Sunday, March 20, 2016
On a recent Sunday morning, the congregation of First Church of the Nazarene, in Moscow, Idaho, U.S., was treated to an unusual service: a Skype video interview with Khalil and Randa Halaseh, pastor couple for the Al-ashrafieh Church of the Nazarene in Amman, Jordan.
The live interaction with the couple, who live and work nearly 11,000 km (6,700 miles) and nine time zones away from Moscow, led to a deeper understanding of what the church only hears in the news regarding the Syrian refugee crisis. They also learned how Nazarenes in the Middle East are supporting the refugees who have moved into their communities.
Afterward, the church gave an offering of more than $7,500 toward the Amman church’s refugee ministry.
“The refugee situation and Europe’s problems with dealing with it is big news here, so most people in our church were interested in the refugee situation,” said John Merrick, a member of the Moscow church’s Nazarene Missions International (NMI) council. “Jordan is about half the size of our State of Idaho here in the USA, and I thought about what it would be like if suddenly 1.5 million people suddenly came into our state who did not have any means of support or place to live. I knew there were Nazarene churches in Jordan, and wondered if our congregation could be involved in supporting any effort those churches were doing in supporting the refugees.”
Merrick presented the idea of inviting the Halasehs to share with the church over Skype during an upcoming Sunday morning service. The church’s leadership team agreed.
Jordan, which has a population of 9.5 million, has received up to 1 million Iraqi refugees in the past decade, and currently hosts more than half a million Syrian refugees, shouldering more than 60 percent of the costs for caring for them. The country has struggled with the finances and infrastructure to support the refugees, most of whom are in desperate need, as they left behind healthy businesses, resources, homes and families to flee for their lives.
Before meeting the Halasehs, the congregation watched a recorded news interview of Jordan’s reigning Prince Hassan describing the challenges the country is facing as it tries to provide for the refugees.
Then, Khalil and Randa Halaseh appeared on the large projector screen, live from their home in Amman. They shared their personal testimonies, as well as how their congregation has overcome its own fears in reaching out to the Syrians in their community.
For the first three years that Syrians moved into their economically depressed neighborhood, Pastor Khalil said he and his church went on with life usual, which included ministering to the needs of the nominal Christians living nearby.
“Some people, they love their own life, or [think], ‘This is my pew, this is my church, this is my food.’ There is no vision for mission,” he said. “Now I feel our church has gone out of our walls. We start to serve this community. I start to be different and even my people start to act in a different way.”
God awakened many in the church to the opportunity He placed on their doorstep: Syrian refugees who would be open to the love of the church.
Khalil explained that now his church has a team of 13 part-time and full-time refugee workers, plus 17 volunteers. The congregation is ministering to 600 families, spending a total of $7,000 every month to give the families about $35, plus meat and other material assistance. The church also hosts women’s meetings and a kids’ club.
The Moscow church took a risk in trying its first ever international Skype call in their Sunday morning service. At one point, the call was disconnected, but they were able to quickly reconnect and continue the interview.
"It brought the refugee crisis into better focus," said Randy Craker, superintendent of the Northwest District of the United States. "The news reports share snippets of the greater, overwhelming story of tens of thousands of displaced people. Then, on this Sunday morning we were able to hear a simple and beautiful story of how a single Nazarene congregation was opening their hands and hearts through loving service to their 'new neighbors.'"
“For a lot of people, hearing [about the refugees] from a source on location had a lot more credibility than what you hear in the news. Actually, hearing from a Nazarene pastor,” said Pastor Ed Eby. “Here’s a pastor, he’s sharing his heart with our congregation halfway across the world. It was definitely a very blessed time. The Holy Spirit was there ministering to our hearts. That was obvious by their response in the offering.”
Craker said that he's told other pastors on his district that they might consider using Skype to help their congregations connect more deeply and personally with God's work around the world.
"The eye can be a path to the heart, and as I witnessed in Moscow, when the people were able to see in a firsthand way how a frontline church was responding, they too wanted to share in the ministry."