(Washington, D.C.) — An unprecedented spiritual revolution is underway in the Islamic world.
From 1960 to 2010, the number of Muslims who have converted away from Islam and become true followers of Jesus Christ has skyrocketed, from fewer than 200,000 to some 10 million people. Amidst persecution and even genocide, the Church in the Middle East is growing in ways never seen in fourteen centuries of Islam. And there is now scholarly documentation backing up these numbers.
Yesterday, I had the honor of addressing the pastors at the “Watchmen on the Wall” conference organized by the Family Research Council. Tony Perkins, president of FRC, asked me to brief the gathering on the latest on the persecuted Church in the Middle East and it was my joy to do so — especially to share this exciting news.
Here are notes I used for my presentation. You’ll find details regarding the soaring number of Muslim conversions under point #4, including a link to the peer-reviewed journal article where these data are found. Hope you find them helpful.
1.) The sobering reality is that 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution.” This was the finding from the most recent report on global persecution from Open Doors. Some 7,100 Christians were killed for their faith last year. up 50% from the previous year. Some 2,400 churches were destroyed or damaged last year. According to the president of Open Doors, “The level of exclusion, discrimination, and violence against Christians is unprecedented, spreading and intensifying.”
This doesn’t mean that all Muslims are dangerous or are persecutors of Christians. The vast majority of Muslims do not intend us harm. However, this does mean that empirical evidence confirms that wherever the forces of Radical Islam — and Apocalyptic Islam — are highly active or in control, followers of Jesus Christ are in grave danger.
The Scriptures repeatedly warn believers to expect persecution, especially as the return of Christ approaches (see Matthew 24:8).
The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Everyone who lives a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
The Lord Jesus told His disciples in John 16:2, “an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” That hour has now come.
2.) The Church in Syria and Iraq today is not simply facing persecution — it’s facing genocide. What is genocide? Jay Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law and Justice, and his team note, “The Holocaust gave rise to the necessity to define what ‘genocide’ is, and Article 2 of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) did just that,” defining it as:
any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Tragically, this is exactly what is happening in Syria and Iraq. The forces of the Islamic State are beheading, crucifying, torturing, starving and enslaving Christians, and trying to forcibly convert them to Islam. Many Christians are dying. Many are fleeing. Some, sadly, are converting away. This is genocide. Consider the facts:
On Sunday evening in Jerusalem, I had tea with the Vicar of Baghdad — Anglican Canon Andrew White — and some pastors and friends. For years he lived in the capital of Iraq, ministering to Christians from many denominations and trying to be a witness to Muslims of Christ’s love and mercy. He explained to us that in 2014 he finally had to evacuate from Iraq because it had just become too dangerous. The stories he told us of ISIS atrocities he knew of first hand were horrific. He described a father forced by ISIS jihadists to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam or watch his children beheaded. He told another story of several young Christian children threatened by ISIS to convert to Islam or their parents would be murdered. But the children refused to convert saying they loved Jesus, and Jesus loved them and cared for them, and they had to always stay close to Jesus. Their parents were murdered in front of them.
To be clear, ISIS is waging genocide not just against Christians — seeking to destroy all followers of Christ and to physically destroy all Christian houses of worship. They are also seeking to destroy the Yazidis (a minority sect in the region) and Muslims who don’t share their same theological and eschatological views. Indeed, it is Muslims who are dying most at the hands of ISIS. And, of course, ISIS continues to threaten to invade Israel and murder all the Jews. Why? Because they believe that such genocidal actions will help accelerate the coming of their so-called messiah — the Mahdi — and the return of Jesus (to be the Mahdi’s deputy). They also believe this will usher in the global Islamic kingdom or Caliphate and bring about the End of Days.
3.) By the grace of our sovereign God, the two safest places for Christians in the Middle East today are Israel and Jordan.
Israel is a Jewish State. It’s a democracy (where Christians can vote and Arabs can vote and serve in government; we have an Arab Supreme Court Justice and 17 Arabs serving as Members of the Knesset, up from 12 in the previous elections). Israel does not have a particularly large population of Christ followers (thought the numbers of Jewish, Arab and international believers is steadily growing). Still, Israel is an oasis of religious freedom and personal safety and security for Christians in a sea of fire.
Israel is by no means perfect. Like every country, our government and society has many flaws. Still, it never ceases to astound and grieve me when I see some Christians around the world — including some liberal, mainline denominations — attacking Israel as a country of “apartheid” and “racism” and using all kinds of other epithets and announcing boycotts and divestment from Israel as if it were some pariah state, rather than acknowledging that for all our flaws this is the safest place for Christians to be in the entire Middle East.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, meanwhile — our next door neighbor — is a Muslim monarchy. Like Israel, Jordan does not have a huge Christian population (though the numbers of Christ followers is steadily increasing). That said, King Abdullah II has created the safest political and cultural environment for Christians in all of the Middle East. He and the Royal Family and the Jordanian government show great respect for the Christian community. Churches operate freely. Attacks by Islamic extremists are not countenanced. The King even created a national park along the Jordan River several years ago, allowing 13 Christian denominations to build church facilities and perform baptisms in the River. This is unimaginable in almost any other Muslim-majority country.
