Counting the Cost of Following Jesus in the Middle East

Rehan* was one of the few men I met in the Middle East who had ever asked me for a Bible. His unexpected request excited me. I had rarely seen anyone from his culture exhibit this level of spiritual openness. I presented him with a red English-Arabic Bible a few days later and explained it was a precious gift. Although we were short on time, he received it gladly and listened as I summarized the gospel.

Months went by before I was able to see him again. When our paths finally crossed, he told me how his family had been very upset with him when they found the Bible. They had taken it from him and hidden it. He and his family had since moved, and he no longer had access to that little red book.

I began to share the good news with him again, in more detail than our last brief visit. This time, I asked him directly if he believed. He said yes, he believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to God except through him (John 14:6). He wanted to follow Jesus.

But What If I’m Killed?

Unfortunately, Rehan’s decision was going to be more complicated than that because persecution is very real and devastating in his culture. If someone is discovered to have changed his religion, he could lose his job, his home, his family, or even his life. In Rehan’s mind, the only way to escape these potentially traumatic consequences and persecution was to flee, to run away.

Rehan told me that the only way that he could follow Christ was to leave his entire family—his wife, unborn child, parents, and siblings—and move to another country. He would have to find work, a believing wife, and live far away from everything that he had ever known. He truly thought this was the only way for him to continue as a Christian.

As I listened, my heart broke for him and his family. This new believer was at a crossroads. He has to wrestle with the dual truths found in Scripture: while his allegiance must be to Jesus first (Matt. 10:32–33; Luke 14:26–27), he must also not simply run away from his family (1 Cor. 7:12). Yet he knows that stepping forward as a Christian is the equivalent to stepping off a cliff. All his earthly security could be gone in an instant.

“We’ll never have clear-cut solutions for every situation believers may face. We need to teach reliance on the Holy Spirit rather than on what we think could be a good idea.”

The truth is, I’ll likely never understand the weight of Rehan’s decisions. I’m a foreign worker from a religiously diverse country where people can, in theory, believe what they want without consequence. Yet when we’re called to disciple people in such dire situations, there are a few principles to keep in mind.

Look Up, Not Over

It’s important to teach new believers to rely on God and not the foreign worker for all the answers. Yes, God often uses us to give wise counsel, but we are fallible while he is not. Guide them to trust God by teaching them how to pray, how to listen to the Holy Spirit, and how to correctly read God’s Word.

Realize This Is a Gray Area

We have to be very sensitive and wise when counseling believers in the face of persecution. Many times we want to give a hard and fast answer, but we don’t see a direct command for this in the Bible. There are examples from Scripture when Paul faced persecution (Acts 14:8–20) and others times when he fled (Acts 9:20–25). Truthfully, we’ll never have clear-cut solutions for every situation believers may face. We need to teach reliance on the Holy Spirit rather than on what we think could be a good idea.

Be the Body

Commit to pray with and for them regularly, and do your best to provide Christian fellowship. God strengthens and encourages Christians through the local body. Advise them to meet with you or with other believers regularly (if there are others). They can pray through the safety implications of participating in Christian fellowship.

Connect Them to Scripture

If they can’t keep a physical copy of the Bible, ask them if it’s safe to download one on their phone. There are different Bible apps in many different languages, such as YouVersion, that have the written and audio Word, as well as encouraging articles and videos.

How Can We Pray for Rehan?

A year has passed since our last conversation, and Rehan, like many other Muslim background believers (MBBs), remains at an impasse. He has been discussing the Bible and Christian beliefs with his resistant family members but has yet to openly tell them he now follows Jesus.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Rehan and other MBB men would share the good news with their families and live out their faith in real and tangible ways. In a Middle Eastern culture, a Christian father would have an immeasurable spiritual impact on his children, his wife, and his entire community. The influence of a family man in this traditional atmosphere cannot be understated.

In light of their unrivaled influence, pray with me that Muslim-background men would boldly share the gospel in wise ways with the lost around them. Pray that they will look to God for the courage to trust him with all that they love—their job, spouse, children, and family. Pray that they will count the cost of being Jesus’ disciple and know that he is worth it.

*Name changed