Syrian couple 'lost everything,' gained Christ
FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) -- Alvaro and Haya Altaras* know what it's like to be homeless and to lose everything they own.
The Syrian natives had to leave the country where they were born several years ago due to civil war. They went across the border and became refugees living in Jordan.
But that was really a new beginning.
"I lost everything, but I gained what I needed most -- Jesus Christ," Altaras shared during an April 5 chapel service for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff in Franklin, Tenn.
While at the refugee camp, the couple was introduced to several people who began building relationships with them. Those relationships led to getting to know Christians who were willing to pray with him "in the name of Jesus" and to help him and his family.
Through his new friends, he was able to have 12 surgeries on his leg without any cost to him or his family. During his recovery, Altaras was given a Bible and he began to read the Word of God daily.
"I accepted Christ and gave my life to Him and was baptized in the Jordan River," Altaras shared.
Fifteen days before he and his family were scheduled to leave Jordan, Altaras was told by doctors that he had colon cancer. Christian friends once again surrounded him and prayed with him "in the name of Jesus."
A few days later he went to the doctor for a follow up visit and the doctor told him the cancer was gone.
"I did not believe him," Altaras said. He went to another doctor who gave him the same diagnosis -- no cancer. "I didn't believe him either," Altaras laughed.
At the same time, the couple learned they had been cleared to settle in the United States. They noted the process normally takes two years, but they did it in 52 days.
Haya Altaras is convinced she knows the reason why.
While in Jordan they had to live a "dual" life. As former Muslims they could not admit they were Christian or they faced being killed.
"We were secret believers in Jordan and this was difficult for us," she said. "We taught the Word of God in our house but we could not say anything about Him outside our house. It was hard to live a dual life," she acknowledged.
"When I began to pray that I didn't want to live as a secret believer, our trip to the United States opened quickly," she said. "Our lives changed because of God's love."
The couple and their children moved to the United States with the aid of World Relief. When asked where they wanted to settle, they gave no preference. "We left it to the Lord," Altaras said.
"The Lord brought us here (to the Nashville area) and gave us this wonderful field to work in," he related.
After arriving in Nashville, the couple connected with Fady Al-Hagal, a former West Tennessee pastor who worked with World Relief and is now a part-time church planting specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB). Al-Hagal is mentoring and discipling the couple who have been Christians for about five-and-a-half years.
The couple also connected with City Church Network, a Baptist-affiliated group in Nashville led by David Kaufmann.
The couple is now working in Nashville in hopes of planting a ministry, Al-Hagal said. They are ministering to families who share a similar cultural background, showing the love of Christ in word and deed, and conducting Bible studies with three of those families, he added.
Lewis McMullen, a church planting specialist with the TBMB, noted the couple is working through City Church Nashville, a Tennessee Baptist congregation. The TBMB also has provided some outreach resources to the couple through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, McMullen added.
Altaras asked Baptists "to pray for us so we can expand our circle of influence" and for "hearts to be open so they can receive the truth."