I was a pastor for 20 years before God called me to launch into missions in the volatile Muslim world. It was three months before September 11, 2001, and if I’d known what was coming, I might’ve asked God to send me to South America instead. You can imagine the flak that my wife and I received as even good friends perceived that going from a Senior pastor in a growing church to a missionary in the Middle East was insanity.
I remember some of the comments:
Is it safe there? Wow, that’s your typical American question!
Aren’t all Muslims terrorists? Well, actually no.
Aren’t all missionaries weird? Well, actually some are.
Do you have some kind of death wish? Thanks dad!
The first day in the Gaza Strip, I met underground believers who were actively sharing the gospel with Muslims. Hussein took me with him to Yasser Arafat’s Mosque to engage Muslims as they came out of Friday prayers. After we began meeting people, he let me know that we could get arrested for doing this. He shrugged it off: But everyone should be arrested at least once for sharing Jesus, don’t you think Tom?
My world-view that I’d taken from the news was that the church in the Middle East had closed up shop. I mean wasn’t Islamic terrorism crushing believers and causing them to flee? As I began working in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and other hot spots of the Middle East, I was shocked to realize just the opposite was happening. Jesus’ church wasn’t surviving but thriving!
Upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The blowback is brutal though. Today, the Islamic State is now openly crucifying Christians in Syria. The Brotherhood is burning churches to the ground in Egypt. Yet, the Middle East has the fastest growing church per capita of all the regions in the world according to Southern Baptist researchers. When there is a harvest, persecution follows.
Shock number two was when I began to meet former Muslims who had embraced Jesus wholeheartedly and were ready to die for Him. Many have at the hands of their own family usually.
Palm Sunday to Easter, are the seven most dangerous days of the year for believers who live in the Muslim world. In Syria a few years ago, 7 young believers from a Muslim background were crucified on Good Friday. The Islamic terrorists announced: If you want to live like Jesus, you’ll die like Jesus! They did not recant their faith. They didn’t bend and they didn’t break. They died publicly for Jesus. One day we’ll meet them in heaven.
This year in our churches, let’s sound the alarm to pray for our family in the Middle East from Palm Sunday to Easter. They may not be alive after Passion Week. But one thing is for certain, either way they will be worshipping Jesus wholeheartedly.
Tom Doyle Author of Standing in the Fire- Courageous Christians Living in Frightening Times VP of e3 Partners