July 21, 2014

Cover Feature


This is a story about God, and about how He, in these last days, is drawing Muslims to Himself in unprecedented ways. I write this having witnessed glimpses of what is becoming the largest Jesus movement in the history of Islam, since more Muslims have come to Christ in the past 10 years than in the previous 1,400!

God answers “our prayers,” but does He answer the prayers of those who may not know Him fully? Buried in the DNA of the spiritual father of Muslims is God’s commitment to hear and bless: “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” exclaimed Abraham in reverent prostration. God, who had named the child “God hears,” replied, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him” (Gen. 17:20).

So it was, not only for Ishmael (who was circumcised that very day), but also for those who have come after him.

The Man in White

Amina was barren. In shame and sorrow she brought this matter before God. Like Hannah, she dedicated the fruit of her womb to God’s service, and poured out her soul before the One who had power to create life out of nothing. She appealed to His honor and past faithfulness; and the eyes of the Lord that search the earth back and forth to strengthen those whose hearts are committed found in Amina a willing servant (2 Chron. 16:9).

Faruqi remembered how his mother, Amina, used to tell the family that “the Lord Jesus” was teaching her how to train her son. Nobody fully understood what this meant, but they knew that Faruqi was no ordinary child. He spent much time serving those who were poor. He was obedient and keen in matters of faith.

As a young man, Faruqi was visited in dreams by the “Man in White,” who told him they would meet in another town, away from his tribal lands. The three-day journey was wearisome, but it could not compare to the disappointment Faruqi felt upon arriving in the big city. Faruqi sought unsuccessfully in each face the gentle traits he had been shown, but when he reached the end of his meager funds, a stranger tapped him on the shoulder and sent him home to wait for His visit. Later the Man in White came to Faruqi’s town. Every evening for three months He instructed Faruqi and others in matters of faith.

Christians fail to see the amazing way in which God is working among Muslims.

Years later Faruqi became a respected national reformer who invited Muslims to receive Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) upon His return and respect Christians. He denounced the zakat (almsgiving) for any other purpose than helping those who were poor.

Faruqi was especially committed to uphold God’s day, which was the sign of being a muttaqeen (righteous person). I can’t do justice to his story in this space, but I should add that he endured beatings and persecution for preaching and inviting Muslims to keep the Sabbath. On one of these occasions the Man in White Himself came to anoint Faruqi’s lacerations in a dungeon. The next morning Faruqi was healed and his robe restored.

Years later Faruqi held a Bible for the first time and understood the full extent of what the Man in White had told him. When my husband met Faruqi, with trembling hands he lifted the Bible, kissed it, and placed it on his forehead. The life of Jesus enthralled him. He challenged my husband to live by the power of God that dwelt in Jesus. The last time they met, just months before his death, Faruqi said that the essence of following Jesus was to be found in Matthew 25:35. As long as God’s people lived without demonstrating mercy and compassion, Jesus, Faruqi believed, would not return.

According to the Koran: “Then We caused Our messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him” (57:27).

Hearing Faruqi’s encounter with Jesus was life-transforming. Until the day of his death, Faruqi invited people to follow Jesus. Eight thousand people came to his funeral, and hundreds shared how this man had shown them a better way and introduced them to the Bible.

Faruqi was a man of great influence. He loved his land and would die for his people, but Faruqi was much more. He made his family promise that they would never leave their country to seek an easier life abroad.

During Faruqi’s lifetime he often had dreams in which Jesus seemed to be speaking to him. He dutifully passed these messages on to his children and his tribe. Today there is a large Jesus movement in this region, and the key to its growth is the Bible. Movements that focus on passing trends and teachings grow weak and often die, unlike those in which people are empowered to search the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and live by its values and teachings.

Most Muslims are open to explore the life, teachings, and power of Jesus because of the witness that exists in the Koran.

Of Love, Land, and People

In 2000, when my husband and I moved to a Muslim country, little did we know that it was the beginning of a kind of “conversion” for us. But it did not happen upon our arrival. I am ashamed to confess that within weeks I was ready to return home, until the night in which the Lord and I had “a struggle.”

With tears I prayed, “Lord, I can’t create the love I don’t have. I can pretend I love, but soon the truth will come out. Without love why am I here? Make a way for me to go home, or ‘dish out’ from Your own heart the kind of love You have for these people. Show me how You love; change my heart.”

The Lord softened my heart. Gradually He opened my eyes to see things from His perspective and discover His footprints in the Muslim world.

We Adventists are blessed with a conceptual frame for understanding reality, but we seldom wrestle with the practical implications of the great controversy. All we have to do is read the news to see where Satan is at work. But where is evidence of divine activity? How does God engage people from within and invite them to follow Jesus? How can the gospel take root in local soil?

In the months following my prayer I gained a new appreciation for things I used to reject. We lived near three mosques; and as early as 4:30 a.m. the muezzin would chant loudly the Islamic call to prayer (adhan): “God is the greatest . . . prayer is better than sleep.”

We seldom wrestle with the practical implications of the great controversy.

During those early-morning hours I prayed in my home, joining millions of Muslims who were seeking God in prayer. I learned to intercede for those who pray 17 times a day, “Guide us into the straight path” (Koran 1:6), that they would come face to face with “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, KJV).

Looking back, I realize that God had to enlarge my heart so that my eyes could discern His workings in unexpected places. As our language training progressed, I came to understand how much the reality of God deeply shaped the worldview of Muslims. God was embedded everywhere: in the morning greeting, Assalam Alaikum (peace be upon you), in the heading of a letter, Bismillah arrahman arrahim (in the name of God the Most Beneficent, the Most Compassionate), or when sealing a business agreement (partners would shake hands and together recite the first chapter of their sacred text).

