by Patrick O. Cate
Persistent prayer, new action by churches and missions, and better trained missionaries.
Just over a century ago (1890) Samuel Zwemer began his work among Muslims in the Middle East, when there were perhaps some 300 million Muslims worldwide. He labored in the cause of Muslim evangelism for more than 50 years and fully expected to see the collapse of Islam, but it did not come. After the Gulf war, some other people predicted a sudden collapse. However, no such crumbling has occurred; rather, today there are almost 1 billion Muslims, and their religion continues to thrive.
After these disappointments, what will it finally take to win Muslims? More prayer, of course, but also more of the right kind of missionaries, and more commitment to Muslim evangelism among our Western mission agencies.
MAKING MUSLIMS A PRIORITY
One of the basic reasons Muslims have not come to faith in Christ is that they have not heard of Christ, and one of the basic reasons they have not heard of Christ is that missionaries have not gone to tell them about Christ. One of the basic reasons missionaries have not gone to tell them about Christ is that the church has not seriously prayed to the Lord of the harvest to thrust out laborers into the Muslim fields. Are Muslims, who make up one out of five people in the world, on our daily prayer lists?
Of course, some people automatically think of all the barriers to Muslim evangelism, especially the political ones, such as the inability to obtain visas for work in predominantly Muslim countries. But in countries where Muslims are a minority one can easily get and keep a visa. You can spend 100 percent of your time working with these Muslims. You do not have to get a "tentmaking" job that restricts your time for evangelism. Sometimes these Muslim minorities are more responsive to Christ than they are in their home countries, so we need to do some sharp thinking about reaching displaced or Muslims,
Mission agencies also need to think developing new ministries in countries where Muslims constitute the majority. Some agencies work in such countries, but are not doing any-to reach Muslims. They are reaching professing Christians, or other minorities, the "easier people."
We will never know about some doors, unless we knock, shake, or kick them a little bit. We always ought to be pushing on doors to see what will happen. Sometimes, after years of pushing, they open.
We have workers among Muslims who recently had to leave their.. country after 23 years. In their first 15 years they did not see a single one of them come to faith in Christ. But they did not quit because they were called by God to be faithful. Between their 15th and 23rd years hundreds of Muslims made decisions for Christ. Today, 4,500 people in that needy Muslim country are taking Bible correspondence courses because of their ministry. A church has been planted, comprised of Muslim converts with indigenous leadership. What if they had quit earlier? It’s going to take prayer, shaking some doors, perseverance, and trust in God to see the harvest.
Mission agencies focusing on Muslim lands need to figure out how to capture a new generation of missionary recruits to work in countries where quick, easy responses are not forthcoming. These people do exist; in my visits to churches and schools I have found some who believe that God’s standard is faithfulness, not immediate results. Missionary recruiters need to ask what it will take to enable workers to have the long-term commitment needed to reach Muslims. What will it take for workers to gain the attitude of leaving their bones on the mission field, if God would so permit?
One of the keys to reaching Muslims is relationships. It lakes time for relationships to develop, and repeated visits. On the other hand, we need to be careful of only developing friendships but never sharing Christ.
We also must recognize that some people with "tentmaking" skills tend to go out with only a three- to five-year commitment. Sometimes, sadly, they are more interested in developing professionally than in using their skills to penetrate the culture and the country with the gospel. Sometimes their desire for career security and professional development can make them too timid in witnessing. "Tentmakers" need to be trained in the "how" of Muslim evangelism, in biblical and theological foundations, and in the ethics of "tentmaking."
We need to mobilize prayer, not only for Muslims to believe and for more workers, but also for religious freedom and human rights. Mission agencies and churches could sponsor days of prayer and fasting for the Muslim world.
One of the challenges in the Muslim world is that the good is often the enemy of the best. It is so easy to spend our time doing good things. This is true any place, of course, but it seems to be intensified in the Muslim world. We can give ourselves to the mechanics of living, to our jobs, to team responsibilities, to mission paper work, and really end up not logging very many hours, either in language study during the first years, or in ministry to Muslims later on.
We need accountability. What level have we reached on the language proficiency checklist? How many hours a week do we study the language during our first years? After that, how many hours a week do we spend with Muslims? What is the quality of our relationships and the quality of our sharing Christ with Muslims?
There’s another pitfall we must avoid: always studying Islam and never evangelizing Muslims. It really can be said that Islam is the most studied and least evangelized religion The number of books on understanding Islam is phenomenal. Much has been and written to help us understand the Muslim mind, but we need to be careful, lest we merely become scholars, divorcing our scholarship from the Great Commission.
