The Fourth Man (Dispatches from the Front Episode 10)

The announcement of the latest release in the Dispatches from the Front series, Episode 10: The Fourth Man is welcome news! (Available from Westminister Bookstore by clicking the title link above.)

Among the very best missions video series available is  Dispatches from the Front by Frontline Missions International (follow FMI@Twitter). The intention of the video series is to bring “viewers up-close with sights and sounds from distant corners of the Kingdom.” Why? Because believers “everywhere desperately need a renewed vision of Christ and the unstoppable advance of His saving work in all the earth.”1 To this end, Dispatches from the Front succeeds in every way.

The sights, sounds, and reflective narration are informative, encouraging and challenging because they provide an inside look at real ministry done by real people in real places around the globe.

In this 10th installment in the series, Tim Keesee takes the viewer into new territory: The Middle East.

“He is risen!”—three words that change everything. This wonderfully good news that was first announced to the women at the Empty Tomb is still being declared boldly in the Middle East by the Risen King’s messengers! Dispatches from the Front goes into this region of centuries-old darkness and division that is now overshadowed by the fierce violence of ISIS terror. Yet, the Gospel is powerfully at work in the Middle East, and Christ is building His Church there just as He said He would. Neither the gates of hell nor the gates of Islam can withstand the work of our Risen King! From mega-cities in Arabia to refugee camps left in the wake of ISIS terror, The Fourth Man goes beyond the headlines to showcase the Gospel’s power to save, the mercy and love of believers, and their abiding joy as Christ walks through the fires of persecution with them.2

I have personally watched all of the previous episodes multiple times and have included them in the curricula of my college and seminary missions courses. So, add my name to the long list of enthusiastic endorsements, which include, among others, Tim Challies, Mark Dever, John Piper, Carl Trueman, David J. Hesselgrave, and Justin Taylor.

It matters not whether you are a seminary or Bible college student, a missions pastor, or a lay member of your church that knows nothing about missions, you can benefit from this series.

Dr. Craig A. Dunning, PhD
Lead Professor of Intercultural Studies/Missions
Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary
#GoBBCLife Change U!

The video clip below will give you an idea of what’s inside episode 10.

1 http://tinyurl.com/m4sgstg
2 http://tinyurl.com/l22meyh

ISIS and the Gospel

WARNING: Links in this post may lead to GRAPHIC CONTENT!

Abu Maryam al-Faransi left France to join ISIS.

Abu Maryam al-Faransi left France to join ISIS.

The news coming from the Islamic State is, at best, unsettling. As a result of effective recruiting, foreign fighters from both Muslim countries and the West are swelling the ranks of the ISIS army (see here, here, and here). In addition to the West’s apparent failure in turning certain of their citizens away from jihadi ideology, or western nations’ apparent failure to prevent these same people from making their way to Syria to join the battle, several elements of the ISIS jihad story lead observers to conclude that the situation in Syria/Iraq is hopeless. Two of those elements are martyrdom and brutality.

Martyrdom: A Desire to Die

“We love dying for God as much as you love life.” ISIS fighter, Rabie Shehada

That they are likely to be killed in the battle to expand the boundaries of the Islamic State doesn’t seem to dissuade the recruits. In fact, the prospect of dying as a martyr for Allah seems to be a draw (see here, here, and here). Targeting this element of jihadi ideology – the desire to die for the cause – recruiters are using social media to publish photos of many of their soldiers who died with smiles on their faces (see here, here, and here), which suggests they died happy martyrs.

With every new conflict comes imaginative new methods to recruit fighters and soldiers on all sides. While the US Military uses high budget television adverts or internet campaigns designed to show off the superiority of their forces, the propaganda wing of the Islamic State has taken to posting and sharing pictures and videos of dying and dead “martyrs”, all smiling. najemoi.com

 Brutality: Glorifying and Defending a Way of Life

The brutality of ISIS – which includes, among other things, hanging captives from their feet, repeated mock executions, extra-judicial mass executions, rape, sexual and physical enslavement, beheading, and the public parading of heads and decapitated bodies – has been widely reported by released hostages (see here, here, and here) and/or confirmed by video, photos, and commentary released through ISIS channels (see here, here, and here).

ISIS has successfully utilized the brutality of their movement to recruit the discontent or wandering souls (both males and females) who seek purpose and meaning in life (see here, here, and video here).

