I distinctly remember my first Ramadan experience in the fall of 2008 in the UAE. I had just started with my firm and was invited to a huge Iftar dinner, with major VIPs at a five-star hotel, starting at 7pm. As a complete rookie to Ramadan, I left my flat at 6:30 sharp, dressed up, excited, and starving. Then to my utter horror—no cabs! Actually, no cars whatsoever! The streets were absolutely deserted. Later, I found out that all the cabbies were at home, counting down the minutes before the call to chow down. The next day I apologized and explained this dilemma to my CEO. He just laughed, head in hand, and with his Irish brogue, “Aye! You’ve got a lot to learn, laddie!”
As we enter into the Islamic annual month of Ramadan, we should all treasure even more deeply the finished work of Christ on the cross, securing our freedom from sin and dead works and welcoming us into his kingdom! I pray that the crescendo of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar will rekindle a greater burden and compassion for all who are trapped in the futility of works-righteous religions.
Praying with perspective for the challenges and opportunities that our brothers and sisters in the Middle East/North African national churches is a blessing. And since we all should “learn a lot more” about this intriguing Islamic ritual, here is an excellent short primer on Ramadan to enhance our understanding
Honestly, after experiencing the last seven out of ten Ramadans all in different Muslim countries, they never are easy. Rhythm of life shifts, we need to stock up, stores and restaurants are closed or have limited hours, etc. Sounds familiar? For us expat workers, we know Ramadan is short-lived and our lives return to “normal”. But for national believers, Ramadan can bring out the best and the worst. Many national believers already suffer from a constant low-level intensity of persecution, while others suffer greatly and specifically as a result of kingdom work. National believers are treated much more harshly and on a more regular basis than foreign kingdom workers, especially those in church leadership. My maxim for this particular phenomenon: “The nationals are jailed, while the expat worker just gets deported.”
So, I asked a few national pastors with local and global networks to get their insight and suggestions. Some are delivering (even with severe lockdown restrictions) creative yet practical gift boxes with the ‘injil’ (Arabic for ‘the gospel’), hospitality items, toys, coloring books, and more. Some are coordinating strategic virtual global prayer meetings to fast and pray for Muslims worldwide and providing opportunities for dialogue with seekers. One is addressing a large denominational gathering to exhort them to mobilize and engage.
Incorporating these pastors ideas and prayer requests, here are a few strategic prayer points to help us get started interceding for the Middle East/North African national churches:
- That pastors would be broken and compassionate towards the lost and set the example of loving, sacrificial shepherding and servant leadership.
- Spiritual oppression and warfare intensifies during Ramadan. Pray they stand firm, be spiritually sober minded to do battle in the mind and heart (1 Pe 5:6-11), and be reminded that they battle not against flesh and blood.
- As stressful effects of Ramadan can stir up sinful attitudes in believers and damage their witness, pray for sincere confession, repentance, gospel renewal, and to love and serve their neighbors. (Rom 12:9-21).
- That national leaders would provide their congregations virtual prayer meetings for devotions, exhortations, encouragement, and pastoral care focused on issues of the heart and gospel outreach towards Muslims both in their local context and the wider Muslim diaspora.
- That national believers would be encouraged to remain faithful during lockdowns and participate in virtual gatherings if available via online worship services. (Heb 10:23-25)
- That national believers would use this season of Ramadan and Covid-19 to provide practical and generous outreach such as food, baby supplies, and cell recharge.
- That they would pray the Lord would visit Muslims in their dreams and guide them providentially to equipped and prepared believers for engagement.
Contributors: C & C; serving in MENA