You’d probably think of them as refugees. But *Ishaq and *Maryam chose to be where they are now – where they believe God wants them to be. In the midst of chaos and war, they serve their God with complete faith – because they know He is a God of miracles.
When their youngest child and only daughter was born eight years ago, the doctors were concerned. The little girl had a large hole in her heart and needed two dangerous operations that would have cost more than US$10,000. Ishaq and Maryam only had $200.
So the church started praying.
When the couple took their baby back to the doctor, the hole was completely closed, and the doctor – a member of the majority faith – couldn’t believe his eyes.
“He asked, ‘What did you do?’” Ishaq remembers. “So I told him that God healed her, that we are Christians and lots of churches prayed. The doctor had goosebumps.”
Facing persecution Ishaq and Maryam grew up as members of a majority faith in their home country. While Ishaq was attending university in Europe, he met believers who told him about Jesus.
Soon after, Ishaq accepted Christ as his Saviour and was born again.
“My life changed 180 degrees,” he said. “I was baptized with the Holy Spirit. And God gave me strength: He knew what persecution I would face back home, from my family, the government, the security system.”
When Ishaq returned home, he became part of a large evangelical church. But when he asked the pastor to baptize him, the pastor refused because he was afraid. He asked Ishaq to wait one year. But Ishaq didn’t want to wait. He found out that the local Nazarene church was having a baptism one week later.
So, with the agreement of his first pastor, he received baptism in the Nazarene church. Eventually, he decided to become a member there and leave his previous church.
“I didn’t know how to decide,” he said. “So I prayed. The [other] church is big and rich and the Nazarene church is poor and small, so I felt that God wants me in that church – and I’ve been there since 1992 until this very moment.”
And the church has stood by him in all times of persecution.
“These were tough days for me; I could have been killed. But God saved me.”
Ishaq met Maryam, who had also become a Christian, and they were married. Their families, who were still members of another faith, stood against them and persecuted them.
“Her father started looking for us,” he said. “They wanted to kill us. They even threatened the Nazarene church and the pastor.”
Security forces asked them to come in for investigation.
“But God was protecting us all the time,” he said.
Instead of being intimidated by the threats, Ishaq and Maryam served in their church, ministering to believers from another faith background. Ishaq was in charge of discipleship groups, and both learned about theology and grew in their own faith.
In 2011, they applied for immigration to Australia, but later stopped the application process because they felt they should continue their ministry. During the following three years of civil war in their country, they ministered to a lot of internally displaced persons who fled to the capital for refuge.
“God was using us there in many great ways,” Ishaq said.
In 2014, a new episode of their life began. When their first child was born, they had taken the decision that they would leave in 2014 because in that year that child would reach the grade in which he has to study the faith his parents had left behind.
Since both parents were originally from the majority faith background and one’s religion cannot be legally changed, their children were still registered as belonging to that faith and consequently were going to be trained in it.
This was something Ishaq and Maryam could not allow to happen.
So when 2014 arrived, they told their church that they had to leave – not so much because of the civil war, but for their children’s education. The church prayed for them, blessed them, and sent them from their home Middle East country to another Middle East country.
And here, too, God provided for them. They became members of a local Nazarene church and were able to enroll their children in a Nazarene school.
God gave them a house by the wall of the church and had already prepared a ministry for them there.
In this particular church, there is a regular church service on Sunday morning and then another congregation meets in the afternoon. This is a congregation made up entirely of refugees, many with another faith background. After only a very short time, Ishaq was asked to be the pastor of that afternoon church.
“God gave us a vision for that church,” he said. “We cannot just preach, we also have to do discipleship.”
More than 200 families attend the church now. Eighty to 100 of them are being discipled every week in four groups. Maryam is doing a children’s ministry for 60 to 100 kids, and 25 young people are meeting in a youth club. The pastor couple is doing house visits with refugees, helping about 80 families with food coupons, and has approached doctors to help with mobile clinics.
It is a ministry that offers hope in the midst of fear and despair.
“In the church there are many needs of these refugees; we are praying that God will help us to help them,” Ishaq said. “We are living sometimes in sorrow because we are feeling with them, what is happening to them. We are praying that God will intervene and also bring leaders out of them for ministry.
“Now they know who is Jesus, what He did for them, how to believe in Him, how they should live the life of faith. Many of them are believers now and their lives were renewed and Jesus did miracles in their lives.”
Ishaq and Maryam know that their God is a God of miracles. This knowledge gives them the courage to faithfully serve Him in the place He has chosen for them.
During the past two years, the family has had the opportunity to move to Austria as asylum seekers or to Poland to pastor a church there – but they said no to both offers, because they felt that God wanted them to stay where they are.
“We would have lived a better life there, but the question is where God wants us,” Ishaq said. “We have this church here and we believe that God will solve our problems.”
And sometimes the problem solving and miracle working is a longer process – but no less reason for praise.
Despite death threats and strong opposition at the beginning, Ishaq and Maryam’s relationship with their families has improved during the past years.
“God changed their heart and now they accept us,” Ishaq said.
And since their baby daughter was miraculously healed, Ishaq and Maryam are even able to speak about Jesus with their families. One sibling has accepted Christ and the others are open to the message about this God of miracles – a God who deserves to be served faithfully, no matter where He chooses to place us.
*Names changed for security.
— This story was originally published in the June 2016 edition of Where Worlds Meet, the monthly newsletter of the Church of the Nazarene Eurasia Region.