Wednesday, January 24, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 24: A wave of spiritual hunger in the Islamic world -- and beyond

Jim Rutz can be counted on to give an upbeat view of the state of the church's gospel-bearing mission to the nations. So, it is in one sense no surprise to see in his latest column, the following excerpts, both from Joel Rosenberg:

First, on Narnia and Passion in the Middle East:
Last week I took my wife and kids to see the Egyptian premiere of "Narnia" in Cairo. The film was as wonderful as we had hoped. But I must confess that far more interesting to me than watching digital lions and beavers come to life was being in a theater jam-packed with Muslims mesmerized by a thinly-veiled parable of Jesus Christ, penned by one of the 20th century's greatest Christian writers [i.e. C S Lewis]. Every seat was taken, and when we left, the theater's lobby could not contain all those hoping to get into the 10 o'clock show.

The same was true in the spring of 2003 when ... Muslims packed movie theaters throughout the Middle East to see Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." They were watching Jesus teach. They were watching Him suffer and die and rise again. They were crying – sobbing, in many cases – as they continued to flood the theaters night after night.

Second, on some interesting reports on conversions to Christ in the troubled Middle East:

More Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ over the past decade than at any other time in human history. A spiritual revolution is under way throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia:

Iraq: More than 5,000 new Muslim converts to Christianity have been identified since the end of major combat operations. ... Also, more than 1 million Bibles [were] shipped into the country since 2003, and pastors report Iraqis are snatching them up so fast they constantly need more Bibles.

Afghanistan: only 17 Muslim converts to Christianity before 9/11/01, but now more than 10,000.

Kazakstan: only three known Christians in 1990, but now more than 15,000.

Uzbekistan: no known Christians in 1990, but now more than 30,000.

Iran: In 1979, there were only 500 known Muslim converts to Christianity, but today Iranian pastors and evangelical leaders tell me there are more than 1 million Iranian believers in Jesus Christ, most of whom meet in underground house churches.

Sudan: More than 1 million Sudanese have converted to Christianity just since 2000, and some 5 million have become Christians since the early 1990s, despite a radical Islamic regime and an ongoing genocide. ... Why such a dramatic spiritual awakening? "People have seen real Islam, and they want Jesus instead," one Sudanese evangelical leader told me . . . .

Egypt: Some reports say 1 million Egyptians have trusted Christ over the past decade or so. The Egyptian Bible Society told me they used to sell about 3,000 copies of the JESUS film a year in the early 1990s. But last year they sold 600,000 copies, plus 750,000 copies of the Bible on tape.
Rutz is especially upbeat on that statistic from Egypt: "The shocker is that 600,000 figure. Each circulating copy of JESUS in the Mideast will, on average, draw about 4.1 Muslims into a saving relationship with Christ. Do the math!"

What are we to make of this?

First, has long documented a clear pattern in which - often in response to a revelatory dream from Jesus -- many Muslims are indeed turning to Christ across the Middle East and beyond. At the same time, we see also a surge in religiously motivated militant Mahdism and Jihadism, and of the Dawah Islamic missionary campaign. That this is a dangerously volatile mix of trends is obvious, but it is equally telling that in the aftermath of the surge in Islamist militancy over the past generation, as that Sudanese Christian leader observed: "People have seen real Islam, and they want Jesus instead."

That brings out the common factor, a surging hunger for spiritual reality across the Muslim world, which echoes the same surge in the wider world ever since the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the ending of the Cold War. A similar story underlies the surge in the Christian faith in China, and across much of the South. Even the increasingly obviously shrill desperation of the militant secularists and atheists and their fellow travellers in the West that we often see in even our own media underscores the force of the trend of spiritual hunger -- a hunger that can only truly be satisfied in Christ. Unfortunately, too often Christians have not been well-posed to make the most of such opportunities, and we have seen a surge in all sorts of strange new religions and even experimentation with old fashioned paganism and witchcraft. But, the wave of spiritual hunger is plainly global.

Thus, we have now come full circle in our threads of reflection over the past few months: right back to the challenge to the Caribbean church, to rise again through repentance, renewal, revival and reformation to further fulfill the mission of the church in, and from the Caribbean, especially across the lands of the 10/40 window, from which so many of our ancestors have come.

Thus, the remarks of October 30 last, as just linked, are again appropriate :

. . . I invite us to explore together:

1] The re-visioning of the Caribbean Church's Mandate

2] The creation of a mutually supportive, collaborative regional network of grassroots-level, community initiated Missionary Vision and Action Teams [MVATs]

3] Through these MVATs, tackling of innovative local and regional evangelism, discipleship and community reformation projects under the enduring mission of the church in the Caribbean

4] Preparation for sustained initiatives under the mission of the church from the Caribbean, in collaboration with the church across the world, and targetting especially the 10/40 Window but also the lands of the North that have now so sadly largely walked away from their rich gospel heritage

5] Under this, the formation and development of a network based initiative and Institute . . . as an umbrella organisation for developing and carrying forward the vision. This should have a capacity-building focus, and thus a financial and technical project support arm, but also an emphasis on action-oriented research and the intellectual and practical engaging of critical issues, including apologetics and ethics. For instance, we must tackle the wave of apostasy and moral disintegration bearing down on the region from the North, and the Islamist agenda from the East too. [I note that once we successfully engage this pattern here, it equips us to face the same pattern overseas too!] Eventually it should be integrated with the emerging regional Christian University system.

6] I think that the widespread regional emergence of low-cost broadband Internet capacity, web site creation, blogging and podcasting technologies plus affordable teleconferencing technologies allows us to network a cluster of local micro-campus cybercentres that with local mentoring and community support can become nodes in the . . . system. Imagine a network of community centres hosted in churches, schools, cyber cafes etc, with clusters of say 8 - 15 or 20 PCs and able to host classes with local mentorship and courses delivered by leading Christians from across the region and beyond. Imagine online textbooks, like this in introductory philosophy, this in basic apologetics and this in discipleship and reformation, or this in first-stage follow-up for new converts or even this and this in evangelism [personal and meetings respectively], or this in small/cell group leadership [PDF!], or this in basic counselling, or this in Bible Study, or this in prayer; multiplied a thousandfold and available as well in print or thought CDs distributed at low cost.]

7] Over the next decade, through these and related developments, setting the target that we will not only carry out a steady, sustainable stream of initiatives in our region but will use them as a launch-pad and seed-plot for cooperative, sustained global initiatives under the church's Great Commission of evangelism discipleship and reformation.

Again, have we come to our estate for such a time as this? END

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