Interviewing Michael: A Missionary’s Experience in Lebanon

BEIRUT, LEBANON — 23-year-old Michael is in the middle of a 3-month missions trip, serving as one of Horizons International’s newest interns in Beirut. Ever since high school, he has been active in ministry: teaching adult Bible classes, serving in jail ministry, leading worship, youth pastoring, and more. However, these days he is known in Hannibal, Missouri, as the Outreach Pastor for Prince Avenue Baptist Church. On March 31, 2021, Michael shared his thoughts on the calling of long-term missions, and his experience serving Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with Horizons staff member Noah Karp.

Noah: Hi Michael! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me.

Michael: Of course. I’m always glad to share how Christ is working in my life!

Noah: First off, what are you up to these days?

Michael: I’ve been serving as an intern with Horizons Lebanon for the past one and a half months, and I plan to stay in Lebanon for another one and a half months. Mainly I serve with Horizons’ refugee outreach teams, doing evangelistic and discipleship visits, and bringing food packages and other items to Syrian refugee families in the Beqaa Valley. I do that two or three times a week, and also take three Arabic lessons per week. Right now, I would say a lot of what I’m doing is getting used to this different place, different culture, different people, and what ministry looks like here. 

Noah: I’m sure that the newness of it all feels pretty challenging.

Michael: I guess you could say it has been a challenge in the ways that it’s probably challenging for everybody. It’s a challenge to leave your family, it’s a challenge to leave your comfort and your culture and to go to a new place where you don’t understand people, understand how they think or how things operate. You can’t even go to the grocery store, or get a haircut, or order at a restaurant without help. But as God does with anything—the greatest example being the Cross—he takes the bad in our lives, the hardships, and he makes them good.

Noah: That’s not something you hear about very often. Often people can romanticize the idea of missions, and underestimate the very practical challenges of being abroad.

Michael: Yeah, maybe. I’ve been to many places in the world, but this has been my longest time overseas. I think I viewed missions as being really exciting and cool, but this experience has already helped me realize that missions work is not just fun and enjoyment. And that’s the beauty of it. The gospel is that Jesus reverses how life works. You come here and life isn’t the same, and everything’s a challenge. You don’t know what people think of you, you don’t even know how they think about life! You can’t relate to them, you can’t assume what they think… you’re just trying to figure out how things work here, learn what sets people off because you don’t have the cultural boundaries that they do. It’s super challenging. Even though I’m a grown man, I’m an infant.

Noah: That makes me wonder, how does this challenge impact your faith?

Michael: Honestly, it makes my life with Jesus so much better, more tangible. You don’t have friends or family here to rely on, and even the people back home become kind of distant because they don’t know what you’re doing. And even if they do know what you’re doing, they can’t understand what you’re going through and they never will. I mean, you become out on your own island, alone in your new perspective of life. It feels like “counting the cost” in a whole new way. 

My morning prayers with God are filled with desperation. It’s like, “I can’t do this… and I don’t know how You will do this!” But just believing that there’s nothing impossible with God, that he uses us when we’re weak—that’s the beauty of it all, that I can come here and somehow function. It’s deepened my relationship with Jesus, made it stronger. I still go through the wringer, still have hard days, but Christ truly does sustain me in wondrous ways.

Noah: Amen, brother! It’s quite a calling. Did you always want to be a missionary, or is this a newer direction for you?

Michael: Well, I became a believer at age 12, but even before that God was developing me for the task. Growing up, I wanted to be in the military, because I wanted to be on the front lines. I wanted to be in the trenches. But at 15, God really called me to missions: He told me that I would go to the hardest places on earth for His glory.  

Noah: Sounds like the Lord wanted to show you a different idea of what it means to serve!

Michael: Yeah. Missions was something God really put on my heart. I realized that I couldn’t live and die for a country, but slowly I came to know that I could live and die for Jesus. That’s a cause worth giving my life for. 

Noah: I think that as believers, all of us are called to give up our lives. Sometimes it’s hard to put into practice though!

Michael: Oh man, it was so exciting to hear, but also really scary. I actually wound up running from the calling for like 3 years. I figured that if I found a girlfriend or wife, that God wouldn’t want me to endanger her by going to tough places—so I started dating a girl three weeks after He called me to missions, and I dated her for three and a half years. But it was a trainwreck.

