by P. J. Anderson
Serious pitfalls abound, but loving, patient, disciplined witness pays off.
The American College Dictionary defines "to glean" as "to gather slowly and laboriously in bits." Old Testament Mosaic Law set regulations for the corners of the field at harvest time to be left for the needy. The grain was not inferior or useless, it was more difficult to harvest. It was not assigned to inept or duller workers, but to those with a real need.
"My meat is to do my Father’s will" (John 4:34), said the Lord of the harvest, the Lord Jesus Christ. So in his train must follow those called by his Spirit to labor among Muslim millions. A prerequisite for such laborers is that they have a need to see Muslims find Christ. May the Lord of the harvest send forth such "needy" laborers to his work of gleaning his harvest among Muslims.
Here are seven lessons I have learned in my 27 years of gleaning. I trust they will be used to further the gospel ministry to Muslims.
The common Muslim concept of God is that Allah must be appeased by good works in atonement for sin. Therefore, the love of God is foreign. Muslims often resort to revenge and retaliation. They try to get something from every relationship, either material gain or prestige. They have no awareness of a love that is not self-seeking. Therefore, gleaners must have the love of an open heart and hand. They must not draw back in hurt, anger, fear, disappointment, or resentment. They must be willing to be vilified, spat upon, publicly threatened, dishonored, and ridiculed. In the midst of the shouting and swearing, they must respond with a quiet yet firm demonstration of God’s love.
God must do his deep work in the laborer’s life. To be lied to and about, deceived, and morally smeared by one you have toiled over in prayer and Bible study for hours, or perhaps years, requires God’s response of love. Muslims may seek your material aid and then scoff at it as too little and too late. To remain steadfast, patiently helping in spite of rebuke, requires God’s love.
"And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not," Jeremiah told Baruch (45:5). God’s love flowing through a laborer devoid of self-seeking makes a greater impact on Muslims than many other so-called evangelistic tools.
Gleaners among Muslims should not try to prove who is wrong or who has the better view of God. They should avoid trying to impress them with their great knowledge of the Koran. Such tactics not only are useless, they are counterproductive. A Muslim so pressed will very quickly rally others to the defense of Islamic teachings as a point of honor. Politicians use this technique frequently. They whip up religious fervor to a high pitch by making claims and counterclaims for and against Islam.
Faithfulness in life situations, not only in true doctrinal teachings, makes a telling impact on Muslims. It is relatively easy to be accurate, true and eloquent in proclaiming the Word of God. But that same Word also compels us to be absolutely honest, truthful, kind-hearted, and loving. That’s not so easy. Muslims love to probe our Christian character. Gleefully, they observe the eloquent preacher screaming as he runs down the street after boys who have stolen fruit from his trees, or borrowed a child’s toy. One of their favorite village sports is to pound loudly on the missionary’s door and then hide just to see his or her anger. Because anger generally is condemned above other sins by Muslims, it’s great fun to antagonize or set up Christians. They may deliberately give wrong change or overcharge.
Paul teaches us to "walk circumspect" (Eph. 5:15) with good reason. Abstaining "from all appearance of evil" (1 Thess. 5:22), particularly in moral aspects or situations, requires a wide knowledge of the local culture. Muslim leaders will capitalize on our failures.
Acceptance is a vital path to reaching Muslims. We cannot afford to joke about their appearance, clothes, intelligence, or manners of speech. Neither should their personal mannerisms of hygiene, motions of hands or feet, clicking of the tongue, spitting, throat clearing, and repeating various phrases be a distraction for very long. Learning their language obviously is essential. It should be learned to the very best of one’s ability. However, a gleaner who smiles, laughs at his own errors, and radiates God’s love is far more effective than a cold eloquent, grammatically accurate speaker.
The acceptance of new converts is just as vital as acceptance of inquirers. The New Testament makes it clear that labor is needed to "disciple," "bring to maturity," "present perfect," and "discipline." Growing up spiritually includes stumbling, stubbornness, falling, misspeaking, lack of comprehension, and failure to obey revealed truth instantly.
