Muslims in the Middle East are coming to faith in Jesus at an unprecedented rate but there is a corresponding increase in the level of persecution of Christians, said James (not his real name) who has been an undercover Open Doors missionary in the region for the past two decades.
“The Holy Spirit is doing things in the Middle East today that I would never have dreamed possible 20 years ago,” he told a group of Christians attending an Open Doors briefing session at St Columbas Presbyterian Church, Port Elizabeth, today.
Many of the Muslims who were coming to Christ were doing so as a result of signs and wonders experiences, while many others were becoming Christians as a result of Christian television programmes and websites, he said. The majority of these new Christians faced intense pressure from Government and family members because Islam does not allow its followers to convert to other faiths.
As an illustration of a recent “signs and wonders” conversion, “James” referred to a letter that was sent to Open Doors by a family in Iran, an Islamic state that is regarded as one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice Christianity. In the letter, the family from Tehran say that family members, including a 12-year-old boy who had been paralysed on the right hand side of his body since birth, were watching a Christian television programme in their home language, Farsi. The programme presenter said that Jesus Christ could perform miracles. The handicapped boy asked his father if it was not possible that if Jesus could do miracles he could do one for him. The father dismissed the claim as just Christian propaganda but the boy was so persistent that he allowed him to phone the TV station. A counsellor at the TV station prayed with the boy for 10 minutes and then the boy continued praying for about 20 minutes. Suddenly he felt a tingling in his paralysed right leg and he discovered he could stand. The boy went outside and ran up and down the stairs of their apartment block to the amazement of neighbours who knew him. As a result of the boy’s miraculous healing, his whole family and a number of neighbours became Christians.
James also told the story of a Muslim couple in Iran who had decided to get divorced but continued to live in the same house while they waited for their court date. During this time the husband noticed that his wife had changed for the better. One day she told him that the reason for her transformation was that she had become a Christian as a result of watching Christian TV programmes. In court the husband decided to use this revelation to his advantage and told the judge that he wanted a divorce because his wife had converted to Christianity. The judge asked his wife if her husband was telling the truth. The woman replied that Jesus was indeed her Saviour and that Jesus did not like divorce and so she no longer wanted to end her marriage. To her husband’s amazement she then walked out of the court without requesting permission. He was even more amazed when the judge commented that the woman was the only person who was talking any sense. Today the couple are still married and both serving as leaders in the underground church in Iran.
In one further testimony, James told of a phone call from a colleague in Egypt who needed help finding a safe house for a young man whose family was trying to kill him. The young man was kicked out of his Muslim home some years before when he became a Christian. Recently he learnt that his father was dying and he managed to visit him. He was confused when his father told him: “I know that you are on the right path but you have to bear the consequences of your decision.” Pressed to explain himself, the father told his son that after he first became a Christian he had put lethal poison in his food but that he had not died. The father said he made several more attempts to kill his son, using stronger doses of poison, but each time his son survived. “So I realised that your religion must have power,” he said.
James said that Open Doors was actively involved in discipling new Christians in the Middle East on a one-to-one basis and through the use of electronic media. He said in order for the young Christians to withstand the pressures they faced it was vital to build their faith through discipleship training during the first six months. Another key project in the Middle East was Bible distribution — including the disribution of special local language, illustrated Bibles designed for families and for youth.
Of the 18 Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Christianity was illegal in 12 of them and no Bibles were allowed in those countries. The same applied to Iran. In the other six countries “historical” Christians were tolerated to varying degrees but Muslims were not allowed to convert to Christianity. Of these six countries, Iraq had become extremely dangerous to Christians since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Christians there faced intense persecution and physical danger. As a result many Christians were fleeing the country and the Christian population had decreased from about 500 000 to 250 000 in recent years. James urged Christians to pray for the Iraqi church which was in desperate need of support.
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