Syrian refugee Ibrahim* instantly tensed when he saw the American couple approaching from across the park. Would they be friendly? What would they think when they realized he couldn’t speak English?
“As-Salaam-Alaikum,” said the American man as soon as he was within earshot of Ibrahim.
Ibrahim’s fears immediately melted away. This American knew the traditional Arabic greeting: “Peace be unto you!”
Astonished and relieved, Ibrahim and his family made their first two American friends, TEAM missionaries Miles and Ava Douglas.*
Two Nations, One Ministry
When the Douglases moved to America after 30 years in the Middle East, it was amazing how little their life changed.
The couple met at a hospital in the Arabian Peninsula. Ava was serving there as a nurse. Miles went as a short-term missionary and ultimately felt God calling him to stay.
“I ended up staying there 30 years, working in many different roles in the hospital,” said Miles. “I worked in engineering, maintenance, administration — but the main focus of what we were doing there was reaching out to the Gulf Arab people.”
In 2014, the Douglases realized God was now calling them from the Middle East to the United States.
“But, when we began to first sense that, we never once sensed that we would be leaving our ministry to Muslim people,” explained Miles. “Actually, when we first came back, we began thinking immediately about where we could plug in here in regards to Muslim ministry.”
The Douglases continue to serve Middle Eastern communities as missionaries — only now, in the U.S.
Reaching Muslims through English
The Douglases moved to a city where a local children’s hospital takes a large number of patients from the Gulf. Because of the hospital, many Gulf Arab families end up spending a year or two there.
Miles thought he would work at the hospital, too. Instead, God directed him to a job as an Arabic interpreter for the local school system.
“Of course God knew better, because now, we have so much more freedom through the schools,” said Ava. “I mean, if Miles had ended up at the children’s hospital, I don’t think we would have the freedom that we have now to visit families after hours, and I think giving them Bibles and things would be difficult.”
As for Ava, she now serves as a facilitator for a local English tutoring ministry.
Through Miles’s work with the schools, the Douglases quickly recognized that Arab families face pressure to learn English as soon as they arrive in the U.S. That’s where Ava’s work comes into play.
“We’re in touch with several different churches in the area that have put announcements in bulletins and things that we need tutors for Arab families,” Ava said. “Then these Christian, American ladies will call me and I will match them up with a family that they can go to and tutor.”
The tutoring program is flexible. Some volunteers prefer to help women with simple, conversational English, while others prefer to help children with their American schoolwork.
Most tutors have no background in English education or even Arabic. It truly is an opportunity for anyone with a heart for reaching Muslims.
“The testimonies that we hear are really amazing,” said Ava. “When you have a Muslim lady one-on-one, it becomes so much easier to talk with her about the Lord and about … what Jesus means to us.”
The Friendships Immigrants Crave
When Samira* came to the U.S. from the Arabian Peninsula as a university student, her brother was suddenly the only person she knew.
She desperately wanted American friends. But she didn’t know their language or their culture. She’d never felt such intense loneliness before.
By God’s grace, someone told her about the Douglases.
They told her they knew an American woman who was her age and studying at the same university. They said this woman had a love for Middle Eastern culture and was praying for a friend just like Samira!
The Douglases say stories like Samira’s are one of the most rewarding aspects of their ministry. Through their efforts, friendships are formed and fear of the unknown dissipates.
“They love to have American friendships. They really do,” said Ava. “It’s something they want, and something most of them don’t get.”
One of the most effective ways to bring a Muslim to Christ, the Douglases say, is to show them Christ’s love in action and not be afraid to reach out to them.
“I think with Americans, there is a discomfort and fear when it comes to Muslims, but that also goes the other way around,” said Ava. “There is a fear Muslims have of how Americans might receive them. … Both sides must lose their fears.”
Now, with the influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, Christians in America have more opportunities than ever to reach out to Muslims with the love of Christ.
Most Middle Eastern refugees have experienced great violence and trauma at the hands of Islam. Because of that, some are abandoning their faith in Allah after coming to the States.
“There’s just an openness to hear about something that does work, and to see it in action through the Church,” said Miles. “You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but if they don’t see it in action, it won’t mean anything to them.”
The World in Your Neighborhood
Between the refugee crisis and a general uptick in Middle Eastern immigrants, the landscape surrounding North American Christians looks much different now than it did 30 years ago.
The Douglases believe God is bringing Muslim immigrants and refugees to America in order to make Christ’s Gospel more accessible to them.
“There are people from over 360 unreached people groups here in North America now,” Ava said. “It’s incredible. Only God can do something like that.”
The need for overseas missionaries continues, but local churches now have a unique opportunity to reach unreached people groups within their own neighborhoods.
“As Christians, it should come from us anyway to be the first to reach out to them,” said Miles. “We really should be the first ones welcoming them here.”
Curious about working with Muslim or refugee ministries in the States or abroad? Check out opportunities with TEAM!