Opportunity and Opposition
by Abdul Saleeb
What is happening with the church in the Muslim world in the beginning years of the twenty-first century? In the past, it was quite common for missionaries to spend a lifetime of faithful service to the Gospel and see very little or no tangible result in terms of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. But today we know of significant numbers of Muslims — sometimes in thousands and sometimes in tens of thousands — who have come to faith in the last fifteen years.
Students of missions detect a number of factors that God is using for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom among various Muslim people groups. Political turmoil and the rise of radical, militant Islam have caused many Muslims to begin questioning the legitimacy of Islam and have made them more open to the claims of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Current trends in the modern world such as globalization, urbanization, and mass migrations have opened up new and unprecedented opportunities for sharing the Gospel with the people of Islam. The use of modern technologies such as satellites and the Internet, along with the mass distribution of Bibles are also making significant impacts in previously closed Muslim countries. The number of missionaries that God is raising up to take the Gospel to the Muslim world is also increasing, not only from churches in North America, but also from South America and South Korea, and more recently from the rapidly expanding underground churches in China. Some themes that have been repeatedly reported by many Muslims in their conversion to Christ include such things as the ministry and lifestyle of Christian believers, answered prayer and deliverance from a difficult situation, the finding of peace and assurance of forgiveness in the Bible, encountering the love of God in the Scriptures and experiencing it in Christian fellowships and acts of humble service.
Although we have many reasons to rejoice for the unparalleled spread of the Gospel among Muslims in our day, we also need to acknowledge the intensity of the opposition to the Gospel. Our brothers and sisters who live and minister in most Muslim countries face many challenging and dark moments. Some times the opposition can take the form of outright persecution. Many servants of Christ have been killed, imprisoned, and tortured for evangelizing Muslims. The wives of numerous pastors have told me that every time their husbands leave the home, they struggle with the fear that they might never see them again. Islamic law bans any forms of Christian evangelism, and converting from Islam to Christianity is considered a crime officially punishable by the death penalty. Many churches live with the constant fear of being fire bombed, or attacked by an angry mob, or closed down by the orders of the government. Those active in their Christian witness can receive death threats against themselves and their families. Many pastors struggle with the fact that they are often under close government scrutiny. More often, Christians and converts to Christianity suffer harassment, ridicule, rejection by the family and the community, and educational or employment discrimination because of their faith. Islamic governments and mosques use all the tools of media and the educational system at their disposal to propagate Islam and attack the Christian faith, but in most instances they would never allow Christians access to make a response
or even simply present the Gospel.
There are also many internal challenges that the church faces. There are denominational divisions and competitive attitudes among Christians. Many observers can point to the lack of theological education and spiritual maturity even within the leadership of the church. A great temptation for many Muslim converts to Christianity is to marry a Muslim since they might be unable to find a suitable marriage partner. Sometimes, because of the family pressures or the many dangers of living as a convert in a Muslim society, a professed believer converts back to Islam. Many Christians in the Muslim world are also tempted to leave their home country and move to the West where they can live their lives and express their Christian faith in safety and peace.
We need to commit ourselves to pray and identify with the suffering and persecuted church in the Muslim world. But we also should rejoice in the growing and spreading church in the Muslim world. We must remind ourselves once again, especially in the midst of rising radicalism and violence all around the Islamic world today, that all visible and invisible thrones, dominions, principalities and powers, all things were created by Him, through Him and for Him, and He “is the head of the body, the church…” ( see Col. 1:16, 18).
There is no need to despair. We can be confident that King Jesus is sitting on His throne and is, in fact, accomplishing His great purpose for the building up of His church around the world (and especially in the Islamic world) before our very eyes!