You're right, David Aikman, the story of the church in the Middle East is not well known, although we're in the place where it all began: the Garden of Eden, Abraham's travels, Jesus' home for work and teaching — and his crucifixion and resurrection. It's where the first churches formed and grew. From here, the gospel spread to the whole world.

Since then, the fortunes of the churches have indeed been mixed. The conquests of the sixth and seventh centuries made Islam the majority religion in the region today. Relationships between the religions in the Middle East were better in the tenth and eleventh centuries, when cooperation and space were the order of the day. But as you rightly point out, recent history has been much tougher.

You ask us how to best respond. From Middle East Christian Outreach's century and a half of experience as a medium-sized missions agency here, we can think of four avenues.

First, look beyond the statistics. True, there has been numerical decline, and emigration is a constant temptation for Christians here. Life is tough and uncertain, and it would be safer somewhere else. At the same time, some of the churches we work with are growing, engaging their cultures, and sending significant numbers of Arabic-speaking Christians out into the region and the wider world. The largest Protestant church here claims a membership of 8,000, and there are Coptic churches in the 10,000-member bracket. Still, most churches are small — look beyond the numbers to the movements.

Second, let our Middle Eastern friends speak for themselves. We are hugely impressed by the quality and thoughtful godliness of the church leaders we meet. Partnerships with local churches, schools, and ministries are indeed possible, ...

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