BOOK REVIEW: "SECRET BELIEVERS"

 


 

CHRISTIANITY IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES

 

by Doug Ward



DECEMBER 2007-I recently received an email from a man in Pakistan. The man said that he was from a Muslim background but had become skeptical about Islam and wanted to learn more about Christianity. Having identified me as a defender of Christianity from the Grace & Knowledge website, he asked me to mail him books on the subject. It would not be safe, he said, for me to email documents for him to download. There would be too great a possibility of Muslim zealots finding out what he was reading.

 

This email message appeared to be legitimate, and I was moved by the writer's desire to explore Christianity, a "forbidden" subject in his culture. I mailed him copies of two works of popular Christian apologetics-Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith-with the hope that he would have the opportunity to consider the arguments presented in these books without getting into trouble.

 

As I have learned more about religion and human rights in Pakistan, I have become even more impressed by the courage of the man who sent me the email. Christians comprise only about 1.5 per cent of the Pakistani population, and they often endure persecution from extremists among their Muslim neighbors, including accusations of blasphemy and pressure to convert to Islam. The constitution of Pakistan guarantees "freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association," but goes on to say that these freedoms are "subject to law and public morality." In practice, "law and public morality" in Pakistan take a rather dim view of Muslims who take up a serious study of Christianity.

 

Since receiving that email, I have become more curious about the situation of Christians in Muslim countries. For those who share this interest, one excellent source is a recent book written by Brother Andrew, a well known helper and defender of persecuted Christians around the world, and his colleague Al Janssen. The book is called Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ (Revell, 2007).

 

The bulk of Secret Believers is a narrative, a novella set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. The characters are fictitious, but the events described in the narrative are things actually experienced by people known to the authors. By this method, the authors explain, they can tell the story of the Christians in the Muslim world without putting those vulnerable individuals in further danger.

 

Christianity has been present in the country depicted in the novella for nearly two thousand years, but the Christian community now constitutes just five per cent of the population of a predominantly Muslim country. One of the main characters of the story is Butros (Arabic for Peter), a young man who grew up in that small Christian community. After obtaining a theological education in Britain, he faces a major decision: Should he stay in the West and serve God there, or should he return to his own country? Sensing the lead of the Holy Spirit and encouraged by Brother Andrew-whom he had met on a summer mission project in Cyprus-he chooses the latter option.

 

Butros and his new wife Nadira, a fellow Arab Christian, begin their ministry in Butros's home country by contacting all of the Christian clergy in the country and learning about the needs and concerns of the congregations there. They hear accounts of a beleaguered and slowly shrinking church, grudgingly allowed to exist by the government but not permitted to evangelize or even to properly maintain its sanctuaries. Then, with support from Brother Andrew's Open Doors International and some other Christian organizations, they establish a ministry to support the Christian churches of their country from all denominations. Following Brother Andrew's example, their goal is to heed the charge given in the message to the church at Sardis in Rev. 3:2: "Strengthen the things which remain." In particular, they provide training and Christian literature and sponsor uplifting conferences and retreats for Christian leaders.

 

Butros and Nadira find their greatest challenge in assisting a small but growing number of people from Muslim backgrounds who are coming to faith in Jesus as Savior. These MBBs (Muslim-background believers) endure persecution from family, friends, and community for following their convictions, and the Christians who help them put themselves in great danger as well.

 

The story introduces us to several MBBs, illustrating some of the different ways in which people in the Muslim world are coming to Christ:




Ahmed has experienced recurring nightmares about the severe judgments of Allah. At the suggestion of a friend, he reads the Gospels and is drawn to Jesus. The peace and love he finds in the teachings of Jesus are a welcome alternative to the message of war that he has heard from militant Muslims. Excited about his new beliefs, Ahmed accepts Christ and leads his friend Hassan to do the same.



Mustafa is a zealous member of the militant Muslim Brotherhood. He has participated in persecution of Christians. Having been taught that the Christian Bible upholds Islam, he begins studying the Bible with the hope of discrediting Christianity. But when he reads the twenty-six biblical passages that allegedly point to Muhammed, he finds that they instead seem to be references to Jesus. Following in the footsteps of the apostle Paul, Mustafa eventually joins the people he has previously persecuted.



Salima is the daughter of a wealthy Muslim businessman. She is grateful for the education she has received but is not looking forward to the arranged marriage that probably lies in her future. On satellite television she hears the preaching of the gospel. Wanting to learn more about Jesus, who is revered as a Prophet in Islam, she orders a correspondence course that is advertised on the television program. When she begins reading the New Testament, she is impressed by Jesus' teaching, miracles, and attitude toward women. Here is the real love she has been seeking. But when her family discovers her interest in Jesus, she is beaten and confined to a dark room. She escapes at the first opportunity and receives shelter from a kind Christian priest.



Kareem is a high government official. Educated in the West, he once received a Bible as a gift. When he reads the Bible and secretly studies Christian literature, he becomes convinced that Jesus, not Muhammed, is God's final revelation to mankind. Like a modern-day Nicodemus, he visits Butros at night to talk about his secret faith and seek counsel on what he should do about it.



As they strive to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, Butros and the MBBs in his country face some difficult decisions. By living out their faith, they face persecution and perhaps even death. The novella in Secret Believers gives a compelling glimpse at the challenges confronted by Christianity in the Muslim world. It is not a sensationalized story or an anti-Islamic diatribe, but simply a presentation of the kinds of events that are reported in the daily news.

 

A Fourfold Challenge to the Western Church



In the remainder of the book, Brother Andrew and Al Janssen explain their purpose in writing this narrative. They wish to inform Western Christians of the plight of their brethren in Muslim countries, and they hope to stir the church to action on behalf of these persecuted believers. They summarize their call to action in four challenges:




1. Do we view Muslims as enemies? Or are we seeking to win them to Christ? Because of the great threat posed by militant Islam, it is easy to lump all Moslems together as "the enemy." However, Jesus has taught us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). Elsewhere Brother Andrew makes this point through an analogy with the story of Jonah, who was reluctant to follow God's command to prophesy to Nineveh. The Assyrians were a major threat to Israel, and Jonah wanted to see them receive God's judgment rather than his mercy. But the God of Israel is the God of all the earth, and he has called his people to proclaim the gospel to the whole world (Matt 28:19-20), even to the enemies of Christians and Jews. His desire is for all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).



2. Are we going to seek revenge when we're attacked? Should we not offer forgiveness instead? Brother Andrew illustrates this point with the example of Shantinagar, a Christian village in Pakistan that was burned to the ground by an angry Islamic mob. The people of Shantinagar chose to forgive their oppressors rather than strike back and escalate the cycle of violence. In doing so they followed the instruction of Jesus (Matt 6:12-15) and modeled the merciful character of the God of Israel (Exod 34:6-7).



3. What would happen if we accepted the challenge of Islam by striving as Christians to imitate Christ? Muslims often observe with horror the decadence of modern Western culture, which they equate with Christianity, and conclude that Islam is the world's only hope. For Christians, who too often are satisfied with being just a little bit "better" than the culture around them, it is time to show the world what true Christianity really entails.



4. Since the current struggle against militant Islam is part of a greater spiritual war (Eph 6:12), we should continually pray along with our brethren in Muslim countries for the minds and hearts of the jihadists to be transformed by the love of Christ. We should also do whatever is required to take the gospel to the world.


Secret Believers presents a timely message for all Christians to hear and heed. I highly recommend this book.

 

Issue 24

HOME


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
On
19 Dec 2007, 16:43.