‘Two policemen arrived at our house. They said we had three days to leave the country’
Bernie’s story | Faithful perseverance when it doesn’t go to plan
“I grew up in a devout Catholic family, where we said the rosary every evening. I remember thinking that Jesus died as a martyr or as an example of suffering. But I wasn’t sure why he did that. After school, I went to university and heard the gospel for the first time. It was like coming out of a dark tunnel. I could see into a beautiful valley, filled with flowers and sunshine. I realised that Jesus died as the solution to my problems, to deal with my sin and to give me life abundantly. I never understood that before. It was amazing!
At the same time as understanding the gospel, though, I wondered why nobody had told me before. Why didn’t they point me to the valley earlier? I would have gone there earlier if I’d known. From then on, I wanted to be the pointer – the one who would say, ‘Look at the valley!’ Not long afterwards, I fell in love. We married and went to a missions convention in a nearby suburb. The speaker said that in our current hometown, there was a church in every suburb. But it wasn’t the case in the Muslim world. He said that Muslims weren’t hardened to the gospel or rejecting it, they just hadn’t heard it.
I knew we had to go. We had skills that we could use and we wanted to be the pointers. Exactly a year later, we left for the Middle East. It was hard at first. We moved into a flat where there was no front door. The toilet was out the back, perfectly positioned for neighbourly viewing. My wife and I and our two young sons travelled around on one bicycle. But the hardest thing was developing relationships. We would sit for hours, drinking tea. And that was fine, except that I wanted to be the pointer and to show them the valley. Three years went by and we became fluent in Urdu. Then I found a Bible correspondence school and I started meeting with recent graduates, who actually had genuine questions about Jesus. It was good! We were well settled and thought we would stay until we retired, which was at least 40 years away.
Then one day, two policemen arrived at our house. They told me we had three days to leave the country. They wouldn’t tell us why. I asked for an extension and I visited the embassies, but in the end, we were given an ultimatum. As we left, some of the guys from the Bible correspondence course were crying. They were so close to coming to faith in Jesus. We never found out why.
Over the next 15 years, we lived in three other Middle Eastern countries. We were involved with wonderful social and religious activities. Part of my work included Theological Education by Extension (TEE) and also the development of an Arabic language programme for the local community. It was a time full of expectations and wonder as more and more local people seemed to be moving towards faith. But then, just when the ministry was growing and bearing fruit, we were asked to leave the country again.
Looking back, in some ways, it felt like we spent 20 years telling Bible stories and pointing to the valley … but not seeing the results we expected. We told the stories over and over again, and every time we would see their eyes light up. There was a longing for grace and truth, but they never seemed to take the next step. But even now, I have to tell myself it’s okay. Perhaps we were the ones who helped take the rocks away or soften the soil. I have to remember that God’s way of redeeming the world is not via our clever words or actions. It’s by his Spirit, in his time, in the hearts of his people.
Recently, we’ve been reading Revelation 13. Verse 10 says, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” I always find it easier to be results-orientated or to analyse the next opportunity or ministry, or get excited about it … but sometimes God just wants us to be faithful, to stay in the battle, even when it’s hard.”
Bernie’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.