Evangelism: Not impossible

December 2020

The church of Christ’s attitude in working amongst Muslims was so pitiful that Dr. Zwemer said “One might suppose that the Church thought her great commission to evangelise the world did not apply to Muslims.” It was once formerly believed, and that belief is still common, that the conversion of Muslims is impossible. This has been proved false by hundreds, nay thousands of examples of converts. None the less it remains true that it is very difficult: that some soils after decades of working seem entirely stony and sterile: it is the painful conversion of units, and not tribes or villages – even the coming of a family is rare. When governmental opposition is strong, and the life of a man insecure or forfeited through his conversion, open confession of Christianity has been rare, and the missions in such lands have often tended to concentrate upon general institution work so as to loosen the soil, or work among the oriental Christians of the land.

In such countries there is good reason to believe that there were many secret believers; one heard of them and not infrequently met them. In some cases they escaped from their country and were baptised elsewhere. Very roughly speaking converts from Islam have been reckoned in their thousands in Indonesia, by hundreds in India, by tens in Iran, Egypt and Africa, and by units elsewhere. Nowhere, we believe, has the work been entirely barren of visible result. Broadly speaking, in settled lands, if definite results are expected, worked for and prepared for, they come. The difficulty is not in the evangelising, nor even so much in the converting: the real difficulty is in the training and growth of the soul after conversion: for the pressure of adverse circumstances is terrible in its persistency and severity; and the soil in which the replanting has to take place may be uncongenial or nourishing: two factors which sometimes cause great disappointment to, and in, the convert.

The words of W. Reid working in one of the “stony places” in North Africa is very relevant today, he wrote: “The work of the Christians amongst this people is very difficult indeed. And after fifteen years of work amongst them, it seems true that the only way to win them is by personal influence – the influence of men and women filled with the Holy Spirit – His work in the personal life and character of the missionary. And in order to exercise this power he needs to get in close contact with the people. But here lies the difficulty of the situation. The problem of work amongst Muslims in North Africa is how to get really close to them.”

“The high wall that Islam has built up round its followers is to keep them in, and to keep the missionary out – a wall that too often proves un-scalable and impregnable. Men have laboured for years in the same city and yet could not count a couple of friends.”

“When acts of kindness and love are done to him he is sure to suspect that I am doing it, not for his sake and because of simple disinterested love, but for some reason of self-interest known perhaps only to myself. He does not know such love, and cannot believe his eyes when he sees what it looks like in another. He thinks I have come to heap up merit to balance an old account of evil doing. I am well paid for it. At best I am doing it in order to win him from Muhammad to Jesus Christ, and even this is perceived to be an interested motive. I do not love him for himself, or as a fellow human, just as he is in his need of help. No, I want to win him to Jesus, and if it were not for that ulterior purpose I should not put myself out of the way to help him.

“Continuance in loving, patient, helpful sympathy will find a way – for there always is a way – through the high wall to the heart of even a Muslim. Show him that I love him for his own sake, and that I am glad to help him apart from whether he believes my message or not, and the chord of love that is still to be found in the heart of the lowest will respond  ……”

The Church in Muslim Lands

Despite all our efforts  we must reassert that not the foreign missionaries but the Christians of the land are to be the evangelists to Islam, whether Eastern Church, Reformed or converts from Islam. And the best work that the missions from the West can do is to recognise this fact and plan accordingly. Whether it be the inspiring and fortifying of the progressive and spiritual elements in the old oriental churches of the Near East, or the frank creation of reformed and separate bodies is the best method cannot be discussed here. In the providence of God both have had their task: in the providence of circumstance neither, probably, has been avoidable. But, since the old oriental churches will always be far more numerous, and since their historical and traditional roots go down deepest into the soil, it becomes increasingly important to watch, help and foster the efforts of their younger members after spiritual progress and reform.

When we have learnt and experienced so much about Islam the question before us is, how is the cross to be given the victory? How is He to be lifted up and draw all unto Him? Knowing about Islam we exclaim with salutary despair, “Impossible!” and yet we can still calmly say, “Possible,”