All Signs to the Middle East

A teenager follows the dream God gave him for mission

Sixteen-year-old Rafael leaned forward in his seat, transfixed by what he’d just heard at the 2015 Argentina I WILL GO Conference.  A dream was filling his imagination.  “Some day I will go to the Middle East,” he promised himself.

“But you can’t go; you don’t know English,” people told him.  “So I went to Uruguay as a student missionary and learned Spanish!”  he recalls.  It’s not a big task for a Brazilian to learn Spanish, but one new language could prepare him for another, he reasoned.

By 2022, when he heard about the I WILL GO conference in Bahia, Brazil, he was serving as an academy chaplain.  But he lived 12 hours away and registration had closed.  He called the organizers. “I need to be there.  I will clean bathrooms. I will sweep.  I can hear the preaching while I work!”  

During the conference, he shared his dream with everyone he could find who had come from the Middle East.  Pastor Preuss, the chaplain at Middle East University (MEU) who was attending the conference, gave what Rafael took as encouragement: “You can’t speak English?” Pastor Preuss questioned.  “Then there’s probably a 1% chance we could use you in MENA.” Regardless of the language hurdle, Rafael was ecstatic.

His mother wasn’t excited, though, when he told her about his new friends from the Middle East.  “You are dreaming!” she declared.   His father was puzzled, “You have a job, an income, you’re on a good ministry track, and you want to go somewhere way out there as a volunteer?”  But they agreed to pray about it with him.

One morning as he drove to work, he had a long conversation with God. “Just give me a sign that this is something You want for me,” he begged.  He pulled into a small restaurant for breakfast, where wifi was available.  “I had just walked in and put my phone on the table,” he recalls, “when it pinged with a message from Pastor Preuss.  ‘Rafael, send me your resume.'”  The audio message that followed was hard to believe. “Would you accept the invitation to come to Middle East University and study English while you help assist me?”  

“Oh God, this is beautiful,” Rafael exclaimed to himself. “This is the sign I asked for!”  

But  Rafael’s best friend heard of his decision.  “Stop, Rafael,” his friend admonished.  “This is not good.  It’s like leaving the ministry.  Don’t do this.  You need to stay and develop professionally, get your own church, build a reputation.”  

“Even in my discouragement, I kept talking to God,” Rafael recalls. “I told Him over and over again, ‘I need You to show me if I am doing this on my own if this is not good.'” One day in his confusion he slipped into the chapel at the school where he worked. The Bible in his hand dropped open as he slumped into a pew. He stared at the page in front of him, too troubled to know what he needed to read.  “Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, . . .” (Joshua 1:4).

“Oh.” Startled out of his daze, he sat for a moment.  “OK, God. I’m moving ahead.”  It was a strange thing to say; he hadn’t even received his visa yet. But he felt at peace, at least until his conference president messaged him a few days later, “Come to my office.”  Rafael deeply respected his president. “I suspected he had a plan of his own,” Rafael remembers.

The morning of his appointment his prayer was more urgent than ever. “God, please! Can You give me another sign?  My friends are not supportive, I have many people urging me to stay, and now my conference president wants to talk.  But if even one person from the Middle East encourages me to go, I will know You want me there.”  

As Rafael sat in his car in the conference office parking lot, he buried his face in his hands.”Oh God, I am so confused.  Please help me.”  As he opened his eyes, his mobile pinged with a notification.  His heart raced.  The message was from Pastor Preuss:  “It’s OK if your visa is not finished. Keep planning to come.”  

At this point of the story, Rafael will wipe tears with the back of his hand as he remembers.  “In that moment I knew that God wanted me in the Middle East.”  

So his heart was settled as he stepped into the president’s office.  He listened politely to an offer of a higher position, better pay, and ministry opportunities. “I want you to work here with me,” his president offered.

Rafael cleared his throat. “Thank you, Elder. But I need to tell you something.”  He went on to explain how he’d dreamed of serving in the Middle East, his conversations with God, the signs God had given.  “I told him that God had called and I had answered, ‘I will go.'”

After a long silence, the conference president leaned back and grinned.  “Very nice. Then go!  And may God be with you.”  

The encouragement of his mentor was priceless to him; so was the growing support of his parents and his best friend’s acknowledgement that clearly God was leading him.  They had all heard Rafael’s testimony of God’s unmistakable call and they had watched the eight-year path his answer had taken.

In January 2023 Rafael found himself unpacking his belongings into the few cupboards of a dorm room on the campus of Middle East University, where he is currently volunteering as the assistant campus chaplain.  

Yes, he’s learning English.  Yes, he’s learning a new culture.  Yes, he is at peace that he is exactly where God wants him to be.  “But I consider the most meaningful part of all this,” he admits, “is that I will be more effective in leading others to answer God’s call to their lives because I’ve experienced what His call means myself.”