Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Missions in the Middle East: The New Dark Ages

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Missions in the Middle East: The New Dark Ages

Article excerpt

Peter J. Ochs II is a free-lance writer and tour operator who has spent 12 years in the Gulf, mostly in Oman, organizing cultural and historical expeditions.

Bearing the cross, by definition, has never been an easy task, especially for those who take the metaphor to absolute ends: the devotional societies and ministries who promote good works in the Third World and among the downtrodden. Even altruism is taking its lumps, however, as the threat of hostilities in the Middle East increases. Ministries practicing a rarefied altruism--providing service through hospitals, schools and work programs without overt attempts at converting the local population--are threatened not only by misguided fanatical hatred in their host country, but also by ministries of their own kind who openly proselytize.

Abed Abdul Razak Kamel shot and killed three American missionaries and wounded a fourth at Yemen's Jibla Baptist Hospital on Dec. 30, 2002. The gunman said he shot the hospital workers "because they were preaching Christianity in a Muslim country."

The recent shootings in Yemen may have been committed by an unstable individual who was not affiliated with any organized religious factions. But just as great a threat to the bona fide missions--who would rather let their good works be their own reward--is posed by missions who offer their services for a price: that outstretched hand of goodwill that has a Bible planted in it. This is an anathema, particularly in the Middle East where religious solidarity to Islam is so ingrained.

Many of these countries have anti-proselytizing laws, and missions who do gain access are under strict scrutiny. One organization has stated that it is in a given country only on invitation. This doesn't stop over-fervent faithful, however, from trying to stick in their Word however they can under the most dangerous circumstances. This point was clearly demonstrated in the final days of the Taliban's control of Afghanistan, where a group of Christian do-gooders faced a death sentence for trying to convert the so-called unenlightened. They were subsequently--and luckily--liberated in the fall of the regime.

But while the fervor to preach and do good works is still alive and well, those societies who emphasize the latter are distancing themselves from those who practice the former. Nor is this the only action they are taking. The overzealous have forced many other institutions to "go underground," keeping their services under tight watch and moving about almost clandestinely because they are now becoming targets of fanatics seeking retribution. Web sites promoting good will ambassadors are removing names and phone numbers of directors and field workers, and obscuring photographs of prominent members. And field workers are given special training and guidance to ensure that they don't overstep their bounds. Administering without the ministry is the key.

The son of a retired mission worker who asked to remain anonymous lamented the damage caused by over-zealous societies. …

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