Thursday, May 25, 2017

Isa al-Masih and the Christian Revival in the Muslim World

For the past decade or so, word has been bubbling up in the Christian missionary community that something extraordinary is happening in the Muslim world. Muslims are turning to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Now, we might expect some such conversions, as the result of ordinary missionary work in Muslim countries (I myself got to know several Muslim-background Christians during my time of mission service in North Africa). But evidence is emerging that the pace of these conversions is accelerating, that whole movements are emerging in which many thousands of people are coming to Christ, and that, in quite a few cases, these are happening through Muslims' encounters with Jesus in dreams and visions.

When I was working in North Africa, I was instructed not to describe myself as a "Christian" when asked. The reason was because that word, "Christian," immediately evoked in the Muslim mind images of American excess, colonial injustice, and crusaders with bloody swords. Rather, I was told to describe myself as "a follower of Isa al-Masih" (the Arabic for "Jesus the Messiah"). That way, Muslims would immediately understand where I placed my faith, and I could describe it in a way that they understood, a way that was compelling for them. Indeed, those Muslims who knew the Qur'an well would be reminded that Isa al-Masih is perhaps the most talked-about, most positive figure in their own scriptures. Although the Qur'an clearly holds a heretical view of Jesus' claims to divinity, it nevertheless does refer to Jesus as being endowed with the Holy Spirit (2:87, 2:252, 5:110), performing miraculous signs (2:87, 2:252, 43:63), born of a virgin (3:47, 19:21-22, 21:92, 66:12), the Messiah (3:45, 5:75, 9:31), the Word of God (3:45), the bearer of "Good News"/Gospel (5:46, 5:111, 57:27), dying and rising again (19:32), a sign to all mankind (23:50), and coming again at the Last Day (43:62) to defeat the Antichrist. As more and more Muslims are becoming educated and literate, able to read their own scriptures, they are being confronted with the person of Jesus Christ, driven to read more about him in the Gospels, and finding there the true doctrine of the great Redeemer of mankind.

In 2014, missiologist David Garrison released a book, A Wind in the House of Islam, in which he put forward the evidence he had collected to show the beginnings of a massive revival of Christianity in the Muslim world. Muslims were turning to Christ, and not just transplanted Muslims in the Western world; no, it was happening in the heartlands of Islam itself. He researched to see if there were any large-scale conversion movements in history (to qualify, a movement had to have at least 1,000 baptized converts or 100 churches planted). He found that there had been two such Muslim-to-Christian revivals in the 19th century, the first such occasions since the founding of Islam. Then, in the 20th century, there were eleven more. But here's the real showstopper: in the first twelve years of the 21st century, there have been sixty-nine major Muslim-to-Christian people movements within Muslim-majority countries! These sixty-nine movements (35 in Muslim Africa, 15 in the Middle East, and 19 in Muslim Asia) are all ongoing and continuing to increase. This constitutes the greatest movement of Muslims to Jesus in history, by a very long shot, and the pace is accelerating. Global Mapping International recorded the growth rates of evangelical Christianity around the world, and found that the fastest growth of all was happening in some surprising places: 7 of the top 10 evangelical growth rates were being reported from Muslim countries! The top two fastest growing evangelical Christian communities in the world are in Iran (19.6% annual growth) and Afghanistan (16.7%), which is astounding considering that the global evangelical growth rate of 2.6% is already just about the fastest global growth rate of almost any religious community, and more than double the world population growth rate of 1.2%. In the vast majority of Muslim countries, the growth of the evangelical church outpaces the country's population growth (the only exceptions being Turkey, Niger, and Guinea). These statistics only relate to numbers of evangelical Christians, not because other forms of Christianity are not also being used by God in this revival, but simply because evangelicalism appears to be the fastest growing form. There are also many other Christian presences in most of these nations, some of which go back all the way to the apostolic age itself (the Assyrian Church of the East, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, the Coptic Church, etc.), and they continue to bear faithful witness to the name of Jesus Christ in the middle of the Muslim world.

