GOD WILL NOT BE STOPPED – THE GREAT UNDERGROUND REVIVAL IN THE MIDDLE EAST
By J. D. King, author, speaker and director of the World Revival Network.
More Muslims have committed to follow Christ in the last 10 years than in the last 15 centuries of Islam. In spite of great difficulty and turmoil, Christianity is unquestionably expanding throughout the Islamic world. God is up to something amazing in a region that many have thought was unreachable. The churning, tempestuous world looks remarkably different from what many imagine. In the darkest corners of the Middle East there’s a revival beginning that’s unprecedented in the history of world missions. I hope that you’ll journey with me as I explore unbelievable developments in the expansion of Christianity in the Middle East. Reliable reports suggest more Muslims have become followers of Jesus over the last two decades than in Islam’s combined 1,500-year history.
Based on the accounts of several missiologists, and In spite of great difficulty and turmoil, Christianity is unquestionably expanding throughout the Islamic world. God is up to something amazing in a region that many have thought was unreachable. Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical researcher, author and resident of Israel has documented the recent upsurge of Christianity in the Middle-East. Through first-hand reconnaissance, coupled with reports from Arabic nationals, Rosenberg demonstrates that Christianity is rising rapidly in the world of Islam. Admittedly some of the following statistics have shifted in the aftermath of the ISIS and other violence against Christians. Those who follow Jesus have been slaughtered and have experienced severe persecution in this region.
Nevertheless, Joel Rosenberg’s observations provide a window into many amazing developments. In many Mediterranean nations, Christianity is making extraordinary inroads. Though the conversion figures are impossible to confirm, they provide a snapshot of what’s transpiring in the Middle East. Reports suggest that increasing numbers of Christ-followers are emerging in the war-torn nation of Sudan. It is being noted that: “One million Sudanese have turned to Christ since the year 2000-not in spite of persecution, war and genocide, but because of them. The estimated number of Believers in Sudan is more than 5.5 million.” Many are convinced that the brutalities this nation has encountered are becoming a catalyst for the growth of Christianity. Rather than inhibiting the Church, the war is actually propelling it.
Pakistan is typically not identified as a nation experiencing a move of God, but apparently they’re beginning to see one spark within their contentious borders. Christianity’s Middle-Eastern expansion is particularly evident in this unexpected place. Rosenberg acknowledges that: “Senior Pakistani Christian leaders tell me there is a ‘conversion explosion’ going on in their country. There are now an estimated 2.5 million to 3 million born-again Pakistani Believers worshiping Jesus Christ. Whole towns and villages along the Afghan-Pakistani border are… converting to Christianity.” This Islamic country is not alone, many others in this region are having similar things take place.
Reliable reports suggest that there is also a great revival erupting in the land of Egypt. Rosenberg declares that, “Ministry leaders in Egypt estimate there are more than 2.5 million followers of Jesus Christ in their country. Many of these are Muslim converts.” Undoubtedly, the severe persecutions and disruptions related to the “Arab Spring” have affected the lives of Christians throughout this nation, but the faithful have remained strong. Martyrdom invites outsiders to examine the claims of those willing to die for Jesus. It is believed that many amazing things are taking place in Egypt.
The nation of Iran is also beginning to encounter the rising flames of awakening. Violent Islamic Fundamentalism has not been able to impede the advancement of the Gospel in this Persian nation. Reflecting on this, Rosenberg writes: “At the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were only about 500 known Muslim converts inside the country. By 2000, a survey of demographic trends reported there were 220,000 Christians inside Iran, of which between four and twenty thousand were Muslim converts. According to Iranian Christian leaders, the number of Christians inside their country shot dramatically higher between 2000 and 2008.” Christianity went from 500 people to 220,000 in 21 years. Contrary to what many think, Christianity is quietly advancing in some of the most unlikely places around the globe.
Reports continue to come in. A strikingly similar stirring is also taking place in Saudi Arabia-unquestionably the epi-centre of world Islam. One wouldn’t expect the growth of Christianity in Mecca, but it is happening. Summarizing some of what he has heard, Joel Rosenberg reports that “Arab Christian leaders estimated there were more than one hundred thousand Saudi Muslim background Believers in 2005, and they believe the numbers are even higher today.” Saudi Arabia is being quickened by the Spirit of the Lord. It seems to be positioned to experience significant growth in the decades to come.
Christianity is also quietly advancing in the nation of Iraq. These numbers precede the emergence of ISIS and the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Multitudes of Christians have been martyred since these figures were reported. Yet, even the fact that Muslims felt compelled to quell its advancement suggests that Christianity’s influence has been growing. “Before 2003, there were only about 500 known born-again Christians in the country, despite an estimated 750,000 nominal Christians in Iraqi churches. By the end of 2008, it was estimated that there were more than 70,000 born-again Iraqi Believers.” Whilst the expansion of Christianity has been greatly hindered more recently in Iraq, don’t be mistaken, this martyrdom and brutality will ultimately give way to more Christians in the land once known as Babylon.
