A long term missionary in a Muslim majority country offers his views on ISIS and an appropriate response from the West.
Dear Praying Friends,
I am hoping to offer something helpful as our country grapples with the issue of refugees from the Middle East. The national “conversation” seems to be dominated by demagoguery on both sides. There are too many facile responses proffered by people with limited understanding. Politicians, pundits and religious leaders continue making pronouncements about what Islam is and isn’t. And what Muslims are “really like.” Much of this banter is uninformed and unhelpful.
A big problem for us as Americans is we don’t like “messy” issues. We want compact soundbites and simple solutions. The Middle East, the complex and unsettled nature of Islam and what to do about refugees do not readily lend themselves towards quick fixes. The incredibly knotty dynamics at play have been going on for a very very long time! This is new territory for us.
We need to stop, breathe and think. We need to be prudent. We have no Biblical mandate to put our citizenry at risk. And real risk there is. Think Chattanooga and San Bernardino. In fact we are duty bound to protect the innocent. At the same time, we have the Great Commandment and the Great Commission to obey. We need to start thinking like Christ followers. We need to stop shouting and start repenting, praying and fasting. God moves His hand in repentance. God is looking for obedience.
I’ve been blasted by fellow clergy in this country for the mission of sharing the Gospel with Muslims. “We should respect their religion,” they inform me. Well, that is simply disobedient to Jesus. It’s denying Jesus Himself. On the other hand, I’ve have people in churches come up and say, “Just kill them all. Bomb every one of them.” That, too, is utterly denying Christ.
Let me just throw out a few points concerning what we (personally) know and how we (personally) — as Christ followers — are responding. This is not a “policy paper” or a “panacea” to the issues currently facing us. I am simply offering conversation points for intelligent dialog and a Christian perspective. This, too, is a testimony from my experience of living in the Islamic world under partial Sharia-Law. When people tell me silly things — from either side of the spectrum — I always respond, “Come spend some time with me where we live. Learn of which you speak. You can stay with us in our home.” No takers.
1. We needn’t be gripped by “fear.” The Bible tells us “Fear not!” 365 times, one for every day of the year. God has a plan. The universe is in good hands! It’s not as though God somehow missed the rise of Islam and was caught totally off-guard. Islam was taken care of on the cross. God’s plan is now unfolding. It’s God’s timing, not ours. We are today, in our lifetimes, seeing the greatest harvest of Muslims in history! And yet we see fear in so many quarters. For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control — 2 Tim 1:7.
The BIG problem is we are not sending, sustaining and praying for “labourers for the harvest.” Luke 10:2. We must look with eyes of faith for what God is doing in the world and join Him. Go. Send. Sustain. Give. Pray. Right now we have 1 missionary for every 1,000,000 Muslims. We seek God’s intervention forgetting we have our part to play, too! We are His agency for expanding the Kingdom. We must start practicing obedience.
2. God loves Muslims. If this were not so, why would Jesus be appearing to Muslims all over the planet in dreams and visions? He’s going to them! 30% of all Muslims who come into the Kingdom come as a result of a dream or vision of Jesus! We’ve met some of these people who have had Jesus — the Transfigured, Resurrected Jesus — come to them personally. And heal them. Do what God is doing. He’s making His big move right now! BUT … they need a Christian to walk them into the Kingdom and disciple them. Pray for labourers for the harvest. Go. Send. Sustain. Give. Pray. One missionary for every 1 million Muslims is not going to cut it! Why so few? Because it’s hard! It’s inconvenient! Some are fearful. And it’s very expensive/costly! We have three choices: go, send or disobey. Let’s obey!
3. Muslims are NOT monolithic. There are over 150+ sects within Islam. There are four primary schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam. Saying “Muslim” is like saying “Protestant.” Think about what a High Church Anglican and a Snake Handler Pentecostal have in common 🙂 We need to be clear about whom we are talking. See this helpful diagram http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/islamic-sects-schools-branches-movements/
Muslims also come from a “Shame – Honour” worldview. This is VERY VERY different from our Western “Guilt – Innocence” culture. They approach life’s issues from an altogether other perspective. That’s why i don’t put much stock in polls of “what Muslims believe about ….” In a Shame – Honour Culture, they follow the herd and often times do not express what they are really thinking. Beware of polls. A great book to help get your head around this cultural difference is http://www.amazon.com/The-3D-Gospel-Ministry-Cultures-ebook/dp/B00OV4FVMS
4. The generally accepted number is 5% of Muslims are violent. 10 – 15% are devout. The remaining 80% or so are more cultural Muslims. Just like we have “cultural” [Christmas and Easter] Christians. Now, 5% of 1.6 billion is a BIG number! We need to be honest and realistic about this. These are very very very bad people pursuing their interpretation of Islam which is destructive. We can’t pretend this doesn’t exist. We must deal with this reality head on. And we should challenge, encourage and support the other Muslims to address this issue internally. We must acknowledge there are Muslims in America utterly opposed to our way of life. Prudence, caution and vigilance are necessary. But not hysteria and hatred.
