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.
I was in a friend’s wedding right before my mission trip. On the wedding day, we spent the morning taking pictures. As much as I love my friend, it was quite difficult to bear both the heat and my slightly baggy pants with suspenders (you don’t know what that means until you actually feel your legs and your pants moving separately). We had about two hours to spare before the wedding ceremony, so we ate a quick lunch and waited at the backstage. God was surely teaching me patience! When our pianist began to play a prelude, we knew that it was time to prepare ourselves. The ceremony was about to begin—the groom and the bride were about to become one.
A pastor once said, “This life is a prelude to the real life.” What a wonderful quote: eternity awaits. We are currently listening to a prelude to the Holy Matrimony of Christ and His Church. The “prelude” is not always pleasant, but God uses everything together for good to those who love Him. Our physical death in this world is a mere beginning of the best life that will never end. Christ has lived, died, and risen for us to grant us eternal life with Himself. Suffering and pain are temporary, but joy and peace are unending. Isn’t that amazing?
Why do I talk about this when I am writing about my mission trip? It’s for one reason: I saw so many people to whom this is simply a folklore. I saw many spiritually-dead men walking around as if they are alive. The darkness has blinded their eyes, and this temporary life is all they have. They’ll do whatever it takes to feel secure in this vain life. To them, this life is not a beautiful prelude to eternal life—it’s a dreadful requiem for eternal death.
Ironically, the land of Buddhism does not follow the teachings of Buddha. The general mindset of Southeast Asian people is “do good get good; do bad get bad.” Their goal is to live the best life right now (sounds like a book in the States!). They worship the ancestors and go to Buddhist temples as they hope for material blessings. They’ll try “Christianity” if they can get money out of it. “Why aren’t you coming to church anymore?” a missionary once asked. “Because,” the man replied, “you stopped teaching English. Why would I be a Christian if I don’t get anything out of it?”
For them, religion is a philosophy or a way of living rather than the world’s relationship to a deity—it’s a manual for How to Live a Nice Life 101. A Cambodian student said to me, “I want to study all religions because it seems like every religion teaches to do good. . . We see corruption in the government, and we want to change it. But we can’t. We’re not the government. We’re not the religion.”
As we were looking down at the city of Bangkok from a skyscraper, my friend commented: “I guess… all these people will just populate hell in the future.” More than 8 million people live in the city and 70 million in the entire country of Thailand; about 1% claim to be followers of Christ. It’s a wonderful place to live—food, attractions, shops… you name it. But what’s the point of life without Christ? Is there life?
I remember attending a funeral as a high schooler. People put the body in a coffin and placed it inside a small wooden Buddhist tower. We watched two men as they poured gasoline all over it. When they lit it on fire, we silently stared at the enlarging flame while the widow cried in agony. Ash began to fall from the sky like snow. His physical body burned very quickly, but his soul continues to burn even today. Even though the widow stopped crying, he will cry in agony forever.
The world needs Christ. People need the Savior who will snatch them out from the flames of hell. The “requiem” continues to fade as eternal death approaches them. But how will they hear about Him without anyone telling them? Am I being faithful to the Lord who has given everything to me? Am I being faithful in sharing the Gospel, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16)?
This is a small portion of what I’ve learned during my trip in Southeast Asia. God has taught me so much through it. Even though I lived there for 11 years of my life as an MK, I barely scratched the surface of the deep spiritual darkness. After learning so much more about the region during my trip, I have a greater burden for lost people and a greater view of the Gospel. I thank God for the opportunity and for His faithfulness to His people.
You are worthy to be praised. You have every reason to pour Your wrath on us, but instead You sent Your only Son to die for us. We ask You that You will send more laborers to the harvest. Thank You for Your willingness to use sinners like us even though You don’t need any help. We are willing, so please use us to share the message of eternal life for the sake of Your Name. We love You, and we want to love You more.
In Christ’s Name we pray. Amen.
David Nason, Senior Bible Major
As I write this blog, I understand that nothing I write could ever do this summer justice. So much has happened, and I couldn’t possibly write everything that I’ve done and learned. My internship was on the small Island of Palau, located a couple hundred miles off the Philippines. During my internship, I learned that missionary work is living out the Gospel on a day-to-day basis and staying faithful in your personal walk with God. I realized problems are going to keep coming your way as a missionary, but you just have to trust God and rely on His steadfast love.
Included in my summer was the awesome opportunity to love and disciple five high school guys through the program called Project 17:17. Within this program, I had the joy of spending time discipling these guys through the Scripture. It also included spending daily life with the guys. Honestly, a huge part of my summer was just ministering daily. My typical week was full of ministries such as Band of Brothers (College breakfast), One Life (College Bible study), YOB (Youth of Belau), and Thursday night Bible study. Many of the people that we daily ministered to needed to know and see a consistent relationship with God and what that looks like. In a world of unknowns and inconsistencies, people need to know that the God you serve is always the same. He is steadfast along with His promises.
Many of the Palauans struggle with faithfulness in their walk with God. I remember while I was over there, I wouldn’t see some people for weeks at a time because they had done something they weren’t supposed to and felt very ashamed, or would see their wrongdoing as an outlet to continue on to a deeper sin. Keeping Palauans faithful is a real battle. You have to consistently love them by faithfully pursuing them when they are struggling. I had to understand that the cultural and historical background will shape the communication and struggles of the people. Along those lines, one must take time to accommodate in love to their struggles. For example, one thing that you must be cautious of in Palau is rejecting anything that someone offers to you. In Palau, they will take that as your thinking you are better than them and have no need of their hospitality. This in turn could very well hinder the Gospel. That is something we as Americans simply wouldn’t understand.
The Gospel was proclaimed this summer, and 16 souls placed their trust in Jesus Christ! Just before I left, I was able to see a new believer’s class start up for all the converts. God is working all across the globe, and I was blessed with such a great opportunity to be a part of His ministry over in Palau.
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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.