By Emily Holladay
Over the past 14 years, “Rick” and “Susan” have served as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in the Middle East, seeking to share Christ’s love and hope with people of different faith and cultural traditions and to support local Christian churches in the area.
Rick and Susan are designated as “Level 4” field personnel, which means that they serve in a secure location where Christian persecution is a daily reality for them.
“It means that most of our constituency back in the United States does not have a really good picture of exactly what we do and where we do it,” Rick explained. “We aren’t really concerned for our own safety, but we are concerned that nothing we say or do should adversely affect the national Christian population.”
Throughout their ministry, Rick and Susan have sought to develop relationships with the people in their community and deepen the impact of the local church they serve and helped start. The couple often invites neighbors into their home for food and fellowship, mutually sharing their lives with the people in their community.
“We have visitors over to our house on a regular basis,” Susan said. “In this culture, relationships are strengthened in a home setting. When you open up your home, you find that people are more open to you. They become warmer as a result of being invited into your home.”
Nurturing these relationships, Rick and Susan have been able to provide for the people in their community in richer and more transformative ways, including basic necessities like food and clothing, resources to deepen their faith and a home and family to come to when they face persecution from their own families.
But these relationships have also led them to some of the most difficult places along their journey.
“One of the workers who was with us and helped us to start the church in which we still serve moved to another city in a more difficult area of the country and was killed by radical Muslims,” Susan recalled. “It took me a while to come to terms with this. This is a country that I had grown to love, yet there were some people who did not want us here.
“Even our national friends were cautioning us and expecting us to leave the country after this happened. We, however, still knew that God wanted us to stay and continue working for Him.”
Living as Christians in the Middle East, persecution is a daily reality for Rick and Susan, either personally or in the lives of those they serve. And though ministering in a high-security setting was not necessarily their goal when seeking commissioning as CBF field personnel, they continue to persevere in their ministry, because they feel so deeply called to join God on mission in the community they serve.
“We were not particularly looking for opportunities to serve in a closed location, but this is the area of the world where the need seemed to be the greatest,” Rick said. “There are fewer Christians per capita in this part of the world than in others. We’ve come to love this part of the world and the people. We can’t imagine serving anywhere else now.”
Though Rick and Susan cannot share the full details of their ministry in the Middle East, and they are not able to host large mission groups, they have places for short-term volunteers to serve or ministry partners who would be willing to dedicate more than two years of their life to serving alongside them in the Middle East. In addition, they request prayers for the people they serve and help in accessing written materials for new believers.
“This couple has excelled in learning the local language,” said Jim Smith, CBF’s director of field ministries. “They think, speak and pray in this language which enables them to do much-needed discipleship work for the courageous believers who have decided to follow Jesus despite great opposition from family members. Their long-term presence has enabled local believers to not only hear the gospel but also to become disciples.”
The CBF Offering for Global Missions is the best way to support Rick and Susan financially, as it is their primary means of monetary support.
“Giving to the Offering for Global Missions is crucial to the work here,” Rick said. “It’s hard to go out and really publicize what is going on here, because these things are sensitive. So, giving enables us to stay here and to have a presence here.”
Rick and Susan are one of many CBF field personnel units who have followed God’s call to serve the most marginalized and neglected people in our world. Even when the call was scary or discouraging, they couldn’t see themselves serving anywhere else.
To give to the CBF Offering for Global Missions and for more information on how to promote it in your congregation, visit the Fellowship’s website at www.thefellowship.info/ogm.