I have just returned from an amazing conference in the far East! There were approximately 1000 people present, and though some were still in university, most were holding down jobs in well-respected careers. Caucasians, like myself, were rare. Some pastors from China, who had planned to come, were denied permission; in a few cases their wives were allowed. Worship, led by skilled musicians, was exuberant and uplifting, and though some songs were western, apparently two-thirds of them had been written by a gifted Chinese Christian woman.

It was thrilling to hear them sing from their hearts! Plenary addresses were in either Mandarin or English, and technology for translation was superb. It was moving to hear people cry out to God in repentance–sometimes out loud–praying for God’s name to be proclaimed among the nations. They confessed the sins of their country (oppression and godlessness), but also their own neglect in mission.  There was a sense of revival that we long for in the West, but seldom experience.

My part (through the help of an excellent translator from Columbia International University) was to present a ninety-minute seminar on reaching Muslims for Christ, and I stressed the fact that currently God is drawing them to Himself as never before. The chaos and trauma, and even the refugee crisis—be it ever so heart rending—is allowing many to finally hear the Gospel and respond. I had taken about 20 Jesus DVD’s (16 Muslim languages, with English subtitles), plus 100 tracts that could be given out to Muslim friends, and these were much appreciated. I met a few students who had attended CIU, and at least one knew of my course on Islam, translated into Mandarin, that was being used some in China.

Personal testimonies were powerful: For example, there was a Tibetan monk, highly skilled in Buddhist Scriptures, who was now preaching the good news. He said he knew ten languages, and besides English, did speak a little Hindi with me.  Another was a Korean worker, reportedly also proficient in Mandarin, who labors among a tribal group near the Cambodian border. He said that gradually people invited him into their hearts and homes, and some had turned to Christ. That night, over 100 committed to missions, mostly for unreached minority groups in China.

However, the most gripping was the simple testimony of a little woman (non-white), serving in what may be Central Asia’s dirtiest, darkest and most dangerous country. Dressed in the garb of a village Muslim woman (for security, only eyes showing), she told of a few converts who had believed, despite the cost. One day a friend and fellow worker wept, asking God how these people would ever know He loved them. Shortly thereafter, she and her family were martyred. This little woman was warned her family was next on this list, so she prayed: “God, if that’s your will, we are also willing to die.” One daughter (age 14) said, “Mom, we can’t leave; my best friend has not yet accepted Jesus.” It was a family decision to stay.[1] She was on her way back and asked for more workers. Seven young people got up from their seats and went forward (5 women, 2 men)—all from the same city. By now many (myself included) were in tears.

Almost 40 years ago, a veteran worker in North Africa, by the name of Charles Marsh, spoke to young recruits about the challenge of missionary work with Muslims. He related the stories of many in Algeria who had been martyred by family and friends during the first two years of their conversion. He said, “If you have not yet counted the cost, and are not prepared to do die for Christ, then you do not have the right to speak to Muslims about Christ because the message you bring them could lead to their being killed for the sake of Christ, should they believe.”[2] 

It is true that converts to Christ in Islamic contexts are often persecuted and may even be martyred. But expatriate missionaries today may also face persecution–and even death—due to Islamic extremism. Throughout history suffering has been part of Christian witness and vital to the growth of the church—not just among Muslims.  Is this the message missionary candidates from the West are hearing, and if so, are they willing to lay down their lives for the Gospel? Pray for the many who volunteered to serve but especially for those seven. It could cost them everything.

[1] Anna E. Hampton, Facing Danger: A Guide through Risk (New Prague, MN: Zendagi Press). In this very helpful book, Hampton points out that risk taking is biblical: the church in Jerusalem chose men like Barnabas and Paul, because they had “risked their lives” for the gospel (Acts 15:25-26).  However, a couple of chapters later, Paul and his associates decided it was best to flee, so sometimes the wisest decision is to leave a dangerous situation.  The author holds workshops so that cross-cultural workers can properly asses their situation and make the right decision.

[2] Don Little, Ed. Seedbed: Practitioners in Conversation (September 2016, Vol XXX, No. 1), 5.