Is This What Victory Looks Like?
Discipleship of new believers has emerged as a vital topic in ministry to Muslims. From 2004 to 2013, a ministry with which I served, Jesus For Muslims Network, planned an annual conference for Christians of Muslim Background (CMBs, also known as MBBs). It seemed at virtually every planning meeting at which themes were considered, the topic of discipleship leapt to the fore. For years, Horizons International has held an effective and intensive discipleship camp for new CMBs. The program is known as “Cubs to Lions.” 1
My colleague John Span has recently written an important piece considering why some CMBs are “reconverting” or “reverting” to Islam. 2 In Christian parlance, this is known as backsliding. Span includes anecdotes as well as reasons for the tragic collapse of the faith of many CMBs.
Another colleague, Duane Miller, has authored a (forthcoming) short book on pastoring CMBs. These authors are rich with experience serving Muslim people. Their publications are realistic and revealing. Most Christians who have been in ministry to Muslims for any length of time can attest that many CMB sheep have wandered away. Not all are finishing well. While much has been accomplished, there is still a lot to do in establishing Christ’s Kingdom among many ethnic groups that have historically been under the shadow of Islam.
The View from 30,000 Feet
I am myself a CMB who was saved in 1983. In those years, it was common to pray for Muslim ethnic groups among which there was not a single known believer. Praise God that in nearly all these ethno-linguistic groups, there are now believers. In some cases, vibrant church planting movements have taken hold. In my own people group, Iranians, countless churches have sprung up. However, like John Span, I could easily share many anecdotes of people who have fallen away. If they have not fully reconverted to Islam, they have simply fallen away from Christ and the visible fellowship with believers who share like-precious faith.
I do want to step away from the individual anecdotes to gaze from the perspective from “30,000 feet” (or “10,000 meters”). I cannot fully know what God feels about what is going on. I believe He grieves over those who have fallen away. Though no one can snatch them out of His hand (John 10:28-29), many are simply leaping out of that loving hand.
At the same time, I believe God is winning a great victory in our generation. The airtight system of thought control often found in Islam has been significantly weakened. One well-known CMB shared with me a decade ago, “Fred, we have reached critical mass. The Muslim leaders cannot simply claim we have all gone crazy.” As more former Muslims testify to faith in Christ, they encourage other Muslims to embark on that spiritual journey.
The Spiritual Invasion
For up to fourteen centuries many people groups were held back from the Gospel by the fear induced by Islam and its Law of Apostasy. Of course, Christian witness in many of those centuries and locales was very limited. I do not believe God was happy with this reality. Yet, God was not without a plan. Angels readied for an angelic invasion to set the captives free. In many places, that invasion is already happening. New believers and new churches rise as the fruit of this invasion—this victory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly we live in the days of exaltation in which Muslims are seeing Jesus not just as a prophet, but as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Naturally, we cannot easily see heavenly armies. In 2 Kings 6:15-17, Elisha prayed that the Lord would open the eyes of his servant so he too could see the hosts of heaven. We may need those prayers also. (One great Christian author, Frank Peretti, creatively brought the world of spiritual warfare to life in his riveting novels.)
A Spiritual D-Day
Since believers on this side of eternity are typically limited in what we can see in terms of spiritual warfare, some parallels from natural warfare benefit us as illustrations. Of course, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” as Ephesians 6:12 tells us. Our warfare is only spiritual. The military analogy used below is only symbolic.
Military analysts state that an amphibious assault against an entrenched foe is the most difficult military endeavor. Such water-borne assaults are frequently repulsed, with major loss of life for the attackers. A great struggle is required to establish a lasting beachhead under such duress. Yet, I suggest that this is a physical analogy of what the Holy Spirit is doing, spiritually, in our day among many Muslim people groups.
The Beaches of Normandy
The best-known amphibious assault in history took place on June 6, 1944. At this stage of World War II, Allied forces sought to invade Western Europe, which had been controlled by the Nazis since 1940. The Germans knew the Allies would eventually invade across the English Channel, since the Allied troops were staging in England. But the Germans did not know exactly where the Allies would land. The Allies naturally used deception and decoys, but the Germans had the whole coastal area of Northern France fortified with troops, guns, and batteries, in anticipation of the inevitable invasion.
The “D-Day” invasion eventually happened on five contiguous beaches in Normandy, France. The most difficult beach to invade was code-named “Omaha Beach.” That operation—ultimately ending in victory for the Allies—may be instructive to us in understanding what is going on among Muslims and CMBs in our times.
The D-Day operation was so challenging Allied General Eisenhower famously had an “In Case of Failure” letter penned in case the entire operation was repulsed by Hitler. Fortunately, he did not need to utilize it. The challenge of assaulting the beach cliffs of Normandy was so daunting that historians report the Allies used as many first-time combatants as they could; soldiers who knew war would have been disheartened by the near impossibility of the assault.