While Persian Gulf countries have closed their doors to Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war and atrocities of the Islamic State (ISIS), missionaries native to other Middle Eastern states are bracing to help refugees survive winter - and bring Christmas hope.
Many refugees who have left Islam will be celebrating their first Christmas this year, as they have seen the power of Christ meet them in their despair, report ministry leaders in Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Iraqis displaced by ISIS have had their eyes opened to the gospel, a ministry leader native to the country said.
"What ISIS is doing today is dictated by the Quran and Islamic books and has become visible and public to people," he said. "Every day we hear testimonies from Muslims that have accepted Christ."
In spite of calls for restricting refugee flows to Europe following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, the welcome that many Muslims from Syria and Iraq have experienced in some European countries has softened their disposition to the gospel, he said.
"Some European communities welcomed immigrants and harbored them, showing love to them," the director said. "This stirred feelings in the Muslim world, as they started realizing the difference between European countries, which carry the principles and history of Christianity, and Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which refused to receive any refugees."
Shut out of the Persian Gulf states and facing hostilities from ISIS, many Syrians and Iraqis have denounced Islamic teachings in social media outlets, and in the past few months hundreds of Muslims have come to Christ, he said. One of the ministry director's childhood friends was forced to flee Iraq and told him how he's been treated in Europe. The Muslim made it to Turkey, then survived a treacherous trip to Athens on one of the feeble "boats of death" before arriving in Germany, where he telephoned the director in Iraq.
"He said, 'I found all love, respect and appreciation in Christians, and all that I saw of believers in Christ was the purity and sincerity of heart, and the love is unconditional,'" the ministry leader said. "And then he asked me how it would be possible for him to follow Christ. He surrendered his life to Christ over the phone; he and his wife prayed and asked the Lord to enter into their hearts and help them with their new life."
While Syrian and Iraqi refugees may face prejudice and social difficulties in Middle Eastern countries accepting them - Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey - Christians are opening their arms to them. In Lebanon, an indigenous ministry leader opens church doors on Friday evenings to refugee families for coffee, socializing and sharing about Jesus.
"We often see miraculous answers to prayer," he said, adding that one of his team members had been meeting for Bible study with a Muslim woman named Yana, who was beginning to believe the Bible was God's truth.
"Her brother was very ill and was told by a doctor that he had to be hospitalized immediately or he would die," he said. "Having no money, Yana pleaded for prayer for her brother. Soon after being prayed for, the brother's fever left, and he stopped coughing up blood."
Yana rushed to the doctor to tell him her brother no longer needed hospital treatment, but the doctor didn't believe her.
"Together they went to the home of Yana's brother, and the doctor was able to see for himself that the illness was completely gone," the ministry director said. "The doctor was completely amazed and described it as a miracle. Yana accepted the Lord Jesus into her life and went on to share the good news with all her neighbors."
As a result, at least 15 of the neighborhood women have approached the ministry team, asking for prayer and visits to their home, and they also have been declaring the power of prayer in Christ's name.
"Praise the Lord Jesus that His glory has been revealed among this community!" the director said.
The ministry plans to distribute 30,000 to 50,000 New Testaments, Bibles and children's Bibles this month as part of a Christmas season outreach, he said. At least 20 workers are traveling to various cities in this year's effort; last year, the same outreach resulted in many people coming to Christ, he said.
In Turkey, an indigenous ministry provided a Christmas dinner last year that led to Muslims who had never heard the gospel coming to Christ. It hopes to expand the event this year, the director said.
"We pray that we can reserve the same place that we had for the last Christmas dinner," he said. "Last year we invited 100 unreached people. Now we want to invite 400 to 500 people for Christmas dinner, so we can reach more people for the Lord."
The ministry's visits to refugee camps near the south-central city of Adana are centered on providing for winter needs, as families in 90 tents have urgent need for heaters, firewood and food.
"They need immediate help from us, since no one can work in winter time, and their life is getting even harder," the director said. "We have visited a tent where a mother had a 10-day-old son. They were freezing, and the baby was coughing, so we brought him to a doctor, paid the expenses and got medicines for cold and bronchitis."
When refugees in other tents see the team members, they approach and ask for heaters and other critical items, he said. Team members tell them they are trusting that God will provide for them. Ministry workers moved by the sight of toddlers standing barefoot and cold outside their tents hope to be able to provide them socks and shoes.
"We have also received phone calls from the refugees, and they keep telling us about their urgent need for items to keep them alive," he said, adding that they have encountered two more families who were interested to study the Bible.
"They had asked some questions about Jesus," he said. "They kept saying they knew about Jesus from the Quran, so we explained verses from their book that salvation will be only from Jesus. We prayed for them. We are praying also that we can bring help to the other 90 suffering refugees soon, and that we can touch their hearts to the Lord Jesus."