Because evil is harder to unlearn than to learn, spiritual growth takes time and requires patient teaching and understanding. In our human families, a young child who fails repeatedly is not "put out," or told "never return here again," or "black listed" with neighbors, relatives, or friends. We ought not to treat the person that way who has turned from darkness to light and then has stumbled. We must "grow up" young believers with a God-like acceptance of them with all their blemishes. Neither sincere Nathaniels nor instant super St. Pauls are what God ordains all inquirers or young believers to be (Jn. 1:47; Acts 9:17-22).
Patience (long-suffering) is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that must flourish in the lives of those who seek the lost (Gal. 5:22). We may encounter repeated occasions of faithlessness, dishonoring, or planned disrespect. This may be how.backslidden believers or inquirers test to determine what we are thinking or saying about them. Like the farmer who waits for the harvest (Jas. 5:7), missionaries must water, prune, and give tender care. To continue the analogy, they must also fend off the "insects" and the "rodents." They do this during the time between the effective hearing of the gospel and the believing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Insects" may be actual haunting doubts, misconceptions from former teachings, cultural taboos, or fearful threats. "Rodents" may be those of family or community who deliberately set out to destroy budding interest or faith. Sometimes actual physical protection may be required. In the former case, it takes many hours of prayer for and with the inquirer or believer. At the same time, quiet, low-keyed teaching by the hour is necessary to overcome fear, doubt, and misconceptions.
Discipline applies to both the missionary and inquirers or believers. We must carefully plan our time if we are to do what the Word of God says about "buying up every opportunity" (Gal. 6:10) and "redeeming the time because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). The discipline of study and preparation is essential. Knowing your topic is critical in Muslim cultures where memorization of large volumes of material is the usual way of teaching. Off the cuff, off the top of the head, or out of the sermon barrel lessons are not enough to attract even passing interest.
Blocking off time for visiting, teaching, and reaching out is excellent, but it must be done within the cultural frame, not at your convenience. For example, late afternoon or evening is a poor time to visit Muslim women, because the men of the house are home. Interruptions can be somewhat avoided by planning. But counseling emergencies, like medical ones, cannot wait. Your availability to the people must be known. Your willingness to be available will soon be known as the criterion of your service.
Discipline of the inquirers, or believers, must be just, consistent, fair, equal, and, above all, biblical. Favoritism—"this is my spiritual son," "my convert"—must be stamped out forever. Competition between workers over converts, whether in numbers or supposed spiritual achievement, is a cancer of the devil’s own origin and delight.
Cultural adaptation must be done within a biblical framework. What difference will it make in eternity if your trained senses in music or art are jarred by scales, notes, or rhythm (or lack thereof) or color, or form clashes ? Separation of the men and women by a screen or curtain during a worship service is not unbiblical. It fits the culture of many lands.
Baptism is an open testimony after conversion, in front of witnesses. We must be sensitive about how we do it. A mixed male-female or Christian-Muslim audience is not required by Scripture. I recommend parental permission for those tinder age, and the husband’s or father’s permission for all women. I agree with the requirement set by a recently organized church of Muslim converts that one year of Christian living proceed application for baptism. It is not a scriptural requirement that baptism be performed by an ordained male. In many lands a male touching the woman convert is culturally unacceptable.
However, incorporation of Muslim holidays, or their Christianization, is not an acceptable adaptation to me. Celebrations and traditions that are biblical, not Western, must be established. Forms of worship, songs, types and positions of prayer, teaching and outreach methods must be compatible first with the Bible and then with the culture.
Those are some of the lessons I have learned from gleaning the harvest during 27 years of labor in a remote corner of God’s harvest field. Today in that corner a small group of baptized believers is meeting as an organized church and functioning through its committee, despite the fact that as yet there is no resident pastor. This group is a witness of light in the darkness of Islam.
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