Fady Al-Hagal was born and raised in Damascus, Syria, mere steps away from the house of Judas where the Apostle Paul came after meeting his Lord on the road to the city (Acts 9). Although Al-Hagal was aware of many things about Christianity in this context, he never experienced a personal relationship with Christ until a pastor in Martin, Tennessee, began to take interest in the young Syrian man who was attending his congregation in 1983.
Today Al-Hagal serves as the executive director of the International Leadership Coalition, a ministry focused on creating awareness of the international community in Middle Tennessee, supporting international ministers in the United States and creating partnerships between the the international church and local church in the States.
Over 300,000 internationals live in the area of Middle Tennessee, with 91 people groups represented in Nashville alone. Al-Hagal’s ministry regularly connects him with immigrants and refugees in the state and Christians all over the world. He is currently ministering to local Afghani families that are still trying to help their relatives leave Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as corresponding with Christians leaders who have remained in the embattled nation.
He shared with the ERLC his perspective on the Afghani church, as well as the ways Christians and local churches can serve refugees.
Jill Waggoner: What are you hearing from Afghani believers? What is the ILC doing at this time?
Fady Al-Hagal: We are trying to provide instant humanitarian support for people who are wanting to come out [of Afghanistan]. We have an active efforts to generate resources and support for things like flights or transportation to nearby nations.
We are also in communication with several house churches in the underground church of Afghanistan where the believers have decided that it is their mission to stay. According to history, any time there is a shift politically, historically, geographically, there is always a shift spiritually. Just as it was after 9/11, for example, the Holy Spirit brought about an awakening and an awareness, and the underground church was empowered through suffering and endurance to continue the mission. Many believers in Afghanistan and the surrounding nations feel like these coming few months are critical to reimpress the story of the gospel into the hearts of those who are searching. This type of shifting politically creates an opening for the gospel spiritually, and many people will be open to hear where mercy, goodness, purpose and eternity can be found.
The physical danger is awakening many to the fact that they need to examine their safety and survival eternally. Is it found in the religion they grew up with and had no choice in? The gospel provides them with a will and a choice to follow. Many believe this is our time and what we do today is what will last for generations in Afghanistan and the surrounding nations.
JW: How can American Christians remain involved after the public attention has faded from Afghanistan?
FA: Believers in the West should become involved with refugees in four ways:
1. Practically: We must engage the suffering nations, such as Afghanistan. This is the ‘what’ we need to do. First, we must learn. What is a refugee? What do they go through? Why do they leave? Most people don’t know that a refugee is a person who has been pushed out because of race, religion, nationality, or social affiliation. What do they go through to get to America? What are the stages? What is their experience like? They have tough decisions to make, and they must make them instantly. There is a lot of waiting. And when they do arrive in a new place, a refugee has to live with a new identity, most often in a place where they don’t speak the language. It is good for American believers to know what refugees, as well as immigrants, go through. Then we are able to better relate to them and learn how to assimilate them in a healthy way.
Secondly, we must practice the goodness of God to refugees. This means you take the fruit of the Holy Spirit and flesh it out: peace, kindness, long-suffering. Practice hospitality in a way that their ethnic community understands. This requires relationships and availability.
2. Ethically: ‘Why’ are we doing this? Our mandate comes from no other place than the Word of God. God cares about the alien and sojourner. He is the provider to those who are vulnerable (See Psa. 9; 146:9; Deut. 10:18; Isa. 25; 58:6-11; Luke 10) Scriptural mandates give us the ethical reasons for why we do what we do. We demonstrate God’s love for those in need. We become God’s ambassadors to fulfill what he desires in people’s lives. We become God’s healing agents for those who have gone through suffering and persecution. We become God’s way of bringing joy and celebration in people’s lives. We become an expression of God’s kingdom to people who have never known there was another. We display God’s peace to people who haven’t had peace. We show God’s sufficiency to those who are without.
3. Intentionally: Our engagement must become intentional, having direction and goals to accomplish. We should all have the missionary spirit about us. Not everyone is going to another country, but every believer in America should have a missionary spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Great Commission Spirit, making disciples of all nations. The missionary spirit leads us to the ‘where’ we should go and makes us consistently aware that we have a mission to fulfill. This is why some Afghani believers are remaining in the country, but also why others are headed into Pakistan. The missionary spirit is leading them. The church in America needs to come alive to the missionary spirit inside of us so that he can lead us to our neighbors, as well as the refugees in our midst.
4. Eternally: If things are shifting all around us, they are not shifting in the story of God. In spite of calamities and disasters, the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he rules over the nations (Psa. 22:28). God will give Jesus the nations as his inheritance (Psa. 2). Even if the nations rage against God and his anointed, God’s eternal mission hasn’t changed. He is not willing that any would be lost but that all would come to salvation in Jesus (2 Pet. 3:9). He desires that all mankind would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). This means we present the gospel to all. The body of Christ needs to stay focused. While we hand [out physical] bread, we remember that the eternal bread is Jesus Christ. While we give clothing and shelter, we remember that eternal shelter is through Jesus.
We [must be] prepared in prayer and ask God for opportunities to share our story. We are to be prepared by being informed and not just instructed. Take the time to learn and discern what needs to happen—not just instructed by news, but informed by the Holy Spirit. Learn the people groups in your city. Learn how to associate with them and how to help them assimilate. And at some point, we are called to invite them into the hope of Jesus Christ. There are some organizations that will shy away from this point, but this is our mandate. Many people will feel cheated if you do not invite them to follow Christ. They have been longing for the message of freedom all their lives. Let the Holy Spirit guide you.
JW: What can a reader do to become involved in this type of ministry in their city?
FA: Connect with nonprofits with a gospel intention, like ILC, or other resettlement ministries who serve refugees. They have practical programs to help you get started. Look for churches that are actively involved in international communities. Retired missionaries are an amazing resource who can educate us about people groups, as well.
The most important thing is for every church to make margin in their ministry life to “do international missions” locally, training their people to look for internationals they can serve in their own communities. When the church makes that an intentional purpose, the missionary spirit is developed, and people will create their own mission opportunities.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Staff