Sometimes preaching the Gospel isn’t enough to convince others to follow Jesus. In the Middle East, this is especially true, even for those who have suffered greatly under the violence of radical Islam.
I’ve encountered and heard stories of many Iraqis who chose to stay and live in the new Muslim caliphate when ISIS invaded northern Iraq almost a year ago. Disgusted by the reality of the violent culture they submitted themselves to, they are desperate to get out. And yet, these Muslims are still unwilling to give up their Islamic faith. Why?
Jesus is a stumbling block for Muslims (1 Cor. 1:23). They do not believe He is the Son of God, but only a prophet. Even for those who begin to believe Jesus is the Son of God and recognize the Gospel as the truth, they still face an intense internal struggle.
It is easier for people to make a decision to follow Jesus Christ in countries where there is religious freedom, but in the environment of the Middle East, this is a very difficult, costly decision. If they become a Christian, they will likely lose their family. They lose a part of their identity. They may be dishonored and cut off from their community and slandered. In many cases, they face death.
So how do we reach Muslims in the Middle East? How do we help them choose Jesus in the face of these difficult circumstances? Jesus’s prayer in John 17 may hold the key to reaching the Middle East with the Gospel:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. (THAT’S US!) I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one… and may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me…. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.
Is it possible that our perfect unity is the key to unlocking the Middle East and the rest of the unreached world? It is the ultimate testimony, the demonstration Muslims need to see to believe Jesus is the Son of God and that God the Father loves them dearly. Jesus does not pray that we would hold more crusades, go on more mission trips, or send more humanitarian aid to reach the world. Jesus, God Himself, prays that we would be in perfect unity!
I know this is true, because I saw it firsthand only a few weeks ago while we were in Iraq. On this trip, World Compassion hosted medical teams from In His Image out of Tulsa, Oklahoma and World of Life Church from Sweden.
We had people from America, Sweden, Jordan, Iraq and Iran as a part of our teams that week. All of us came from different cultures, but when we united together around one message (Jesus) and one mission, it naturally created a culture of love. Translators working with our teams that week were drawn in by the love they felt we had for each other, and for the people we were serving.
This culture of love, the message, is so strong many of the translators we have used for these teams are beginning to ask questions about Jesus. One day I was encouraging our team with this passage from John 17, and one of the translators approached me afterward. Robbie, a young man, told me, “This message you share – I believe it is true. I feel peace in my heart about it.”
Robbie was drawn toward Jesus by simply being around our team and experiencing this culture of love! He began to believe in the Gospel without even hearing it, because our unity was the only testimony he needed to “hear.” It was through the atmosphere of love that ultimately provided some of the team members the opportunity to talk to Robbie about Jesus.
This young man has said he wants to become a Christian, but he has not made the commitment yet. He still faces extreme pressure in his decision, as he risks abandonment from his family and a breaking off his engagement with his fiancé, who is still Muslim. Believers in the area are working with him now through this decision. Please keep him in prayer.
Although we only had 25 people on the team, the culture of love we brought was stronger and more attractive than the culture of hate and division many of the people we serve have experienced. In a matter of a few days, Robbie had overcome the greatest stumbling block to his conversion – believing Jesus is the Son of God.
Strive for Perfect Unity
When we look at the world today, and particularly the Middle East, it makes sense why God would call us to strive for perfect unity with each other. Entire regions have been torn apart and whole people groups displaced due to sectarian violence. Most of the victims of ISIS and similar groups aren’t Christians, they’re Muslims! Division between Muslim groups have torn apart Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and more. Yet despite the violent division, the Lord is not absent in the region.
The refugees we serve in Iraq are desperate for a new way, a new life. Let’s unite together during this strategic time and see Jesus’s prayer fulfilled in our lifetime.
Let’s reach the Middle East – together.