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.
Forrest McPhail, BJU Alumnus
Making disciples cross-culturally is a tremendous privilege, one that requires serious commitment and focus. What we are considering in these posts is no mere academic exercise.
Last time we covered 2 of 8 factors that contribute to the challenges faced by most cross-cultural missionaries, especially those laboring in more pioneer contexts. Here are a few more:
Factor #3 Intense discipleship requires dealing with sin
First generation Believers
Most converts in a pioneer setting will be first generation believers. Understanding and believing the Gospel message is the first major step. Following that, all believers in Jesus Christ are on the path of “renewing our minds” so that our lives can increasingly reflect our Creator (Eph. 4:20-24). Most of the young believers we are teaching have just begun to walk on the road of the knowledge of God. There is a huge difference between them and those who come to faith with a Christian background. Everything about the Christian life and the local church is new and foreign. It is radical to them. The Christian conscience must be built with the help of the Word and the Holy Spirit. The missionary needs much love and patience as he shepherds.
Obviously, one important aspect of discipleship is helping believers understand God’s commands in order to make decisions that please Jesus Christ. We must believe that the Holy Spirit will help them apply the Gospel to their culture. Only in this way can missionaries equip the believers to serve God effectively. It takes time. There are no shortcuts.
This means we must rely upon the believers to apply Scripture to the many events of life. Weddings, funerals, house-warming parties, baby dedications—all provide excellent opportunities for exercising discernment. We must enable them to apply Scripture to how they interact with the many religious and community events that are going on around them. This is discipleship.
Loving Church Discipline
In church planting, it is crucial that loving church discipline be understood and implemented when necessary, from the beginning of the ministry. The NT everywhere demands that God’s people “perform deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:16-21). Church discipline is an essential doctrine of church life that helps to clarify the Gospel.
Should we put off the exercise of church discipline until the church is mature? Absolutely not, for God commands church discipline to be lovingly administered. It has everything to do with laying a solid foundation of the Gospel. Where loving church discipline is not understood and applied, the foundation of the Gospel quickly erodes.
One of the purposes of church discipline is to emphasize community, unity, and the family identity of members of the local church. This is something that missionaries must think through carefully before heading to the field.
Factor #4: Believers face profound isolation and persecution
In the countries where the most unreached peoples live today, religion is integrated into society at an intense level. This would be true for many Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and even some Catholic cultures. When a believer in Jesus Christ repents and turns to God from idols to serve the Living and True God, he/she is often choosing to become largely isolated from the community.
Because religion is so pervasive and integrated into community events, there are many things that the new believer now cannot participate in while being faithful to Jesus Christ. In these contexts, it is important to teach God’s people how to involve themselves in the community and show the love of Christ in every way that they can, both for their own sake as well as for their testimony.
Persecution is usually in addition to social isolation. Cross-cultural missionaries serving in places where persecution is more common and severe need to have a thoroughly biblical theology of suffering and persecution (1 Peter). In order to reach people in these contexts, we need to be willing and ready to suffer as well.
Factor #5: Maintaining New Testament simplicity is crucial for church life.
Once baptized, how are believers to function as a local church? What is the cross-cultural missionary to “plant”? The early church provides us with the “ecclesiastical minimum” (J.D. Payne), activities that provide the basic foundation for local church life and ministry.
What are those basic local church community activities that are essential and non-negotiable for new believers? Acts 2:42 gives to us four main activities that occupied the spiritual life of the newly founded church in Jerusalem. I like to refer to these as the Four Pillars of the Local Church. These activities are exemplified throughout Acts and the Epistles. These can be duplicated anywhere that the church can be found in the world, regardless of circumstances:
If these four activities are taught and followed, that local body of believers is giving glory to its Savior. Such local churches will pursue the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Such bodies of believers will mature and take on new aspects of body life and ministry that are appropriate to their context later. Our role as church planters, as disciple-makers, is to teach new believers to understand these four activities as foundational body life in Christ.
When missionaries go beyond this NT simplicity and demand that young churches act like mature churches back home, often their efforts are premature and result in serious dependence upon the foreign missionary.
Factor #6: Misapplications of Bible Truth regarding poverty abound.
How we understand the matter of social justice and how it relates to the Church of Jesus Christ will affect how we perceive ourselves as His cross-cultural servants. It will affect what we think our role is on the field when our host culture is relatively poor. It will guide how we teach the local church to be a light in the world. It is important that we understand poverty biblically, as well as what the Gospel messenger’s responsibilities are regarding poverty.
The Priority of Apostolic Example: How Binding is it? Does it matter?
Apostolic example is what we find the apostles and early church doing as we read Acts and onward through Revelation. Apostolic example includes both what the Gospel laborers did, as well as what they did not do. God’s Spirit recorded for us much from the first sixty years of the Church. What is recorded is significant. It provides for us a methodology for how to obey Jesus Christ by fulfilling the Great Commission.
