Muslims and Miracles
A survey of 750 Muslims who converted to Christianity seriously challenges Western assumptions about God's working in the world. The question was why they made the decision to convert. While not all the reasons given were unexpected for us who have a European cultural heritage, two of the top four certainly were.
The primary reason for converting, according to this survey, was lifestyles of Christians. (American Christians would do well to reflect on how that relates to research on how our lifestyles affect others.)
"A North African former Sufi mystic noted with approval that there was no gap between the moral profession and the practice of Christians he saw. An Egyptian contrasted the love of a Christian group at an American university with the unloving treatment of Muslim students and faculty he encountered at a university in Medina. An Omani woman explained that Christians treat women as equals. Others noted loving Christian marriages. Some poor people said the expatriate Christian workers they knew had adopted, contrary to their expectations, a simple lifestyle, wearing local clothes and observing local customs of not eating pork, drinking alcohol, or touching those of the opposite sex. A Moroccan was even welcomed by his former Christian in-laws after he underwent a difficult divorce."
The second most prominent reason was "experiencing the power of God in answered prayers and healing." J.P. Moreland wrote about this in Kingdom Triangle, and has spoken about it (mp3 podcast: control-click or right-click to download, and fast forward to the second hour). I've asked several missionary friends about this since hearing Moreland's presentation, and they confirm that these things are common outside the Western world.
Now, it may be easy for skeptics to dismiss reports from missionaries, on grounds that they have a vested interest in, well, just lying about it. Not so. First, the people I've spoken to are very American. They, like all of us, have caught the general skepticism of our culture on things like these. They did not go overseas with the mindset that God works this way, but through experience they have changed their views. Second--and you'll have to take my word for this--these people are not liars.
But now we also have data from people whose experience of God's power ran strongly against their expectations. Muslims, to state the obvious, are not brought up to believe Jesus is the solution to their problems. But significant numbers of them are seeing that he is:
"In North Africa, Muslim neighbors asked Christians to pray for a very sick daughter who then was healed. In Senegal, a Muslim marabout (spiritual leader) referred a patient to Christians when he was not able to bring healing. In Pakistan, after a pilgrimage to Mecca did not cure a disabled Shiite girl, she was healed following Christian prayer.
"Closely related was the finding that some noted deliverance from demonic power as another reason they were attracted to Jesus. After all, he is the healing prophet in the Qur'an and has power over demons in the Gospels. In northern Nigeria, a malam (what some might call a witchdoctor) used sorcery against a man who was considering following Jesus. The seeker became insane, and his extended family left him. But then he prayed that Christ would free him, and he was healed."
The third reason for Muslims converting was dissatisfaction with their experience with Islam. Since this is not a post about Islam I will not dwell on that point.
Fourth was visions and dreams. Just last Tuesday I asked a missionary if he knew of experiences of signs and wonders. He spoke of a team of three missionaries, colleagues of his, who were paddling up a river on a boat, in a place where they had not been before. A woman called out to them from the shore, "Are you bringing the word of God?" They landed there and she told them she was the local religious leader. She had had a dream the night before that three men would come in a boat, bringing the word of God. This was not a Muslim community, but illustrates the same point: God is working through dreams and visions. Note that this cannot be ascribed to mere psychology; the information was too specific. The same is true of stories Moreland tells, for example of a Muslim man who walked up to a Christian missionary in a marketplace and said, "I had a dream last night that if I came to this marketplace at this time today, I would see a man wearing a blue jacket just like yours and he would tell me about God." In the survey report we read,
"Many Muslims view dreams as links between the seen and unseen worlds, and pre-conversion visions and dreams often lead Muslims to consult a Christian or the Bible. Frequently a person in the vision, understood to be Jesus, radiates light or wears white (one respondent, though, said Jesus appeared in green, a color sometimes associated with Islamic holy persons). An Algerian woman had a vision that her Muslim grandmother came into her room and said, 'Jesus is not dead; he is here.' In Israel, an Arab dreamed that his deceased father said, 'Follow the pastor. He will show you the right way.' Other dreams and visions occurred later and provided encouragement during persecution. A Turkish woman in jail because of her conversion had a vision that she would be released, and she was. A vision of thousands of believers in the streets proclaiming their faith encouraged a young man in North Africa to persevere."
Why don't we see this more often in North America? I concur with Moreland's assessment. First, signs and wonders like this actually are happening. Tragically there are some hucksters who peddle false versions, yet I have seen several occurrences of God working in unexpected power, and I can attest that the genuine thing does happen. It may be less common here, though, because Christians in the West have a somewhat secularized view of what God will do. It's as if we've bought into an atheistic/agnostic position, never expecting to see the hand of God at work. We have a lot to learn from the rest of the world. So do the secularists who say that God never works in power.
Posted: Fri - October 26, 2007 at 10:28 AM |