Alvaro and Haya Altaras* know what it’s like to be homeless and to lose everything they own.
The Altaras family from Syria recently visited the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) offices in Franklin, Tennessee.
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, 2018, chapel service for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff.
While at the refugee camp, the couple met several people who began building relationships with them. They met Christians who were willing to pray with Altaras and his family “in the name of Jesus” and to give them other help.
Through his new friends, Altaras had twelve surgeries on his leg without any cost to him or his family. During his recovery, he was given a Bible and 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 learned he had colon cancer. Christian friends once again 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 said with a laugh.
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 fifty-two 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 family moved to the US with the aid of World Relief. When asked where they wanted to settle, “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 is now a part-time church planting specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. 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. Working through City Church Nashville, a Tennessee Baptist congregation, the couple hopes to plant 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, church planting specialist with the TBMB, noted the TBMB has provided outreach resources to the couple through the state convention’s missions offering.
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.”
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector and is a member of Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tennessee. This article first appeared in Baptist and Reflector. Used by permission.