The Christians praying on the cover of this issue are recent West African converts from Islam. Or are they? To call people "converts to Christianity" in many Muslim countries is to say that they have not only come to believe in Jesus, but have also become Westernized, having left many of their cultural ways, and quite probably having been ostracized by family and friends and fired from jobs, according to Mark Kelly, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board.
These folk have come to believe in Jesus, but the church they have joined has not asked them to leave their Muslim-shaped culture in order to worship 'Isa (as Jesus is known in Arabic). Instead, the missionaries have made it possible for them to use familiar forms and postures, and not to "convert" to Western ways by singing Western hymns, sitting in Western-style pews in a Western-style building, and folding their hands (à la Albrecht Dürer) in prayer.
Like their brothers and sisters who worship Allah at the mosque, they leave their shoes at the door (a sign of respect or reverence), they kneel or sit on mats or carpets, they chant biblical psalms, they cup their hands in prayer, and they worship segregated by sex.
All this is part of an experiment being carried on by a Southern Baptist mission couple in West Africa. And the experiment has just begun: the photograph was taken just three months ago at the very first meeting of this new congregation. But while the effort is new in this West African country, other missionaries in other places (such as Phil Parshall in Bangladesh) have conducted similar experiments, not only replacing Western hymn-singing with the chanting of the Scriptures in Arabic and substituting prayer rugs for pews, but worshiping on ...1
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