Recently, Lynn and I had the opportunity to have dinner in Jerusalem with our good friends, Tom and JoAnn Doyle. Among other things we talked about two important trend lines in the world of Gospel ministry to Muslims — persecution and harvest.
Below is an article on this subject that I asked Tom to write specifically for this blog. It’s very informative and encouraging. I hope you’ll not only read it but share it with others.
By way of context, Tom was a senior pastor in New Mexico and Colorado for more than two decades. Then, in the summer of 2001, the Lord called he and JoAnn to serve the persecuted Church in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Little did they know the horrific events of 9/11 were coming. Nor could they have possibly imagined that the greatest era of church growth in the Muslim world in fourteen centuries was about to accelerate even faster, deeper and wider. In recent years, Tom has written some excellent books on what God is doing among Muslims. Among them are Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believe and DREAMS AND VISIONS: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? I commend them both to you.
Is There Any Good News In The Middle East? Yes, despite intense persecution, we’re also seeing a great harvest of Muslims turning to Christ. Here’s the latest.
By Tom Doyle
When you think of Christianity in the Middle East, the first word that probably comes to mind is persecution.
But another word should come to mind – harvest.
The year 2015 was certainly a year of persecution for followers of Jesus Christ in the Muslim world. But one of the reasons for this is the large number of Muslims who have left the religion of Islam and now embrace Jesus as their Savior.
That said, persecution is not stopping the spread of the gospel. To the contrary, the killing of Christians is accelerating the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. In fact, over the centuries, oppressors have never recognized that the persecution of Christians is always a failed initiative. It doesn’t destroy the church; it makes the church grow.
Welcome to the New Middle East. Muslims all over the region are coming to faith in Christ. What’s more, they’re willing to suffer persecution for the Lord Jesus Christ in part because they see a great harvest of other Muslims and want to be faithful in proclaiming the good news of salvation in a world of such darkness.
Here are some of the things my wife and team and I have been seeing as we travel in and out of the region:
- In November 2015, I took a team to a country in the Middle East and witnessed something phenomenal: 25 former Muslims baptized as new believers in Jesus. The city where we were has a steadily growing underground church – indeed, they’ve seen 90 Muslims receive Jesus recently. And that’s just in one city. One was a woman who is married to a Muslim Imam (religious cleric). When she embraced Jesus, her irate husband found out and threw her out of the house and kept their three children. He vowed that if she were baptized he would kill her. But there she was, one of the 25 lining up to be baptized, and when she came out of the water there was overwhelming relief and joy on her face. By the world’s standards, she has lost everything, but she was not willing to deny Jesus and her love for Him.
- In Syria, Farid – a pastor and national Christian leader – says: “We’ve never seen Muslims come to Jesus like this. The ongoing civil war in our country has soured many to religion since this is essentially a religious war. Jesus brings something that religion can never deliver. He brings hope and reconciliation.” Farid says that the Syrian underground church is growing rapidly and in some home groups Alawites and Muslims worship together. “In the streets of Syria, they are killing one another, but when they find Jesus and reconcile with the Father, only then can they reconcile to one another. Jesus is the only hope for Syria. We have seen more than 1,000 Muslims come to faith in Christ in Syria in the last few years. This brings us great joy in Syria.”
- A pastor in Jordan named, Amir, says: “The amazing occurrence of dreams about Jesus seems to be even growing. Of the hundreds of Muslims that we are working with, the majority of them claim to have had one or more Jesus dreams. Jesus tells them in the dream how He loves them. What a message Jesus has in this sea of hatred all around us.”
- In February of 2015, ISIS killed 21 Christians on the beach in Libya and released the horrific footage of their beheading. The video showed 20 Egyptian men and one man from Chad walking onto the beach in orange jumpsuits and an ISIS terrorist with their covered, in all black, leading each prisoner. The picture summarized the year of persecution for the church. In fact, it became a defining moment for the persecuted church in the region, much like the image of the lone Chinese dissident standing in front of a column of oncoming tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
- In October of 2015, I took a small team to Egypt to meet the wives of those brave martyrs. Before we left, I happened to mention on a national radio program in the States what we were going to do. I said that we were going to Egypt to encourage these dear widows and bring letters that our e3 Partners team had written. We were so surprised but encouraged when listeners began to write letters to the martyrs for us to take with us. Over 2,000 from around the world poured in within two days. A kindergarten class from a Christian school even drew pictures and sent them in since they were too young to write. Emails came in from countries around the world. What a blessing these messages of solidarity were to these faithful Christian women.
During the research I did for my book, Killing Christians, I came to believe that persecuted believers have become the face of genuine Christianity around the world. As Evangelicals, we may not agree with every element of theology of the Coptic Church that these men came from. But in meeting their families and hearing their stories, there is no question in my mind that these men truly loved the Lord Jesus with their whole hearts, and I was moved that they were more than willing to die for Him.
We visited their widows in their simple poverty-stricken villages. They told us how their husbands had been held captive and tortured for 45 days but they never gave in to the free ticket out that was promised to them if all they would do is convert to Islam. One widow shared this: “How is it that we were given this privilege and honor to have someone in our family die for Jesus? We are just humble village people in an insignificant village in Egypt. But yet Jesus selected my husband for the most important thing we could ever do in life-to die for Jesus!”
So why is it that Muslims are now coming to faith in Christ in significant numbers? One of the reasons is that Islamic terrorists are killing violently for their faith, while followers of Jesus are dying peacefully for their faith. Muslims are watching the violence and it has soured them towards their religion. It has also opened them up to the possibility that there may be something to this Jesus after all. They see hate in Radical Islam and love among the Jesus followers, even as they are taken to be executed. What a contrast.
Yes, Christians are being persecuted openly in the Middle East. But they are standing strong, and this has served to spread the gospel even more rapidly. In a world of bad news, that is very good news.
Let us thank God for this – and let us be faithful in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters, that the Lord would give them strength and courage and boldness to keep living for Christ and keep preaching the Gospel, come what may.
Despite the persecution, killing, and terrorism in the Middle East, this is one of the Church’s finest hours.
You can get real-time prayer requests from your brothers and sisters on the frontlines and in harms way at the face book page called 8thirty8.
In Tom’s recent book, Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where it is Not Safe to Believe, you can also read true stories of persecuted believers in the Middle East that will inspire you to live wholeheartedly for Christ.