Five things I learned from OM "old-timers"
Written by Andrew
Recently, I had the chance to attend the OM Middle East North Africa (MENA) Leaders Meetings. Even better, since I was there as an OM MENA Communications Intern and not a leader, I had the opportunity to talk with and interview many of the legends from OM’s past and present work in the MENA area. Their stories were often inspiring, at times terrifying, and always encouraging. While they all deserve to be told, looking back on the week, there are some common elements woven throughout each and all of them that jumped out and made me look at my own life in a new light.
Here they are:
1. You can get away with a lot more than you think you can.
Whether it was reentering a country you were deported from and then having a friendly conversation with the emigration officer who handled your case when you meet him on the street, getting emergency approval to set up a NGO that usually takes nine months in just five minutes, or carrying massive quantities of Bibles under the noses of customs officers into a country where they are banned, I was amazed at the stories leaders told of their antics in their early days on the field.
Of course, there were times when they didn’t get away with it. There were times when they did get sick, did go to prison, did suffer for doing what they felt called to. Yet in all those things, God’s presence was with them and worked through them.
2. If you seek to follow God, He will work through you, even when you fail.
Just living life anywhere as a follower of Christ is full of tough decisions, temptations and opportunities to make mistakes. In a region like MENA, with its unique cultural, social and spiritual challenges, those opportunities for error are multiplied exponentially. Sitting in a room for an afternoon with a few dozen people who have dedicated their lives to serving here impressed me with two things:
First, these people aren’t perfect.
Second, God has worked through them mightily to do amazing things.
The people I spent time with at the MENA Leadership Training Conference were aware of these facts, both in themselves and in each other, and it’s an awareness that I believe makes them stronger both as individuals and as a team.
3. Relationships are key.
While listening to the countless stories of successes, failures and challenges, one thing I realized is that none of these men and women went through them alone. Relationships, whether with teammates, spouses, or local friends, were a vital part of the picture. You could hear it in the stories MENA workers told, and––more compellingly––you could see it in how they interacted with each other. Throughout decades serving God on the MENA field, these people have been sustained by serving Him together.
4. Getting “old” doesn’t have to look anything like what we think it does.
Having served on the field for decades obviously means you’re getting older. Some of the leaders I spent time with at the conference are into their 60s and 70s. Yet, I found the people I had some of the most fun interacting with over the week were some of the oldest.
Fact: They have white hair.
Fact: They can tell me first-hand accounts of events I read about in mid-20th century history.
Fact: They are some of the most sharp, passionate, ambitious and fun people I’ve ever had the honor of hanging out with.
Whether it was their spontaneity to do things, the time they made a point to spend with me––one of the youngest people at the event––when their schedules were already packed, or their desire to continue serving God in still greater ways than they have yet, I had to constantly reevaluate my idea of what it means to grow “older.” While filming a profile piece about one of the oldest couples there, one of my colleagues asked if they would be comfortable kissing on camera. My teammate told me later he was expecting some kind of cute little peck we could use somewhere in the video. Let’s just say we all got more than he bargained for.
5. Intimacy is vital.
Emotional intimacy is obviously important in a relationship between a husband and wife. What I saw exemplified again and again in the lives of workers who’ve given their all to serving God in the MENA area is that it’s also important between friends and teammates. Even more, it’s vital between the Believer and God. Passion for worship, commitment to studying God’s Word and a lifestyle of prayer were all regular parts of life for the individuals I met over the week. If I learned one thing from them, it’s that that intimacy with God is the key to how they survived lives of service in such challenging parts of the world, and even more, how they continue to thrive there while bringing unreached people the message of how God longs to have the same intimacy with them.
As an OM MENA Communications Intern, Andrew loves going places where he can see the world from a different perspective – even if it's a difficult place – and telling the stories of people who've found ways of living out God's love in a broken world. If you spend a lot of time in coffee shops, then there's a good chance you'll meet Andrew someday.