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Remembering the Forgotten Church

A Service of Prayer for the Middle East

It’s time we held a special service of prayer for the Middle Eastern Church.

Some of you may be taken aback by this. Is there such a thing as the “Middle Eastern Church?” Is there really a Christian presence in the Middle East? And if there is, what does it look like?

Our ready imaginings of the Middle East (no thanks to Western media) most likely include minarets and somber-eyed veiled women against a desert background, or hooded men voicing terrorist threats on homemade suicide videos, or barefoot boys in white Islamic dress running from scenes of bloody conflict.

There’s truth in those images of the Middle East, of course, but that’s not the whole picture. Here are some other truths: that churches in the Middle East have been proclaiming the gospel uninterrupted since Pentecost; that active monasteries dating back to the fourth century continue their communities of prayer; that Christian parachurch ministries contribute to the health of the church by creatively teaching children and youth about Christ; and that Christian media is reaching out to Muslim neighbors like never before in the history of the Middle East.

But something else is also happening: a massive exodus of Christians in search of peace and a better future. As a result of harsh economic conditions, rising Islamic fundamentalism across the region, heightened political tensions from oppressive regimes, and the injustice of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the Middle Eastern Church is rapidly dwindling.

The Western Church can no longer afford to forget about this hurting part of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:26). Approximately fifteen million Christians in twenty-one countries, representing every major Eastern and Western denomination, need our prayers and support for the continued survival of the church in the land of its birth.

The following worship service was designed to help us remember the Middle Eastern Church in our corporate worship. “Knowing that we are prayed for,” says Lutheran Bishop Mounib Younan in Jerusalem, “gives us strength and wisdom to continue our work of mission, education, service, and reconciliation. We feel your prayers in our souls and bodies. The power of prayer is much deeper than we think.”

In each section of this service, I have tried to represent Middle Eastern voices in song and prayer, but have also included alternative English songs to allow for flexibility and familiarity. All Arabic songs listed here are from Global Songs for Worship (noted as GSW) published by Faith Alive (see ad on inside back cover of this issue). You will notice a strong representation of the Psalms, which continue to be the heart of Middle Eastern worship.

A Service of Prayer for the Middle Eastern Church

Call to Worship: Psalm 113

Opening Songs
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Praise the Name of the Lord” (based on Psalm 113) GSW 4
“Na sebe huwa arrabu” (The Lord Is the Only Strength) GSW 37

Alternative Songs
“Praise God, You Servants of the Lord” PsH 113
“For the Trouble and the Suffering of the World” GSW 43

Scripture: Psalm 73:21-28

Prayers of the People

Scripture: Psalm 142

Leader: Lord, to you we lift up our souls. We cry out: “You are our refuge, our portion in the land of the living.” We pour out our complaint before you; before you we tell our trouble. Set us free from distress, that we may praise your name. Lord, to whom shall we go? You fill us with joy in your presence, eternal pleasures are at your right hand.

People sing: Salaam/Peace,
Salaam, Salaam
the peace of God to every race.
Salaam, Salaam
the peace of God in every place.
(refrain from “Salaam/Peace” GSW 45)

Alternative: “Your Will Be Done on Earth, O Lord” SNC 198

Leader: Lord, we pray for the governments of the world. For leaders of nations to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before you. For leaders of the Western world to stand for what is right and not what is popular or expedient. For leaders of the Middle East to confess and confront corruption and selfish ambitions. Give them boldness, Lord, to put an end to extremism on all sides, and spread peace in our lands.

Sing: refrain from “Salaam/Peace” GSW 45

Alternative: “Your Will Be Done on Earth, O Lord” SNC 198

Leader: Lord, we pray for the Church Universal, your church. Help her remain faithful to your calling to be light and salt in the world. And for the church in the Middle East, for her witness to Christ in that land, encourage and uphold her, Lord, in the palm of your hands. We pray for those who are persecuted and daily suffer on account of their faith. Protect those who minister on the front lines of evangelism. Shield those who come to faith in you despite threats from family and governments. Forgive us our silence, dear God. Lord, you open doors that no one can shut. Keep our doors open, and where they are shut, we beg you open them.

Sing: refrain from “Salaam/Peace” GSW 45

Alternative: “Your Will Be Done on Earth, O Lord” SNC 198

Leader: Lord, for two thousand years you have guided your church in the Middle East, the land of your incarnation. Sustain her in times of conflict and fear. Empower her to be an instrument of your peace and reconciliation. Continue to be a Father to those who have lost parents, husbands, wives, or children because of war. Continue to be a sanctuary for those who are refugees or homeless because of displacement. Continue to provide for those whose homes and fields have been confiscated. Let your justice roll down like a river, your righteousness like a never-failing stream. Give us peace that transcends all understanding to guide our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Song: “Salaam/Peace” GSW 45

Alternative: “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” PsH 545, WR 587

Meditation

Scripture: Isaiah 49:8-18 (emphasis on vv. 15-16: “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me”)

Song of Response: “Lord, Fill My Whole Heart with Love” GSW 36

Alternative: “The Church’s One Foundation” CH 401, PH 442, PsH 502, TH 347, WR 544

Benediction
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Closing Song: “Abana in Heaven” GSW 44

Alternative Song: “My Friends, May You Grow in Grace” SNC 288, SWM 234, SNT 239

Excerpt

Praying for the Middle Eastern Church

Often when we pray for the church in the Middle East, we focus our prayers on peace. Yes, peace is essential, but there is so much more that this church needs, struggles with, and confronts every day, such as

  • living faithfully as a minority in an Islamic context.
  • economic hardships and “glass ceiling syndrome” for Christians in all areas of the workplace.
  • temptation for young people to forsake Christ and convert to Islam for better economic and professional opportunities.
  • broken families and lost hopes caused by massive Christian immigration in order to pursue a better future.
  • being caught in a political corner between the West, with their political decisions in the region on one side, and our Muslim neighbors and government on the other.

Celebrate with us

  • an uninterrupted Christian presence in the Middle East since Pentecost.
  • a blossoming Christian radio and television ministry allowing God’s Word to enter Muslim living rooms and other places where Christians are not allowed.
  • excellent historical and contemporary resources in worship and theology fitting to our context.
  • entire Muslim communities coming to Christ through visions and dreams.
  • high respect for the historicity, character, and teaching of Jesus among our Muslim neighbors.