Greg Livingstone, founder of Frontiers, a mission to the Muslim world, has written a great article on Muslim conversions. He is now senior associate for missions advancement of World Outreach for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Thanks to Greg for his permission to use his article, and to Desiring God for originally posting it earlier this month. —Randy Alcorn
Let me give you some encouraging news: despite some unsubstantiated stories and exaggerated statistics, it is true that history has never seen so many Muslims bowing the knee to the Lord Jesus!
The last 27 years of increased harvest among Muslims has been remarkable! As someone who’s given most of his life to understanding Islam and sharing the gospel with Muslims, I think we have every reason to be joyful, grateful, and hopeful. The Lord is on the move. And though the vast majority of Muslims still need to be reached, the King of kings is not wringing his hands over the massive barriers to reaching them.
In the back of the Book, it says Jesus will ransom people from “every tribe and language and people and nation [ethnic group]” (Revelation 5:9). So we have scriptural and observable reasons to believe there will be thousands and thousands more Muslims in that great crowd worshiping the Savior!
But I can also say that it’s too soon to feel triumphal or satisfied with the present response. Ninety-eight percent of the Muslim world — 24 percent of all the men, women, and children on the planet today — are still under the deception of a false prophet. Their souls are in grave danger. Satan still imprisons far too many. We must pray and strategize and work to see more Muslims embrace the gospel and come to Jesus.
The apostle Paul wrote, “we are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). I can think of at least five schemes Satan uses to keep Muslims deceived.
Scheme #1: Satan insists Muslims are our enemy.
Satan wants us to forget that he, the Great Deceiver, is our enemy. Instead, he’d have us fear and neglect Muslims. Too many Christians in the West view Muslims as bad guys who deserve God’s judgment (as if we don’t!), and don’t deserve God’s mercy (as if we do!). That’s satanic. Why would we who are commanded to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) be indifferent when hearing of the deaths and suffering of so many in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Pakistan, and more?
Scheme #2: Satan spreads exaggerated reports of conversions among Muslims.
One popular book says, “Hundreds of thousands of Muslims are falling in love with Jesus.” Though well-intentioned, it’s a misleading claim.
Too many pass along undocumented stories, often told by national workers who are tempted to make claims that will please their financial supporters. If one would ask nearly any Muslim if he loves Jesus, the answer would likely be, “Of course. Jesus is our #2 prophet. Muslims love Isa Al Masih so much, we correct the false claim that he died on the cross. Allah would never allow that to happen because Allah loves him too.” But admiring Jesus, even as a sinless prophet, does not mean that a Muslim has been reconciled to God.
Most informed Christian observers of the Muslim world agree that more Muslims have become Christians since 1990 than all the previous centuries combined since Mohammed. But most of these conversions have occurred only in a few countries, and usually only among certain ethnic groups in a particular country. For example, the harvest in Algeria is among the indigenous people, the Kabyles, but very little among the Arab majority who conquered the Kabyles in AD 670. And Kabyle Christians are very slow to reach out to the Arab majority, whom they historically resent.
The movements to Christ in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Iran are examples of what we pray will yet occur among other Muslim peoples. Turkey has perhaps only five thousand known believers among 80 million Turks. Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arabs, the Maldives, Malaysia, and Pakistan have less than one hundred known citizens of Muslim background taking an open stand for Christ.
Scheme #3: Satan tells the lie that Western missionaries to Muslims aren’t needed because national believers are already doing the work cheaper and more efficiently.
Where believers are able and willing to risk their livelihood, and maybe their lives, to make disciples among their own people or nearby Muslims, this may be true. But this is very rare. Most Christians in places like Pakistan, Malaysia, India, China, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and so on are either not able or not willing. Most of the bolder, outspoken former Muslims now reside in the West, not among their own people.
For example, there are wonderful, dynamic large congregations of Chinese and Indian believers in Malaysia, but hardly a dozen believers among them are willing to risk witnessing to the 19 million Malay Muslims. Not even one fellowship with elders of Malay believers exists there!
In Pakistan, the Christians (whose social contact with Muslims is hampered because they are still considered part of a low Hindu caste) face a very real and present danger of being accused of “blasphemy against the Prophet,” which not infrequently leads to being killed on the spot before they can get a trial. Who can blame them for remaining silent for Christ while surrounded by uneducated, often Taliban-oriented Muslims who would prefer to exterminate them?
Scheme #4: Satan creates dissension between missionaries over methodologies.
Satan is working hard to turn missionaries and their supporters against fellow missionaries over methodology. It’s not unlike the controversies that began in the 1960s when Charismatic Christians and non-Charismatic Christians wrote each other off as “unbiblical” or “demonic.”
This is an issue for urgent prayer. Pray that missionaries and their agencies would be delivered from consuming precious time and resources on debates over the “right” methodologies for witnessing to Muslims.
Scheme #5: Satan spreads the lie that it’s wrong to put our families at risk in order to serve on the mission field.
This is understandable from an emotional perspective. But it is not biblical. The witness of Scripture and church history all testifies to the need and the cost of Christians to put their lives, and sometimes the lives of their family members, at risk for the sake of the gospel. We are sent out “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). Lambs’ odds against wolves are not good — unless, of course, God is with them.
As John Piper says,
Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world? Short answer: Yes.
Why? Because the cause is worth the risk, and the children are more likely to become Christ-exalting, comfort-renouncing, misery-lessening exiles and sojourners in this way than by being protected from risk in the safety of this world.
Were early missionaries to Africa irresponsible, knowing that at least half of them would die from Malaria or other diseases? Will we send missionaries today to a country where thousands are dying of Ebola? Or what about a country like Afghanistan where at least forty missionaries have been murdered in recent years? Does being married and having children disqualify us? Where does it say that in the Bible?
It is right to rejoice that we are living in an era when the global harvest is ripening! And we may be on the cusp of a great Muslim movement to Christ. I recently returned from the Vision 5:9 gathering in Thailand, where 840 missionaries, agency leaders, and Muslim background believers (240) responded with determination and faith to the challenge to pray and fast that the Lord of the harvest would draw ten percent of the Muslims across the globe to himself by 2027.
But let us stay alert. We must not be unaware of Satan’s schemes. Satan will resist us, but God will not be mocked by his schemes. Jesus will send workers into the harvest to take the good news where Muslims are perishing in unbelief. All we need to do is ask in faith.
Will you pray? Will you go?