From the Archives: Dr. Robert Douglas, Director of the Zwemer Institute, (1984-1996) presented the following at a Muslim Awareness Conference in 1994.
What are some of the factors that are resulting in the seeds being planted in the Muslim world and signs of a harvest beginning to emerge?
- Number one is God’s timing. Remember the passage in Acts 18 where Paul is in Corinth and is discouraged. The Lord said, “Don’t be afraid; don’t be silent.” Literally He says, “Quit being afraid, Paul. I have many people in this city.” Well, he didn’t have many church members there at the time. So, it seems what the Lord was saying is, “Paul, I got here before you. Thanks for finally showing up, brother. And I have been at work here in social, political, cultural, economic and familial things. I have created some heart longings out there, and the folks may not know what they are longing for and how to articulate the question if you ask them, but don’t give up. Don’t be silent. Press ahead and take advantage of the responsiveness I have created.”
- Where Muslims are coming to faith, you typically find some sort of contextualized strategies. Obviously, contextualization gets widely debated in Christian mission circles, and it means different things to different people, but at one level we are all contextualists. If you believe the Bible ought to be in Arabic for Arabs, then that’s contextualization. Translation is contextualization. So the question is not contextualization but how much is appropriate and effective. How can we make radio and tracts more meaningful within specific cultures. And even the same materials will not necessarily work with urban populations that work in the villages. We need to remove unnecessary barriers in communicating the gospel.
- Quality of life is a factor in whether or not our message will be received. Just as food varies in different cultures, what is considered acceptable behavior is not necessarily the same as we would recognize it in America. Holiness, godliness and piety is to a degree culturally defined. For example, Muslims are people of prayer. Do they ever see us pray? Our form is to go into our closet, shut the door and speak to the Father in private. There are Muslims who have said of humanitarian workers in their midst that they are wonderful people who serve and help us; it is too bad they are not going to heaven since they are not praying people. But when our piety is lived out in a way that can be seen, it becomes a factor in bringing inquiry and drawing people to faith.
- Where Muslims are being won in large numbers, people have discovered ways to encourage national converts to stay in contact with their kin. Sometimes it is difficult for that to happen, but too often in the past our strategies have been that of extraction of a new believer from his community and remove any potential influence and impact. Yes, we are concerned for their safety, but our perception of conversion is too individualistic. In Muslim cultures the priority is family and community, and many places the gospel is taking root in a communal context.