Noah: Things usually go that way when we avoid our calling!

Michael: Yes they do! Things have been a lot better since I accepted what the Lord had for me. I think he’s developed me for missions, and he’s made me for this certain task of the church body. We all have our backgrounds, and God uses our backgrounds and how he designs us to build up the body in specific ways. I’m gifted in apostleship—that is, building and developing new things in new places. That’s just how God has designed my whole life. Missions is the call of Michael, is the call of my life. I would say I don’t get a choice in it, even. 

Noah: So then, how has this calling played out on the field?

Michael: Honestly, aside from the challenges I already mentioned, it’s been an incredible experience. Actually, my favorite part of it all has been serving alongside all the Horizons staff members here, from all these different nationalities. I’m always driving out to the Beqaa Valley with Lebanese, Syrian, Armenian, Chinese, whatever people on the team. They are all such faithful servants and ministers, and to me they have been so loving and caring. They have constantly gone out of their way to invite me into their homes, take care of me, and support me in whatever I need.

Noah: Given the challenges you mentioned facing as a missionary, that has got to be quite a comfort.

Michael: It really is. Even beyond just having great staff, Horizons has housing, transportation, they have a great setup for people… everything’s taken care of. They have an international member care team whose job is specifically to help you get on your feet! It’s still tough, but Horizons does a good job of taking care of interns, setting us up to succeed. They have a good heart. 

Noah: And that’s something the Lord will always put to use.

Michael: I think so. The organization is walking with the Lord in some cool ways, and the Lord is obviously blessing and using Horizons in the many ways it operates—anything you can think of, they are doing! There’s something cool about finding every crack and nook and cranny that you can work ministry into, then doing it. Like food ministry, School of Hope for refugees, Bible distribution, women’s discipleship, COVID aid… all this creative stuff, ultimately it shows they’re in tune with the Lord’s spirit, because people are actually coming to the Lord in amazing ways, and without Him this couldn’t happen. God is with Horizons, and that’s a big statement. Not perfect people, or perfect organization, but God is with them and that’s what matters—because if God is with us, who could be against us?

Noah: That is an amazing testimony, and it sounds like an amazing experience.

Michael: I’ve really been blessed. I serve with so many people from different nations working together to reach out with the gospel. They’re really well equipped in ministering to Muslims, and they’re teaching me how to do it. And I think the best thing is, Horizons is a very selfless organization. They don’t want the glory, they want the churches to have everything they need to do the job so that God gets the glory. Horizons works toward long-term sustainability in Lebanon. The Apostle Paul talks about building things that will be tested by fire, and how you’re rewarded if it withstands the test, and Horizons values that kind of sustainability. 

Noah: And the churches in Lebanon form the foundation of that.

Michael: Well, yes, in a sense they do, but it’s not just Lebanese churches. It’s the whole Church, with a big “C”—it’s also Western churches waking up and realizing how much they need to prioritize sending.

Noah: When you say “waking up,” what do you mean?

Michael: This obviously doesn’t apply to all churches, but often they can do a bad job of keeping missionaries supported. I really believe that missions is kind of the tip of the iceberg in determining whether a church is healthy or not. If you’re sending out missionaries, you’ve gotta be doing everything else right… most people aren’t thinking “let’s send people overseas” when they don’t have a healthy body at home. If you’re not sending out missionaries, it usually reveals that you’re faced inward as a church. The Bible’s pretty clear that it’s our job to “make disciples of all nations,” that we should be sending people out like they did in Antioch. I’m sure there’s plenty of debate on that, but that’s what I feel about it.

Noah: Honestly, I’d be kind of surprised if the guy who’s committed his life to overseas missions didn’t feel strongly about how the Church participates in this biblical command.

Michael: I can get on a rant about this. Missions is a critical part of Christian faith, and it really does help the Body. I don’t think it’s an arguable thing to not be doing as a church. If there are places that don’t have the gospel, then it’s our job to bring it to them. We should be asking God who in our churches He is asking to be set aside for missions, but it’s obvious He’s saying “Go”—and the question is, are people listening? It’s a big sign you’re not developing Christians well, if they’re not being sent out somehow.