“For many people who are lacking a strong sense of identity and purpose, their violent radical global narrative provides easy answers and solutions: it can be very powerful message for people who are looking for answers,” … “Their online material shows capturing territory, establishing states, beheading enemies: they show that they are the sexiest jihadi group on the block.” Matthew Levitt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Not only has brutality been an effective recruiting tool for ISIS, it is also intended to bring into submission those whom ISIS deems to be enemies. In the Islamic State, submission takes different forms: forced conversion to Islam, evacuation to safer locations (see here and here), or paying a security/protection tax.

Those who are concerned that the gospel be effectively taken to all, have to wonder if it is possible to get the gospel to people within ISIS. And, even if one succeeded in getting it there, is it possible for a person that glories in beheading aid workers, a person that appears to glory in evil, to believe the gospel? My answer: There is hope. Even ISIS fighters and their brides can be reached with the gospel.

Below, I offer two lines of evidence that give me gospel hope for those who are engaged in this type of jihad with ISIS or any other group that seems too radical to be redeemed; one is biblical, the other is research based.

Biblical Evidence: ISIS Fighters Can Be Saved

The first source of hope is Paul’s inclusion of the “Scythian” in Colossians 3:11 (ESV): “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” In this verse Paul provides a list of four pairs of identities that are not to be given preference in Christ: Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, and slave and free. Although it isn’t Paul’s primary point, his use of each of these pairs suggests that people from each background or identity can be found within the faith community.

To be clear: I’m not making the argument that ISIS is a descendent movement or ideology of the Scythians. I am suggesting the extreme cruelty of both groups, which some think reflects an unredeemable spirit, is similar. For example, Yamauchi (Biblical Archaeologist 46:2, p. 98) provides a description of the Scythians, which compares to the actions of ISIS today:

“[The Scythians’] reputation for ferocity, their scalping of captives, and their other barbarous customs made their name synonymous with savagery down into the Christian era…”

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

The Scythian army was made up of freemen who received no wage other than food and clothing but who could share in booty on presentation of the head of a slain enemy.

Again, I am not saying the Scythians are ISIS; I am recognizing their similarities and suggesting that if members of one group can be reached for Christ, we should have hope for members of a very similar group.

The next line of evidence illustrates that committed jihadis can be converted to Christ.

Research Evidence: Radical Muslims Can Be Saved

In my doctoral research (PhD, University of Pretoria), I interviewed twenty-four Palestinians who had left Islam for Christ. Respondent Four is evidence that a radical Muslim can meet Jesus Christ. Read his testimony summary here.

“He [Respondent Four] was satisfied with his life as a Muslim. In fact, after returning from a lengthy stint working in the Arabian Gulf, he was involved in a religiously motivated political group that he described as actively seeking the establishment of a truly Muslim nation beginning in all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean [i.e., modern Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza] and spreading throughout the region.”

ISIS isn’t a new idea. In fact, there have been a number of groups in the region who have espoused a similar ideology; the distinction simply being one of nuance or opportunity, not kind.

Lessons Learned

Below are some lessons that can be learned from Respondent Four’s testimony:

1. This testimony is an example of how God uses crisis to draw people to himself, even radical Muslims. Therefore, Christians should seek to help Muslims who are in crisis.

2. This testimony is an example of how a medical need was the catalyst for a radical Muslim to meet Christians who loved him enough to tell him about Jesus. Therefore, Christians should seek opportunities to provide medical aid when possible. Here is an example of Christians providing medical aid.

3. This testimony is an example of how Christians maintained a Christian identity and took the risk to share the gospel with a radical Muslim. Therefore, it is important for Christians to risk sharing the gospel with Muslims.

4. This testimony is an example of how the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to draw radical Muslims. Therefore, Christians should:
a. be intentional in seeking opportunities to share God’s word with Muslims.
b. encourage Muslims to read the Bible for themselves.
c. be patient and forgiving when a Muslim becomes angry and argumentative while resisting God’s Word.

5. This testimony is an example of how it’s possible to engage a radical Muslim for the gospel outside the battle zone. Therefore, in the case of ISIS, Christians should seek opportunities to engage potential radical Muslims who may be considering going to the Islamic State. Although it’s not impossible for a member of ISIS to come to faith within the Islamic State, it is no doubt more challenging to access the gospel there.