Let us, therefore, pray for the people and leaders of these two countries. Let’s thank them and seek to bless them for the blessings they are to Christians, even though most of their leaders disagree with what we believe.
4.) Despite the worst persecution in the modern history of the Church (or maybe because of it), we are seeing the greatest harvest of souls in the Muslims world in the history of the Church.
As sheer savagery has been unleashed in the Middle East, the Spirit of the living God is moving in power and great glory. Satan is on the offensive, but so is Christ. Darkness is falling, but the Light of the gospel is shining in the darkness.
To this end, I commend to your attention the following: “Believers In Christ From A Muslim Background: A Global Census” is a 19 page peer-reviewed article written by two respected Christian scholars, Dr. Duane Alexander Miller, a professor at St. Mary’s University in Texas, and Patrick Johnstone, the long-time editor of Operation World (a series of books that carefully documented the state of Christianity in every country on a planet and which sold more than 2.5 million copies.)
Their study, published 2015 in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (out of Baylor University) examined all the research that has been done on Muslim conversions to Christianity from 1960 to 2010. They carefully analyzed country-by-country data and tried to take special care to weed out double-counting, possible exaggerations, and a range of other issues and variables. Their conclusions were stunning.
From 1960 to 2010, the number of Muslims that have converted to faith in Jesus Christ has grown from fewer than 200,000 to some 10 million people.
In their analysis, the 10 million figure is actually a mid-range. They conclude the number of conversions could be as low as around 6 million or even as high as around 17 or 18 million. To be sure, it’s impossible to get absolutely precise numbers of conversions out of Iran or Saudi Arabia, among other countries. And one must keep in mind that the data they looked at does not include 2011 to the present, though there is evidence of continued — perhaps even accelerated — conversions in recent years. That said, the scholars conclude 10 million is a solid conservative estimate based on the data they obtained.
The chart above is from their article. It shows the surge of conversions in recent decades.
To date, this is the most definitive data I have personally seen verifying the Great Awakening that is underway in the Muslim world.
True, in a world of 1.6 billion Muslims, 10 million conversions does not seem like many. But in nearly fourteen centuries of Islam, there were almost no conversions to Christians. Some, but not many. Now there is a civil war inside Islam. Muslims are questioning what they believe, why they believe it, and whether they have the truth or not. Many are looking at the “purist” Islamic regimes in Iraq and ISIS and concluding, “If that’s Islam, I can’t be a part of it.” They’re searching satellite TV, radio and the Internet for answers. They are reading the Bible and examining the claims of Christ. Some are even seeing dreams and visions of Jesus — and they are coming to faith in numbers we’ve never seen.
To me what’s important is not the number per se — it’s the dynamic. It’s the trend lines. And they are moving in a positive direction for the first time since Islam was founded in the seventh century.
To read specific examples and testimonies of “Muslim Background Believers,” consider reading my 2009 book, Inside The Revolution. My friend, Tom Doyle, has told more examples in his books Dreams & Visions and Killing Christians. I highly encourage you to read these, as well.
The Vicar of Baghdad shared with me even more examples, including the story of an ISIS jihadist recently having a dream in which he saw “the man in white” — realized it was Jesus Christ, realized that faith in Christ was the only way to be forgiven of his sins and find true hope and peace and truly get to heaven — and converted away from Islam to Biblical Christianity and became born again.
Yes, darkness is falling on the modern Middle East. But the Hebrew prophet Isaiah told us that “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them.” (Isaiah 9:2)
This was true when the Lord Jesus came to Israel the first time 2,000 years ago. Today, the Light of Christ is again dawning on the people living in great darkness as the persecuted Church shows the love of Christ and shares the Gospel message.
Our job is to come along side our persecuted brothers and sisters and love them, encourage them, pray for them, visit them, resource them, help them stand strong and courageous for our Lord and King.
The Lord Jesus told us in Matthew 5 to rejoice when we are persecuted. So many of our brothers and sisters in the Mideast are rejoicing. They are full of joy because Jesus is all they have. They’ve lost everything else, but they have never felt spiritually and emotionally wealthier than they do today.
As one Iraq pastor told me, “We are living similar lives to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Yes, the fires here in Iraq are seven times hotter than they were. But Jesus is here with us, walking with us in the fire.”
I’m so grateful for men like the Vicar of Baghdad who are living in the region, among suffering people, loving them, serving them in the name of Jesus.
My wife and sons and I are honored to be living in the epicenter and having the chance to meet and encourage and serve our brothers and sisters who are serving heroically against the odds.
And I’m so grateful for my colleagues at The Joshua Fund who are so dedicated to providing humanitarian relief for the poor and vulnerable in Israel, both Jews and Arabs, and for refugees fleeing from Assad and ISIS. They’re passionate about strengthening the Church in the epicenter to boldly preach the Gospel to all, to teach the whole counsel of God, and to make disciples and raise up new pastors. I love these guys, and I believe their ministry is more important than ever given what’s happening in the region.