Social media projects influence Middle East for Christ
By Reagan Hoezee | mnnonline.org
Middle East (ODM) — Open Doors USA’s online presence in the Middle East is growing rapidly. Several social media projects focusing on supporting Christians in the Arab-speaking world have now culminated into a combined total of 500,000 “Likes.” Each week, thousands of people are engaging on one of the social media outlets supported by Open Doors.
Open Doors supports several websites and Facebook communities where Christian values are conveyed and testimonies shared in an Arab context. Both Christians and Muslims are being reached by and are engaging on these Bible-based online communities.
Of the 355 million people living in the Middle East, about 50% now have access to the Internet. *Alex, an Open Doors worker involved in online presence, explains how it works: “Social media has a rapidly growing influence in the way people think about politics and society,” he says, referring to the Arab Spring that was fueled by online media. “This means the Internet offers a vast amount of opportunities for our organization as well. Much in the same way Brother Andrew started our ministry 60 years ago by smuggling Bibles in his Volkswagen Beetle, we can now use the Internet to ‘hide’ the gospel in a smart way and present it in the Arab world.”
The websites and online communities are visited by people from all over the Middle East; from Morocco and Libya to the Arabian Peninsula. An online support team, operating from within the region, is available to minister to online visitors.
“Every week there are about 35,000 interactions on the largest Facebook page we work with. This means that people ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ our posts, or ‘Comment’ on them,” says Alex. “In an average week, our team has daily interactions with 35,000 people who visit our page and are usually engaged in at least 25 deeper conversations leading to in-depth heart-to-heart ministry.”
Reaching half a million Likes can be considered a milestone in Open Doors’ online presence; however, numbers are not the ministry motive.
“Our ambition is not in reaching numbers, but in reaching people,” Alex says. “The goal is to get people engaged not only in an online Christian community, but also in an offline community–a local church.”
One of the social media projects Open Doors supports focuses on family values: instructing parents on how to teach their children Kingdom values as they grow up.
“For example, if you grow up in a culture where boys and girls are valued differently and that is reflected in parenting, it is important to share stories of a God who values everyone equally,” Alex explains.
“This woman always likes to visit our page because she feels that the page makes a difference in her life and plays an important role in her spiritual growth,” a local follow-up worker shares. “She wanted to let us know that she shares the posts, stories, and subjects from the page to stimulate discussions with her friends. She notices a big difference in her friends’ lives in the midst of all the difficulties they face in Iraq right now.”
Other visitors are struggling with loneliness and begin seeking God in their despair after having been touched by one of the uplifting stories posted online. One example is found in a young man from the Arabian Peninsula. “He was suffering from loneliness,” shares the follow-up worker. “He contacted us, and we are following up with him and speaking with him about his relationship with the Lord. We are encouraging him to keep praying and reading the Bible. He replied telling us that he feels safe with us and that we’ve helped him grow spiritually and overcome his loneliness.”
Through online media, Open Doors is able to connect directly with Christians in closed countries where churches are struggling to give public witness. Many Muslims that may be open to Christ are also seemingly at ease to communicate about this anonymously online. For many, communicating publicly and openly about this is not an option because there is a strong cultural pressure to keep acting as devout Muslims.
*Name changed for security reasons