Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
What Global Expressions of Faith Teach Us About Following Jesus
By Bryan Bishop
The man in the center of the storm looked surprisingly ordinary when I finally met him. I encountered him in a large resort in Thailand. I'd come there for a conference called "Mercy Ministries, Frontier Mission, and Urban Mission."
On the first day, when our morning lecture ended, I looked around the table at the five people who had been taking notes with me. I caught the eye of the man sitting to my left. He had brown hair, bangs, and a goatee. I said hello. He smiled, shook my hand, and introduced himself. I found out he was from Australia, and worked in an Asian country that is predominantly Muslim. He spoke quietly and slowly.
"It's quite a remarkable story, actually," he said.
He started telling me about a Muslim man who had a vision of Jesus, without any contact from Christians. As soon as he said that, I knew I'd heard the rest of the story. I realized, this is the guy! I couldn't believe I was sitting right next to him.
I had heard about Randy several months before this meeting. He and I work for the same organization, Youth With A Mission, also known as YWAM. We both had joined a YWAM email discussion forum that included hundreds of participants. On this forum I had seen an email from Randy that gave a few tantalizing details about his work.
The story began with a Muslim man who one day had a vision of Jesus. I'll call this man Ibrahim. What Ibrahim saw that day powerfully changed his views. He encountered the man the Qur'an refers to as Isa al-Masih, Jesus the Messiah. In the vision, Jesus revealed His true nature to Ibrahim, who then saw Jesus not simply as a prophet but as the living God, his Savior. He began to read the Bible and started telling his friends and family what had happened to him. Some of them started to believe as well. In less than a year the group of Jesus-followers grew to fifty. During this whole time, they had no contact with Christians.
Even after Ibrahim and the other Jesus-followers understood that Jesus was their Savior, they still viewed themselves as Muslims. Many became more faithful in their daily prayers. Now they bowed down to thank God for their salvation in Jesus. The males who had attended the mosque continued to do so, and the believers in Jesus also met weekly on their own to study the Bible. They lived out their faith entirely within the Muslim community. A Christian man working in this area met Ibrahim. After hearing Ibrahim's story, the Christian offered to help Ibrahim learn how to study the Bible. The Christian, though, did not ask Ibrahim to become a Christian. He simply supported Ibrahim and the others as they followed Jesus as Muslims. He made no attempt to encourage these people to call themselves Christians. This Christian man was Randy, the man I met in Thailand.
As this network of Muslim believers in Jesus grew in number, they came to the attention of a Christian group nearby. The fact that Ibrahim and the others still maintained their mosque attendance, still did their daily prayers, and still called themselves Muslims alarmed the Christian group. These Christians wanted to teach the Muslim believers how to follow Christian teaching properly.
They sought out many of the members of Ibrahim's network and convinced them to come to a three-month Bible training program. One day, they took half of the group to a place many hours' journey away. This caused great distress among those who remained behind, who didn't know where their family members and friends had gone. Randy also was very upset.
When the Bible training program was over, most of the participants returned. They all called themselves Christians now and no longer participated in their former Muslim activities. Their family and friends rejected them. The movement that had been spreading so rapidly through Ibrahim and his network now slowed.
Randy continued to work with Ibrahim. When Randy wrote his email, he and his teammates were just beginning to see the group start to grow again.
When I read Randy's email, I was fascinated. At least three things intrigued me. First, Ibrahim and his friends came to faith without any contact with Christians. What was this vision like that had such a powerful effect on Ibrahim? Second, this Christian man, Randy, didn't tell these Muslims to call themselves Christians. He left them as Muslims. He even encouraged them to stay in their Muslim community. Why would he do that? And third, the biggest opposition to these new believers came not from the Muslim imams or from the government but from the Christian community!