On the other hand, before they go and while they are on furlough, people need to sharpen their biblical, theological, and ministry skills, and sometimes their secular skills as well. In his book, America, Oil, and the Islamic Mind, Michael Youssef says, "The crisis is the gulf between our ways of thinking." If we will give ourselves to better understanding the Muslim mind, we will gain valuable help in sharing Christ with Muslims. This means not just understanding classical Islam, but also animism, because each Muslim is to some degree animistic. Animism has influenced the whole fiber of Islam.
As we grow in our understanding of Islam, we learn that it is quite pluralistic, with differing shades of religious and political beliefs. For instance, many Muslims are against Islamic fundamentalism and sharia law. Sadly, one of the reasons more Muslims do not respond to the gospel is that some missionaries have not really learned the Muslim mind. They may have read one or two books or taken a course on Islam, but that’s not enough.
One worker who has spent a lifetime in the Muslim world, and who has nurtured and led more than 200 missionaries to work among Muslims, made an interesting observation. He said that although we have many more workers than in the days of Zwemer and the other pioneers, in terms of quality Zwemer and company beat us hands down. Today, he said, we do not have people like Temple Gairdner (1873-1928, Church Missionary Society, Cairo) or Samuel Zwemer, who combined their sharp minds with a love for people and a passion for God.
He suggested that we generally ignore some of the best sources of candidates and said we should recruit Christian students at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, and so on. Some feel we should also recruit more at seminaries, because not only do we need sharp minds, we need workers who can handle some of the theological issues that separate 1 billion Muslims from faith in Christ. Some seminary students possess secular degrees and secular professional backgrounds. We need to encourage these people to pursue opportunities in Muslim countries.
What about power encounter in winning Muslims? It’s surprising for many evangelicals to learn that a large percentage of Muslim converts have had a dream in which Christ appeared to them and said something like, "I am the way," or, "Follow me." This has led them to find a Christian or a Bible, where they learned more about Jesus and put their faith in him.
However, we need to caution against going into Muslim areas expecting miracles to occur right and left. Thank God for the miracles we have seen and heard of, but some workers have left the field discouraged after four or five years because they saw no miracles, could not raise anyone from the grave, nor see anyone healed. They reasoned that they were not properly related to God, not properly gifted, or not called, and therefore quit.
Missionaries to Muslims have to believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). Their faith must not rest in their ability to execute miracles and healings. Being filled with the Holy Spirit does not equal the ability to perform signs and wonders. Christ crucified is God’s power (1 Cor. 1:22-24).
WHAT TO DO WITH THE HISTORIC CHURCHES
Throughout most of the Muslim world there are historic churches, not made up of Muslim converts, such as Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Assyrians, and Copts. Some come from Hindu backgrounds. It could be argued that over the last two centuries a majority of missionaries going to the Muslim world to evangelize Muslims have spent most of their time evangelizing and discipling people from these historic churches. Compared to Muslims, they are easier to reach and more responsive. But the danger is that we will spend all our time trying to revive these churches and ignore the Muslims.
On the other hand, there is a tiny minority of people in some national churches who do work at Muslim evangelism. There’s much we can learn from them. We should listen to them, work with them, have them speak in our weekly mission gatherings, monthly meetings, and annual conferences. We cannot take a know-it-all attitude; we need to come as learners.
For example, I know of one national elder who has baptized about 200 Muslim converts. We can learn much from people like him. A worthy goal would be to find at least one promising person in the national church. Have that person teach us culture and language, while the missionary teaches Muslim evangelism, praying that the national will catch the vision for it.
USING MEDIA TO SUPPORT PRIORITIES
We need to keep asking which media best communicate in the Muslim world and into specific countries. I lived in a middle-class (and a lower-class) neighborhood in the Muslim world and three video stores operated within two blocks of our home. Most Muslims read little, but they watch videos and television for hours. A Christian TV network, broadcasting from a satellite, could penetrate Muslim walls and be received by many more Muslims once they get receiving dishes.
The "Jesus" film possibly has been the medium used by God to lead more Muslims to faith in Christ in recent years than any other media tool. It has been translated into almost every major Muslim language.
However, better-trained workers and the latest technology will be of no avail unless mission agencies and churches consider their part in reaching Muslims. Agencies and churches need to look at their budgets and personnel and ask what percentage is dedicated to reaching the 1 billion lost Muslims around the world. What part of their prayer life is devoted to asking God to open closed Muslim hearts and doors, and to thrust out new laborers? We need to take a hard look at our prayers, priorities, and preparation if we want to see Muslims won for Christ.
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