John Stumbo Video Blog No. 63

October 12, 2018


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John’s report this month is from his recent trip to see Alliance missions efforts in the Middle East. He expresses great gratitude for how the Alliance family has invested for decades in challenging locations—where the work of God is alive and well. “The fruit continues,” he says, “national church leaders multiplying themselves, local churches vibrant and strong, good partnerships with our international workers, supported by the GCF [Great Commission Fund].” We need to not only remain committed to our local communities, John concludes, but to also support Alliance teams in the most difficult places in the world, including the Middle East—where our teams are serving well.


Hello, Alliance family. Late this summer, I had the great privilege of touring the Middle East to see our Christian and Missionary Alliance efforts there. I had been telling stories, but I had never seen them for myself. I had heard about great national church leaders but hadn’t met many of them, and so what an honor it was to get to do that. Just to add to the adventure, I broke my arm about 72 hours before traveling, so that added a bit to the trip. But I am reporting today that the work of God is alive and well in the Middle East.

Our first stop was the world’s largest people group that do not have their own nation—a fascinating group of people that are easy to get to know. We have been able to develop significant relationships through our years there, and I got to witness firsthand the effectiveness of that.

It was wonderful to get to know our IWs [international workers] as well. One of those couples have only been in-country for a year. They were in bed one night drifting off to sleep when they thought they heard fireworks taking place and just rolled over and went to sleep. The next day, they found out that there had been an attack upon the political headquarters just a block and a half away from them. Neighbors came by to see if their car or house had been damaged by any of the explosions, but our teammates just had a happy attitude of, “Well, God’s got us. God’s got this. We’re glad we slept through it.”

Getting to speak at the international church that we’ve established there was a great pleasure as well. I love this form of outreach within a city where expats, other mission organization leaders, also locals who want to explore what it is to follow Christ, can come and worship and explore Jesus together.

One of the high points was standing on a mountainside at a lookout over the city. There we gathered as IWs and the team that I was with, and we prayed for that city—sincere prayers. But then a strange wave of emotion swept over me as thoughts of thousands of women down below that have spent hopeless lives entrapped by the religion into which they were born and married. I cried, and I didn’t really understand fully the place of my emotion when afterwards one of our IWs said, “You know, I recently had a conversation with an ER nurse who asked me, ‘Is it OK that I no longer feel any emotion when women come into our emergency room having attempted suicide because of how hopeless their lives are? So many young women are coming in. This is such a regular occurrence that I no longer feel anything.’” Then I understood the wave of the heart of Christ that was coming through my heart at that moment.

At three o’clock in the morning, we were off for our next flight to Beirut, Lebanon. What a city! I was so delighted to get to know more of our church leaders. But we arrived without our suitcases, which meant that by the time I arrived at the church, I was dripping in sweat, every square inch of my body, and found out that in just a couple hours I was to meet with about 40 national church leaders at a very nicely catered dinner. And I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly emerges a whole bag full of clothes just my size, including some brand-new underwear. What a gift! So the evening went off with joy as church leaders gathered.

The next day it was a great pleasure to get to know our seminary, meet some of the students we’ve been training—the next wave of national church leaders in Lebanon for decades and not just for The Alliance but for the broader evangelical community. What a rich expression of ministry that is. Sitting with Sami Dagher, a name that I had heard for a lifetime, but now this seasoned saint met with me in his office, shared of his passion for God’s Kingdom, his gratitude for The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Now he has had the joy, by the grace of God he said, to baptize 597 people throughout his lifetime. The multiplication of the fruit of the gospel is a beautiful thing, and many of those people that he’s baptized now serve Jesus all across the globe.

Our pastor from Damascus and national church president of Syria drove up and shared with me the news that our churches in Syria are holding strong and faithful, and that the violence around them has now declined, and they’re living in a new level of stability. But now what they’re dealing with as pastors is the need to help people grieve. During those long years of war that was so intense around them, survival was the goal. But now that it’s quieted down a bit, they’re now having time to process the losses of their community, the losses of their family, and grief is an appropriate response to loss. So the pastors are helping people grieve. Would you pray for them?

