For the past two and a half years, Maria and Amado Portero—aliases given to protect their identities—have lived, worked, and served among the Muslim community in the Middle East.
A deeply relational couple, the Porteros long to introduce their neighbors to the love of Christ, shining light on traditional narratives about Jesus. While they were on home ministry, we caught up with Amado to hear more about their work.
Q: Tell us a bit about your work. Where are you located? What does an average day look like for you?
We just wrapped up our first two year term serving in the Middle East. We absolutely love it; the people, the culture, and the food are all amazing. When we first moved to the Middle East, Maria and I dove right into language study. About a year and a half in, I took a teaching job at a private school. The days were fairly long and busy and didn’t leave much extra time to build relationships with the community. This role ended after a semester though, and I went back to studying language with Maria.
Currently, we spend our mornings focused on language learning. This typically runs until about noon. Afterwards, we’ll pick up our kids, help them with homework, and spend our afternoons tending to the day’s needs. We generally spend our evenings connecting with our neighbors and building relationships. Every other week, we meet in a house church with a small group of other expats.
Q: What led you to serve in the Middle East?
I had grown up in a missionary family serving in South America. And while I never doubted that God existed, I never quite grasped that he liked me. During a YWAM conference in Tyler, Texas, when I was 15 years old, I felt the Lord break through to me, telling me he was for me. This experience completely rocked my world. And it was here that God gave me a heart to serve others around the world.
At the time, I remember feeling like God was going to launch me right out of high school into work abroad. But God had different plans. I came back to the United States to attend Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), so I could learn a marketable skill to use in another country.
As I was finishing up my degree in international business around 2002, I watched a documentary on the fall of communism. While watching this documentary, it struck me how a small group of economists worked with those in poverty.
Long before they knew communism was crumbling, they saw the men, women, and children hurt under this system of government and dedicated their lives to serving these people. Their compassion for those in need resounded in me. I decided I wanted to invest my life’s work in places where people are afraid to go, yet where the gospel is so needed. In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to serve Muslims.
While teaching in South Carolina several years later, I met Maria, who shared my heart for global work. Maria first sensed God calling her to global work while on a trip to London. While there, she received a vision and word from the Lord: “I want you to birth a new generation of Muslim women who know me.”
It took many years from when we first sensed God calling us to service until we left for the Middle East. We hit many detours along the way, but I’m grateful to look back and see all the ways God was growing and shaping us as he prepared us for this work.
Q: What aspects of your work would you like to highlight and celebrate?
More than anything, we celebrate the relationships we get to make. We serve among an incredible group of people and feel continually inspired by the people we meet, the relationships we form, and the conversations we get to have. That said, a few memories stand out to us in particular:
Once early on, about eight months in, we had the privilege of ministering to a small group of Muslim background believers (those who grew up Muslim but now identify as Christians). Muslim background believers (MBBs) are a community we long to encourage and strengthen and bless, and it was such a joy to minister to this group.
On another occasion, I got to share my favorite Psalm, Psalm 27, with a different group of MBBs. It gave me goose bumps sharing something so meaningful to me and watching them discover it for themselves.
My wife has been working alongside another worker connected to our company. For a while, they’d been ministering to a Muslim woman—we’ll call her Reem—who was interested in Jesus. Reem would ask many questions regarding Jesus’ death on the cross and why God would die for her sins—teachings which go against the Quran.
In the Muslim community, dreams hold a special significance; they draw a lot of meaning from dreams. And in one week, Reem received three dreams about Jesus. In the final dream, she saw Jesus dying on the cross and it finally clicked: She believed Jesus died for her. It’s been incredible ministering to her and watching Jesus reveal himself to her.
Q: What goals do you have set for the future?
We’re currently two and a half years into a 10-year process of language learning. We speak conversational Arabic, but we have a long way to go. Compared to conversational Arabic, religious Arabic is the English equivalent of breaking out into Shakespearean English. It’s challenging at times to communicate a verse in Scripture or to find the most helpful words to talk about God. So as we continue our work, we’re excited to grow in our ability to communicate with those around us.
As we look to the future, we have dreams of working with Syrian refugees, providing shelter for at-risk women. We’ve worked with a woman who told her parents she became a Christian. Her father made her leave and not tell him where she was going to stay so that, when her brothers asked where she was, he could answer honestly that he did not know.
This kind of scenario is a heartbreaking reality for many Christian women here.
Family ties are strong in the Muslim community, and when a woman comes to know Jesus, there’s a possibility her family might disassociate from her. And a woman who doesn’t have the protection of her family is seen as vulnerable. She can become an easy target for those who would do her harm. So we’d like to come alongside these women, providing them with safety, shelter, and community.
We believe the Middle East will be a testimony to a God who loves his children. That he has never abandoned them, and deeply longs to be known and revealed as Father. This is a testimony we long to proclaim. And we believe we’re seeing the beginnings of change in the Middle East.
Q: How can we be praying for you and your community?
Pray for boldness. Calling God “Father” is incredibly offensive to Muslims. It requires a lot of boldness to risk relationships in order to declare these truths. Pray also for favor, that people would open their hearts to receive these truths.
Also, pray for us as the global Church. May we be a people known by our love. The truth is that we don’t need to know a lot or even do a lot to be known for our love. Let us be a people who love and accept Muslims, allowing them to be who they are without keeping them at arm’s length or simply trying to convert them. The reality is that so many of them are afraid of Americans. This kind of acceptance would speak volumes to them about God’s heart and character.
I pray that God’s people will rise up with love and acceptance of our Muslim neighbors. This would be a wonderful testimony!
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Originally published as “Meet the Porteros” for BIC U.S.’ August 2016 Connect newsletter.