The whole Islamic world is currently shaking. On a lesser level, other Islamic nations are also experiencing a tremendous stirring within their borders. One of these is Algeria. Rosenberg recounts the recent upsurge in Algeria, noting that: “More than eighty thousand Muslims have become followers of Christ in recent years. The surge of Christianity has become so alarming to Islamic clerics that in March of 2006, Algerian officials passed a law banning Muslims from becoming Christians or even learning about Christianity, and forbidding Christians from meeting together without a license from the government.” Algeria is beginning to come alive with the Gospel like much of Northern Africa.
Another ancient Middle-Eastern locale where Christianity is beginning to take root is along the borders the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The Islamic land of Jordan is also experiencing the grace and wonder of Jesus. Reflecting on what is transpiring in this nation, Rosenberg noted the following: “God has been reviving the Jordanian Church in the last four decades, and particularly in the past few years. Conservative estimates say the number of Believers in the country is now between five and ten thousand. The head of one major Jordanian ministry, however, believes there may be as many as fifty thousand Believers in the country.” Jordan is also experiencing the salvation of Jesus Christ.
Almost every Islamic nation has experienced a significant upsurge of Christianity over the last 20 years. In the nation of Morocco it is claimed that “around 30,000 Muslims have become Christ-followers.” Rosenberg suggests that, “The number of Afghan believers is now around 25,000.” In Kazakhstan “there are more than 15,000 Kazakh Christians, and more than 100,000 Christians of all ethnicities.” In Lebanon, Rosenberg suggests that, “there are about 10,000 truly born-again followers of Jesus Christ today.” Reports suggest there were no Muslim background Christians in Syria 50 years ago, but today “there are around 4,500 born-again believers in the country”. Rosenberg’s figures suggest that there are over 13 million Christians in Islamic countries, and a majority of them are from a Muslim background.
We find that Joel Rosenberg isn’t the only one observing the changing conditions within the broader Islamic world. There are other evidences of a notable transformation taking place. For example, journalist George Thomas notes that: “A Christian revival is touching the northernmost reaches of Africa. In a region once hostile to the gospel, now tens of thousands of Muslims are following Jesus. As the sun sets over the Mediterranean Sea, Muslims across Northern Africa are converting to faith in Jesus Christ in record numbers. … What experts say is that there is a profound move of God in the predominantly Muslim nations of Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia.”
Tino Qahoush, a researcher and filmmaker, has been traveling to various parts of this region to document the Christian revival that has been taking place. Reflecting on what he observed, he noted the following, “What God is doing in North Africa, all the way from actually Mauritanian to Libya is unprecedented in the history of missions. I have the privilege of recording testimonies and listening to firsthand stories of men and women, of all ages.” Jayson Casper, a journalist with Christianity Today, also pointed out some astounding growth that’s taking place in the Arabian Peninsula. He writes: “Today the Pew Research Centre numbers Christians in the Arabian Peninsula at 2.3 million-more Christians than nearly 100 countries can claim.
The Gulf Christian Fellowship, an umbrella group, estimates that the United Arab Emirates Christian population is around 13%, according to Pew. Among other Gulf states, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar each about 14% Christian, while Oman is about 6%. Even Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest cities (Mecca and Medina), is 4% Christian.” One of the best examples of the expansion of Christianity within Muslim lands is through the work of Heidi and Roland Baker. Along with their church plants and trained workers from Iris Ministries, the Bakers have made an extraordinary impact on the nation of Mozambique. The province that they currently operate in was entirely Muslim before their arrival, but a little over 10 years later those figures have changed drastically.
Kelly Head from Christ for the Nations writes, “The Bakers are now based full-time in Pemba, Mozambique, an area Heidi once called a ‘graveyard to missionaries.’ But recently the government announced publicly that it was no longer a Muslim providence but now it was a Christian providence.” The abrupt changes to the once Muslim Africa are something even the Islamic clerics are acknowledging. In December 2001, Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, the president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, appeared on Al-Jazeera satellite television. He declared that: “Islam used to represent Africa’s main religion, and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa.
In the non-Arab section, the number of Muslims does not exceed 150 million people. When we realize that the entire population of Africa is one billion people, we see that the number of Muslims has diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning of the last century. … As to how that happened, well, there are now 1.5 million churches whose congregations account for 46 million people. In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity. These numbers are very large indeed.” It is obvious from these and other reports that Christianity is advancing. Yet, the question is: “Why?” Interestingly, it may have a lot to do with something many in the West would discount.
Throughout the Mediterranean world there’s a high regard for dreams. They comprehend them the same way that individuals during the early biblical period did. Islam in particular, places a great value on nocturnal visions.
