How important are one-on-one relationships in Muslim outreach?
In East Africa, I talked with Elias, a wonderful cultural guide, who took me into a number of Muslim movements. His own initiation into being a Muslim evangelist came from Abdul-Ahad, a sheik from Mogadishu, Somalia. The sheik had been involved in drug running, prostitution, and extortion. He ended up as a refugee and met Elias.
One night, the sheik showed up at the home of Elias and said, "Yes or no—Jesus' blood can wash away the sins of the world?"
Elias said, "Yes, it can."
The sheik replied, "That's a lie because he could never wash away all my sins. I've done terrible things."
Elias said to him, "If you and I agree tonight, then God will forgive you." He prayed with him and the sheik was saved at that moment. But before he left, the sheik took Alias by the arm and said, "You know when you see people like me with the beard and with the prayer-skull cap, you stay away from us because you're afraid of us."
He said, "The truth is we want you to be afraid of us." He said, "But when you see people like me you need to know that we're empty and we're lost."
Elias told me, "That was my Macedonian call. From then on I never saw Muslims the same way again."
But many American Christians have this fear response about personal interaction with Muslims. What can be done?
I often see anger and hatred. We've had deacons and church leaders say we ought to just bomb them to hell. The sad thing is this fear is grounded in reality. You've got 14 centuries in which tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Christians have been gobbled up into the world of Islam. It makes communism look like just a cheap parlor trick. Communism came and went in a century.
When we Christians ignore social injustice, we invite Islam to come in. When we imitate Islam (as we did in the Crusades) by making Christian jihad, we strengthen Islam.
In many places, Islam was comatose until the European colonials came in. When we came, they had something to preach against in the mosque. That galvanized the people and expanded Islam in ways that wouldn't have been possible had we not given them a reason to wake up.
One reason Muslims are responding today is [their new situation]. They are in independent nations. They don't have colonial powers occupying them. As a result, they're turned in on themselves. They don't get along very well with one another. Several of the big movements that we've seen across the Muslim world coincide with Muslim-on-Muslim violence, horrible violence like in Algeria, Bangladesh, or Indonesia.
In some cases, self-government in Muslim-majority nations has triggered violence between Muslim factions.
When we Westerners fight, we don't do it as a holy army of God in the name of Jesus. We just don't do that anymore. We've seen that folly. But as a Muslim you can do that. Not only can you do that, but everybody wants to do that. Muslims are fighting Muslims both in the name of Allah.