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #24

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Four, a female from Hebron. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 388-390.

Respondent Twenty-Four began studying Islamics in school at the age of ten. Her teacher was very firm and somewhat persuasive as she explained all the “bad things about Christianity.” Each day the respondent would return home and tell her mother, who was a MBB (See Respondent Twenty-Two), the bad things she learned about Christianity that day. Her mother tried to counter the charges from the New Testament, but never pushed Christianity on the respondent. She said her mother’s approach was more of “allowing everyone to decide for themselves without pressure.”

Some of the things the respondent learned in school were that “Hell is mostly full of women,” and that “in Hell, Allah will hang women by their hair or eyebrows, especially those who were not interested in being good Muslims.”

For many years the respondent lived next door to a mosque, and countless times heard these and similar things being broadcast from the mosque during the weekly Friday sermon. Eventually, during her mid-teen years, the respondent lost interest and grew very passive about religion, though her mother continued to occasionally share thoughts from the New Testament. This was her mother’s way of keeping the door open, and it was the only opposition she ever heard to what she was told in Islamics class at school and what she heard broadcast from the mosque next door.

In her late teen years, the respondent grew weary of the constant denigration of women that was generally present in her surroundings, but particularly offensive, she said, was the repeated message of “hate toward women” that she could not avoid hearing through the broadcasts from the mosque. The continual bombardment of hate caused the respondent to grow more and more concerned for her personal safety, eventually resulting in emotional problems and panic attacks.

The feelings that were being generated inside her brought her from a passive position about Islam to a very negative opinion. She definitively transitioned from “Islam is not for me,” to “Islam is wrong.” Even though the process was slow, due to the pervasive and negative presence of Islam in her surroundings, it was ultimately unavoidable.

At the same time her feelings about Islam were changing, Her mother tried to calm and comfort her by sharing things from the New Testament with her, especially the love of Jesus. Her mother focused on how much Jesus loved the respondent, so much that he died for her sins. In contrast to what she deemed “hate flowing from the mosque next door,” the respondent started to appreciate the love her mother shared from the New Testament. “In Islam, they want you to die for Islam. In Christianity, Jesus loved us and died for us” she added.

In addition to the love her mother was regularly sharing with her from the New Testament, local believers demonstrated much love toward her brother (See Respondent Twenty) by coming to their home to pray for him when he was sick. This kind of love affected her strongly: “When I saw this, something went out of me and joy came in. Real joy.”

Eventually, as an unbeliever, she attended a MBB family conference with her mother. At that conference, she saw MBBs as a community for the first time. She watched the people sing and pray together. The way they loved each other was impressive and instrumental in her consideration of the gospel. She had never seen anything like that before and was drawn toward them. She was impressed that “this was the real thing.” And that point became more clear when the worship leader stopped in the middle of a song to pray for “someone who is here today questioning whether they should believe in Jesus.” Though he did not call her by name, she said “I knew he was praying for me.”

At that moment, she trusted Jesus and realized that she was no longer a Muslim. She immediately told her mother that she “believed in Jesus as Lord.” Of course her mother was ecstatic, but was also concerned that her own witness to the respondent was not sufficiently clear. So, she asked the respondent to speak with a pastor to make sure she “understood everything.” The respondent was already convinced that Jesus had died for her sins and that she believed in Jesus, but she accepted her mother’s request to “make sure.”

When asked to fill in the blank: If it were not for ____________ I do not think I would be a believer,” she answered thoughtfully and deliberately, “Love. My mother. Prayer.”

Since she had only mentioned prayer in relation to her brother’s illness, she was asked for more clarification: “What do you mean by prayer?” She said that she knew her mother had been praying for God to open her eyes for many years. The respondent was asked for further clarification, “How do you know that she had been praying for you?” “She told me and she prayed for me while I was sitting in the room,” she answered with a frustrated tone that suggested the question was unnecessary because the answer was self-evident. Apparently, in an effort to tie all her answers together, she voluntarily explained, “If my mother had not been praying for me, and she had not kept telling me how much Jesus loves us, and I didn’t see the Christians loving each other and me, and I didn’t go to the conference to see all of this come together at the same time – love and my mother and praying – I don’t think I would be a believer today. Maybe God would have shown me some other way, but that is how it happened for me.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: “Drawn/compelled,” doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, retreats/conferences/special events, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, and an open witness.