If we were to make sense in this context, we would have to approach Muslims with a similar or higher level of awareness of God. Otherwise, why would they settle for anything inferior to what they already had?

My husband had been praying a prayer that would revolutionize his life: “Lord, lead me to Muslims who are passionate for their land and people, to people of influence, people with whom the Spirit of God is already at work.” He spent hours studying the bo
ok of Acts and the history of mission, seeking to discern ways in which God launched 12 unlikely men to change the world, and how Jesus exercised His authority in the world today.

During one of our reading times we first saw the weight of the Peter-Cornelius experience. This story was not for the sake of Cornelius alone (a man who feared God even before he met Peter), but also to prepare Peter for his crucial role in welcoming Gentile followers of Christ years later at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). “God, lead us to others like Cornelius,” we prayed. By the way, notice God’s words: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).

Once again, God came through and gave us a new sense of expectation. Living with expectation means waiting on the Lord, who is calling those who are His. Our role? To cooperate with the Holy Spirit, not to try to control Him. This simple truth brought us renewed peace.

God’s Witness From Within

God’s answer was not an epiphany but a letter from an old man seeking someone to disciple him further. Since the age of 12, Abu Nabeel had had encounters with Isa al Masih (Jesus) and had decided to follow Him. He was bold about his devotion for Jesus, and 70 people from his extended family had joined him. Some, fearing that they could not find anyone to baptize them, submerged themselves in the waters, wishing to express their newfound love for the Master in accordance with His Word.

Now an old man, Abu Nabeel felt a need to fellowship with others, and there it was, a letter on our computer that he had sent to a newspaper editor in hopes of finding a brother in faith.

Before we were born, God had already been at work, preparing Abu Nabeel’s home to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. Over the years his witness had spread to five other countries; this had resulted in more small groups of followers of Jesus. Abu Nabeel loved Jesus with a rare passion born out of spending time in prayer. How glad he was years later when he found an Arabic copy of the Gospel of Luke in a Muslim bookstore (a translation with notes for Muslim audiences) and learned the stories of the One who was already his friend.

Meeting Abu Nabeel was like standing on holy ground. He spoke reverently about his Lord, about his plans for taking the good news to the heart of the Muslim world, and about the urgency of preparing his people to meet Isa al Masih (Jesus) at the time of His return. But he was also disturbed over a dream that lay heavy on his heart.

For several months before the dream Abu Nabeel anguished about his people’s lack of spirituality, about the politization of religion, and how sectarian tensions were growing in the region. As a follower of Jesus within a Muslim context, Abu Nabeel felt the need to take the Beatitudes to his people, to teach them about a kingdom that cannot be brought down by human hands. He knew that his people had to meet Jesus.

Political and economic tensions had nurtured new waves of fundamentalism, so Abu Nabeel turned to God in prayer and fasting for direction and hope. At night he saw in a dream a white Lamb of glowing whiteness, “a Lamb as though it had been slain” running through the desert. The Lamb’s throat was gushing blood as a “fire hydrant” (his words). And wherever the blood touched, the sand turned to luscious green, an oasis in the desert. In amazement he stood watching the Lamb running to and fro. He marveled at the realization that the Lamb’s blood never ceased.

Then Abu Nabeel saw a high, thick wall in the middle of the desert. He cried, and a voice said three times, “Break down the wall.” Abu Nabeel understood this to be a sacred calling, and invited us to join him.

Biblical Basis

The Bible is not just another sacred text, but the Living Word. Once it enters our religious/cultural world, it convicts, affirms, judges, and weeps over sin, while commanding us not to “take orders from this world.” Both Faruqi and Abu Nabeel spoke about the centrality of the Word, not as a book to be dissected into digestible, intellectual chunks, but rather as a “large story” to dwell in.

They challenged us to see the gospel as personal but not private, to rediscover how the good news of Jesus speaks to a broken world in which the primary concern is shame, not guilt; collective, not individualistic. The gospel is for a world in which poor persons are not to be marginalized, receiving only crumbs, but to be invited to the table as full-fledged children of Abraham.

Both men spent much time fasting and praying, and often spoke with sadness about the way Christians fail to see the amazing way in which God is working among Muslims. This is partly because we have adopted the lens of foreign policy instead of embracing God’s story of how is He restoring everything back to Himself.

Both men saw a role for the church as agents in the hands of God for nurturing faith, community, worship, supporting those who are poor, and more important, for providing Bibles and teaching. The church as a hermeneutical community has the privilege of becoming both the visible body of the invisible God, and interpreting by words and deeds God’s will. Such a witness brings praise to God. Just as Jesus is leading us to a fuller understanding of His truth through the study of His Word, He is leading Muslims to also reflect His character.

Ellen White wrote: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of [men and women]. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory. The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God. Ephesians 3:10.”*

Abu Nabeel and Faruqi passionately defended the rights of Muslims to see a truly biblical and understandable expression of the body of Christ rooted in local soil. As for me, it is my desire to invite Adventists to engage with Muslims and allow God to transform us all as we live in preparation for His soon return.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

* Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 9.

Linda Smith (a pseudonym) and her husband lived and served among Muslims in Central Asia and the Middle East for more than 17 years. They now live in the United States, serving Muslim refugees and lecturing internationally about cross-cultural mission.