In 1964 I prayed over a map, asking God to show me where my next evangelistic crusade should take place. This prayer took my wife, two young sons, and me to Beirut, Lebanon. We lived among Muslims, got to know the Koran and learned how to evangelize by introducing the Jesus in the Koran to Muslims who had never encountered Him. Just a few years later, violence escalated and our lives were at stake, forcing an emergency evacuation.
Missions agencies and churches pulled out of turbulent areas, categorizing them as spiritual wastelands too dangerous for their people. And in the waiting to return, apathy and lack of vision for this people group grew among the American Church.
1-2% of all missionary movements in the world work among about 65% of the world’s population
During the 60’s, Christians receded from evangelizing Muslims, and in their place, Muslims became the evangelists. They sent missionaries to Africa, Asia, Europe, and even the United States! They invested their petrol dollars to build attractive universities and big beautiful mosques.
Today, thousands of formerly Christian churches across Europe, particularly in the UK, have been converted into Islamic temples, and hardly a city in the U.S. doesn’t have its own mosque. Muslim population percentages have grown, and so has their influence. Earlier this year, London elected Sadiq Khan to office—the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital.
And what has been the response of Christians? Largely nothing. It’s like déjà vu, with my heart breaking again the same way it did 50 years ago. What is the Church doing? Why is it retreating again instead of reaching out with God’s love and truth? Where is the vision for the Muslim world?
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Lack of Vision
Islam, born in the Arabian Desert in the seventh century quickly traversed the globe dominating cultures and populations—even Christian ones! Christianity was once a powerful force in North Africa and Egypt, but churches there quickly lost their missionary vision when satisfied that they had “covered” North Africa with the Gospel. They busied themselves building beautiful cathedrals to house rituals and ceremony, losing vision and impetus to reach the people in the south.
Islam stormed in, sweeping the Church away with the attractive enthusiasm of fresh new faith –not in Christ, but in Muhammad. And here we are today, wondering if Islam’s all-encompassing system is as solid and impenetrable as it seems. Statistics indicate, yes. Over the last centuries where the clash between Christianity and Islam has taken place, Islam has largely won the battle. Why?
Lack of understanding
For the most part, Muslims are a God-conscious people. How many of you pray five times a day? How many of you fast every Friday? Every devout Muslim does.
But the picture that most Christians have of Muslims is not of these devout people of faith who stop five times a day to wash and pray, forgoing their meal on Friday to spend time in prayer. Instead, you probably envision a terrorist with a bomb strapped around his body or an ISIS commando cutting someone’s head off.
And the misconceptions go both ways. What do you suppose the Muslim imagines when he hears the word Christian? Does he think of us meeting regularly to worship God and spread His love by doing good works among our neighborhood children? No! He remembers the Crusades, when marauding armies from Europe arranged their children as the front line against the Muslims. They recall colonial oppression that used missionaries as the vanguard to establish footholds in their countries before taking them over—all in the name of Christianity.
Did you know that for nearly 40 years, most Iranians have called America the Great Satan? It sounds ridiculous, unless you know history. In 1969, the Shah introduced a law granting extraterritorial rights for Americans. Iran was strictly Muslim in culture, religion, and in every way, with all the implications of that culture’s expectations: women covered, no display of affection in a public places, no alcohol, pornography, or nightclubs. But when the Americans came under their territorial rights, they lived the way they wanted to.
They flaunted their culture in the face of Muslims. Pretty soon Iranian girls were wearing shorts in the streets, theaters opened everywhere, nightclubs became the place to go, alcohol was available to everybody, and pornography invaded. Until finally the Ayatollah Khomeini said, “enough!” For a loan of $200 million from the U.S.A. (with $100 million a year in interest) they had given away their country, their culture, and their religion—selling it to the Great Satan. Little would ever be the same for them again.
It is lack of understanding that is the greatest hurdle to being able to thoughtfully engage Muslims with the love of Christ. Before we can take the next step, or even the first, we must ask God to help us see our fellow human beings as they are—as God sees them—no matter what label they bear. Even that of Muslim.