(EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s theme for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.)
CAIRO – Gene Brooks* has good reasons not to return to the Middle East or Central Asia.
This small-church pastor has been arrested twice overseas, interrogated by gun-wielding soldiers and forced to spend a night under house arrest. He has worshipped secretly in homes when the church building was no longer safe. On a trip to Egypt, his plane landed in Cairo the day after more than 20 Coptic Christians were killed during a protest in October 2011.
These experiences might keep many away, but they’re not enough to stop this pastor. His passion to encourage believers and share the gospel drives out fear. Partnering with Southern Baptist workers overseas, Brooks has heard their cries for help:
Please pray. Please give. Please come.
Brooks has committed himself and led his church of about 60 people to be a part of God’s work to reach the nations – no matter the cost.
“There is the risk, but Jesus said they hated Him, and they’re going to hate us. I think part of that is having the passion for missions to go and to tell people about Jesus,” Brooks said. “When that is strong in our heart, it tends to suppress the fear factor.”
Despite the unrest in Egypt, Brooks didn’t hesitate to ask God if his church should help fill a request for U.S. churches to partner with Egyptian Baptist churches.
Mark Ayers*, a Southern Baptist worker in the region, sees Egypt as strategic in reaching North African and Middle Eastern peoples. And Ayers feels an urgency for Christians to bring truth and encourage the persecuted church.
“Get under the Egyptian church and lift her up,” Ayers exhorts. “Serve the church, bless the country.”
Brooks was willing and, with the support of his church, traveled to Egypt with Louie Smith*, a lay leader who has accompanied him on several international trips.
During their visit, the two men witnessed a church under severe persecution.
“They are facing death every day,” Brooks said. “Yet they are joyful in their experience with Christ. … They were not fearful to meet together. They were cautious, but yet they said, ‘You know, if we must die for Christ, we are ready to do that.’ It was an amazing experience.”
“Ever since I’ve been back home, I relive my steps in these countries,” Smith added, referring to his multiple trips into territories some might consider dangerous. “I still remember the faces and the places, and I’m constantly praying for them.
“I am planning on going back. We made some friends there, we made some contacts, we made a difference.”
Smith and Brooks remain committed, despite experiences such as the time in Central Asia when their team was prayerwalking through a community and handing out Bibles – and the local police placed them in a hotel under house arrest with an armed guard.
The next morning, the police came to escort the men out of town. They asked about the book the two were giving away. Brooks explained that they were Christians and the Bible is their Holy Book – the Word of God.
“We actually gave six to eight of the policemen a Bible before we left town. That was pretty unique,” Brooks said with a smile.
He is thankful to Southern Baptist workers who have facilitated the work he and other short-term workers have been able to accomplish. His passion to give so that their efforts can continue has become contagious in his church.
“Our people have really caught the vision and understood what it is to support our missionaries around the world. We began to encourage people to find unique ways to give,” Brooks said. “Since that time our Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering for International Missions] giving has actually tripled, almost quadrupled.”
The pastor knows that every prayer, every dollar, every plane ticket matters. And it’ll take more than a couple of arrests to stop him.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marie Curtis is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.)