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Baptists break barriers in the Middle East

ATHENS, Greece (BP)–Baptists in a Middle Eastern country* are partnering with Southern Baptists to give their neighbors, as the old saying goes, “a hand up, not just a handout.”

In 2007, believers in the country brought their neighbors’ plight to the attention of Southern Baptist humanitarian workers in the region, and together they developed a strategy that would meet short-term needs while helping parents develop skills to better provide for their families over the long term.

Residents of the area struggle to survive, earning only about 40 percent of their country’s normal standard of living. On a day-to-day basis, they cannot afford necessities like food, medicine and heat for their homes, and their long-term prospects are clouded by the scarcity of jobs and their lack of training. Because the country predominantly follows another world religion, Christians find themselves faced with significant obstacles in reaching out to people in need.

In consultation with Abraham Shepherd, who with his wife, Grace, directs Baptist Global Response work in the Middle East, local Baptists and the Southern Baptist humanitarian workers developed a two-pronged strategy. To meet immediate needs, they provided packets of food — including sugar, rice, oil, eggs, milk, tea and pasta — essential medicines, heaters and blankets the families could not afford. They also designed a program to train locals in skills that would enable them to improve their standard of living and help them provide better for their families.

The long-term strategy included educational centers where literacy courses, English classes and computer training are offered. Individuals also were taught how to develop their own businesses. In the component of the program that ran between January and April 2009, an estimated 800 people were helped at a cost of $31.25 each from resources provided by Southern Baptists who gave to their World Hunger Fund.

Another benefit of the program is that while local Baptists were helping their neighbors, they also were developing their own leadership and serving skills. Because relationships are so important in the local culture, local Baptists were able to break down barriers by demonstrating God’s love for their neighbors.

“The object of this project is to work through local believers to reach the poor of this nation,” said the project director*. “Our desire is for local believers to have a passion for their neighbors’ needs and be able to reach out in love. As the local believers get involved in sharing, they will be encouraged by seeing what God is doing and what great things he can do.”

Even a small gift to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund sets in motion a ripple effect that touches lives for generations to come, Shepherd said.

“By their generous giving to the World Hunger Fund, Southern Baptists trigger a chain reaction of caring that reaches across oceans,” Shepherd said. “It touches people in need and shapes national believers in the lesson of generosity and giving to their neighbors in need.”
Name withheld for security reasons. Compiled by Baptist Global Response staff.

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