Prudence is ranked as the first Cardinal Virtue. Why? Because it is rooted in the intellect. Pretending that there is no real problem in Islam or claiming that all Muslims are a threat is, in both instances, intellectual dishonesty. Prudence can take on a supernatural character through grace. This means we need to pray and fast. What we’re grappling with is complicated. We need God’s wisdom to determine right practice. There should less pronouncements, less social media frenzy, and more praying.We need prudence and we need also to uphold charity.
Charity is a theological virtue, along with hope and love. Charity means loving God above all else and loving others for God’s sake. I’ve experienced nothing but kindness from our Muslim neighbours. Our home is 99.3% Muslim so that’s actually most people! In fact, it’s the “Christians” who’ve been really terrible to us at times. Muslims are people. They have their good days and bad, just like us. But we’ve been shown great affection.
One day I went into our local pharmacy. The owner and his family who run the shop are VERY devout. They close faithfully and promptly for prayers. The father can be cranky when his favourite football team, Liverpool, is losing (I of course as a Man City fan tease him). The women are in full hijabs. Bottom line — they’re serious! I was paying for my supplies when the young woman in full hijab (my friend Z) behind the counter pulled me in close. Things were a bit hot in town, the radicals had been acting up. She whispered to me, “Don’t worry about anything. We’re all watching out for you. You’re a good person and we know it. It will be fine we all have your back.” Stacy and I paid for Z’s elderly dad’s dialysis and when he died she asked us to come over and pray with them. Z calls me her “friend” in a way that makes me feel Jesus very close by.
I am not an apologist for Islam. I’ve seen two fellow priests shot in the head and a third have his face burned off with acid. My family lives under threat daily. I know exactly what a radical is capable of. There’s no way to avoid or sugar coat it. But that doesn’t stop us from sharing the Good News and love of God with Muslims. Why? Because Jesus said to “Go!” Because Jesus is right now, this very moment, going ahead of us. No one is off limits to God’s grace. 2 Peter 3:9. Go. Send. Sustain. Give. Pray.
5. The driving spirit of Islam is rejection. Think Ishmael. Look at the life of the Prophet. Rejection is the central motif of Islam. Islam thrives on rejection. It targets marginalised people. It “works” for marginalised people. So we come in the opposite spirit – – love, acceptance, grace, forgiveness, mercy. The first thing that happens when a Muslim comes into the Kingdom is their anger “falls” off. We’ve seen it firsthand. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. For the first time they know that God is a Father Who loves them. Who sent His Son Jesus to die for them and remove their shame. To restore them and bring them into His family forever. We come in the opposite spirit. No one was ever hated into the Kingdom. We need to GO. Send. Sustain. Give. Pray.
6. The cost of resettling a refugee in the West is $64,000+ per person. Per person. See http://freebeacon.com/issues/resettling-middle-eastern-refugees-costs-taxpayers-64370-per-refugee/. In Iraq, where we work, we can sustain an ISIS refugee FAMILY for about $50 a month! Of the 2.2 million refugees in our locale — the Mosul refugees from ISIS — 1.5 million are Muslim. 500,000 are Yazidi. The remainder Christians. We must think and pray through a refugee policy that is both prudent and charitable. There are other options yet to be explored.
The Iraqi refugees, for the most part, “just want to go home.” That’s what they tell us. Over and over. “We want to go home.” So our work is to help keep them alive there until that day is possible. And offer hope. Jesus is the Hope of the world. Our youngest child, “Buck” and I will head back to Iraq for Christmas. We will be sharing the Good News of Jesus in word and tangible expressions of His love — through His People in America. Our hope is to venture into Sinjar from where ISIS was just removed two weeks ago. Some folks say we are “brave.” No. We are in love with Jesus and seek to obey His Word. We want to move where He’s moving and do what He’s doing. We don’t always get it right but that’s the desire.
Now it’s time to prep for Iraq V. Please pray for us, the relief run into Sinjar could be a bit hairy. More importantly, pray that God’s people here in America will rally to “love their neighbour” locally and in Iraq. Show them Jesus. And pray that hardened hearts and broken spirits will be softened and mended in the Saviour’s love. Thank you for walking with us as we walk with Jesus in the heart of Islam. I remain yours,
(The author asked that his name not be shared due to security concerns)