The Church in the Middle East
The Evangelical churches in the Middle East were largely established by Reformed missionaries. However, in recent decades they have been influenced by different unbiblical trends, superficiality and dead spirituality. Moreover, those of the Reformed persuasion in the region lack active fellowship and cooperation with like-minded Christians elsewhere. They need encouragement from Reformed churches and believers worldwide. MERF was formed to link together the gifts of the national believers with the vision and support of the Bible-believing Reformed communities worldwide.
Born in Beirut
In 1971 three young believers met in Beirut, Lebanon. They came from various nationalities, and one eventually became the General Director. They got together for fellowship and mutual encouragement. The three were united in a desire to "proclaim the whole counsel of God" and to serve and guard "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." They were driven by love for Christ and admiration for those pioneer missionaries who faithfully labored and established believing churches in different countries of the region. Their vision centered around presenting the whole Gospel to the whole man in the spirit of the pioneers. Meeting regularly for prayer, Bible study and the discussion of Reformed literature, they established a growing fellowship. They began to sponsor lectures, seminars and other Christian activities in Beirut. The membership steadily grew and the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF) was fully organized in 1974. Its vision began to receive much attention in Reformed circles worldwide. In 1975, however, as MERF began to take root, war broke out in Lebanon, scattering its members around the world. The organization's official activities ceased, but the dispersed members kept working toward the goal of strengthening the Reformed witness in the Middle East. Projects of translating and publishing Reformed literature as well as preaching and teaching were carried out in Egypt. Also, the Lebanon Reformed Fellowship (LRF) was organized by Lebanese believers to continue the original work of MERF in Lebanon.
Reorganized as an Indigenous Service Organization
The events of the 1970's and 1980's forced a re-examination of MERF's strategy. On the one hand, doors became clearly closed for the traditional missionary endeavors in the region. On the other hand, the effectiveness of nationals and their churches in outreach became more obvious. National Christians began to make an impact in their societies by means of radio, literature and other mass media. With the wise counsel of prominent national pastors as well as Reformed missionary strategists, in 1983 a reorganized MERF began to emerge on a regional scale, under the leadership of one of the three original founders (the present General Director), as an indigenously-based Fellowship with clear statements of nature, faith and purpose, structured as a holistic four-fold ministry-Evangelism, Church-extension, Biblical Training and Diaconal Aid. In November 1984 MERF was registered in Cyprus along this new indigenous line. With expansion of MERF's ministries the need arose for a more fully representative and accountable structure, which led to the formation of the International Council (IC) in 2000 to represent all MERF's Field and Support Committees. The Fellowship is a recognized charity legally registered in the Republic of Cyprus. It is led by a Board of Directors which maintains regular administration of MERF's resources and growing ministries.
Pastors, churches and Christian individuals all over the world have caught sight of this vision. MERF has the great opportunity to promote an active Reformed witness in the Middle East out of its headquarters in Cyprus, with local MERF administrative committees in Muslim lands such as the Middle East, North and East Africa, Pakistan and Indonesia. MERF is committed to the service of the church of Christ according to God's Word. This is a truly ecumenical effort since it unites the gifts and resources of God's people from different ethnic backgrounds for the service of Christ in the Muslim World, with a view of expanding outreach to other Muslim lands. By God's grace, much prayerful and hard work over the years has resulted in an effective and expanding ministry in the region. As the work has expanded its needs also have grown. Thus, MERF support bodies have been organized in different parts of the world.