Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. In fact, recent research by the Pew Research Center showed that in the next half century, Islam will likely surpass the Christian faith as the world’s largest religion.
This trend affects our churches. Whether in North American communities or in places around the world, the reality is that Christian Reformed churches can’t ignore their Muslim neighbors. But what does this mean in practice?
How can we as a church meet Muslims where they are and walk alongside them in a way that gives testimony to our Reformed tradition? Sometimes this can mean simply being a neighbor, such as when World Renew provides disaster response assistance in a primarily Muslim community. Other times it means sharing the gospel and helping people come to know Christ personally.
We share a few stories that reflect the joys and challenges of Christian Reformed agencies as we try to do ministry among Muslims.
Loraine’s life journey gives her a strong witness of Christ’s love in her Muslim community in Burkina Faso.
“I was born into a Muslim family,” said Loraine, who asked that we not use her real name. “In 2008, I became a Christ follower through a friend. She kept telling me about Jesus. That same year I met my husband, who was also a Christian. He encouraged me to join the church he attended.”
Life soon became very difficult for Loraine.
“In general, when a Muslim gives herself to Christ, relationships with the family become complicated,” explained Rev. Marc Nabie, French-language ministry coordinator for Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI) in Burkina Faso. That was true for Loraine.
“When my father realized my conversion, he beat me and forbade me to go to church,” said Loraine. “Still, I went. My father whipped me and put his hand in my eye sockets to put out my eyes so I wouldn’t know the way to the church. The neighbors managed to save me but I was badly wounded. They had trouble removing the clothes I was wearing, since my whole body was sores.”
Even today Loraine still has scars on her back and in her right eye.
“Stories like Loraine’s are why some people hide their faith from their family. In some cases, they can attend church but quite discreetly. Where that’s impossible, they remain in contact with the faith through Christian media like ours,” said Nabie.
BTGMI seeks to develop healthy relationships in Muslim countries, to lift up Christ rather than speak against Islam. It began French ministry in Burkina Faso in 2015, partnering with Timothy Leadership Training Institute (TLTI). TLTI already had an established ministry with local leaders in the capital city, Ouagadougou.
Under Nabie’s leadership, BTGMI began producing radio broadcasts to complement Bible study lessons being used by local TLTI-trained leaders. The broadcasts and lessons focus on living lives shaped by God’s Word.
The media outreach has expanded to three radio programs broadcast throughout four regions, and the ministry team has added a website and Facebook outreach. Nabie also consults with a new BTGMI French media outreach begun in 2016 in Niger, which is 99 percent Muslim, and where Christians and Muslims live in peace.
People, including Muslims living in this area, are responding to the gospel messages.
Loraine, who now works with Nabie in the Ouagadougou ministry center as office assistant, often meets with listeners who come to the center for prayer and encouragement. She has special understanding and empathy for Muslim women seeking Christ.
“God gave me grace,” she noted.
After Loraine’s father learned she had graduated from high school, he reached out to her. Loraine was the first one in the family to achieve this educational milestone and he wanted to share her joy.
“I was still afraid he wanted to beat me again, but my mother convinced me to go home,” said Loraine.
God allowed Loraine to reconcile with her family. “From that day I was free to exercise my faith in Christ. Nevertheless, there are always others who call me pagan, but that does not prevent me from living my faith. Praise God I am saved, and I am happy to carry my cross.”
Radio Outreach Encourages Muslim Converts
“Loraine’s testimony is representative of what a young converted Muslim woman can face,” said Nabie, explaining how discipling new believers in this context takes special consideration.
After BTGMI expanded its French-language broadcast into Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second largest city, Nabie received a call from a listener there.
Rasmata,* an 18-year-old student, said that she had learned about Jesus through a local church. But as soon as her parents found out, they confiscated her Bible and forbade her to attend church. “Even the pastor was threatened,” said Nabie.
“The pastor and Rasmata agreed that she should stay at home but would build her faith through our radio broadcasts,” he added.
