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Locally Grown: Grantsville’s Bridge to the Middle East

By Tim Yoder

This story begins long before anyone at Maple Glen became a part of it. It is a story of how God, through the power of his Holy Spirit, begins to draw people to himself and allows us to become part of something bigger than ourselves.

Abdul and Nany* grew up in Muslim families in Iraq. As a young person, Nany was drawn to Jesus and wanted to follow him, but was forbidden by her family. After Abdul and Nany married, Nany and her mother-in-law would occasionally attend church. It was soon discovered that Abdul and Nany could not have children. When Nany and Abdul’s mother would go to church, together they would ask Jesus for a child. After six months of asking Jesus for a child, Abdul’s mother told him that he also needed to go to church and pray for a child. Abdul and Nany went to the church and prayed. As Abdul prayed, a very nice feeling, something “electric,” went through his body and tears began to run down his face. The next month Nany was pregnant and they knew that the baby was from Jesus. Soon they were enjoying their son Hassan.

When the United States invaded Iraq, Abdul was hired as a driver for the U.S. Army. One night Abdul was asked to go and investigate a situation near the airport in Bagdad. While he was looking around he saw a shining light in the shape of a cross. As he investigated the light, he noticed a bomb. He told everyone to get down and no one was hurt when the bomb exploded.

Things soon became very bad for Abdul and his family. Because of his involvement with the U.S. army, he was ambushed by insurgents and shot 16 times. Miraculously, none of the bullets were fatal, but he was seriously injured. A U.S. Army convoy arrived just as his attackers were going to ensure that he was dead. His attackers fled and the U.S. Army sent him to Kuwait for medical attention. Meanwhile, his family found his car riddled with bullet holes and assumed he was dead. Twenty-one days later, Abdul was able to call his family and let him know that he was alive.

Abdul and Nany were forced to flee Iraq and they spent the next seven years bouncing around different countries throughout the Middle East. They were finally able to gain refugee status and moved to the United States.

Life in the U.S. was not easy for them. They did not understand the culture or the social system. Abdul was taken advantage of and ended up working 12 hours a day for only $50 a day. They were also plagued by a legal problem that was causing lots of stress in their lives.

It was at this time they came in contact with New Life Church in Queens, New York. They started taking English classes at the church and members of the church began to faithfully share Jesus with them.

At about this time, New Life Church asked if they could give a presentation at Maple Glen Mennonite Church. During the presentation they showed a diagram of concentric circles and sometimes an unreached person does not know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows Jesus. For an unreached person to become “reached,” a follower of Jesus must be willing to cross cultural barriers and be willing to step in the circle of the unreached person. When that happens and the previously unreached person begins to follow Jesus, there are hundreds of people who are suddenly within reach of the Gospel.

The same evening, a lady from Lebanon shared her journey of faith from Islam to following Jesus. She described how she was in the United States for 10 years and not a single Christian ever introduced her to Jesus.

A Risky Undertaking
By Eileen Yoder

Inviting an Arabic family to come to the community and live among us seemed like a risky undertaking, and exactly what God was asking our church to do. I had just lost my job of 18 years and was feeling at loose ends, not sure where or what God wanted of me next. My husband and I had limited financial resources, but I did have unexpected time on my hands, and the urging of the Holy Spirit to offer myself, with all my skills and limitations, to use for his glory in this situation.

It has been amazing to watch God answer prayer in so many ways! Getting to know Nany, Abdul, and Hassan has been such a blessing. And we have been privileged to welcome and love a few of their friends from Saudi Arabia. Abdul’s commitment to Christ has had a huge impact on his life and the lives of his family and acquaintances around the world. At his baptism I welcomed Abdul as a brother in Christ. An expression he often uses is, “I’m sorry about such a hard time, but what I do? And I ask you, ‘cause you my sister.” Their progress with the English language has made communication progressively easier and provided much humor to accompany the patience required.

Nany is a dear sister. I take her to appointments, go shopping, share produce from my garden… and we share favorite foods, and stories about her life in Iraq and then other countries as refugees, about her sisters and mother, and the father and father-in-law whom she misses so much since their deaths. She knows the names of my children and grandchildren and which one looks most like me, even though she has only met them a few times. She and Abdul dream of a day when there would be enough peace in Iraq that they can take us with them to meet their families and see their former homes and neighborhoods.

Regardless of where our journeys take us in the years ahead, we know that we will share eternity in heaven with this family and many others, because the love of Jesus shares a home in our hearts.

At the end of the presentation they described how we could partner with them in their ministry. We could pray, give, or adopt a family. When we inquired what was needed to adopt a family, they said they needed a house, a job, and a community to love on them. After meeting and praying about the opportunity, we contacted New Life Church and said we would be willing to adopt a family.

Abdul, Nany, and Hassan soon came for a visit. We showed them where they would live and the job that Abdul would be doing. They went back to New York to decide if they should move or not. While they were in New York, Abdul asked Pastor David to have an Arabic translator at church on Sunday morning. At the service, he made it known that he wanted to follow Jesus. As the pastor laid hands on him and prayed for him, Abdul felt the same feeling flood over him that he felt back in Iraq when he first went to a church to ask Jesus for a son. Abdul began to see how God was drawing him throughout his whole life. Abdul says that it was not until he came to the United States did he understand why God used the cross to save him in Iraq.

Nany was still unsure about following Jesus and moving away from New York. One night she could not sleep. She had a vision that Jesus came and put his hand on her cheek and drew a cross on her forehead. She experienced overwhelming peace and slept late into the morning.

Abdul, Nany, and Hassan soon moved to Grantsville. Soon after they moved, Nany made the decision to follow Jesus. We had the great privilege of baptizing them both.

It has not been easy, but the rewards have been life changing. Abdul is filled with the desire to see people come to follow Jesus. He has shared with his family, and some of them have come to know Jesus. Some of his family refused to talk to him as a result of him following Jesus, but now some of those same individuals are asking him questions.

He continues to use multimedia to reach those who otherwise would never hear the gospel. At last count, there are 200 people from all around the Middle East who have made a commitment at some level to follow Jesus.

His zeal has created opportunities for many of us in the church to meet Arabic people from around the world, a couple of which have become dear friends. Their commitment to Jesus with the reality that it could bring about their death, makes our sacrifices look meager and has deepened our own commitment. Their experience has made news events that used to be distant and impersonal, very real. Their presence has enlarged our vision at Maple Glen and has opened our eyes to what can happen when you take a risk, move across cultural barriers, and step into someone else’s circle and share Jesus.

*Names changed for security reasons