that was part of the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and some of this “rubbed off on missionary endeavours.” Yet the hardships of the following century have also shown the truth of our Lord’s words to His disciples: “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22).”
Mixed with stories of trouble and tragedy, there are stories of faithfulness, courage and God’s hand upon His people in difficult circumstances. One such story from the early 2000s concerns a Christian lady who met an Iranian pastor and others in Istanbul and was “amazed at the richness of these people; they had nothing, yet they had everything. The stories were heart rending of their situations back in their home country and indeed of their current situations. But in it all the joy of the Lord shone on their faces. I learnt a lot in those days.” There are others, such as Muallim Selim Kessab in Damascus, who “gave himself over entirely to Christ” and was “a true pioneer of the Kingdom amongst his own people.”
The conclusion at the end of the book is a great challenge: “Recalling the enthusiasm and optimism of the 1890s through to 1914, one can argue that for nearly the next 100 years the Muslim world was, overall, neglected by the Western Church.”
We pray for the Lord’s blessing on MECO and its future. Above all, we pray for the Christians of the Middle East to be strengthened by the Lord, kept by Him in every situation, that there would be an open door for the gospel of Jesus Christ in many places and that much good would be done in His Name.
– Graham Barnes, Walcha Presbyterian Church
Buy “His Presence Could Not Be Hidden” from Reformers Bookshop.