The apostles were clearly righteous men who were personally full of good works and advocated that God’s people do the same. However, their good works were entirely limited to their personal generosity except for the case of raising funds for the church in Jerusalem. In that case, severe persecution, famine, and a serious need to display unity between Gentiles and Jews were the reasons for the collection. They did not set out to develop foreign countries, relieve world poverty, or live by a holistic paradigm of mission. This much is clear.
Kingdom confusion: What is the Gospel of the Kingdom?
Does the church find its role in the world by applying passages written for the nation of Israel and then applying it to the universal and local churches? Is the role of the Church to do everything we can to solve the world’s problems, particularly social justice issues? What does “preaching the kingdom” entail? Is the goal to extend kingdom influence and urge the unbelieving world to abide by God’s standards? Is making disciples to be inseparably married to social work and aid ministry? There is great confusion about this among God’s people.
The Great Commission is far simpler than many people today want to assume. The Great Commission is this: proclaim the message of the Gospel to all people for the purpose of making disciples for Jesus Christ. This simple understanding of the Great Commission is the biblical one, the one that God’s people in every circumstance and culture can obey regardless of their social privileges and material prosperity. Cross-cultural Gospel proclaimers must prepare to meet these challenges.
To be continued….
Jordan Baun, Coordinator of Outreach & Evangelism
Moments ago, I received a text on my phone that read, “You figured out your long-term plan yet?” When I “dedicated my life to missions” at 12 years old at a small camp in Michigan, this is not where I imagined I would be right now. Ever since then, I had visions of taking the gospel deep into remote African villages where no man has ever heard of Jesus. Today, I answered emails, met with students, ate lunch with our church youth staff, and observed a new outreach opportunity in tandem with my job. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed today, but it’s far from the picture I had in high school, and it wasn’t what I thought I would be doing long-term.
During my first mission trip to Southeast Asia in 2017, a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. I was trying to discern if the Lord wanted me on the mission field or to be faithful in the opportunities he provided for me in the States. I saw ordinary missionaries making extraordinary sacrifices to obey the ordinary command of making disciples and teaching them to observe the commands of Christ. During our debrief, I began to realize that my long-term plan was set! It was incredibly freeing to know that what I am called to do is evangelism and discipleship. The only question that remained was “where?”
I have tried hard to figure out the “where” over the past couple of years. Today, I have no idea where God is leading me long-term. I have an immense burden for the 10/40 Window. I think that is incredibly healthy. We should be concerned about the disproportional statistics of unreached/unengaged people to the number of missionaries and mission money that is sent to that gospel deprived region of the world. However, statistics alone can’t drive us there. If that was true, every one of us should be packing our bags (and many probably should).
As I returned from my second trip to Southeast Asia this summer, I had itching feet. I wanted to go but didn’t have a clear direction to go. I met with several missionaries and missions-minded pastors/teachers. I was certain they would launch me out and I was excited about the possibilities. In the end, the overwhelming advice was to be “all in until God moves you.” It wasn’t the advice I was expecting or even hoping for, but it was the advice I needed.
Not too long after, I was reading the gospel of Mark. In chapter 5 you meet the demon-possessed man. What a miraculous conversion! The story then takes a strange turn in my mind. The once demon-possessed man begs to go on mission with Jesus. What a great response to the gospel! Mark tells us that Jesus “suffered him not.” Unlike other parts of the gospel, Jesus does not turn this man away because of misplaced motives. Jesus commissions him to take the gospel to those at home.
This was the passage I needed this summer. Certainly, many of you reading this should go! However, it is ok to stay. It is ok to live on mission here. It is ok to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). Jesus does not call missionaries to do something foreign he calls them to go somewhere foreign. We have all been commissioned to make disciples and to teach them to obey Christ’s commands. Find a place you can do that strategically for the glory of God!
Staying is not a permanent calling. Don’t be discouraged if you want to go but haven’t yet. Stay connected with what God is doing globally. Love your missionaries. Love their kids. Have a missionary mindset in the town or city God has you now. There are people that need the gospel where you are. Find ways to reach them where they are at, just like a missionary would in his unique culture. As you radically live on mission here, the church is likely to send you to live on mission in a strategic place.
Every single Christian should wrestle with the location God has called them to make disciples, but we should never wrestle alone. In the Church, God has given us so much more than most Christians realize. Your church should be the launching agent in your life. Do you have a burden for missions? Find ways to evangelize and disciple in your church context! We have the church to exercise our spiritual gifts for the mutual edification of each other. Part of that gift is to supply wisdom to young, zealous students as we try to discern where God is directing us.
As you try to discern your long-term plan, lean into your church. Don’t get so set on staying that you could never imagine leaving. On the other hand, don’t get so set on leaving that you can never imagine staying. Hold your plans loosely, allow others to speak into your life plans, and “be all in until God moves you.”
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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.