“Historically, the greatest harvests have been when Christians were the most persecuted. In the Middle East, underground churches are growing and the gospel is thriving in this climate of persecution. We must believe that God’s heart is big enough to love ALL people created by Him.” – Tom Doyle
Tom Doyle knows what it is like to feel like an outsider. Growing up in Las Vegas, his father was an FBI agent and organized crime specialist. “Vegas was a big mafia town,” said Tom. “I was always concerned about my father being killed by the mob. They were everywhere. I was only boy in my class at Catholic school who didn’t have an Italian last name. I was definitely a fish out of water.”
Although he’d always been religious, by the time Tom got to high school he felt something was missing. “I knew Christ died on the cross for my sins, but somehow I had missed God’s grace. It was clear that I’d never received Christ’s forgiveness or decided to follow Him. I needed Jesus to be my Lord. God brought about radical transformation with that decision.” Tom went to Biola Bible College where he met JoAnn. They fell in love quickly and were soon engaged. After marrying in 1980, Tom began his studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. The next year JoAnn became pregnant, and the Doyles had six children in eight years.
Tom was serving as lead pastor of a Colorado Springs church in 1995 when he made his first trip to Israel. That is when God birthed in Tom a love for both Jews and Arabs. “Israel is the land of religion. There is Judaism, traditional Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, you name it, and it’s in Israel. But I didn’t see a lot of Jesus. After that first visit, I spent seven years leading Bible tours and even became a guide for the state of Israel. But in 2001, God moved me in another direction. I began to feel pain for the people. The word Jerusalem means ‘City of Peace.’ But religion will never bring peace, and that’s one of the reasons that the city is in constant turmoil. My heart was broken for all those who lived in Jerusalem and sought to please God by their human efforts. People were immersed in their works, yet the work was already done by Christ at the Cross in the very city they were feverishly trying to please God in.”
Tom was the pastor of a growing church when he felt the Lord calling him to serve in the Middle East. He and JoAnn spent three weeks fasting and praying about the next steps in God’s plan. In June of 2001, Tom became the Middle East director for e3 Partners. “God broke our hearts for both Jews and Muslims who needed Jesus. We were compelled to go and do something.”
Just a few months into his work, terrorists attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001. But rather than retreating, the Doyle family moved forward with their plans to serve in the Middle East. Not long after that, Tom headed to one of the most dangerous places on earth – the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinian Muslims and ruled by militant Islamist groups like Hamas.
After less than 30 minutes on the ground in Gaza, a Muslim woman grabbed his arm and asked if he was an American and had seen the news accounts of people in Gaza celebrating in the streets on 9/11. “Through tears she said, ‘That was not me.’ She told me how wrong the attack was and that she cried for those who were lost. She said, ‘I am sorry,’ as she walked away. Her words touched my heart.”
Since then Tom has ministered to thousands of Muslims and Jews and has authored seven books including: Dreams and Visions – Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? and this year’s release, Killing Christians – Living the Faith Where it is Not Safe to Believe. Tom and the Middle East ministry team he leads have seen the Lord’s powerful work throughout the region. Over the last 10 years, more Muslims around the world have come to faith in Christ than in the last 14 centuries of Islam. JoAnn sees Muslim women as a great opportunity to be reached with the gospel. In 1995 she launched Not Forgotten, a women’s ministry working in both the Middle East and the U.S., with the recent influx of Muslim refugees.
The decision to follow Christ carries a heavy price for believers in the Middle East. “The persecution they know is real. Everyone in your family might want to kill you if you choose to trust Christ,” said Tom. “But I’ve worked with many former Muslims who love Jesus and are willing to be persecuted for their faith. They are the true Hebrews 11 saints of today.”
That kind of courage has bolstered Tom’s conviction that no one is beyond the reach of the gospel. “I once thought most people in the Middle East were unreachable. But Matthew 16 says the gates of hell will not prevail against Him. Nothing can block the light of Jesus – no dictator, no religion, nothing. The power of the gospel is so much greater than I ever imagined. I’d read about it before. Today I see it in action.”
Some of the most effective Christian workers in the Middle East are former terrorists. “I’ve been in meetings and afterward, someone says, ‘can you believe that guy is a former Shiite terrorist?’ These men are the picture of transformation in Christ. Jesus has filled them with the fruit of the spirit, and it is amazing to see Christ renewing hearts. That is the power of Jesus.”
In spite of the danger, the Doyle family continues to travel everywhere from the streets of Jerusalem to the border of Turkey and Syria where ISIS actively operates. “We have all been in risky situations, yet God has given each person in our family a heart for both Jews and Arabs,” said Tom. “They are willing to go and share Christ’s love, and that is what attracts both Muslims and Jews to Christ – the love of God’s people.”
Tom wants Christians to know that while believers are being persecuted, we are not defeated. “Historically, the greatest harvests have been when Christians were the most persecuted. In the Middle East, underground churches are growing, and the gospel is thriving in this climate of persecution. We must believe that God’s heart is big enough to love ALL people created by Him.”
To learn more about Watermark’s international partnerships and serving opportunities, go to watermark.org/international.