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #23

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Three, a male from East Jerusalem. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 385-387.

Respondent Twenty-Three was raised in a secular Muslim home in East Jerusalem. Religion never was very important to him. In fact, he said that he had different ideas (apparently unflattering, though he would not say what they were) about Islam. While he personally identified himself as a Muslim and continues to be registered with the Palestinian Authority as such, he said that Islam never had any active meaning in his life.

At the time of his interview, he had adult children and had been widowed for some years. Together, he and his wife had maintained a secular Muslim home.

The respondent said that he was surprised that one day he “suddenly felt drawn” to read the New Testament that had been on his bookshelf for many years. He was not sure how long it had been on the shelf because he could not remember how he got it, but was certain that it had been many years. At the time he felt drawn to read the New Testament, he had a casual relationship with a bi-vocational Arab pastor. Over the years the pastor had been kind to him and occasionally suggested the respondent should read the New Testament. However, the respondent said that he did not believe any of the pastor’s suggestions were involved in this sudden prompting to read the New Testament. In fact, he could not identify anything external that had prompted him to want to read the New Testament.

The respondent reported being “pulled by something” to read the New Testament a couple times over the course of two months. “Each day,” he explained, “I felt something, someone pulling me toward the New Testament.” This particularly surprised him since he had never been interested in religious issues of any kind; if anything, religion was a turn off for him.

Each day, he read more and began to see logic in the New Testament that made it “a different world” from the Qur’an and Islam. He said he saw “love and forgiveness in the New Testament and in Jesus.” The more he read about Jesus, the more he felt drawn by Jesus himself. “Jesus’ teachings were so different and logical” he said, “I didn’t feel I was being drawn spiritually; it was so logical, I had to move toward it.” He certainly never expected to be interested in the New Testament, but he could not stop reading it.

Because he was so surprised by his new interest in the Bible, he began to ask the pastor for some guidance in this new pursuit. The pastor suggested that the Holy Spirit might be drawing the respondent to believe in Jesus, which surprised him because he had never given any thought to believing in Jesus or being religious.

Over the course of about three weeks, the respondent and pastor spoke several times about what the respondent was reading in the New Testament. These were not particularly evangelistic conversations; mainly they were comprised of the respondent reporting to the pastor the surprising things he had discovered in the New Testament like how “logical it was, and how everything fit together so well.” The respondent explained, “each conversation led the pastor to believe that I was a step closer to believing in Jesus, and the best part is that I was discovering this by reading the New Testament on my own, and not by him trying to persuade me.” When asked if the pastor never said anything but only listened, the respondent said, “I’m sure he said something, but I don’t remember anything specific. We had normal conversations; I told him about the things I was seeing, and he encouraged me to keep reading. Now that I look back at it, I think he was letting the New Testament evangelize me because he saw that it was already doing that when we first spoke. I didn’t have any real issues about leaving Islam like some do because I never was really in Islam, so he didn’t really need to answer a lot of questions.”

According to the respondent, the pastor was very patient, allowing things to develop according to the speed God was bringing the respondent along through his reading the New Testament. Eventually, the pastor sensed the respondent was ready and asked if he wanted to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” but he had no idea what that meant. The pastor explained that it was “a prayer in which the person admits they are a sinner and need forgiveness, and that they believe Jesus died for their sins so they can be forgiven.” The respondent said that seemed a little odd at the time, but it did express what he believed, so he prayed with the pastor. It was short, “I just told the Lord that I was a sinner and believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sin.” After praying, the respondent said he “never felt better” in his life.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, “drawn/compelled,” the kindness of Christians, the “sinner’s prayer,” and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #24

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #22

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Two, a female from Hebron. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 381-384.

Respondent Twenty-Two grew up in a non-observant Muslim home. Her knowledge of Islam did not come from the home or the mosque, rather it came from school, “where everybody learned about Islam.” Her interests, though, were much more focused on politics, not religion.

At the age of sixteen she was very involved in the political process, supporting the PLO and publicly identifying herself as a Marxist. Though she was not certain of the existence of God, neither could she deny God’s existence. So, through her teen years she fasted and prayed during Ramadan “just in case.” However, politics was the main focus of her life, and continued to be throughout the remainder of her teen and early college years.

