It’s not often that you meet a pastor and a business teacher from the Middle East in the same hour. But Neji Ouni, who pastors an international church in Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis, and Bassam Abdalla from Beirut, Lebanon, made it easy for me. Both men are delegates representing the Middle East and North Africa Union (MENA).
Ouni is in St. Louis attending the General Conference Session to enjoy the blessing of being around large numbers of people who believe as he does.
“I wanted to be with our brothers and sisters and especially because it’s such a great opportunity to be with such a number of Adventists,” he says. “This is my first time being with this number of Adventists. I have been in the United States before and attended a GYC convention. That number was high, but not like this.”
Ouni is a long way from home — from his wife, son, and daughter and the country he loves. When asked what is wonderful about his homeland, he only smiles and says, “Everything is wonderful.”
Bassam Abdalla is an instructor in management and marketing at Middle East University.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to come here and see how people live, get to know them, and meet our brothers and sisters here. I took it as an obligation to come and participate,” Abdalla says. He’s far from home too, far from a beautiful part of the world he wishes more of us would visit. “Our country is on the Mediterranean Sea, and where I come from — Middle East University — we are located on top of a hill with beautiful greenery and scenery. I highly recommend it.”
These two friends share a heart for the gospel and for growth as Christians. They find they are hearing and learning things at Session that align with that.
“I want us [as Adventists] to be able to grow,” lifelong Adventist Abdalla says. “And I want us to accept others and not to judge them, to accept that others are different from us. When we can relate to them, I think this is an opportunity to grow [as believers] at an even faster pace.”
Ouni, as a pastor in a Muslim country, has a special task in carrying the gospel to all who will hear it, and he’s passionate about that. “What is dear to my heart is when I share the gospel with people and I see a response to study the Bible together,” he says. “When I share the gospel, that’s my best moment. [In Tunisia] we have freedom to share our faith. Of course, we need to be careful how we do it. I learned long ago that it is my job to share what I have. I have Jesus, and so I have to share Him with people without talking against their religion.”
Abdalla’s world right now is largely framed by his job as a university instructor, and he sees himself as more than someone who imparts specific information to his students.
“I’m passionate about my job and how I interact with students on a personal level. I think it’s a good opportunity for me to lead by example and to put into practice what we believe based on the faith that we live.”
For both Ouni and Abdalla, the big picture of truth and faith lies at the core of who they are as Adventists. And it’s something both are willing to share. “I wish we as Adventists could be better understood by other Christians,” Ouni says. “But we need to keep preaching the truth, the whole truth. Because if it’s not the whole truth, it’s not the truth.”