by Erik Plantenga
“Don’t make ripples, make waves” said Van, an elderly, Californian, ocean-loving product of the Jesus Movement. Van mentored a number of hippies who would “go into the world to make disciples of all nations.” My passion for the Church in the Global South and its role in missions began with those words when I was serving in Mexico.
“DON’T MAKE RIPPLES, MAKE WAVES” said Van, an elderly, Californian, ocean-loving product of the Jesus Movement. Van mentored a number of hippies who would “go into the world to make disciples of all nations.” My passion for the Church in the Global South and its role in missions began with those words when I was serving in Mexico.
In fact, it was my experiences in Mexico that challenged me to go to the “10/40 Window,” as Dave (one of Van’s disciples) was used by the Holy Spirit to ‘make waves’ in my heart as I heard the stories of Latinos going to the Muslim world. “Why am I in Mexico,” I thought, “when I should be in the Middle East?”
So I left Latin America and arrived in Central Asia in 2002 to join a team composed of two South America families, some South Africans and a European couple. Not too far away a team composed of Central and South Americans was based, including my then-future bride. We were told as we entered: “You’re entering a time when God is doing amazing things here.” It was true.
We witnessed God healing the sick, bringing reconciliation to many hearts, and changing lives as families and networks of people came to know Jesus. The amazing things happening eventually contributed to many of us being forced to leave, but at the same time I was able to observe those Latinos spreading and continuing to do amazing work. Since then we have lived in two other Muslim countries. Here again, we have been blessed to witness how God is using the Church in the Global South to ‘make waves’ in the Muslim world. Let me give a few examples:
Julieta is one of those amazing South American testimonies. She set aside a career as a professional concert pianist when her heart opened to serve Jesus in the Muslim world. Despite many obstacles, she pressed on in faith, serving locally while praying that if the door opened, she would go. In God’s miraculous sovereignty she got a teaching position that only he could orchestrate. With only weeks to prepare and say goodbyes, she rushed to get things ready. Once she arrived, her friendly, personal manners quickly warmed the hearts of her Muslim friends and many great relationships were formed.
With discernment and sensitivity of heart, her Spirit-led conviction drives her to share about Jesus and see the Lord change hearts. In the Western Asian context where we live, it is often spiritually dry, challenging, and disappointing. It takes faith to continue to hope for more than just ‘ripples’ in this Muslim context. Until that happens, Julieta stays passionate and encourages us to not give up and be prayerfully persistent and keep sharing.
After leaving Central Asia we dreamed of having one of the Muslim Background Believers from there join us to reach out in our new context. We doubted it was possible until two years ago when Nilufer visited us and expressed her desire to serve with us in our context. Recognizing the difficulties she would face, like visa challenges, financial issues, and cultural differences, our faith was too small to believe it could happen.
God is much bigger, however, and with a Central Asian spontaneity and mobility, a student visa was obtained and Nilufer was suddenly with us. Despite the ups and downs along the way, she has been able to share her own experience as a Muslim coming to follow Jesus and how her life changed. She has been a blessing to many.
A highlight came when Nilufer and Julieta were together with a woman interested in Jesus. As Julieta shared, she turned to Nilufer and naturally encouraged her to talk about her life. Nilufer’s face shone and the woman’s eyes grew big with interest as she heard Nilufer’s testimony and what has changed in her life.
Another example is Murat and his wife, Fatma, who have been following Jesus for about eight years. The two, however, are very spontaneous and outspoken. One night, a man named Cesar was visiting from another Asian Muslim country. Murat and his friend (who does not follow Jesus) began to talk to Cesar about socialism and many of their heroes and ideologies. Cesar came to know Jesus after a difficult childhood and is a very passionate and encouraging Latino who loves to hug and open people’s eyes to Jesus. He also happened to have had those same socialist heroes and ideologies as a teenager.
Without a second thought, Cesar naturally began to tell the part of his testimony related to those themes. Drawing the men in with their ‘common understanding’ and view of the world, and through the Holy Spirit’s working, Cesar lured them right into the story of his own great change. “It is Jesus who is the true answer,” he declared. “He was the real revolutionary and he changed me.” The two men listened with great interest, soaking up every word. Cesar left again, but over the following months we see continued growth in Murat and Fatma, which in part stems back to the short time together with Cesar.
These little stories only begin to show what the Holy Spirit is doing. They also give a small picture to how God is at work bridging the gap between the Western Church and Global South Church, bringing them together for mission in predominantly Muslim contexts. After years of stillness and only tiny ripples of spiritual change in many of these countries, Van’s encouraging vision to make waves is now happening.
Erik Plantenga (pseudonym) and his family have been living in Central and Western Asia since 2002. He is currently working towards his PhD at Oxford Centre of Mission Studies.