In her work with the PLO, she had her first personal encounter with a Christian: she met a Christian girl from Nazareth whom she liked, and even spent the night in the girl’s home. However, distance and other issues prevented them from becoming close friends.

By her early-to-mid twenties, the respondent was married and the draw of political issues began to fade in favor of the pressing necessities of being a mother. In an effort to help support her children she took on a professional career. Eventually, her husband abandoned the family and she was left with the responsibility of raising her children alone.

Because she had no religious interests, she provided no religious training for her children, though they, like she had been, were taught about Islam in school. By the time her children were in school, she no longer fasted or prayed during Ramadan. Though she was still agnostic in her belief about God, she no longer felt the need to do religious things “just in case.” Raising her kids had become the main focus of her life.

In the midst of her daily struggle to raise her children, two particular things caused her thoughts about religion, especially Islam, to start changing: The first was the growing presence and influence of Hamas in her neighborhood. She noticed that her neighborhood was growing increasingly more religious, or as she put it, “more restrictive.” More women were “covering up,” and the parade of men going to pray at the mosque was growing larger and larger.

Observant women began to visit her home in an Islamic version of door-to- door evangelism, encouraging her to become religious and dress the part. These visits grew more frequent and intense as she refused their efforts to persuade her to their point of view.

In concert with the regular visits from the women, the respondent could hear the sermons being broadcast by loudspeaker from the nearby mosque. She said she began having emotional problems because of the harsh messages coming from the mosque coupled with “the pressure from the women to conform to an Islamic lifestyle.”

The second influence on her thoughts about religion was what she observed at her place of employment. Both Christians and Muslims worked in her office, and as much a reaction to the increasing Islamization of her neighborhood as an interest in religion, she began to actively evaluate their lives. She never told them; she simply listened to the things they said and watched the things they did.

Her observation was that the Christians with whom she worked “were much more calm and peaceful” than their Muslim counterparts. Additionally, from observing and interacting with her Muslim co-workers, she concluded “Muslims are angry and complicated.”

These observations coupled with the growing influence of Hamas in her neighborhood caused her to “consider looking at Christianity as a possible religious alternative.” Shortly thereafter, she met the headmaster of a Christian school in her region who, in turn, introduced her to a local pastor.

The respondent asked the pastor to introduce her to some believers with whom she could speak. As it turned out, he introduced her to the Christian girl (now woman) with whom she had spent the night in Nazareth almost fifteen years prior. This woman now lived in the West Bank near the respondent. The respondent was excited to now be able to develop a relationship that she had longed for as a teenager. In hindsight, she said she came to realize that her desire to get to know that Christian girl back then was so that she could actually get to know Christ.

The pastor also gave the respondent a New Testament, which she read without any understanding in about a week. Over the next month she read the New Testament three more times, each time with improved understanding. The more she read, the more she wanted to read and the more questions she had. Her questions reflected her understanding of Islam and the social context that she knew. For example, she wanted to know if it was really possible for Muslims to become Christians. What would happen if they did? How could Jesus be God?

During the second month of reading the New Testament, the pastor invited her to church even though she was not yet a believer so that she could see the community. During the sermon, which was about faith and love and forgiveness, she “sensed a change in her heart toward the idea of religion,” and specifically toward Christianity. She reported actually feeling peace enter her heart, but she still did not understand enough.

On the way home from the church service, thinking she might actually be on the right path, she began to cry. By the time she arrived home, faith and love and forgiveness became clearer. She wanted them all, and clearly in her “heart and head believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of [her] sins.” She clarified: “I didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer or talk with anyone at the moment, I just believed in my heart that Jesus died for my sins.”

The implications were many. She lived near a mosque in a neighborhood that was increasingly displaying the influence of Hamas. What if they found out? What about the kids? What about not being a Muslim? Even though she had never really practiced Islam, there was still an internal tension about leaving it. As each of these issues were raised in her mind, she reminded herself of what she had come to believe: “Jesus died for me and my sins had been forgiven.” She said that she never had anything like that in Islam, “so why worry about Islam?” Continued reading of the New Testament settled those kinds of issues as they occasionally popped up. In addition to the tensions related to leaving Islam being settled, she realized that her pre-conversion emotional problems were no longer an issue either.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “sinner’s prayer,” common objections to the gospel, and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #23

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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