FIRST-PERSON: Watching Muslims profess Christ -- in the face of persecution
WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--Recently, I had the privilege of helping lead a missions team from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to a country in South Asia. We spent 10 days in a nation with a population four times larger than that of California, but where far less than 1 percent of the population professes faith in Christ. It is one of the poorest places in the world.
Almost 90 percent of the population claims the Muslim faith, though the average citizen adheres to what might be called "Folk Islam," which is a mixture of traditional Islam and animistic superstition. Most of the rest of the population is Hindu.
During our time in South Asia, our team of eight students and two professors were able to minister in a number of ways. First and foremost, we shared the Gospel, both through personal evangelism and evangelistic teaching. We also conducted discipleship training with recent converts from Hinduism, most of whom had recently been baptized or were preparing for baptism. We were able to celebrate the Lord's Supper with some of these brothers who had already become baptized church members.
My faculty colleague and I had the chance to engage in some theological training with our translators, all of whom are native evangelists who work closely with our International Mission Board personnel. I doubt I'll ever have a seminary classroom experience as difficult as trying to teach the doctrine of the Trinity, through a translator, to a group of former Hindus and Muslims.
But the highlight of our time in South Asia was seeing six Muslim men come to saving faith in Christ and publicly testify to their newfound faith through believer's baptism. We had heard there were some Muslims interested in talking about Christianity in a particular village, but when we arrived there, an imam disrupted our attempts to share the Gospel. We left their village, but not before secretly passing word to the inquirers that we would meet in another location.
About a half hour later, we reassembled under a bridge, which was out of public view. About a dozen Muslim men came to hear us teach about Jesus. Two students and I shared the Gospel with the group, while our IMB missionary and one of our translators answered questions raised by our Muslim friends. Over the course of the morning, several of the men indicated they had trusted Christ as their Savior and they requested baptism.
To be honest, we were surprised by their desire to be baptized. One of the Muslims warned the new Christians that it would not go well for them if they went under the water. This was no idle word.
About a month before our arrival, one of our translators had been savagely beaten for "blaspheming the prophet" -- he had shared the Gospel. He was thrown out of his village and told not to return to his home unless he had recanted Christianity. He had only seen his wife once in the past month. Though she remains a Muslim, no one in the village will provide for her needs because her husband is an infidel. Our friend is grieving these losses, even as he continues boldly to proclaim Christ. The cost of discipleship is high in this nation for Muslim converts to Christianity.
The realities of persecution were on everyone's minds as we walked down to the river for the baptisms. One by one, our new brothers in Christ walked out into the water, where they were met by our translator. He asked them some basic questions to make sure they understood the Gospel. But then he also asked them if they were prepared to lose their livelihoods, their families -- even their very lives. Their response? "Jesus is Lord." And with that, they went down into the watery grave, only to be raised as new creatures in Jesus Christ. The week after we left, these brothers worshiped together for the first time. Lord willing, they represent the genesis of a new local church.
As we departed from the river, no one had dry eyes. How could we? One of the students asked me what I thought about the events of the morning. I told him we'd just witnessed the Book of Acts.
God's desire is for the nations. The Lord of the Harvest has redeemed a vast multitude from every people group through the person and work of Christ. He has commanded his people, the church, to advance His Kingdom to every corner of the globe. May we obediently join him in the drama of redemption by proclaiming the Gospel, baptizing disciples, and planting new churches here, there, and everywhere.
Nathan Finn is assistant professor of church history and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.