This article is from the Spring 2017 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.
The Great Commission begins at home
“. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of earth.” —Acts 1:8
Jesus is calling all of us to be his witnesses at home, work and every place we visit—to be his change agents and for the gospel to transform us and transform the people we are working with.
For me, two women transformed my life: Adlah Abu-Akel, my mother, and Dr. Doris Wilson, a Scottish missionary serving in the Middle East. Because of their witness, they nurtured in me a calling to mission service.
I was born 25 miles northwest of Nazareth in Galilee to Palestinian Arab Christian parents in the village of Kuffer-Yassif. I was 4 years old in 1948 during the war that the Palestinian people call al-Nakbah, which means “the catastrophe.” The only thing I remember is running around with my father and five sisters and two brothers looking for my mother as Israeli troops drove us from our home. Suddenly, when I looked up, my mother was standing on the flat roof of our house waving goodbye. She stayed behind while we went up east to the mountain. We were put in makeshift tents in a Palestinian refugee camp. After several months we returned to our home and found my mother still alive. She said if the Israeli troops had wanted to kill her, they would have had to kill her at home. She wouldn’t leave our home, our land and our church.
Upon our return we discovered that five Palestinian villages next to our village had been completely destroyed. In 1948–49, the new state of Israel destroyed another 530 Palestinian villages and towns, exiling nearly a million Palestinians who became refugees.
In the midst of war, destruction and occupation, what was the transforming power in our lives? It was the love of parents and family and my mother’s faith in Jesus Christ.
As a Palestinian Arab Orthodox Christian believer, my mother wanted her children to pray, read Scripture and take it to heart through memorization. She grounded my faith from the time I was young.
My faith and call to mission were deepened by my connection to Dr. Doris Wilson, a medical missionary from Scotland who came with Ruth Lenox and rented the second floor in our home in Kuffer-Yassif. Doris worked with the Anglican church in our village and opened a medical clinic. Doris and Ruth transformed our village through their lives and witness.
Because we did not have any Bible college or seminary in Israel, I came to the U.S. to study, arriving in Lakeland, Florida, on January 29, 1966. After college I earned my Master of Divinity degree at Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS) in Decatur, Georgia.
It was at CTS that I discovered the rich and long mission history of the PC(USA) and decided to join the Presbyterian Church. I attended an annual mission conference at Montreat and began to learn about the transforming power of mission worldwide.
That mission happens not only through professional mission workers but through everyone committed to playing a role in God’s mission. In 1973, through CTS, I was connected to First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and began my ministry directing a church-sponsored after-school program for Spring Street Elementary students. I witnessed the transforming power of volunteers touching the lives of children every day as they took time to care, play and teach the children of our community.
I also witnessed the transforming power of the gospel when First Presbyterian began a bus ministry to assist older residents of our community with grocery shopping.
Then I saw the transforming power of the gospel in the lives of junior and senior high school students who traveled to Israel and Palestine with Herb and Mary Archer on a short-term mission. The Archers taught them to sing in Arabic.
Similarly, Atlanta Ministry with International Students (AMIS) is a transformative ecumenical “mission at our doorstep.” It was started in March 1978 to increase the number of international students drawn to Atlanta-area colleges and universities through a ministry of hospitality and friendship linking international students with American students. My life has been transformed by founding AMIS and serving as its executive director until 2012. Initially there were 2,500 international students from 100 nations involved. Today, 30 colleges and universities in Metro Atlanta minister to 14,000 international students from more than 175 nations through AMIS.
In 1955 there were approximately 35,000 international students in the U.S. Today more than 800,000 students represent 200 countries. This means that every five to eight years, the U.S. educates one million leaders with bachelors, masters, doctoral and other degrees. These international students and scholars will be their home countries’ future political, economic, religious and social leaders.
The struggle for each PC(USA) congregation is to consider the part it will play in God’s mission. Perhaps it is beginning a ministry of friendship and hospitality with international students. Maybe it involves assistance to the elderly or children. God calls each of us to mission. Sometimes that involves a Scottish doctor coming to Palestine to be a witness of Christian faith. In my case, I am a Palestinian Christian who came to the U.S. to engage in a variety of missions.
We follow a rich legacy of mission workers, and we share a calling to be change agents so the gospel may transform us and transform the people with whom we work.
The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, is the first Arab-American to lead a major U.S. denomination. He served as moderator of the 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (2002).
Today’s Focus: The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, Atlanta Ministry with International Students (AMIS)
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Come, Holy Spirit, empower us to be the hands of Christ in our communities. Grant us the joy of your presence, and may we continue to make a difference for Jesus to everyone we encounter. In his name we pray. Amen.