One group of converts in Central Asia said they tell each other: “If you’re persecuted just thank God that you haven’t been beaten, if you’ve been beaten, thank God you haven’t been thrown in prison, if you’re in prison, thank God you haven’t been killed, and if you’ve been killed, thank God that you’re with Jesus in heaven.”
Despite the daily news of the persecution of Christians around the world by Islamist groups, there is another, lesser-known story of growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are turning to Christ as Lord.
Missionary David Garrison’s book, A Wind in the House of Islam, charts this phenomenon, which he says demonstrates that “we are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history”.
The book is the result of two and a half years of research and involved travelling more than 250,000 miles to conduct interviews with more than 1,000 people around the Muslim world. In the study, a ‘movement’ of believers is defined as a group of more than 1,000 baptised believers or 100 new churches within a Muslim community. In total he found 69 movements that had started in the first 12 years of the 21st century, in comparison with virtually no voluntary movements of converts to Christianity in the first 12 centuries of Islam.
David Garrison spent two and a half years interviewing Muslim converts to Christ about their faith.
Garrison, who has been a missionary pioneer with the the Southern Baptist International Mission Board for nearly 30 years, told Christian Today that he started out with a “healthy scepticism” about the number of new believers, imagining that the figures might be have been over-estimated. Instead, he found that numbers were often vastly under-reported.
“What is exciting is not just how big the movements are…but how many of these movements there are now and that they’re not limited to one corner of the world, but we’re seeing them from West Africa to Indonesia, and virtually everywhere in between,” he says.
Muslims who convert to Christianity can face the death penalty and many experience intense persecution, so converts are often underground, making it impossible to know exactly how many new believers there are, but estimates currently range between 2 and 7 million.
So why is this turning to Christ happening now? “God has brought several elements together uniquely in our time,” he says. “Some of them are old elements – Muslim violence is not new, this is one of the least violent centuries in Muslim history – but what’s different is today when Muslims experience this violence, they can see an alternative… they can switch on their Internet, they can turn on their television and hear an evangelist speaking Farsi or Kazakh or Uzbek.”
It’s also the combination of Bible translation alongside the potential for multimedia evangelism and the growth of international travel that appears to have facilitated this change. “It’s a great day that God seems to be orchestrating for this to happen.”
Among the converts he met were numerous senior religious leaders. On Christmas Day 2011 he met with 20 leaders from a fundamentalist Muslim people group; 19 had been baptised, 17 were imams (leaders of the mosque) and three of them were women.
When he asked them why they hadn’t left their community and moved away to form a church, one of the women replied: “When God wanted to reach men, he became a man. If God had wanted to reach hyenas, he would have become a hyena. If we want to reach our own people, we’ve got to stay in our community to reach them.”