Bruce from Bila Tserkva, Ukraine
Ah, but those times when we can meet together are comforting, refreshing, and wonderful! We are reassured and fortified from God’s Word. We rejoice in opportunities to fellowship and to express that joy in affectionate and exuberant greetings. We jubilantly sing songs of praise to the God who is our Rock, our Fortress, our Shelter from the storm, our Shield . . .! We observe the return of some who have wandered away and perhaps been disciplined from the flock. We see unbelievers attending and have been excited to see folks respond to the Gospel and find unassailable and eternal peace and joy in Christ!
Believers are helping to convey those who flee to Ukraine’s borders. We have been feeding and housing folks who stop for a night in transit. Mostly, these are believers, but we have been aiding unbelievers too, as you should expect. We move funds (as well as we can) to those who are displaced into other locations. We take provisions to folks who are shut-ins; one of my students carries such tasks throughout the week. Another student has driven multitudes to western areas and borders. Another, displaced with his young family to the Carpathian mountains, is filling a temporary ministry as a youth leader in a Baptist church there. We all wonder when we may return to our former ministries; it is a constant request to God.
Surely my personal feelings and meditations (such as the following) are not unique. Maybe 2 weeks ago, when Ukraine’s refugees were then estimated at over 2 million, I remembered Luke’s report in Acts 8:4. The early church’s activities had been centered in Jerusalem but persecution after Stephen’s martyrdom thrust them out from Jerusalem and they went everywhere, preaching the Word. Ukraine has been the best evangelized of all the former Soviet republics. As such, and as the largest country in Europe (apart from Russia), Ukraine likely has more believers than any country in Europe. Isn’t it likely that God’s plan for these refugees – the ones who are genuinely His – is that they be His messengers of the Gospel to the spiritually cold countries of Western Europe? It must be so; I plead with you to pray that the eyes and hearts of every one of those believers would recognize their opportunity and responsibility and would be up-and-active! Just imagine, if even 1% of the now more than 3 million refugees are true believers, it would mean that over 30,000 potential missionaries have been “let loose” upon those nations! Doesn’t that stir something in your heart?
I’ve been curious from the start of this violence that any fears I’ve had were experienced before the invasion. Once underway, an inexplicable peace and calm has guarded my heart, almost without interruption. And when that peace and sense of security is jeopardized, I run back to the Scriptures for the sweetness of God’s comforts. The Psalms have assumed a new life for me. I read cries for help and attestations of faith that echo the very cries and convictions of my own heart! My heart cries, “O God, how I thank you! You must have written this passage for me; for us who would hide ourselves under your loving and mighty wing today!” I read so many of these psalms . . . I melt into tears of wonder and joy! God’s Word is for me—for us! He knows where we are and what we are experiencing and feeling; He cares! He won’t leave us nor forsake us!
Though I have prayed often for His protection and for further opportunities to serve Him in this life, I fully realize that it may not be in His plan that I re-emerge, alive. As a child of God and as His servant, it isn’t of primary importance that I live. What is of primary and compelling importance is that God be glorified! Paul has said it . . . “by life or by death.”
If God arranges that the Ukrainian forces continue to stymie and push back the aggressor, the shout from we who belong to Him will not be (as we hear around us even now), “Slava Ukraini!” (that is, “Glory to Ukraine”). Rather, let it be, “Slava Christu” . . . “Slava Bogu” (that is, “Glory to Christ” . . . “Glory to God”)!
I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
and will glorify Your name forever.
(Psalm 86:12 – NASB)
Dr. Jacob Pursley, Friend to the Muslim World
Mass Muslim Conversions
We Christians have a problem. For over 1,200 years there was no movement of Muslims to Christ. Muhammad died in 632 A.D., but his new religion spread and thrived, unhindered. That is until the 19th century onward. David Garrison in his book, A Wind in the House of Islam, explains that a movement of Muslims to Christ means, “at least 1,000 baptized believers of the past one or two decades or 100 new churches are established over the same time frame within a given people group or ethnic Muslim community.”
