by Mary Fisher
Mary and her husband have served in the Middle East for over 25 years. Mary is a teacher, works in children’s ministry and disciples women one-on-one and in small groups. To sharpen her skills, she recently took Entrust’s Facilitating Relational Learning module. We’re delighted to share her thoughts with you about the value of Christian small groups in her region of the world.
Women in the Middle East, especially the country I work in, often gather for the purpose of reading their sacred text, praying, bringing blessing to the home of the host, and socializing in a way that nurtures a sense of community and belonging. These are the expectations we share as we gather in small groups. There are, however, notable differences.
Most women don’t understand what they are reading because it is in a foreign language which few speak. Open sharing of ideas is not expected. Instead, there is usually a wise older leader in the group who might speak that language, though she probably doesn’t understand what she’s reading. She is the only one who shares her opinion and it is expected that the group will concur. Ritual prayers are said without the exchange of prayer requests. Lively discussion before and after the “religious” part of the meeting can be very similar to women’s gatherings everywhere—except in the Middle East, hospitality is such an expected and holy act that there is no end to the flow of tea and variety of home-made delicacies lovingly and painstakingly prepared by the host.
When women from this background attend a Christian small group, they are comfortable with the basic set up. Some might feel wary that the group is a dangerous cult, but they’re often intrigued that we don’t just recite our sacred text, we delve into it, encourage questions, wrestle with meaning and application. This approach, so foreign to their own learning experience, usually fills them with excitement, wonder and a desire to know more. Often, women comment that they are hungry to return because this is the first place they feel their hearts have been listened to by other women and by God.
“Learning together was amazing. I don’t think I have ever had this kind
of experience being in a group and learning together.”
- Entrust training participant, Middle East, 2018