Before the day was over, I found myself being helped over a fence, not really sure what we were seeing as the story slowly unfolded, that this abandoned church was the site of one of our great Alliance tragedies.

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t realize that before the day was over, I would walk through the door of where angry men came in with a gun and in 2002 shot a worker that was connected with the broader Alliance family, the broader Alliance community, and killed Bonnie Witherall on that day. This is where her desk was. This is the door that the murderer came through, and the evangelical family had a martyr in this place on this spot. I’ve listened to national church leaders wrestle with how, in the months that followed, they questioned whether they should keep this center open or shut it down. There were those who were willing to come and re-staff this place. Yet the national church leaders were quite certain that other acts of violence would take place again. So for six months the church remained open, but eventually local people were too fearful to even attend church, and what had been a Sunday school of 150 children and a vibrant outreach became nothing. The national church of Lebanon still owns this building, but for this moment in Sidon, Lebanon, the Church is silent, and the building has been unoccupied since then. Efforts have been made to lease it out, but at the moment it just sits as a quiet statement that the gospel was once preached here and at this moment isn’t.

There’re other vibrant churches throughout Lebanon, but in the city of Sidon, the Church right now is silent. The ebb and flow, the outreach and withdrawal of the Church over the centuries. Sometimes we only speak of the advance, the forward progress, the Kingdom accomplishments. But I’m standing today in the place of at least momentary withdrawal and silence. I’m not questioning the sovereignty of God. I’m not questioning the decisions made by the national church and our international team leadership. I’m just saying that in this place, in this room, in this building, the Church right now is silent.

So the work in Sidon is temporarily closed, but less than 10 kilometers away I found myself standing in front of a brand new, beautiful church plant. Our suitcases arrived just in time for us to head off to Amman, Jordan, where our first stop, Alliance Academy of Jordan, AAJ, this well-told story of The Alliance. What a beautiful expression of working together with the national church. Much gratitude expressed to us for our investment in that ministry by the church and school leadership. That evening we shared together a wonderful meal with 30 national church leaders. The newly elected president of the Jordanian Alliance asked me to speak on vision as he himself is a very passionate man of great vision for the growth of the church in his country.

And then I got to fulfill a long-term dream of going to just outside the Syrian border where, for years, The Alliance has had a small church that was praying for how we reach more people for Christ, and then thousands of Syrian families spill across the border through their town. For these last six years, they have ministered with great dedication, zeal, and compassion. That work continues. The refugees are no longer fleeing from that section of Syria, but the ministry to these displaced peoples continue. The school ministry for Syrian children not only continues but grows—new facilities with an excellent ministry.

Off then to Amman to experience Second Circle Church, the community center that we’ve established there that is having medical and other outreaches, like English. I’ve got more than I can pack into this blog, but just know, Alliance family, that God is using the long-term investment that we have made in the Middle East, and He has raised up national church leaders that are multiplying that work across their region. So this is a wonderful IW national church cooperation and partnership.

That night we pulled an all-nighter because there was a 1:00 a.m. departure for the airport for the 36-hour trek back to Colorado Springs. But as I returned home, in between snoozes on the plane, my heart was full of gratitude that the Alliance family has spent decades investing in very difficult locations. But the fruit continues. National church leaders multiplying themselves, local churches vibrant and strong, good partnerships with our international workers—that are supported by the GCF [Great Commission Fund]—working among them.

This is the Kingdom. This is the Church. This is The Alliance. You’re a part of that. Please, would you continue to do whatever it takes to raise the bar of mission understanding in your church? Yes, we’re committed to our Jerusalems, our communities, but we can’t get stuck there. We must always see even the most difficult places in the world, and our teams are serving very well throughout the Middle East. God bless you as you support them.


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