The Christians’ problem is not the lack of movements to Christ from 632-1870, but rather the explosion of conversions from 1870 to the present. There were two movements in the 19th century, eleven movements in the 20th. century, and now in the 21st century there have been sixty-nine movements (recorded from 2000-2012).
So what are the exact numbers of converts today? This is hard to say. According to strict figures, in North America alone, there are estimated to be 493,000 Believers from a Muslim Background (hereafter BMBs), and worldwide that figure grows to 985,300.
Due to persecution and anonymity, it is difficult to estimate the actual number of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. Some have suggested that in Iran alone, there are as many as one million converts, though more conservative figures estimate around 450,000. According to David Garrison, there has never been a time in history wherein so many Muslims have come to faith in Christ (his figures are somewhere between two and seven million).
So why are the number of conversions a problem for Christians? It is because we are called to disciple them, and we are not equipped to do so. When Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe all that he commanded us (Matt. 28:19-20), this includes all of these new converts. Those from a western background, who are not familiar with the impact of the Islamic primary sources (Qur’an, Hadith, Sirat) and Muslim culture on BMBs, are faced with unique challenges to fulfill Jesus’ commandment. We must prepare ourselves for this harvest and its unique challenges.
I have been in ministry among Muslims now for over 20 years (during this exponential growth of BMBs). My ministry has primarily been among Kurmanji speaking Kurds, Persians, Zazas, and Turks. I found apologetics and evangelism among Muslims to be much easier than with westerners. Muslims want to talk about the two taboos in the West—politics and religion. They usually bring up the subject of religion first, and almost every encounter with a Muslim may lead to answering their objections to Christianity and presenting the gospel. Let’s look at some fresh research on how Muslims are coming to Christ and the implications.
Factors that Led Muslims to Christ
In 2019, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation concerning discipling BMBs. Part of my research was surveying missionaries and BMB pastors concerning their experience of how Muslims are coming to faith.
According to my research, the most influential factor that led Muslims to Jesus was exposure to the Bible via reading or listening. The second most influential factors that led Muslims to Jesus were dreams and visions. What is interesting was the least influential factor leading Muslims to Jesus was street evangelism/preaching (this maybe because it is rarely being done in the Muslim world). The second least influential factor that led Muslims to Jesus was visiting a physical church building.
What this tells me is that we need to get God’s word into the hands of Muslims, challenge them to read it, and read it with them. If they cannot read, find audio versions for them to listen to. We should also continue to pray that God would reveal himself in dreams and visions. I personally have seen many Muslims have their first encounter with Christ in this way too. However, it is not the vision or dream of Christ that saves them. The Muslim thereafter finds a church/missionary/Bible, and then upon hearing and believing the gospel is saved, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:17).
When it comes to the least influential factor that has led Muslims to Christ, maybe we need more winsome and equipped street preachers and bold evangelists in the Muslim world. However, it is clear that there needs to be an emphasis on getting God’s word into the hands of Muslims. As missionaries give out Bibles/SD cards with the Bible on it, they must teach the Bible’s trustworthiness along with how to read it.
Bible Left on a Park Bench
Mahmut, a deacon of our church in Istanbul, came to faith by discovering a New Testament on a park bench near his home. Mahmut began to read the Bible and thought to himself that its message was not bad, and the teachings of the book were loving and peaceful. This was surprising to him, because he was reared with Muslim indoctrination, which taught that anything Christian was bad. The more he read, the more he learned that what he had been taught was not true. Eventually, he met some Christians and later professed faith in Christ.
Around fifteen years after finding the New Testament on the bench, Mahmut, through a ministry outreach that our church helped organize, met the woman who accidentally left the Bible there. During the outreach, Mahmut recounted how he came to faith, beginning with finding a New Testament on a park bench. This woman immediately came to him and asked, “where did you find this Bible, what year was this, and what time of year?” After their conversation, she had remembered accidentally leaving the New Testament there at that park on that bench on that date. She did not know about Mahmut’s story or the fruit of her forgetfulness until that day!
“Go to the Church and ask for a Bible.”
