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WORLDVIEW: Muslim world: hard ground, harvest field — or both?

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–In an Islamic country known for violent persecution of Christians, a local believer named Samuel* hands out evangelistic tracts and films every day.

One day, Samuel spotted a conservative Muslim man on a street corner where Muslims gather to collect funds for their mosque. Samuel sensed the Lord telling him to share Jesus with the man.

“Are you sure, Lord?” Samuel prayed as sweat began to prickle on his forehead.

“Yes, go,” he heard a voice within him say.

So he walked straight up to the Muslim man and declared the Gospel. Instead of the hostile response Samuel feared, the Muslim man listened thoughtfully.

“That’s interesting,” he said when Samuel finished. “Last night I was listening to the radio and heard something about this. I have to work now, but can you meet me later?”

They met later that night, and Samuel led the man to faith in Christ.

Courageous? Yes. Dangerous? Undoubtedly. Samuel isn’t a natural risk-taker, however. He just wants to obey the Lord.

“We have been teaching our team about boldness,” said a Southern Baptist worker who trained Samuel to spread the Gospel. “He comes across as very timid, but the Lord has changed him. We tell him to be careful, but he keeps going. These national believers are bold!”

Many such testimonies were shared at a recent consultation on church planting among Muslim peoples. Nearly 500 Christian workers from 46 nationalities attended the conference in Asia, where they talked about fruitful ways to guide Muslims to Christ.

One scholar at the conference recalled a similar gathering nearly 30 years ago where participants asked, “How do we take the Gospel to Muslims?” Now the question has become, “How do we become more effective at planting churches and discipling Muslim-background believers?”

That, he said, is “a huge forward move.”

-– In one Muslim area in South Asia, the first local believer began sending Gospel materials to friends and family members by mail, buses and other local transportation. Now he can track on a map how the Good News has taken root along the roads to various villages. He counts 75 baptized believers in eight churches, plus numerous “seeker groups.” At least one second-generation church has been started by one of the new congregations.

-– In a Middle Eastern country, a Christian worker entered the office of a strongly anti-American Muslim group. “We’d like to help your people,” he offered, adding that some of the helpers would come from America.

“When they heard me say America, the men stood with their guns ready. But after more dialogue and discussion, they said ‘OK.’ Now they allow us to go to their villages. They escort us and protect us, and our volunteers pray and give Bibles to the people.”

For every such success story told at the conference, however, there came a reminder of the challenge of working among Muslims.

“A year ago our team members could put a finger on 50 (worshipping) groups, so we know there are a lot more,” one worker reported. “People come and say, ‘We have 50 believers. Can you give us a [Gospel] film?’ We have girls who are leading others to Jesus. Families are coming to faith. But we are seeing a lot of persecution. Our team has suffered. One member went to prison twice and they used several methods to harm her. She came out with a battered back –- and a heart song. That heart song is now being taught to others.”

Another worker exulted about victories in other places, but wept over the lack of visible results in his own area. “We haven’t seen [any believers or churches] yet, and we have been laboring a really long time,” he admitted. “Can you please pray for my people?”

Conference participants gathered around him to ask God for the salvation of his people, and for encouragement and strength for him.

Are Muslims becoming more open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It depends on where you are –- and when. The Holy Spirit works on His schedule, not ours.

Scott Holste, the International Mission Board’s associate vice president for research and strategic services, remembers his years among a particularly resistant Muslim people group in Asia. He often compared notes with other missionaries hoping for glimpses of progress with their peoples.

“Our dream at the time was to see at least one healthy church planted in each of these people groups,” he recalled. “I don’t think in our wildest imagination we ever thought there would be scores or hundreds of churches like there are among some groups now.”

In some places, the day of bountiful harvest has arrived. In other places, it may take generations of patient sowing and removing rocks from the soil before any real church planting can take place.

“That’s the challenge,” Holste observed. “We need to be bolder than we’ve been in the past. It still may take years and years, but let’s push the edge.”
*Name changed for security reasons

Listen to an audio version of this column at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/39/3956/3956-21609.mp3

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges