RECENTLY, a young man from an Islamic background was baptised among us. Telling his story, he explained how he had failed to connect with God in his country until, one day, his father lay critically ill in hospital after a heart attack. A Christian friend risked his life by visiting the hospital and praying for the father (any sort of evangelism is strictly forbidden in his country). The next day the young man went to the hospital and found his father much better. It was the beginning of a journey to find the God of kindness. Conversion, too, is strictly forbidden and the young man fled the secret police and travelled to Europe.
Another young man, also recently baptised, found faith in Jesus in his country after being told about Jesus from a friend and visiting an underground church. Again, healing was involved – his mother was much improved after prayer which led to him finding Jesus. When, in his absence, the secret police raided his office, he knew it was time to flee his country.
Such people are finding their way across Europe and into our congregations. The church, in a time when membership is often shrinking, is being enriched and augmented by persecuted Christians from abroad.
Christian missions over the centuries to the Islamic world since the death of the prophet Muhammad in AD 632 have borne little fruit. Actually, in the years that followed Muhammad’s death, the reverse occurred: the Islamic world swallowed up large areas of Christendom, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East.
The trend of near fruitless missions very slowly began to change in the nineteenth century. During the second half of the twentieth century, thousands of Muslims turned to Christ: during the Indonesian revival of the 60s; in Iran following the Revolution of 1979; in countries like Bulgaria and Albania after the fall of the Iron Curtain around 1989; in Bangladesh in the 1990s.
However, during these first two decades of the twenty-first century, there has been an unprecedented rise of Muslims turning to Christ in wide-flung areas of the globe: Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab world, Iran, Turkestan, South and South East Asia and it is recognized that we are in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history, a fact well documented in David Garrison’s A Wind in the House of Islam.
In Islamic countries, the punishment for apostasy ranges from execution to prison to no punishment. (Apostasy includes the wholesale rejection of Islam, denying any of the basic tenets of Islam, worshipping idols or conversion to another religion.) In Saudi Arabia, conversion to any other religion apart from Islam is punishable by death if there is no recantation. In Iran, it entails the death penalty for men and life imprisonment for women. One Iranian Christian woman, now living in the UK, said that she would prefer death any day to a life in prison where rape and torture are commonplace.
It would appear that appetite for the gospel is generally slight in the West; the troubles of the Middle East and the Arab world, including the rise of Islamic extremism, have heightened it. There is an unprecedented hunger and thirst, a turning to Christ in these regions once almost untouched by the Gospel and we, in the West, are enjoying its fruit.
Only this week, yet another young man, recently arriving in this country, told me in broken English his heart-wrenching story: when he and his brother became Christians they were told to, “go, go” by their Muslim parents. He showed me a picture of his beautiful young wife on his phone. She, too, had told him, “Go, go”. The story was told with sadness but also with faith; he is trusting God for his future and earnestly desires to belong to the church family.
Many centuries ago the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.” (Isaiah 60:4,5)
In that case, let’s enjoy our sons and daughters. The church is being enriched. Let’s rejoice.
Open Doors World Watch top ten countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian