Haggai International’s founder, Dr. John Edmund Haggai, knew that the Middle East and North Africa were crucial to ending Gospel poverty. The descendent of a Syrian immigrant, Dr. Haggai made the Middle East a strategic focus of the organization’s early work. In 1975, just six years into Haggai’s history, the area’s first National Seminar was held in Iran.

Since that first seminar in 1975, the organization has equipped nearly 3,000 leaders at international Haggai Leader Experiences (HLEs) and more than 5,500 leaders at national or regional HLEs across the Middle East and North Africa.

Strict travel regulations and religious restrictions make this one of the most logistically complicated places to equip new Haggai leaders. Finding influential leaders in this area is one thing… getting them to the in-person HLE is another.

Haggai leader Bharath Mallela knows this struggle all too well.

Bharath is a doctor of physiotherapy and university lecturer who has lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade. He and his wife were involved in local and regional Haggai programs for several years, and Bharath received an invitation to attend an international HLE in 2015. However, repeatedly denied travel visas made this nearly impossible.

“My visa was denied five separate times. But our God never leaves the thirsty soul.”

In 2020, five years after his initial invitation to the HLE, Bharath was able to participate in the first-ever Virtual Haggai Leader Experience (VHLE). With no visa requirements, he was able to join from his own home. (His wife, Dr. Neelima Sarah Kondajutur, was recently equipped through the VHLE as well). ln the months since, he has wasted no time in applying his equipping, clinging to Psalm 91:10 to give him courage, especially amidst last year’s pandemic.

“The VHLE changed my understanding of the people around me and how to reach out to them in an effective manner.”

In September 2020, Bharath helped coordinate and conduct a Virtual Regional Seminar that equipped 15 leaders from five gulf nations. As he entered 2021, Bharath committed to equipping 100 leaders.

Now that he has been equipped, Bharath has the tools to share the Gospel more effectively with his Saudi Arabian community.

Immigrants make up 38.3 percent of the total population in Saudi Arabia, and Bharath actively ministers to this part of the population as well. He feels God has given him a love and appreciation for the country’s culture and a calling to proclaim the Gospel in the region he now calls home.

“[Living here is] like [living in] the Book of Acts in the Bible. They have no favoritism or reservations, they greet everyone. They will share their food if you pass by when they eat. They do not look at status or position. While eating, everyone sits together… Many Saudis consider me as their brother and show love to me. In many areas, they help me as their own. And in low voices, they say to me, ‘you are such a good person… why are you not a Muslim?’”

Now that he has been equipped through the VHLE, Bharath has the tools he needs to more effectively engage in these conversations about faith with his community.