Ever since Muhammad retreated to a cave in A.D. 610 and began to experience what he considered to be revelatory visions, Muslims have greatly valued impressions they may receive while they’re asleep. Timothy Morgan notes that dreams are a “part of the reality of their world. Mohammad listened to dreams, and he gave Muslims the impression that God could speak through them. So they do listen to them, and they do talk about them.” Tom Doyle, an evangelist, pastor and the E3 Partners Ministry Director for the Middle East and Central Asia noted the following:
“Outside of the Scriptures, Egyptian history records a significant amount of information about dreams and visions, many of which became determining factors in the overall direction of the nation. One archaeological find close to the Pyramids revealed that ancient Egyptian scribe named Kenhirkhopeshef kept a papyrus document called the Dream Book. The book is a catalogue of 108 dreams and the activities and emotions that accompanied them.” Interestingly, over the last two decades there have been numerous claims of Muslims having dreams about Jesus and ultimately coming to faith. Url Scaramanga, writing in conservative evangelical journal, acknowledges that “stories of Muslims coming to faith in Christ because of a vision or dream are not uncommon.”
It is easy to dismiss this, but I think Christians should remain open to all of the various ways that God operates. It may seem inexplicable to us, but it seems that dreams are a primary way that Middle-Eastern people are open to encountering God. Reflecting on the significance of these nocturnal visions, Nabeel Qureshi writes: “I think the reason why dreams are an important component of people leaving Islam and accepting Christ is that most Muslims believe that God reveals himself and his will to them in dreams. In fact, it seems to be the only way that they believe God will reveal his will to them. So they have faith that God will direct them, so God uses their faith for his purposes.”
With all the questions and concerns about this approach, there’s interest in determining to what extent dreams are driving evangelism among Muslims. Georges Houssney prepared a questionnaire and, over a period of three years, asked 100 Christian converts from Islam how they came to faith. When asked, “What was the major factor in drawing you to Christ?” 25% of Houssney’s respondents acknowledged that dreams and visions were the primary catalyst that brought them to salvation. Furthermore, 60% of the respondents acknowledged that they had experienced a relevant dream or vision or both prior to their conversion. The reality of these transforming dreams are being widely acknowledged, even though they are a bit unsettling for those in the conservative evangelical community.
Reflecting on his own experience, Tom Doyle says: “I’m not a sceptic by nature. But when I began hearing about Muslims having dreams and visions of Jesus, I was quite the doubting Thomas. About a decade ago, those of us who work in Muslim outreach started to hear about something new in the world of Islam. God was opening the closed hearts of Muslims by giving them dreams and visions. At first, the stories were rare, but today these accounts of God breaking through to Muslims have become a common occurrence. We find that about one third of Muslim-background believers has had a dream or vision prior to their salvation experience. Though they may be misunderstood and largely outside the norm in the West, dreams are certainly changing things throughout the Arab world.
Many Middle-Eastern Christians publicly acknowledge the fact that dreams actively facilitated them coming into a saving knowledge of Jesus. For example, Nabeel Qureshi is a former devout Muslim. He became a believer in part through a visionary experience. When recounting his conversion he writes: “When I contrasted the evidence for Christianity against the evidence for Islam I knew that intellectually there was no comparison. So I asked God to reveal Himself to me in truth, through dreams and visions. All those things, combined with actually reading the Bible, are what drove me forward to the point of accepting Christ.”
When asked about his conversion to Christianity from Islam, Pastor Naeem Fazal of Mosaic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, mentioned several things that impacted him. He pointed out things like friendship with a knowledgeable Christian as well as reading the Bible. However, it was a particular supernatural encounter that brought him into a moment of crisis. Having a visionary experience one night, Fazal had an encounter that forever shifted the course of his life. “It looked like a figure made up with light-solid, yet transparent. It was an experience like no other. The peace I felt from this presence was so powerful, so aggressive … and He introduced Himself to me and said, ‘I’m Jesus; your life is not your own.’ The next morning my life changed forever.”
Fazal acknowledges that he is not unique in this experience. He notes that “the majority of the Muslim conversion stories I hear seem to involve dreams and visions inspired by the Holy Spirit in which Christ is supernaturally revealed.” Many are compelled to question this approach. As I already mentioned, this seems rather unorthodox, particularly within the American Evangelical context. However, dreams are unquestionably shifting awareness and opening the door for the gospel. In fact, it might be God’s way of counteracting the relative failure of Western missions in the Middle East. Walid Shoebat agrees. He is a former Palestine Liberation Organisation operative turned Christian and peace activist. Shoebat acknowledges that Jesus is compensating for the weaknesses of the Western Church.
Reflecting on this, he noted the following: “I had first doubted the countless stories of Muslims becoming Christian as a result of dreams until I met some of them and heard their testimonies. My conclusion to this phenomenon is that Christ succeeds where the church fails.” I believe that it’s time for Christians to celebrate the advancement of the gospel in some of the darkest places on the globe. In this season, Jesus is doing amazing things in the midst of every tribe and tongue. We are obliged to acknowledge the beauty and wonder of the kingdom’s advancement. Don’t be mistaken; Christ succeeds where the church fails.