Most of us would have been scared away from the Middle East by the events of September 11, 2001. But not Mack Stiles.
Not that he didn’t waver just a bit. Here’s the story.
Loosening the Roots
For years Mack had labored stateside with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in an administrative job that, you might say, didn’t fit him like a glove. If you’ve met Mack, you likely noticed right from the start how outgoing and people-oriented and relationally energetic he is. Not that administrators can’t be people-people. It’s just this particular slot wasn’t optimal for this particular Mack.
After much wrestling, Mack sensed that God was loosening his American roots and preparing him and his family for a fresh work and new season of life — drastically new, in fact. Providence presented him with an opportunity in the Middle Eastern city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Mack and his wife Leeann and their three sons (Tristan, David, and Isaac) spent a year in transition and preparation for this new venture.
Then, just as they were readying themselves for the decisive actions — like selling their home in the States — 9/11 happened.
Driving a Stake in the Ground
When the planes hit the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, and the towers soon fell — while most of us felt like we were waiting for the debris of Western Civilization to settle — Mack felt a profound confirmation of God’s call for his family. Perhaps most of us would have felt the need to stay put for a while, or desired to cleanly place things on hold, or even sensed the Jonah instinct to head in the opposite direction of Nineveh.
But 9/11 had a strange way of ratifying God’s summons for Mack and his family to transport their lives to the Middle East, of all places. So the very next day Mack drove a stake in the ground — figuratively in his sense of calling, and literally in his front yard.
“I banged the ‘For Sale’ sign in the front yard of my house the next day, so convinced was I that this was the very opportunity for me to be who I was meant to be. To join the call of Christ that was wild and free and wonderful. To live the gospel with love and boldness. To show the world that the church’s response to the horrific events of 9/11 were not military, but missionary.”
The Gut Check
Such was Mack’s admirable resolve on 9/12. But as you know, the Christian life is typically a lot earthier than that.
“The gut check happened when the house sold on 9/13,” Mack admits. “Second thoughts swirled through my mind. Were we really moving to the place those suicide bombers lived?”
But it is not good for man to be alone. God gave him Leeann to help re-confirm the newly confirmed call on their lives.
“Thankfully my wife, more unwavering than her husband, kept us focused and on track so that we, with our three sons, moved to Dubai a few short months later.”
Flourishing in the Middle East
Today, over a decade later, Mack is still in Dubai and thriving. Again and again God has confirmed that such a cross-cultural risk was right for the Stiles, even as just about everything American in them would have begged to differ. It didn’t help them at the time of decision, but it turns out that with the eyes of faith, rather than fear, Dubai has been a much more welcoming place than they would have thought.
“We discovered, once we got here, that the Middle East is made of hospitable and wonderful people, the vast majority of whom are as far away from suicide bombers as most people in America are from chainsaw murderers. It turns out, living the Christian life in the Muslim world is in some ways easier than living out faith in a secular society.”
“I have far more opportunities to share the gospel than I did in the United States.”
Speaking, Writing, Leading
Mack travels extensively encouraging the church worldwide, even as he continues as CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions in Dubai and serves as general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS).
Mack also writes. Since moving to Dubai, he authored Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Loving, and Speaking the Gospel, of which D. A. Carson says, “I do not think I have ever read a book on evangelism that makes me more eager to pass it on than this one — better, that makes me more eager to evangelize than this one.”
Mack serves as an elder of the recently planted Redeemer Church of Dubai. Pastor Dave Furman says, “It would be an understatement for me, a young church planter, to say that having an experienced leader like Mack help plant a church was beneficial.” Church planters take note. Might it be worth praying God would do the same for your team?
“Mack has brought wise counsel and a commitment that has sustained us through difficult times,” says Furman. “When we set out to plant, Mack and his wife Leeann were the first people to walk up to me and ask if they could help us with the plant. I look back at that day as a key day in the history of Redeemer Church of Dubai.
“Mack is one of the most incredible leaders that I know. He is a great visionary and is one of the greatest catalyzers I’ve been around.”
Mack Stiles took a great, God-dependent risk, made a tough decision to go to a hard place, and today is thriving as he likely never would have in his former vocation and setting. Mack is deeply grateful he answered Christ’s wild, free, and wonderful call to the nations.
How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” –Romans 10:14–15
Written by David Mathis (@davidcmathis), executive editor for John Piper and Desiring God, and elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities. He and his wife Megan have twin sons (Carson and Coleman) and live in Minneapolis. David is editor of several books, includingThinking. Loving. Doing. and Finish the Mission.