Rasmata felt God’s presence and testified that she knew that Jesus was the way of salvation. She asked us to pray with her that one day she would gain her independence in order to live her faith.
Thank God that this young believer has the opportunity to hear gospel messages and grow in faith through radio outreach.
Ministering to Muslims Worldwide
BTGMI works with local partners to bring the gospel to people in several countries and languages.
In northern India and surrounding countries, radio and Internet gospel proclamation introduce Muslims to Jesus Christ. In several places where the Christian faith is forbidden, audio and digital messages overcome barriers to sharing the good news of salvation. BTGMI Indian staff members make long treks into remote places to meet with Muslim seekers and baptize those who commit their lives to Christ.
In May 2017, they traveled to a dangerous location to hold a seekers’ meeting for 22 Muslims who wanted to know more about the Bible.
“All the participants were instructed to keep their voices low as they prayed and discussed the Bible,” said Rev. A.K. Lama, BTGMI ministry leader in India. “The next day they all went to the mountains where they had full liberty to sing and pray.”
Lama added, “We realized that this precious time worshiping God was much needed because they are going through suffering and persecution for the sake of the gospel.”
Reaching Muslims Locally
The Christian Reformed Church has also been learning lessons about how to do ministry with Muslims within North America.
Armando’s* story is a great example. Armando, a former Muslim, has been on a spiritual journey in the last few years—a journey that eventually led him to McDonald’s.
That’s where Armando agreed to meet Roland Rizallaraj, a fellow Albanian immigrant and pastor of a Christian Reformed church plant for Albanian immigrants in West Michigan.
“He was convicted by God right then and there,” says Rizallaraj. “He gave his life to Jesus and asked God to forgive his sins.”
Since then, Rizallaraj has discipled Armando, helping him understand more about what his decision to follow Christ means.
As a church planter, Rizallaraj has been working to reach Albanian immigrants like Armando who are adjusting to life in a new country. Many come from a Muslim background.
Rizallaraj hasn’t been at this mission alone. He partners with Resonate Global Mission to fund community events and other ministry costs. The Albanian church plant also partners locally with Classis Grandville and Thornapple Valley and its parent church, First CRC in Byron Center.
“Ministries like these provide CRCNA congregations with the opportunity to show the world how we will live as followers of Jesus Christ,” says Resonate’s Amy Schenkel.
Last summer, Armando invited seven friends to his baptism, all Albanian immigrants with a Muslim background who live in Dearborn, in eastern Michigan.
One of the women who attended had been fasting all month for Ramadan, which Rizallaraj said was the Holy Spirit’s way of wearing her down for this baptism service.
“I’m fasting because I had never heard the truth,” the woman told Rizallaraj. “I am Muslim because I’d never heard about Jesus. You are God’s people and I want to follow you.”
Rizallaraj and his ministry partners are excited to continue seeing Albanian immigrants’ response to the gospel. This baptism and its attendees have them considering future church planting in Armando's hometown of Dearborn, a city that includes more than 200,000 Albanian immigrants.
“We are praying that God will show us a way to reach and connect with these people,” he said. “The harvest is plentiful but we need more workers.”
*Last names have been withheld to protect people’s identities.
CRC Resources for Ministry with Muslims
CRC Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) created a webpage to provide resources for churches seeking to reach out to Muslims and neighbors of other faiths.
Salaam 2.0 is a ministry of Resonate Global Mission focused on mobilizing the church in Canada for witness and dialogue with our Muslim neighbors. This project is now transitioning to a focus more widely on diaspora people in Canada or on neighbors from other cultures and faith traditions who are increasingly moving into our neighborhoods.
The Peer to Peer network is a new network formed with the help of Resonate and Reformed Church in America colleagues in the Middle East. The program is designed to help equip and train pastors and other leaders in North America for interfaith dialogue from a Reformed perspective. The training involves two weeks overseas in two different Muslim-majority countries. Participants observe interfaith dialogue and other aspects of Christian-Muslims relations and then initiate interfaith dialogue in their home communities.