North Africans prepare to go to Iraq

The father rejoiced! The hospital released his baby after the child spending several weeks hovering between life and death in an intensive care unit. His baby would join him and his wife at home alive and well. The hospital release came a day after a small group of Christian students prayed over the child. The father was so amazed, he immediately began telling everyone he knew about the miraculous power of Jesus and his followers.

In response to this event, the father “started a Bible study. He changed his WhatsApp picture and Facebook profile picture to something related to Jesus Christ, telling all his family members [about Jesus].” His wife, within a week, said, “Oh yeah, we’ve started to call him the follower of Jesus,” explained Azzam*, administrator of OM Near East Field’s church planting school.

The small group of Christian students from North Africa had overcome the cultural and religious divide between Christians and Muslims. This divide can make ministry in the region difficult, and ministry leaders often need extensive training to overcome the differences in a constructive way.

“When you jump from a Christian culture to a Muslim culture, there’s a lot that you can learn,” Azzam* said.

As OM focuses on church planting among the least-reached people groups around the world, they continue to prepare Arab missionaries to go into the mission field through the church planting school in OM’s Near East Field.

“We have a region that has the vision to serve Christ, to give their lives to Christ [more] than ever before. At the same time, we have needy places that are needy like never before,” Azzam explained, referencing least-reached provinces of Iraq.

Why Iraq?

Out of its 18 provinces, only six provinces are believed to have any churches. One of these provinces has a population of approximately two million people, but it only has one church with approximately 40 believers, according to Azzam.

The church planting training school “comes at a time of great need. More people [are] willing to go, and one of the needs is training,” Azzam said.


OM’s church planting school prepares Arabs who have a specific call to go into the least-reached areas of Iraq for the purpose of developing new vibrant communities of Jesus followers. The programme centers on three objectives: bridging cultural differences, opening conversations about religion and learning to work in ministry teams.

To meet these objectives, the students undergo a year-long training. The first three months are classroom-based, with lectures each morning taught by experienced ministry leaders. In the afternoons, students go into the local area to make relationships with people and talk to them about Jesus.

“Many of [the people we visit] have the wrong ideas about Christianity. So, through this school, we learn how to make relationships with them, and through this relationship [share] the gospel,” said Eisa*, a current student in the school.

The students also take trips to visit Syrian refugee camps. This helps them gain a deeper understanding of how to face culture shock on a practical level. Iraq is 95 per cent Muslim and less than 1 per cent evangelical Christian, according to Operation World, so understanding how to operate in a similar environment remains essential for the student’s training, say the leaders.

“We do visits to Syrian refugee camps with them and help them to discover culture, a different language,” said Hayda*, a leader in the school.

“We know how to make relationships with people who have many problems and they are hurting. So first we have a relationship with them and… then you tell them about the work of God, and it will start to touch them,” said Mahir*, a current student of the school.


In addition to learning culture and religion, the students also learn how to work on church planting ministry teams. Azzam explains that many of these students have served within their home church. Learning to work with others in a new environment can present its own challenges. By going on visits and ministering together, the students are challenged to work together to develop vibrant and reproducing fellowships in a foreign context.

“We need teams, especially if people are going to go to places where there are no churches, which is really where we want to send them,” Azzam said. “So [they learn] these issues of how to resolve conflict, how we care for ourselves, and how we work on a team.”

Once students have completed the first three months, they will take a short exposure trip to Iraq before joining a local team for nine months. This will help them learn how to implement their knowledge into their daily operations before heading to Iraq for four years.

Challenges and encouragement

In order to go to Iraq, the students need funds, and finding support to send a missionary to the field long term has repeatedly proven to be one of the greatest challenges. As a result, OM has partnerships with global organisations and churches to help fund living expenses for these students. The local Iraqi churches have also stepped up to help as well.

“We see the Iraqi church wanting to do what they can to make the way for other Arab [ministry workers] to come,” Azzam* said. “It’s also been a real joy to see how, in a way, we have this global world praying, [and] some people [contribute] financially, and [it] sort of funnels through our little team and then it gets released out to Iraq again.”

“There are people that come from this school, and they are working in the [mission] field,” said Nadir*, a leader in the church planting school. “There has been loads of people in this area who have never heard the gospel, and through the school, there has been much more outreach happening on a much wider scale.”

Pray for the students, some of whom have given up good jobs and left their families for the sake of the gospel. Ask for God to provide visas for long-term residency for church planters in Iraq.

*Name changed

OM communications intern Jana Eller is a student studying journalism and missions and loves to see how God is moving among the nations. She is always up for spontaneous adventures and exploring new things. 

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Ministry in the home

Amala* visits the prisons every week to minister to the foreigners and the poor, who often end up there on trumped-up charges. This has proved to be a taxing yet fruitful ministry, where the prisoners can pray and worship together. While she pursues these ministries, she keeps her prayer journal in hand to write down specific prayer requests to spend any free moment in prayer.

