A History of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship
The Middle East Reformed Fellowship is an evangelical Christian mission organisation which serves in North and East Africa, the Middle East and Asia on behalf of Reformed Churches and believers worldwide. The vision of three young believers in Lebanon during the early 1970’s is now bearing fruit for the Kingdom of Christ among the twenty-two nations of the Arab League and other Muslim countries in Africa and Asia.
MERF is a gospel-centred, evangelistic fellowship of indigenous workers and their supporters. It is a non-profit and non-political charitable organisation, which endeavours to strengthen national churches through ministries of evangelism, church extension, biblical training, and diaconal aid.
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 various 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 Bible-believing churches worldwide.
In 1971 three young believers met in Beirut, Lebanon, 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 laboured and established Gospel churches in the countries of the region.
Their vision centred 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 organised in 1974. Its vision began to receive much attention in Reformed circles worldwide.
However, as MERF began to take root, the outbreak of war in Lebanon in 1975, scattered its members around the world. 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 organised by Lebanese believers to continue the original work of MERF in Lebanon.
International events in the Middle East during the 1970’s and 1980’s led to a re-examination of MERF’s strategy. Traditional missionary endeavours in the region were no longer possible, however the effectiveness of nationals and their churches in outreach became increasingly evident. National Christians began to make an impact by means of radio, literature and other mass media.
Consequently, with the wise counsel of prominent national pastors and Reformed missionary strategists, a reorganised MERF was established on a regional scale in 1983. Under the leadership of Rev. Victor Atallah (who is one of the three original founders) MERF was reorganised as an indigenously-based Fellowship with clear statements of nature, faith and purpose, and structured as a holistic four-fold ministry of Evangelism, Church-extension, Biblical Training and Diaconal Aid. National Support Committees were organised to represent the work of MERF to churches in North America, Europe and Australasia, and garner and administer financial support for its ministry.
Having become a legally registered charity in the Republic of Cyprus in November 1984, the ministries of MERF grew to the point at which the need arose for a more fully representative and accountable structure. This led to the formation of the International Council in 2000, to represent all MERF’s Field and Support Committees, and led by a Board of Directors responsible for the regular administration of MERF resources and growing ministries.
More recently changes in European Charity Law required a restructuring of the governance of MERF. A Board of Trustees now oversees the operation of MERF, whilst a Committee of Management oversees the day to day administration.
The Continuing Work
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 out of its headquarters in Cyprus, with local administrative committees and church partners in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Pakistan and Indonesia, committed to the service of the church of Christ according to God’s Word.
MERF is a fellowship that 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 hard work has resulted in an effective, faithful and fruitful ministry.