God’s work in the Middle East is the focus of two new books by former missionaries – one a memoir reflecting on life in Lebanon amid war, the other a spy novel depicting the influence of Iranian Christians.
Frances Fuller’s In Borrowed Houses conveys a picture of the Lebanese people who today are facing imminent threats from ISIS, the self-proclaimed Mideast Islamic state, while Luana Ehrlich’s One Night in Tehran is a potential evangelism tool as it tells how a group of believers can lead an unlikely convert to Christ.
‘Lebanon is a crucial country’
For 24 years, Fuller was the director of a Christian publishing house in Lebanon, training writers and producing Arabic-language books that would be basic to a Christian library. In Borrowed Houses is, as she puts it, “a piece of my life as I remember it.”
Fuller and her husband Wayne lived through Lebanon’s civil war while ministering to the Lebanese people. Even today from California, Fuller’s heart for the Mideast is as strong as ever.
“Lebanon is a crucial country, and we need to pray for Lebanon to survive what is going on in the Middle East now because the movement is very powerful and coming toward Lebanon,” Fuller said. “In fact, it’s possible that ISIS forces poised on the border of Lebanon have been waiting for winter to pass so they can attack Lebanon.”
Lebanon has a higher percentage of Christians than any other Middle Eastern nation. It’s also a diverse country, which has served it well in some ways and made it fragile in other ways.
Part of the fragility is that Lebanon has been inundated with refugees from Syria and other countries plagued by violence. As a result, the nation’s infrastructure is overwhelmed.
“Every church in Lebanon – any kind of church – is participating in ministry to the refugees,” said Fuller, who last visited Lebanon two years ago. “One pastor said to me, ‘It is the greatest opportunity for ministry that we ever had.’”
What’s so unique about Lebanese Christians ministering to Syrian refugees, Fuller said, is that for nearly 30 years Lebanon was occupied by Syrian troops.
She remembers not being able to drive down her own street without encountering a checkpoint where armed men would tell her to open the trunk and would ask where she was going.
“We had to obey this occupation army,” Fuller recounted. “When you live in a situation like that, you naturally build up a certain amount of resentment.”
Lebanese Christians have had to overcome that resentment in order to serve Syrians who have fled to their country in search of food and shelter. The Christians in Lebanon, Fuller said, have risen to the opportunity.
“They are going out to the refugees and feeding them, and they are welcoming the refugees to come to church,” she said. “Among those are many Christians, and among those are many Muslims.”
Fuller urges prayer for the Lebanese people and for refugees who are “seeing Christianity in action.”
Fuller’s book can aid in praying for them.
“The biggest reason I want people to read my book is that it gives you a picture of the Lebanese people,” Fuller said. “Because I loved them and because I had such a good relationship with so many people in Lebanon, I think my story helps to give Lebanon a human face.
“I think the Middle Easterners don’t just look like this blank army of violent people when you read my book.”
Iranian Christians ‘willing to die for their faith’
Luana Ehrlich, a former missionary to Venezuela and a former pastor’s wife, was stirred to write a spy novel involving Iran about five years ago when Iranian Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was imprisoned and faced execution for his faith.
Ehrlich had been intrigued by espionage since she was young, and as she prayed for persecuted Iranian Christians, an idea for a Christian novel bloomed.
“I began to think about what would happen if a covert intelligence agent was over in Tehran and encountered some of these Iranian Christians who were willing to die for their faith,” Ehrlich said.
Her interest in the Mideast – originating from the Bible – led Ehrlich to pay close attention over the years to news reports about the region, and she kept newspaper articles that later would be a research resource for her book.
One Night in Tehran is about a CIA officer, Titus Ray, who finds shelter with a group of Iranian Christians in Tehran while hiding from the authorities. His brief encounter with them changes the course of his life.
Ehrlich, who lives in Norman, Okla., describes the novel as a fast-paced thriller, and she believes Christians will be encouraged because Ray, the protagonist, “is such an improbable person to be saved and yet he is saved.”
“I have had lots of families buy the book after they read it and give it to one of their relatives who loves spy fiction in the hope that the subtle message of the gospel will penetrate their heart,” Ehrlich said.
“It’s such an unintimidating way to witness, to give someone a fictional book.”
As Ehrlich follows the news from the Middle East these days, her heart remains concerned about persecuted Iranian believers – particularly pastor Saeed Abedini serving an eight-year prison sentence for his faith.
“It seems a tragedy that we can’t do something to get him out,” Ehrlich said. “I believe our prayers may do more to get him out than the State Department or any organization.”
Both women’s books, In Borrowed Houses and One Night in Tehran, are self-published and available on Amazon. The website for Fuller and her book is inborrowedhouseslebanon.com; the website for Ehrlich and her book is luanaehrlich.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)