By William Strickland, Vice President, Mission ONE
I returned from Lebanon recently, having visited Mission ONE’s Middle East Team. The story below is one of my favorite memories.
This is a story of two men—Nabeel and Benjamin. They would normally be mortal enemies. Instead are united as brothers in Christ. All the names have been changed to for security reasons.
Nabeel is a Bedouin Arab from a Sunni Muslim background. He is a home builder. He is from a city in Syria that was battleground—a battleground between the Sunni majority and the minority groups in Syria (Alawites, Assyrians, Kurds, Armenians). Sunnis in the city began to persecute, even kill, especially those from a Christian background. Why/ They linked the Christian to the oppression of the minority-led regime. Nabeel felt his people were backed into a corner. He believed he must fight to maintain the respect his people deserved.
Due to the violence in Syria, Nabeel decided that he first needed to move his family out of the country. They decided to flee into Lebanon. After migrating with hundreds of thousands of other Syrians into Lebanon, Nabeel’s family arrived at a camp where many Sunnis were settling.
Nabeel heard about a group distributing a month’s worth of food. He thought this was a great way to help his people. He went not only to receive food but to help serve with the people who were doing the distribution.
Kamal was leading the distribution. Kamal is the leader of Mission ONE’s partner in the Middle East. Nabeel’s desire to serve his people caught Kamal’s eye. The two men began a friendship. Kamal asked Nabeel, “Will you join our team to serve the Bedouin?” Nabeel gladly said, “Yes!”
Slowly, Kamal began sharing about Jesus with Nabeel. Nabeel was open because he saw Kamal and the other believers’ love for his people. “Why do they help the Christian and the Muslim?” he asked.
As Nabeel learned more about Jesus and the hearts of the believers, he was in awe of the humility of the God of the Bible as lived through Jesus Christ. “The God who is humble must be the true God. He does not need to fight for His glory. His glory is so great that He can be humble.” This thought is what convinced Nabeel to follow Jesus.
Nabeel says that his life became much more difficult once he became a believer. He has remained a leader in the Sunni community, but his family has tried to exclude him. Nabeel says that it is worth it to stay with Christ because he knows that is the way of truth. He has begun making disciples and planting churches in the Sunni refugee community.
Benjamin is an Assyrian from a Christian background. He and his family lived in a nice part of the same city in Syria that Nabeel is from. After fighting broke out, they were forced to flee as refugees to Lebanon. Many of the Assyrian Christians were killed by Sunni Muslim extremists in their home city. Of course, they were angry at the Sunnis.
When Benjamin and his family fled to Lebanon, they met Kamal. Soon, Kamal began sharing meals and stories about Jesus with them. Benjamin and his wife had never heard most of these stories. They especially had never heard the meaning of these stories.
At first they were suspicious of Kamal, an evangelical Christian. They had heard that evangelicals break traditions and live like pagans. But Benjamin saw the love that Kamal and the believers had for all people—Assyrian, Druze, Sunni, and Shia. Benjamin wondered why the believers would help even their enemies.
Kamal and Benjamin became good friends. Benjamin learned a lot about Jesus and the true meaning of following Jesus. They decided to follow Christ and wanted to study the Bible more. They wanted to share what they were learning among the Assyrian community. Eventually, they even started a home church.
Kamal thought it would be wise to bring Nabeel to meet Benjamin. Kamal believed Nabeel could help teach them the Bible and how to plant churches in their community. Benjamin wondered, “How can a Muslim teach me, a Christian, the Bible?” Through respect of Kamal’s leadership they agreed to try.
Nabeel and Benjamin have had many difficult discussions about what happened in their home city. They disagree about politics. But the family of God unites them. Their core identity is in the body of Christ and in making His glory known. Today, Benjamin and Nabeel are closer than brothers. They share their faith and their ideas on how to plant churches in their respective communities.
Normally, Nabeel and Benjamin would hate each other, one from Assyrian Christian background, the other from Sunni Muslim background. But they are unified in the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
They see themselves as sons of God’s promise to Abraham. They understand that as God’s glory increases, so does those who are adopted into his tribe. They understand Galatians 3:28–29, where Paul says,
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
I had heard about these brothers before I met them. I was skeptical of their story. But I have sat with them. I have seen them share their lives with each other. I saw Nabeel walk in to Benjamin’s house as they greeted each other “with a holy kiss” (Rom 16:16).