Unconventional Outreach
to Middle Eastt
by Kenneth D. MacHarg, LAM News Service

Miami (LAMNS)?Why would a missionary from Mexico serving in a restricted Middle Eastern country be selling educational supplies rather than spending full time preaching the Gospel? That question may come to the mind of anyone who has heard about Marco and his wife Romy (not their real names) who are operating a small business in addition to their mission work.

The misunderstanding comes when one assumes that the secular work happens in place of evangelism and church planting. In fact, it is an integral part of their ministry that makes their presence in the country possible.

While many nations are open to the Gospel, welcome missionaries and readily provide visas, others are closed, refuse residency to anyone who would be seen as a religious worker and may even ban the public assembly of Christians. Marco and Romy are using the distribution enterprise as a means of obtaining visas, a venue for making contacts, a source of income for other local and foreign workers who have joined them in their ministry and a base out of which to function.

?It is illegal to preach or evangelize there,? says LAM missionary Phyllis Bedwell in Mexico who, along with her husband Ray, knows and mentors the Mexican couple. ?However, Marco has enjoyed complete freedom and doesn?t miss an opportunity. He has announced Bible correspondence courses in the newspaper and set up a literature table at public affairs.?

The Mexican couple has been in the Middle East for over six years, but due to the difficulty of the situation where they work, have spent a lot of time just getting established and making contacts. ?They spent four years in the country?s largest city studying the language and directing Bible correspondence courses,? Ray Bedwell says. ?They were also involved in street, house and bus evangelism, discipleship training and serving in a local church.?

Later they moved to a smaller city where Marco continued his ministries while also pastoring a new congregation. During their two years there, the couple began the process of setting up a private business.

?That took the better part of two years, including the raising of $50,000,? Ray Bedwell recalls. ?Some $40,000 was loaned without interest by a large number of individuals and churches. Another $10,000 was loaned to start the new business. We praise the Lord for two U.S. churches that had the vision and were willing to take the risk of loaning around $4,000 to partner with us in this venture.?

Describing the combination of business and ministry as a return to the ?Pauline method of missionary support as described in I Corinthians 9,?LAM President David R. Befus says it is the ?wave of the future for Latin missions. The North American model of ?pray and pay? is often not relevant to the situation in Latin America where it costs two to three times more to support a missionary than to support a local pastor and the churches can?t afford it.? David says that LAM is working with the Oregon-based Business Professional Network to access funding from U.S. Christians for these types of efforts.

?We are aware that Marco and Romy have touched the lives of a good number of professionals and students,? comments Phyllis. ?The church they planted in the second city is under their supervision and is prospering, doing discipleship, praying and raising up leaders. Their beginnings (in a third town where there were no known Christians when they arrived) are grassroots, making contacts and friends.?

How do local people respond in a society where conversion to Christianity is often against the law? ?They have found people to be responsive but fearful of the consequences in family and society should they be converted,? Phyllis says. ?One of the believers came to them after having had a vision of Jesus four years earlier in which He told her to follow Him. She had obtained a Bible and has been reading it since the vision, searching for Jesus, saying she knew she had to find Him and follow Him.?

While Marco is dividing his time between evangelism, church planting and the business, Romy is also involved in ministry. She has led classes for children, hosted local women at afternoon teas and home groups, given direction to discipleship groups and overseen the development of new leaders.

?The goal of the Mexican couple?s work is ?to plant self-propagating churches in the country,? Ray says. ?Marco has now trained and appointed a local pastor and travels to another city each week to oversee the ministry.?

Currently the couple has obtained resident status in the country. They hope to apply for citizenship at a later date in order to identify more closely with those they are serving. The business of distributing educational supplies will continue to open doors, provide opportunities and give them credibility in a land where traditional methods are not allowed.

The Latin America Mission works in partnership with churches and Christian agencies throughout Latin America and supports missionaries and projects in many Latin countries as well as in Spain. LAM is seeking to place new missionaries throughout the region. The U.S. headquarters can be reached at Latin America Mission, Box 52-7900, Miami Springs, FL 33152, by e-mail at info@lam.org, or by calling 1-800-275-8410. The mission?s web site may be found at http://www.lam.org. LAM?s Canadian office is at 3075 Ridgeway Drive, Unit 14, Missassauga, ON L5L 5M6.