Home as a Ministry

In recent months, however, she and her husband have begun a new ministry, taking three teenagers into their home. These include a Syrian boy and girl, both in the host country to attend school and a Palestinian orphan, coming into Amala’s home after several years on the streets.

“Having these three additional people who are [from] difficult backgrounds, that took sometimes quite a bit of energy, to be honest,” Amala said.

Each child brings with them a story of hardship. Moreover, their diverse backgrounds bring into sharp contrast the cultural differences on a daily basis, according to Amala. This caused quite an adjustment period for Amala and her family, as well as for the teenagers. Coming from their difficult pasts, “to them… what’s mine is yours, and of course you can lie to defend yourself. This is a lifestyle, and so to take somebody in, it’s 24/7,” Amala said. “This can sometimes be a bit challenging.”

However, despite the difficulties, Amala and her husband continue to trust and rely on God in order to love these teens, and God’s word never returns empty. The Palestinian teenager has turned to Christ during his time in Amala’s home. The others continue to learn more about Jesus Christ and what it looks like to follow him. These victories, along with the support of their local church, continue to encourage and strengthen her to pursue God’s calling on her life and her home.

“It’s a process you know but God is working in his life and he has come, in these months, I think we’ve seen him come a long way, and this is beautiful,” Amala said. “And there are answers to prayer, God does answer prayers. And then when you see an answer to prayer it’s just really beautiful.”

She continues to see the Lord’s faithfulness in her home and in her current ministries and asks for prayer that God would continue to provide salvation, healing and justice among the teenagers in her own home, as well as, the women in prisons and the Syrian refugee communities.

*Name changed

OM communications intern Jana Eller is a student studying journalism and missions and loves to see how God is moving among the nations. She is always up for spontaneous adventures and exploring new things.

Arab believers find international churches

“The difficulty [is], you labor many years and it hasn’t yet happened what you want to see. And so, of course, it’s nice to see what God is doing in his time,” Sabih* explained.

After working for 30 years among mostly unreached people groups in the Middle East and North Africa region, Sabih and his wife returned to their home in Europe after handing over their ministry to local believers. Although they experienced many of the difficulties which accompany building a new life such as finding a house and a community, he was finally offered an opportunity to serve a nearby refugee community.

Previous refugee ministries in the area have primarily focused on planting churches within their communities, according to Sabih. This ministry, however, aims to help refugees as they integrate into European culture and encourage them to attend local churches in hopes of building strong international churches.

“We don’t want to do church planting in that sense because there is already a very good church plant that people can be integrated,” Sabih explained. “We have people from every city, basically, in Iraq and most cities in Iran and many cities in Syria — people that couldn’t be reached inside those areas because they were not accessible for foreigners.”

He now leads a coffee meeting which meets a couple of hours each week and serves two main purposes. The first includes assisting the local refugees in the practical needs such as learning the local language and helping with government paperwork. Sabih and his team then follow up with small group meetings throughout the week.

“We don’t have time to go to the camps because we have so many contacts that we don’t need to reach out,” Sabih said. “They come by themselves because there is a billiard table and then they want to learn [the language].”

The second purpose includes building relationships, which helps open conversations about Jesus. Sabih and his team also encourage the attendees to participate in a local church, especially those who already believe. For those coming from a community-oriented culture, finding a solid Christian community during their integration can drastically impact their walk with Christ, according to Sabih.

“Many, if they don’t have good fellowship, they will ask after three years, ‘Why did I become a Christian?’” Sabih said. Sabih explained of Arabs from Muslim backgrounds, “If you are a strong believer, but your identity is always shaking, and you don’t know where you belong, it is very difficult to live as a believer.”


Sabih previously served in some of the areas that many of the refugees come from and he recalls the “cloud of fear” which hung over them for years before and during the Syrian war. Many of those areas remain largely unreached, but the few churches continue to grow, however, even in the midst of fear.

“Sometimes, at the beginning, they would meet four nights a week just for prayer, because there wasn’t anything to do. It was so difficult in the war time,” Sabih said. “And now the church there has about 170 people coming regularly to the meeting each week.”

Sabih has since helped some of those believers come to Europe, and seen them get involved in local churches as well. Despite the difficulties in all the transitions, he remains joyful as many refugee believers recommit their lives to Christ, find their place in a local church and disciples other unbelievers in their communities.

“It’s not just about being baptized or making a commitment to Jesus,” Sabih said. “But to get to know the Word of God, to become this follower of Jesus and then to help others to follow.”

*Name changed

OM communications intern Jana Eller is a student studying journalism and missions and loves to see how God is moving among the nations. She is always up for spontaneous adventures and exploring new things.

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