Doors into Islam
After watching the Jesus film and listening to Christian radio, on July 15, 2001, Samuel (not his real name) took a monumental step for an Afghan and Muslim—he received Christ as his Lord and Savior. Soon thereafter, as Western aid workers were either arrested or expelled from Kabul, the Taliban came for him. They told Samuel he was guilty of "working for foreigners," which had been legal, and threw him in jail.
For the next 14 days, they beat Samuel at least once a day with a five-foot steel cable. After the last of these sessions, he fell unconscious in his prison cell.
That night, Samuel had a dream. In it, a luminous man wearing bright white clothes appeared. The visitor, whom Samuel would later describe as having "very beautiful feet and shoulder-length hair," spoke kindly to him. Then he said, "Get up." In the dream, the visitor led Samuel out of the cell. Going to the front gate, the ex-Muslim met another man, who was wearing bright green (many Muslims associate green with God's blessing). This man led him out of the prison.
Then Samuel awoke, finding his cell door open. "He walked through it to find the front gate of the prison unguarded and open," a close Western associate says. "He walked out and into the night."
A year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Christians in many countries report fresh momentum in the spiritual battle of presenting the gospel to the world's 1.2 billion followers of Islam. While not all stories of Muslims finding freedom in Christ are as dramatic as Samuel's, the church has entered a new era of opportunity.
Dudley Woodberry, professor of Islamic studies at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, says he sees increased openness to the Christian message among Muslims. "I am noticing in various parts of the world. … a significant increase in conversion," says Woodberry, a former pastor to the international community in Saudi Arabia. "I don't know all of the factors involved. All I can say is, at this point, in numbers of areas, there has been an increased level of responsiveness."
Just 6 percent of current missionaries are focused on Muslims. Yet the signs of a breakthrough are clearly visible. Twenty mission agency leaders, former Muslims, and workers among Muslims spoke to Christianity Today about current progress and problems in reaching Muslims.
Most were guarded in what information they would share, or in how they could be identified. Others respectfully declined to participate, citing possible risks to lives and ministries. Mainstream media have taken a sometimes unwelcome interest in Christian activities among Muslims, thanks in part to September 11 and to the case of Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer in Afghanistan.
"I do believe that mentioning specifics about how evangelism looks can be risky," one worker in the Middle East says. "It inevitably gets back in the Arabic newspapers here. It has happened again just recently, implicating some dear friends."
The risks are real: in some cases, death to converts or those who share the gospel with them. Compass Direct reports that two Muslims who converted to Christianity in Nigeria's
Muslim-run northern Zamfara state have been missing since April. The Islamic penalty for "apostasy"—changing one's religion—is death. Westerners who share Christ with Muslims are usually only deported, however. For security reasons, this report uses (and notes) pseudonyms freely throughout and leaves many places and mission agency names unspecified. Behind the stories, however, stand real missionaries and real converts from Islam.