The first time I ever translated in my life was the testimony of a Turkish pastor. We met at a Bible school in Ephesus, and I was translating so that my mother could understand. This pastor recounted that he grew up in a Muslim family and had never met a Christian or read a Bible. However, it all changed the night Jesus visited him in a dream. In the dream, Jesus said to him, “you have read the Qur’an (pointing to a Qur’an in his room), but you have not yet read my book. Go to ….. city, and you will find a church. Go into the church and ask for a Bible.” The Turkish pastor said he listened to Jesus, went to the city that was told him, and found the church. He was nervous about going in and asking for a Bible. It just so happened that the pastor of the church felt a prompting to put in an extra Bible into his bag that very morning. When this young Turkish Muslim man asked him for a Bible and explained the dream, the pastor then understood. It was at this church and through this pastor that this young Muslim man first heard the gospel and received his first Bible. Jesus did reveal himself to this man, but it was through the ordinary proclamation of the gospel and intentional discipleship that this Muslim came to Christ.
Who is to say that we are not living in the last days as prophesied by Joel? “. . . [A]nd your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. . .” (Joel 2:28). What is clear is that the Muslim world needs Christians that will make themselves available for this great new harvest.
 David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam, (Monument CO: WIGTake Resources, 2014),
 Ibid., 226.
 Duane Alexander Miller, and Patrick Johnstone, “Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 11:10 (2015).
 Samuel Smith, “Over 450,000 Join Iranian House Church Movement, 'Great Number of Muslims Turning to Christ',” The Christian Post, March 3, 2016, Accessed January 2, 2017, http://www.christianpost.com/news/over-450000-join-iranian-house-church-movement-great-number-of-muslims-turning-to-christ-158883/
 Garrison, 5.
Jerry Hickey, Missionary to Brazil
When acceptance before God is based on human merit (i.e. good works), the best efforts to explain otherwise will be filtered through this deeply rooted mindset. What is said and what is actually understood may be completely opposite.
Raised in a practicing Roman Catholic family and having been a missionary to Brazil, my experience since my conversion in 1973 has been that Catholics, as a general rule, find it very difficult to grasp the truth of “being justified freely” by God’s grace. One reason has to do with the Catholic doctrine of salvation. Catholic theologians will argue that they believe in salvation by grace. However, you have to earn this grace by previously practiced good works or behavior, even though that is a direct contradiction of the very definition of grace.
It Takes Time.
Usually, just as the longstanding popular expression in Brazil, “once the token goes into the slot, it takes a while to fall.” Repeated explanations of true grace is required in most cases. Over the years, there have been ex-Catholics who have said to me that they got saved the first time they heard the gospel preached. Upon further inquiry, it became apparent that someone, usually a relative or close acquaintance, planted and watered the seed years before. The concept is too foreign to be assimilated the first time in most instances. Of course, this is added to the universal hindrance of the prideful motivation to justify himself before God through his own self-effort. Cain’s offering and Satan’s blinding come to mind. For this reason, Paul goes to great lengths in his epistles to stress that it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done,” “lest any man should boast,” as man most certainly would!
As a new missionary four decades ago, I was under the illusion that, the most effective evangelistic strategy would be the presentation of the “Romans Road” in polished Portuguese (usually on the first encounter), and then add the personal testimony of being raised in a strict Roman Catholic home. I was almost expecting a response similar to the Philippian jailor after the earthquake. In “going door to door” with a Brazilian pastor on a weekly basis, we saw many “decisions” but no conversions (“new creatures in Christ”)… for the aforementioned reasons. Catholic tendency is to trust in the “sinner’s prayer” rather than the One supposedly being prayed to. In this mindset, prayer is a “good work.” As a child, when I made confession to a priest, I was instructed to go to the altar and “say” a certain number of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” as penance for my sins, paying for them with these “prayers.”
We also need to understand that in the case of practicing Catholics, their religion is a part of their cultural identity. When Christ and His redemptive work, as presented in the New Testament, are shared, it is viewed as a threat to that identity. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, it becomes a question of which religion is right—not a question of a right relationship with the Water of Life. After my conversion and initial attempts to communicate Christ to my parents, and having left home years before, I was labeled to my face--not a heretic, interestingly enough, but a “traitor”.
