Hassan stepped off the bank and felt the river water swirl around his ankles. He took another step, his confidence growing. He knew his choice to follow Jesus was the right one. He grasped his wife’s hand and smiled at her.
They’d come a long way in the last few years. Tears welled in his eyes as he remembered how his desire for revenge had almost endangered the lives of his family. When he found the tortured, lifeless bodies of his father and brother on his doorstep in Syria one horrible morning, he had decided to exact revenge on the regime that killed them. He was preparing to fight in the war when his wife convinced him to take her and their young children to safety in Jordan first. Reluctantly, he agreed, and they made the dangerous journey.
Arriving with only the clothes on their backs, they were met by a group of Christians who work to help Syrian refugees resettle in Jordan. Through the relationships that formed, Hassan was shown the love of Jesus, and he realized his need for Jesus.
The process of fleeing his homeland, resettling in a new place, and healing from the wounds of the past led him to be baptized in the Jordan River that day. As the waters closed over his head, he felt the freedom provided by Christ’s sacrifice. He came out of the water and declared his anger was gone. He would stay in Jordan and raise his family in peace!
Finding a Place
Matt Nance has seen many Muslim people like Hassan whose lives have been changed forever by the power and healing presence of God. Matt grew up in North Carolina and spent three summers in high school working as a missionary in Peru. Before heading to college, he traveled the world doing similar work for three years. Eventually he returned to the United States to attend Johnson University. During college, Matt worked nights at a local homeless shelter. There he met Susan, who also worked at the shelter, and they eventually married.
Matt liked Middle Eastern cultures and knew he wanted to work with Muslims, so when he was offered the chance to work with a new team going to Syria, he felt sure this was God’s plan for him. He and Susan went on a vision trip to Syria. They fell in love with the country and its people. “Unfortunately, by the time we had our support raised and completed the necessary training, the civil war in Syria prevented us from moving there,” Matt says. Instead, they moved to Jordan and began language training.
Before long, thousands of Syrian refugees flooded into the country.
“Our social work backgrounds [working with the homeless] quickly became useful when we partnered with a local Arab church to distribute aid and minister to the refugees all around us,” Matt says.
The Nances became immersed in the local Christian community during the next few years as they worked together to reach out to Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugees. They spent nearly eight years in Jordan and eventually began focusing their efforts on long-term projects like entrepreneurship development, a home-based medical outreach, and education projects for refugee children.
Making a Move
In February 2020, Matt took over leadership of the Christian Holy Land Foundation (CHLF) and transitioned away from the organization he and his wife served with in Jordan. They still support the ministries they started there, but they do not work directly in the ministry. CHLF is a Restoration Movement organization founded in the mid-1980s to partner with Arabic-speaking congregations in Israel. Its primary focus right now is on the Galilee area, but it also hosts several annual training events that bring together people from around the region.
“We believe the indigenous local church in the Middle East is the key to effective outreach and peace building in the region,” Matt says. “We seek to support and advocate for those native believers as they share the good news with their neighbors.” CHLF also uses its platform to educate its American network of friends and supporters through teaching seminars and missional trips to the Holy Land.
CHLF wants to expand its base of ministry to Israel and Palestine as a whole, and eventually to neighboring countries. The foundation partners with local Middle-Eastern believers through grants to support outreach efforts. Matt says he commonly encounters American believers who are surprised to learn Arab Christians exist and have a 2,000-year-old history in the Holy Land.
“We think our ministry is well-suited to connect American and Arab believers in global missional friendships.”
Matt says one of the best things about his job is seeing the local church come alive through outreach. Hassan’s discovery of the freedom available through Christ was just one illustration of this. An Arab Christian friend of the Nance family once told Matt that she hated Muslims. Then she befriended a young Muslim mom. A year later, this same Arab woman called Matt and joyfully exclaimed that her friend had accepted Christ. “She is a new person,” the woman told him. The former Muslim woman’s life had changed, but so had her Christian friend’s. Their joy affected Matt’s heart too. God worked in three people through this one friendship!
Ministry among Muslims and refugees in the Middle East demands that the Nances navigate a political and theological minefield with their supporters.
“We have lost significant financial support when supporters felt that we were not on the same page politically,” Matt says. “Our ministry is nonpolitical, though. We simply want to see Christ known and for communities to be transformed by the good news. We are blessed that the majority of our supporters share this desire and [that] we enjoy a diverse support network.”
When Matt and Susan see lives changed through the work of CHLF and the ministry in Jordan, they know this challenge is worth it!