From Pastor Chris

Darren Carlson grew up down the street from our church, off Popkins Lane, and graduated from West Potomac High School. He reached out to me over Facebook when he saw through mutual friends that I was moving to Alexandria to pastor Groveton Baptist Church. Darren leads an exciting ministry called Training Leaders International that equips church leaders in parts of the world where theological and ministry training are not available.

Darren’s family temporarily lives in Athens, Greece where he is doing research for his doctorate. Embedded in ministry centers for refugees, Darren has had access to numerous new converts to Christ, mostly Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, and Iranians—in other words, all from Muslim backgrounds. His firsthand accounts of God’s work through refugee ministry in Athens have been striking on many levels. Let me share three then encourage you to read his reports yourself.

The Muslim-background believers Darren has interacted with come from countries where they were fed propaganda about Christians—that they are evil, sinful, and dangerous. What opened the door for the gospel in their lives was when Christians were the ones waiting to welcome the refugees with smiles, hugs, food, and clothing. Suspicion, antagonism, and fear would only perpetuate rather than counteract that propaganda. One Greek woman doing work among Syrians said, “You can't be a Christian and afraid of Muslims. It would mean you believe your God is smaller than a Muslim person.”

Stories of Muslims seeing Jesus in visions or dreams have streamed in from the mission field for years. Darren shared his concerns that some of these reports have been exaggerated and that many, if not most converts have not had such dreams. With those cautions in place, the dreams he has relayed remind us that Jesus is mighty to save, despite barriers from country or family.

-One Persian believer had a dream in which she was told three times, “Confess Jesus is God.” She felt an inexplicable peace when she woke, and after a few weeks of spiritual wrestling, confessed with her husband that Jesus is God.
-Another Iranian dreamed of a man in white who said, “Follow me.” When he asked who he was, the man answered, "I am the Alpha and Omega. No one comes to the Father except through me." A Farsi-speaking Christian read the same words of Jesus to this man from the Bible. An hour later the man brought 10 more Iranians back to receive Bibles and learn more about Jesus.
-A woman who tried to prove Christianity wrong had a vision where a man in white called her by name and said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me." He disappeared. She now serves refugees in Jesus’ name.

There are many more stories of God’s power to save, but let me share just one more:
“A family was crossing the sea to Greece by boat from Turkey. Their small daughter fell off the edge and when they looked around they didn't see her anywhere. Fearing they lost her, suddenly they looked, and there she was dry on the other side of the boat. She kept repeating that a man in white walking on water had picked her up and put her back in the boat. They thought she was crazy.
“They arrived on the island of Lesbos. When they got there, there was a Christian man who sat with them and told them he was a Christian. He then shared the story of a God that could walk on water. The entire family started crying and told them about their daughter.
“The way he tells the story is that he had never used that story to share the gospel before, but just felt led to do it that day. They became Christians.”

Following Jesus is not only an experience of love and power but also suffering. Darren talked to one missionary who baptized a new Pakistani believer. The man was killed two months later for becoming a Christian. A Syrian woman’s family tried to kill her for reading a Bible. She is now a Christian and knows that seeking to reunite with her grown sons could mean her death at their hands. This dynamic has led some churches to have beds in the basement of the church, where refugees can live instead of being killed in the refugee camps.

Darren’s accounts have challenged me to consider how I think about immigrants in our community and the opportunity we have to share Christ’s gospel and love with them. They have challenged me to question how powerful I believe God truly is. They have challenged me to assess my willingness to suffer for Jesus’ sake.

To follow Darren Carlson’s reports, do a search on Facebook for #JesusInAthens. May God challenge you and may he stir us up to love and good deeds here in Alexandria.

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