I recently read an article in Christianity Today referring to a survey of converts from Islam to Christianity that point to an upswing in Muslims accepting Christ. Why is this happening and what does it mean to you and I?
“Between 1991 and 2007, about 750 Muslims who have decided to follow Christ filled out an extensive questionnaire on that basic question. The respondents—from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups—represent every major region of the Muslim world.”[i]
The survey is interesting in the fact that there are Muslims converting to Christ, and the reasons given center around their observing the reality of the Gospel in the believer’s life. It seems regardless of the country, personal contact and an observable lifestyle that is drastically different from the surrounding culture, are still the keys to reaching the lost.
I have had the privilege of interacting with pastors and leaders in China, Mexico, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, and my experiences would concur with the findings of that study. While there are some converts to Christianity that happen because God supernaturally sends them a visitation from beyond our reality, the vast majority become believers because of their contact with someone in our realm. In other words, regardless of the culture, the best evangelism is still the testimony of a changed life. People watch our lives to see if what we say is indeed how we live.
In my fellowship with these international pastors, one point is abundantly clear; there is little time for pursuit of so many of the things that the American Church deems necessary to succeed. Most of these pastors that I worked with were extremely poor, yet had a passion for Jesus that I covet. I met several that had walked or rode a bus for miles to attend meetings because they did not have access to an automobile. I purchase a new Bible just about every year while these men use the same one for decades. Air conditioned meeting space, electronic gadgets, computers, and a host of other seemingly critical ministry items we need in the states are beyond the resources available to these men of God, yet they minister on for Jesus.
The pastors that I was privileged to meet and embrace understood their responsibility to disciple the flocks that God had entrusted to them. In China, I visited two “underground” house churches that were extremely different in outward function, yet inwardly they were identical. One was very secretive and the other met with the windows wide open. Both spent what precious time they had focusing on God’s Word and how to live it out minute by minute in a Communist country. These men and women faced the constant threat of being exposed and severely punished, yet they kept on teaching and sharing God’s Word. Believers were willing to risk everything they possessed materially to gain what they could not lose spiritually.
In Nicaragua, the church is growing person by person. I spent four days with thirty-three men that were in charge of churches that range in size from a few hundred to twenty. The pastors had a burning desire to see their people grow, mature, and share their faith with others. The men traveled down from the mountain villages and somehow made it to this annual meeting so they would have something of value to share with their members. With very limited resources at their disposal, these men still had a tremendous passion for church planting and discipling everyone under their care. Most did not have a complete bible and some could not even read, yet they loved Jesus and the people in their churches with a dedication that makes me blush.
My experience in the Philippines was much the same. We stayed in a part of the country that was called “The Killing Fields.” In this four block area over 10,000 people lived; most with nothing to call their own. They slept in trees and in boxes. They washed in the same stream that was used as a bathroom. The meeting place we stayed in was nothing fancy but we did have a trickle of running water unlike most of the other people. In spite of these conditions, the pastors were on fire for Jesus and had a passion to share the wonders of God’s love and power.
All of the groups of pastors held long services and devoted themselves to imparting as much as they could to those under their care. Time is not as important in these countries on the one hand, yet extremely so on the other. Whether the service starts or finishes on schedule is not even considered, but were their lives touched and changed by the power of the Gospel -this is the key question. I pray it would be so in our country as well.
A complete lack of complaining also stood out to me as I interacted with these dear saints. They were grateful for salvation and for whatever physical blessings they had without the constant droning for more and more. These men understood that life is precious and time is short. Reaching others and training them for the Kingdom is what truly matters, all else can be taken away in an instant. If there ever was a discussion of what was lacking it never drifted into the material realm but stayed in the need for better materials, bibles, and discipleship tools. How convicting. I am sure there were times when complaining took place, just not around me. May it be so in my life Lord.
Living under the threat of death, imprisonment, loss of job, family, and possessions is a very real pressure that many of these men endure daily. From what I could tell, discipleship is alive and well in these places, yet there remains a tremendous need for more tools to assist. We who have so much must have a responsibility to share with those who have nothing. Many will come into the Kingdom as we invest in those that are doing the work among the poorest. May our hearts break for what breaks the Lord’s!