Fear & Superstition
Fear is another impediment that enters the conversation. Ever since Emperor Constantine’s legalization of “Christianity” and Theodosius’s declaration of it as the official state religion some 70 years later, the Catholic church began to incorporate some practices of pagan religions which existed in Rome centuries before the arrival of “Christianity.” The strategy has continued to modern times and blurred doctrinal distinctives clearly taught in the Scriptures, especially concerning the person and work of the Way, the Truth, the Life and the only Mediator between God and Man (Jn. 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5). In early 1500`s, Jesuit missionaries “converted” the natives of Brazil and the imported slaves by replacing the names of the spirits they feared with the names of saints. For example, Ogun became St. Anthony, Iemanja the Virgin Mary, and Exu Satan and Oxala, Jesus Christ. As a result, at least half of those who call themselves Catholics also practice some form of Spiritism. This is true, not only in Brazil, but also in other countries where Catholicism predominates cultures previously given to animism. This is also evident by the fact that the image of Semiramis, Nimrod`s high priestess wife, is stamped on all Brazilian currency.
What does this have to do with fear? Fear is the force behind superstition which is powerfully at work as you converse with practicing Catholics about Christ. This explains the nightly bedside ritual of being sprinkled with “holy water from Lourdes” (the location of one of Mary`s supposed apparitions) by my mother. It was a protection against evil spirits. Fear is a tool of Satan to blind the mind from seeing the “perfect love that casts out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:18)—the same love expressed in John 3:16.
Common Grounds & Divergences
In communicating Christ, common grounds are usually the best way to lead/open the conversation. Catholicism gives at least lip service to cardinal biblical doctrines such as Creation, the Trinity, Virgin Birth, Heaven and Hell etc. The problem is the additional infusion of pagan religions couched in Christian terminology or so-called Christian traditions, resulting in the adulteration and corruption of the pure gospel. One of these pollutions is the teaching that Mary is a co-redemptress with Christ and that she herself was born without sin. This perversion and others serve as a
vaccine in reverse, almost immunizing the person against the pure gospel of Christ.
I do not advise to initiate the conversation calling attention to these divergences. Rather, ask questions that would reveal what they really believe about the person and work of Christ, eventually aiming for them to discover what they are really trusting in to be accepted by God the Father. When I asked my father if he was trusting in what Christ has done for him or what he himself was doing for salvation, he responded without hesitation: “Of course, I am trusting in those things (i.e., rituals, good works). Why do you think I do them?” I think his answer surprised himself, as his conversion almost 20 years later would tend to support.
Another possible approach would be to ask if your friend considers herself a practicing Roman Apostolic Catholic. Having started our first church in a “bairro” nicknamed “Little Italy” (containing dozens of Italian restaurants, one of which can seat over four thousand at one time), I learned this is a good way, at least, to insert the token. If the answer is yes, as in most cases it was, I would then ask if they had ever read the letter written by Apostle Paul to the very first church in Rome, from which they considered themselves a spiritual descendent. In those early days most Catholics were unaware of the letter`s existence in the Bible. My parents were part of a generation that were actually told there was no use in reading the Bible because laypeople did not have the capacity to understand or interpret it. Their parents were practically forbidden to read it for themselves. But due to the emergence of the prosperity gospel in Brazil, the Catholic church has reversed its course and began to encourage the attendance in “Bible Study” groups. Of course, as with the prosperity movement, the same old doctrinal definitions regarding salvation are only dressed up in texts taken out of context. If you spark a curiosity of your Catholic friend to read the Bible for himself, especially Romans, it will go a long way in helping the token to fall. It almost goes without saying that whatever questions you ask, friendly relationship building moved by kindness must be the bridge you take to get to those questions.
Some think, given my background, that I must have greater success in convincing Catholics for Christ. No, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and the Holy Spirit does the convincing; not my background or upbringing. What I mentioned above are not intended to make us more “effective” in convincing Catholics for Christ—just more patient. And loving patience pays off. My father came to Christ just a few weeks before he died at the age of 83. Time does not permit, nor is it in the scope of this blog, to share the multiple expressions of his new standing in Christ during those short few weeks. Suffice it to say that it is the gospel of Christ that is “the power of God unto salvation” as Paul wrote to the very first church in Rome.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.