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Next Steps

Wild, Free, and Wonderful: The Call of Christ in the Life of Mack Stiles

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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.

Humbled By Language

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I had my first language evaluation on Friday.
I will call the examiners “BabyMomma,” “ SoftTalker,” and “NiceMan” .
BabyMomma started the exam. She was supposed to start off with simple things like “Introduce yourself.” “Introduce your friend.” “Are you married?” “Do you have children?” “How many?”  “Are they boys or girls?”  You get the idea.   I know these things. I have been having this type of conversation with people for a year! But somehow, she made it difficult.

When I meet people on the street, they consider that I’m a foreigner just learning their language, and they simply ask me, “Are you married?” Now, I have no idea all the words that BabyMomma used, but it was probably something like, “Today, as you sit here, is there a husband that you belong to?”

The reason I say that is because the question should be, “Agupi ci?” But what I heard was, “Blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah agupi?” No one has ever asked me that question like this lady did.

The whole test was basically like that. If they wanted to ask me something, they thought of the most difficult way possible.

Let me also say that BabyMomma was nursing her son quite openly throughout the two hour exam.  The men in this culture are turned on by knees and not a woman’s upper-body (if you lived here, you could fill in a LOT of stories here), so I know the other national men at the table thought nothing of it.

When I told them I didn’t understand something they said, they laughed.   I’m sure it was because they had asked a simple question. I then explained (in Lugbara) that I had only been studying a few months.  I expected them to talk to me like a child, not like a college professor.

When SoftTalker (he could also be called SpeedyGonzalesTalker) asked me to call for a piki piki from one section of town to another,  we had a pretend phone conversation as I negotiated for a price. They all just laughed.

Now, I know I must sound funny sometimes, and most of the time the people here just laugh because they are excited I’m speaking their language, but this was NOT a good way to encourage me. It was, however, a good way to humble me.
SoftTalker also asked me about the price of plates in the market. I’ve never bought plates in the market, so when I made a guess about the price, he showed me with his hands (laughing at the same time) that the plate I wanted would be about 5 inches in diameter. Humbled.
When I commented on a scripture passage and talked about what it meant, they asked me (at least I think this is what they said) to say it all again as if I were preaching in church. Yikes!
When I found a song number in the songbook, they asked me to sing it. I had NO idea what tune it was. After trying to decide what I was going to do, SoftTalker started singing, so I joined in. It was a tune I knew.  After the chorus, I stopped, but they all insisted I sing verse two and the chorus again, and this time I was singing solo. Humbled.

After I finished singing, it started to rain.  BabyMomma asked me what I was going to do for her baby when the rain came. I told her we had a tree to sit under. She didn’t like that. So we all got up and went inside the hotel to the small dining room that seats 8 people.

The acoustics were terrible! Every time the baby cried or a chair scooted across the floor, I missed key words in the sentences the evaluators were saying.  These kinds of distractions went on the whole time.
I guess it prepares us for real life…right?

This is where I should tell you about my friend, “Si.” “Si” is such a small, cute, little word, but in this tonal language it is an ugly, slimy thing. So far, after a few months of language, I have learned that “si” can mean (and I’m sure there are more): knocked, build, get off, write, with, teeth, branch, and grounding (peanuts).  It all depends on the tone and HOW you say it.  Now, I ask you…how many ways CAN a person say, “Si?”

Another cute, little word “a’i” means: receive, believe, respond, ask, borrow, salt, and co (as in co-wives).  So you see, they could have asked to borrow my Bible, and I could have thought they were wanting me to respond to the Gospel.

I’m just hoping that when it’s time for the next exam, the examiners and I will both be better prepared–and maybe Baby will be weaned from BabyMomma.

Editor’s Note:  Pray for the missionaries as they learn new languages.  Pray for them to be able to clearly share the gospel.(names, locations and blog links omitted due to security issues; stock photo)

The Next Step: Disciple a Few

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Maybe you attended a missions conference. Or read a book or article. Or heard a life-altering message. Or perhaps best of all, you were turned upside down by personal interaction with a fellow Christian. For the first time, you’re seeing that we are all “sent.” Every Christian is called to live on gospel mission. Whether God is lighting a new fire in you for “living sent” where you already are, or he’s calling you to cross a culture in missions, what’t next? Where do you go from here?

Here’s the guidance David Platt has for us in his book Radical:

I am concerned about a general vagueness that has existed in contemporary Christianity regarding the next step. We have seen that God blesses us so that his glory might be made known in all nations. But an all-important questions remains. How do we make God’s glory known in all nations? If God has given us his grace so that we might take his gospel to the ends of the earth, then how do we do that? Do we walk out into the streets and just start proclaiming the glory of God somehow? Should we all go to other nations? If we go, what do we do when we get there? What does all this look like in our day-to-day lives?

Jesus has much to teach us here. If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs, and create foundations. We would get the biggest names to draw the biggest crowds to the biggest events. We would start megachurches and host megaconferences. We would do . . . well, we would do what we are doing today.

But Jesus is so different from us. With the task of taking the gospel to the world, he wandered through the streets and byways of Israel looking for a few men. Don’t misunderstand me — Jesus was anything but casual about his mission. He was initiating a revolution, but his revolution would not revolve around the masses or the multitudes. Instead it would revolve around a few men. It would not revolving around garnering a certain position. Instead it would revolve around choosing a few people. He would intentionally shun titles, labels, plaudits, and popularity in his plan to turn the course of history upside down. All he wanted was a few men who would think as he did, love as he did, see as he did, teach as he did, and serve as he did. All he needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world.

(Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, [Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010], 87-88)


This article was written by David Mathis by September 28, 2011

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for John Piper and Desiring God, and elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He and his wife Megan have twin sons (Carson and Coleman) and live in Minneapolis. David is editor of Thinking, Loving, Doing and Finish the Mission (most recently).