ANALYSIS Many converted Muslims stand -- or fall -- alone

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Much is being reported in missions circles these days about a great turning to Christ in parts of the Muslim world.

We hear stories of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions, of thousands of Muslim listeners responding to Christian radio programs, of new converts standing true to their faith in the face of persecution or death.

Such things are happening. Prayer warriors, Christian broadcasting and new mission strategies are reaching into the heart of Islam as never before. But after the visions, after the miraculous (or quiet) conversions, how are new believers being nurtured, discipled and brought into Christian churches?

In many cases, they aren't.

That's the sobering assessment of one Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board missionary. He focuses on a specific Arab people group for evangelization but feels a spiritual call to the entire Middle East -- and commands extensive knowledge of the region.

"They're alone," the missionary says of many Muslim converts to Christianity. "They don't have fellowship with other believers. Most of them revert to Islam after a short time. Some say 90 percent of the Muslim converts in the Middle East have reverted to Islam -- if not to agnosticism -- within the first year after they decide to follow Christ."

The isolation afflicting such believers often results from their circumstances. They may be secret Christians; revealing their faith, even to their families, could cause their death. They may have believed in Christ through a radio program or Bible correspondence course but have no fellowship to join.

"Most of the loss comes because they see no role models of a mature Muslim Christian," the missionary says. "As a result they're scattered and so they fall away."

Sadly, some Muslim Arab converts find a cold reception when they do come to churches of the historically Christian groups in the Mideast.

"They are not welcome except one at a time, occasionally, and then only if they learn the Christian lingo and they dress and act like the Christian tribes," the missionary observes. "I've had several pastors tell me, 'They just don't fit. They're not our kind of people.' It's a segregation issue, much as it still is today in the southern United States. Blacks can go to most white churches now, but they won't become leaders in those churches, and they're certainly not welcome to marry the white women in those churches."

So discipleship of Muslim converts, when it occurs at all, usually is conducted quietly, one on one, by Christians who manage to overcome cultural barriers and make contact with new believers before they fall by the wayside.

Yet out of these unseen relationships will emerge a truly indigenous church, the missionary believes. It will be composed of people "attempting to be true to their culture and to Jesus Christ -- not compromising their Christian faith, but not throwing away their Muslim culture in order to embrace a Western Christianity. Those are few, but they're the ones who need to be nourished and protected, because they're the ones who will be the foundation for the church that God wants to reveal."

The missionary also has a vision -- or multiplicity of visions -- of what it will take for Christians to break through the isolation and reach the countless Muslim villages of the Middle East:

-- "It will take targeted and specific prayer for village chiefs, sheiks and religious mullahs on a village-by-village, province-by-province basis.

-- "It will take radio broadcasts not coming in at 1 a.m. but when people are awake and can listen. It will take traveling film teams showing Christian films of all flavors in the colloquial dialects. It will take cassette recordings being circulated through traveling salesmen and peddlers in music kiosks. It will take picture books, picture Bibles, flannel graphs and cartoon books done in a simple way that can be understood by uneducated people.

-- "It will take Christian rural medical teams, irrigation specialists, agriculturists, sociologists, rural development people and anthropologists living among them.

-- "It will take believing Arabs who travel from place to place, just telling people about Jesus, drinking coffee and telling stories. We need traditional music, songs and stories being told by traveling believers, telling the great Bible stories, telling fictional stories, telling some of the stories of the great martyrs of the faith in dramatic forms with actors and mime troupes, laser light displays, whatever.

"We can't keep Christianity locked up in a church or in a dry, sterile medium. Muslims want things that are fun and interesting just like the rest of us. Why not?"

Why not, indeed.


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