So how is all this happening? Well, there are a few missiological factors behind these revivals. Christian missionaries have been laboring in these lands, alongside the witness of ancient Christian communities present there, for many decades now. There are far more media presentations of the Gospel available to Muslims now than ever before, through the Internet and radio and satellite TV. But the most explosive growth appears to be coming from Christian evangelists who hail from these new communities of Muslim-background believers. Some of these believing communities in Isa al-Masih are creating new styles of Christian worship based on their cultural heritage as Arabs and Egyptians and Persians, and this is having greater effectiveness than Western missionaries have ever been able to achieve. But there's more than just missionary tactics going on here. I recall hearing a testimony once from a Muslim-background believer from Kyrgyzstan. "Christianity will triumph over Islam in the end," she said confidently, "because Christianity has love." Indeed, Muslims are coming to faith in Christ because of the love displayed among the Body of Christ, and never more clearly than when they love their enemies in the midst of great suffering, as many are having to do in the present Middle East.

Beyond just the statistics, though, there's something else going on. If you know any Christian worker in the Middle East, ask them if they've met someone who has encountered Jesus Christ in a dream or vision. Chances are, they'll say yes. Over and over, we're hearing many reports of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ because he has appeared to them in a dream or a vision. This is a wildly rare means of conversion in the Western world, but it is popping up so frequently in Muslim countries that it's nearly impossible to come to any conclusion other than that Christ himself has decided that it is time to bring the Muslims into his family of believers. Even secular news agencies are noting that Muslim conversions to Christianity are happening in this peculiarly dramatic way. There are entire books being filled with the anecdotal evidence for this means of conversion, coming from some of the most reputable agencies and publishers (see the links at the bottom of the post for some recommended resources). God is on the move, and Isa al-Masih is calling Muslims to himself.

As if all that weren't enough, we should note that David Garrison collected his evidence for conversion movements just a year or two before the massive immigration of Muslim refugees to Europe began. As we know from the news, there have been hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and other affected areas who have tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea and find a new home for themselves in Europe. Most of the news coverage of this event focuses on the tensions it causes, the difficulties of finding resources for these people, and the varying responses they find among European governments. What had often been missed, but which is now beginning to be reported on, is that another massive conversion movement from Islam to Christianity is happening among that very group of people. Whereas just a few years ago, many of the old churches of Europe were largely empty for Sunday worship, they are now finding their pews flooded with Muslims wanting to know more about Jesus. Some churches have begun holding mass baptisms just to keep up. Though there are skeptical voices in the press who suspect that these conversions are being motivated by a hope for being granted asylum, it's clear that for many of these Muslims, the dangers of converting are just as high, if not more so, than the dangers of deportation, and many Christian workers engaged in this work are finding sincere seekers among these Muslims.

God is moving in mighty ways in the Muslim world. That doesn't mean that the work is over, of course. Though the growth rates for these movements are phenomenal, they still represent only tiny slivers of their countries' populations. The vast majority of the Muslim world is still without access to a viable Christian witness, and, in many cases, is even still ignorant of its own religion's very high view of Isa al-Masih. So while the hope is that the news of these movements will be an encouragement, we also want to inspire Christians to get involved with the continuing work of God in this area. One of the most important ways you can do that is simply by praying for the Muslim world. This Saturday marks the beginning of one of the largest Christian prayer-movements in the world, the 30 Days of Prayer. Coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, over a million Christians band together to pray for Muslims every single day. You can follow along with the program here if you like. At the bottom of the post you'll find links to some other resources, if you want more information on this incredible move of God. But first, take a look at this video: a Christian worship service in Egypt, and let it inspire you with a vision of what God is doing in heartlands of Islam:

Book: A Wind in the House of Islam
DVD: In the House of Islam
Interview with David Garrison
Book: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity
Book: Dreams and Visions - Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?
Book: Miraculous Movements - How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus
Book: Secret Believers - What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ

(Images - Top: "Jesus Walks on the Water," image from an Arabic Bible, by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, 1684; Upper inset left: the name of Jesus in Arabic calligraphy, by Ibrahim Ebi, shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; Upper inset right: photo from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, by Andrew Shiva, shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license; Middle inset left: "An Arab Sage," by Rudolf Ernst, 1854-1932; Middle inset right: First page of the Gospel of Mark from an Arabic Bible, by by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, 1684; Lower inset left: illuminated folio from a Qur'an, 16th century)