Some Difficult Truths
Not all stories in Muslim ministry resolve so neatly. In fact, ministry to Muslims is notoriously labor-intensive, slow, and difficult. And hard truths remain, despite our best attempts at cross-cultural sensitivity.
“Islam’s ultimate goal is to bring the world under Islamic law,” said Ashton Stewart, the director of Persian ministry for the Association of Reformed Presbyterian Churches (ARP), and a church planter. “Though not all Muslims live this way, this is what is preached from the mosques. Muslims are taught to acquire property and social standing, and to increase their political power so that they can Islamicize the world. Where Islam is the dominant religion — at least 55 countries in the world — no other religion is tolerated unless it agrees to submit to Islamic rule.”
Consequently, confronting Islam is a spiritual battle, says Stewart. “Christians need to take seriously the weapons of prayer and the Word. Every time you witness to a Muslim your faith will be tested.”
If the Christian’s goal were world peace, this would be especially troubling, says Stewart. But that’s not so. “Taking sides on peace in the Middle East is the wrong conversation for the Christian church. We are called to spread the gospel to all nations, including those in the Middle East.”
Christians and Muslims are inevitably in conflict, says Jud Lamos, current director of MTW’s Enterprise for Christian-Muslim Relations. “In many ways, we are traditional enemies. Many Muslims still seethe with anger over conflict that goes back as far as the Crusades.” So inevitably, there is polarization on both sides. “As societies, they hate us, so we hate them,” said Lamos. “They are afraid of us, and we are afraid of them. So it is important that we see Christ as the ultimate answer to the hatred that exists between nations and peoples. We need to be followers of Christ and love our enemies while at the same time exercising our abilities to protect our freedoms.”
Stewart reported that an American friend began to rethink his attitude toward Muslims as he learned more about them. “I was wrong in hating Muslims,” the friend said. “I can see now that God loves them and is working in them. I don’t want a spirit of fear or revenge to control me.”
Reaching Out to the Muslims Around Us
There was a time when one had to travel thousands of miles from the U.S. to take the gospel of Christ to Muslims. No more.
Muslims in the U.S., who now number between two and six million, are more responsive to the gospel than those in their culture of origin says Iraj, an Iranian immigrant and Christian convert who heads a “Light for Islam” ministry, estimating that some 20 percent of them convert to Christianity. “These Muslims are generally more open because they have more freedom, less pressure from their family and peers, and are influenced by an American way of thinking.”
Anees Zaka’s Church Without Walls ministry allows him frequent interaction with Muslims in the U.S. “I pastored Presbyterian churches in the Middle East for years and was never able to enter a mosque,” said Zaka. “But here in the U.S. I meet with Muslims in mosques several times a week.”
Though the average Christian is intimidated at the thought of talking about faith with a Muslim, opportunities abound. “We all encounter Muslims now — everywhere,” said Carl Ellis of Project Joseph. And believers don’t necessarily have to study the Koran or know all about Islam to befriend them. “The Word of God does the heavy lifting when applied to each individual’s issues.”
Ellis suggests that Christians ask about their Muslim friend’s core concerns as they share Christ. “At the age of 14 I was on the path to the mosque,”said Ellis. “But two godly believers met with me and answered my questions about things deeply important to me, like my significance and identity as I grew into manhood.”
Another significant part of sharing Christ with Muslims in the U.S. is making clear the difference between Western culture — which is often characterized by hedonistic and materialistic behavior — with biblical Christianity. Many Muslims believe that Western culture and Christianity are one and the same.
“Muslims see the West as immoral because of our popular culture,” said Zaka. “But as Muslims get to know godly Christians they begin to see the difference between American secular culture and Christianity.”
Finally, Christians need to surround converts from Islam with community. “When you leave Islam, you’re designated as an apostate,” said Stewart. “It’s a shameful thing, and often your family and friends disown you. That’s why it’s so important to provide safe haven for new believers.”
The Good News
Despite the increase of Islam, deep pockets of disillusionment have emerged within the movement. An encouraging sign comes in an unlikely form. “All across the Middle East and North Africa you see satellite dishes on roofs,” said Stewart. “People are now able to view Christian programs on television that have been prohibited in their country until now.”
He also speaks of the great power in the testimony of Muslim background believers. Some now host house churches, often using unconventional methods. “I heard about an Iranian pastor preaching in Toronto, and there was a woman on the front row who held up her cell phone throughout his sermon,” said Stewart. “He later learned that she had dialed her husband back in Iran, and was broadcasting the pastor’s sermon to 40 believers in a house church there.”
“God is doing something extraordinary in our lives,” said Scott Seaton, former head of MTW’s Enterprise for Christian-Muslim Relations. “Never before in history have we seen so many Muslims coming to Christ. One long-term missionary said, ‘I never allowed myself to hope that I would see this picture in my lifetime.'”
Jud Lamos of MTW sees an encouraging picture as well. “More Muslims have come to Christ in the last 40 years than the last 1,400 years combined. I believe that’s because local churches, made up of Muslim background believers in Christ, are sharing the gospel with their neighbors at phenomenal cost to themselves and their families.”
In the end, God simply calls us to share Christ with our neighbors. Lamos described an encounter with a Muslim who eventually came to Christ, partly through the testimony of Muslim background believers. “God did the work of the gospel in his life without my trying to argue him into the kingdom,” said Lamos. “Is it any different in any culture? God does the work, often through us, but through others if we are not available. I don’t know of any other real story. It is the story of being available to share Christ’s life-changing love with a neighbor.”
Melissa Morgan is the news editor for byFaith magazine.
Copyright 2006 by Faith magazine, used with permission, all rights reserved.