Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with three key leaders involved with Muslim outreach in Ethiopia to discuss their strategies and challenges. Overall Muslims are coming to Christ but there are significant challenges in this ministry. Of course evangelism is difficult as many of the areas to be reached are currently nearly 100% Muslims communities and so any overt Christian witness is met with severe persecution. For that reason there are different strategies for reaching such communities with the gospel. One group is very highly contextualized to the point that the bible is virtually not mentioned for at least 2 years. During that time only the Quran is used. This group does us a house church strategy that is very successful in keeping converted Muslims in their community as an ongoing witness. A second group is openly planting churches, praying for the sick, depending on God to do miracles and suffering persecution in the process.
However, they have been quite successful with a number of mosques coming to Christ as a whole including the Mosque leaders who have now made the mosque into a church. Although attacks come, their witness is respected and although this movement has not been operating as long nor is it as large as the other two the Christians are strong and successfully living as a Christian witness in their communities even though persecuted. The last group has a carefully planned strategy. They begin with outreach methods such as distributing small notes in the mosque in Arabic raising questions about Issa and having study groups for Muslims interested to find out more about what the Quran says about Issa (Jesus). They teach first what the Quran teaches about Issa (emphasizing the positive) and what it teaches about the value of studying the bible. The Quran itself is much more positive about these things than the Haddith (traditions) which most of the Muslims in Ethiopia base their faith upon. The Quran instructs Muslims to read and honor the Bible whereas the Haddith speaks much about its being corrupted. So once the people understand that the Quran, which is the 1st authority, teaches them to study the Bible and to honor it, that is when they go on to study it together with these “seekers.” Over a carefully planned process they discuss the message of the bible focusing on Jesus and what the Bible says about Him. Over a period of time the people see for themselves the truth and make Christ Lord of their life. This group does intentionally reaches a point of understanding where it is clearly understood that Mohammad is not a prophet, the Quran is a later revelation and Jesus’ revelation in the gospels is greater authority and that he is the Son of God.
The process from beginning seeker to receiving Jesus as Lord may be 6 months to 2 years depending on the situation and the ability and anointing of the teacher. This period is a process of conversion for them in which the understanding is gradually brought into agreement with the scriptures. We are not very supportive of the first approach and do not teach that in our training program. We are happy with the house church concept but the level of contextualization is so high that it seems that the people may never really understand Christian truth. The second and third approach for us are options depending on the nature and character of the one sharing Christ. The outreach that depends much on the Holy Spirit for miracles is appropriate especially for those who do not come from a Muslim background. But it can be dangerous and not everyone is willing to be so confrontational in their approach. In the case of this group I interviewed it has been successful, confrontation has been controllable and the fruit is good. I do not know if every group could have such a testimony of success with this method but they have great faith in Christ to show Himself strong on their behalf. The last group has a very successful method that respects the traditions and culture of their target group and reaches a full understanding of true Christian teaching and doctrine over a process that has been extremely well designed. I think it is the best approach for those who come from a Muslim background and have been trained in how to use this approach. There is not a one-size fits all approach for Muslim evangelism and church planting. Although there has been a great emphasis on contextualization strategies in the past few years, an important factor is the person pursuing the outreach themselves.
Many of the high contextualization methods require a person to be a former Muslim themselves and often from the same cultural group. Cross-cultural missionaries and those who did not convert from Islam themselves cannot really use these methods effectively. Which leads us to the belief that it will be mainly former Muslims who will be the ones to reach Muslims for Christ. We believe that there is a great ground swell world-wide in Muslim outreach and we will see a tremendous harvest in the next few years among Muslim people groups. Many areas are already beginning to see a level of success only dreamed of 20 years ago but there is still much work to be done. Please pray for this outreach as it is a critical time in God’s economy to reach Muslims with the gospel.