Noah: In my own experience, I would agree that Western churches can struggle in their commitment to sending and supporting.

Michael: That’s a natural part of living in the States, where we are deceived by worldly comforts. There are plenty of needs in the US, but also plenty of people to meet those needs. Over here, the need is just so much greater. I mean, in the US, we could cut out one coffee a week and give that money instead—and in Lebanon, it would make an impact here! Those refugees in the Beqaa Valley… five dollars, that can change so much! Right now in Lebanon, five dollars is like 60,000 lira here. Can you imagine how much a united Church could do if people realized they could sacrifice these small things and still be content in doing good for those whose need is so great?

Noah: That’s honestly humbling. Hearing you say that, I immediately think of places where I indulge, instead of the difference I could make by giving or supporting. 

Michael: Yes, well, you should. We should all think about that. As I serve, the fact that my church supports me helps them. They see that the need is bigger than me, bigger than us, and we all have to be a part of it. It helps the Body continue to stay focused on the task of reaching the lost. By giving me the opportunity to be sent, and for my church to send me out, God allows my fellow believers to participate in the task by praying and giving—and hopefully for some of them, being sent out.

Noah: I couldn’t agree more. As we wrap up our conversation, is there anything you’d say to those who are being sent out, or who are weighing that choice right now?

Michael: I would say this: missions is a beautiful calling. Bringing the gospel to fresh ears, fresh ground, it’s amazing to see people actually excited to hear about Jesus in a way you don’t usually see in the States. It’s such a joy to bring the gospel to someone for the first time, because it’s the best gift you could ever give. Amazing to be a part of that. That said, you have to expect hardship. Expect the worst. When you’re trying to become more like someone, like Paul did or like Jesus did by coming in the flesh of man, it sounds tough, but it sounds doable. But really, it isn’t tough—it’s excruciating. It’s the death of one’s self. Everything you love, personally, is being put to death. That’s why Jesus says, “take up your cross daily and follow me.” “Those who save their lives will lose them, those who lose their lives will save them.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians that we are treated like garbage, like trash. The only way you’ll ever make an impact, here, anywhere, the Middle East, the whole world, in your church, is if you look at Jesus, keeping your eyes on Him through the Scriptures and Spirit and prayer. Look at Jesus and how he did it. You better cling close to Jesus, you better study his life, you better run towards him every day or you’re not gonna love anyone else—across the world or across the street. It’s not gonna magically happen: the only way you’ll understand how to love someone is to be loved by Jesus.

Noah: I appreciate that viewpoint. It is amazing to join in that calling, but it still sounds pretty sobering.

Michael: I really think it should be. It’s a labor of love, but it can’t all be romance. In this life, God doesn’t guarantee us comfort; he actually guarantees the opposite. Expect pain, push into pain, and let Jesus cover your wounds. The beauty is that Paul says, “I want to reach the resurrection from among the dead.” He says, “everything I lose in this world, I gain Christ.” That Philippians 3 mentality. Personally, as someone wired for missions, I can see why the disciples received a blessing for suffering. Suffering and hardship is a beautiful thing for the Christian, because in every piece of our struggle we get to know what Jesus did for us. I personally just want to know Jesus, and know him intimately, and to be honest, there’s no better way to do that than to put yourself on a cross by coming to the Middle East and saying, “God, I want to be used by you.” And then you’ll be able to identify with Jesus on his cross, when you’re sitting there and you don’t understand, you don’t feel known, you feel like nobody cares or whatever, in that moment that’s when you’ll say “Jesus, I can’t believe you did this for me.” It’s all about that relationship with Jesus.

Noah: I could not agree more, brother. God bless you. Thank you so much for sitting down and taking the time to share your testimony. I pray that you, and others like you, will be able to fulfill God’s calling over you, hand in hand with a supportive and prayerful Body. 

Michael: Amen! Thank you and God bless you too.

At the end of his internship, Michael’s friends gather to say goodbye.

Horizons currently has 6 interns who are serving in Lebanon across a variety of roles. There are many opportunities for anyone who would like to gain experience in missions. You can find out more about on our internships page or discover other ways to get involved.