by Jerry Otis
Ahmad accepted the challenge to cast out a demon, and the villagers responded to Christ. Now there’s a thriving church.
"If you can cast out the devil from the woman, we will truly believe and embrace immediately the faith in Jesus Christ." This was the challenge issued to Ahmad by a number of people in a small Muslim fishing village in the southern Philippines. The scene was thus set for a power encounter between Jehovah and animism, after the manner of Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal.
God’s "Elijah" in this case was, from our western Christian perspective, a highly unlikely instrument. By his own testimony, Ahmad was 85 percent illiterate, grade five being the extent of his schooling. He was untaught in the deeper truths of the Word of God and admits that when he submitted for water baptism, after being led to faith in Christ, he did not really understand its meaning. But because he took the step seriously and obediently, the Holy Spirit dealt with him in a most unique way in days to follow. An evangelical perfectionist could have undoubtedly picked Ahmad’s personal life to pieces and declare him a vessel unfit for the Master’s use.
"Mt. Carmel" is a small Samal fishing village in the Southern Philippines. The Samal have been pretty much untouched by the onslaught of progress. Small frame houses on stilts over the sea are still the order of the day. For centuries now the people have adhered to a curious mixture of animistic and Muslim beliefs. While observing certain tenets of Islam, a typical villager’s life revolves around attempting to manipulate the supernatural, either through Muslim or animistic ritual, usually both.
The "priests of Baal" are, in a real sense, all the inhabitants of the village, and Ahmad could quite honestly say, "I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has 450 prophets" (1 Kings 18:22.)
A difference should be noted here. In the Old Testament account, Elijah issued the challenge to the prophets of Baal. In this modern encounter, the "prophets of Baal" challenged the man of God. Need we wait for the forces of evil to instigate the battle? Do we lack faith to take the battle to the enemy?
Ahmad accepted the challenge and the time was set for the confrontation. Ahmad knew that, humanly, he was alone in this venture and prayed earnestly for wisdom, power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. As he approached the home of the demon possessed woman he was aware that the Holy Spirit was controlling his words and actions. Without hesitation, he confronted the woman in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Words flowed from her lips indicating the battle to come. "You are nobody to me, I can eat you alive, " a voice from within the woman said. "The only one I’m afraid of is that Holy One within you," the voice continued. With every eye focused on Ahmad, he commanded the demon to depart in the name of Jesus Christ the Savior. The demon again spoke, "Yes, I will go away. " After a time of jerking and struggling, which rendered her seemingly lifeless, the woman awoke fully sober and sane, totally free from the chains of Satan.
RESULTS OF THE ENCOUNTER
As during Elijah’s day, the omnipotence and authority of God were clearly demonstrated and the confession, "The Lord, he is God," flowed from the lips of those present. The following day, those who had issued the challenge made good their promise. They came to Ahmad’s house, confessed, repented, and surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. They forsook their superstitious beliefs and parted with long valued fetishes and amulets.
This demonstration of the power of God has resulted in the only known people movement among Muslims in the Philippines. From this small fishing village, a church of 60 adults and 100 children was born between January, 1977, and December, 1978. These Samal fisherman, while continuing their livelihood, are now fishing for men. Two sorcerers, upon witnessing the power of the Lord, confessed and surrendered to him. Relatives far beyond the boundaries of this village and the island on which it is located have been touched, and faith in Christ has been born in these new areas.
A new group of Samal Christians has been established on the island of Simunul in the southern Philippines. This island is thought to be the place where Islam first entered the Philippines, perhaps as early as 1380 A.D. This new group came into existence through the efforts of Ahmad and his congregation.
Miracles continue to characterize the movement. Early in 1979, Ahmad prayed for a new believer who was concerned that he was illiterate and could not read the Word of God. After prayer, the man was able to read. What unbelievers see is enough to convince them of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The services in the new congregation are characterized by a simple exposition of the Word. How to apply the Word to every day life is of great importance. Much stress is laid on prayer, healing and claiming Christ’s power against the demons Having come out of a spirit- dominated culture, it is obvious that the gospel needs to speak to this felt need.
The new quality of life manifested by the Samal Christians hasdrawn favorable comment even from some Muslims. One Muslim leader, observing a new Christian return money which he had found, remarked that this man was truly changed, for he had been a sorcerer and thief before.
There is still strong opposition from some, so the young church does its witnessing low key, usually by praying for the sick when so invited. Some of the congregation have moved to other areas and other groups are springing up through their witness. A Samal living in Sabah, Malaysia, who had been sick for a number of years, returned to his home in Silompak to die. He was healed through prayer and eventually returned to Sabah. He has since returned to the Philippines, bringing a number of Muslim converts for baptism.
To dissect such an obvious working of God seems almost sacrilege. In the final analysis, one can only bow humbly before the sovereign Lord and give praise to him. Yet a number of principles stand out that are important for missionaries working in animistic areas. Some of these are applicable to any situation.
1. God’s instruments are not always the ones we would choose. Perhaps we haven’t learned very well the truth that God’s ways are not our ways. Our society stresses the wise, the strong, the trained. We have been taught to despise the small, the common, the ordinary, but God used such to display his majesty in the southern Philippines.
2. Faith to believe the Lord for an observable power encounter should be sought. While any genuine conversion implies a change of allegiance from one authority to another, it would seem only natural that in animistic areas, where the spirit world is so real, a more visible demonstration of the authority of the Lord over the spirits is necessary. Ahmad’s simple faith, unspoiled by western biblical reflection, which often questions if signs and wonders are possible or even allowable today, was equal to the task. Ahmad believes that any substantial movement of Filipino Muslims to the Lord will require miracles and, in the light of what has happened through his ministry, can his statement be refuted? It will take unquestioning faith in the Lord to demonstrate forcefully that "The Lord, he is God. "
3. Favorable response of a sizeable number of people at one time, or over a short period of time, is extremely desirable. Societal pressures to revert can be withstood better by a group than an individual. Pressure to conform in Muslim areas, even animistic Muslim areas, is immense, and one-by-one conversion against the tide is extremely difficult. In the movement to Christ noted above, about 40 adults decided for Christ during the initial two-or threemonth period. These then stood as a group against rising opposition.
4. Growth through web relationships characterized the movement initiated by Ahmad. It is known that relatives sought out other relatives both on the island and other islands. Relatives as far away as Davao, some 700 miles to the east, were won to the Lord and the new group of believers on Simunul Island is a result of web relationship evangelism.
Without a doubt, God has done a new thing in a Samal fishing village in the southern Philippines. It is interesting to note that, in the midst of the supernatural manifestation of his power, a number of spontaneous church growth principles emerge that we dare not lightly brush aside. What has happened may be only the first chapter of God’s working among Muslims in the Philippines, and many more exciting chapters may follow for his glory.
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