2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the Church of the Nazarene in the Middle East, which began in Palestine and Syria in 1921. When asked whether compassion is part of the Nazarene identity in the Middle East, one pastor, Pastor Boulos, was clear.
“Absolutely, this is our identity, 100 percent,” he says. “This is the heart of our mission, and I believe it is linked with the heart of Jesus. In Matthew 25, [Jesus says], when I was hungry you fed me, when I am thirsty, you give me water, when I am in prison you come and visit me … when you do it for these people, you are doing it for me.”
The very first Nazarene churches in the Middle East were comprised of refugees and those living in poverty, and the early ministry of the church consisted of food relief, care for orphans and vulnerable people, and education for children through Nazarene schools. Now, 100 years later, Nazarene churches continue this legacy.
“I believe this is the heart of Jesus: to see the compassionate ministry in every heart, every church, every servant, to serve people—especially those who are passing through a hard time,” Boulos shares.
Boulos recalls how, during the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraqis were fleeing to Jordan as they had nowhere to stay. At that time, the Nazarene school opened its doors, and 30 families were given a classroom each as shelter. The church was a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word.
“To be frank, I am so proud,” Boulos shares. “I am so happy to be part of the kingdom of God through the Church of the Nazarene, because when I see pastors, they are doing the best with limited resources, just to serve and support those in need. I am really proud… the situation is really hard… Let us receive them. Let us serve their kids. Let us share our heart, our love, our resources with them. This gives me joy…”
The churches in the Middle East are full of stories of transformation. One young Iraqi woman fled the war with her family. “They are down, they are afraid,” Boulos says of those living as refugees. “They cannot even walk on the street. All these things are in their mind, and they are isolated.”
The young woman was 18, pregnant, and without support. Then, she began to get involved in the youth group, and the youth loved her and supported her. Over the years, she has grown immensely in her faith. Now, she is a preacher.
Boulos explains how her story began with fleeing, but now she stands strong in her faith.
“When she stands on the platform, she is like a lion, full of boldness and charisma,” Boulos says.
In one Nazarene church, a woman named Anna leads the refugee work for children. Anna is a recent refugee herself. She too has her own story of fleeing violence and starting all over again in a new country.
“100 years ago, there was tragedy, but now we see the hope,” Boulos says. “Right now, we see tragedy, but maybe after 100 years we will see the light is shining.”
Written by Tim Bowen-Evans and published in the NCM magazine.