The rising tide of Muslim converts to Christianity
by Warren Cole Smith
Posted 7/28/14, 11:08 am
If you spend any time keeping up with the news, you know that radical Islam is a significant and destructive force in the world. David Garrison, does not disagree with that assessment, but he says it’s only part of the story. There is also a revival in the Muslim world, Garrison says. He believes between 2 and 7 million former Muslims have converted to Christianity in the past two decades, and he has impressive research to back up his claim. He documents his findings in his book A Wind in the House of Islam.
Garrison has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and spent more than 25 years as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board. I had this conversation with Garrison in Atlanta at the recent International Christian Retail Show.
Many people, when they think of the Muslim world, feel discouraged by radical Islam. Your book has kind of a more hopeful message. What is it? Someone asked me the other day, “How do you interpret what’s going on in the world today in light of the Word of God?” I think Romans 8:22 is a good key for us to see, when Paul says that we know that all of creation groans as in the travail of childbirth. That painful upheaval, all the trials, the violence that we see in the Muslim world hopefully are forbearers of new life that is taking place. That’s what my book focuses on, not on the things we see in the news every day, which are all very true and very valid. I wouldn't want to sugarcoat any of that. It’s horrific, the things that are happening. But I also want to give testimony to the fact that God is at work in the Muslim world, and, frankly, in ways that we’ve never seen before. [There is] more turning of Muslims to Christ than at any time in history.
Can you give us some specific examples of that happening? The striking thing about what we discovered was that there are movements of Muslims to Christ, and by that I mean not just individuals, but movements of at least 1,000 within a community who have been baptized or 100 churches planted over the last two decades. We’re seeing, currently, 69 of these movements that have just been formed in the last two decades that are moving … from one end of the Muslim world to the other, so from West Africa to Indonesia and everywhere in between.
I suppose one of the most striking examples is what’s happening in Iran today. We’re seeing that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s proving to be the greatest evangelist in the history of Iran because so many people are voting with their feet and they’re turning away from Islam and they’re walking toward really, all sorts of things. It’s not exclusively to Christianity, but certainly tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the last few decades have come to faith in Jesus Christ and followed him in baptism.
You said, “We are seeing.” Who’s “we,” and how do we know that what you’re saying is true? This was very important to me. Certainly, no one can know everything that’s going on, and the wonderful blessing I’ve had is a blessing of a great host of collaborators. Everywhere I went, I found I was able to work with missionaries who then introduced me to national partners, and so in my opening pages I talk about this great network. I think I’ve got about 150 people that I list that helped me in every region of the world. … I made it a point to document not only everything that I did in writing, but also to record, as much as possible, these actual interviews, to tuck them away, before I—what we call—sanitized them. I changed the names so that no one would be hurt and [for] security concerns.
How did you start down the path of documenting this phenomenon? I’ve had a long and twisting path. I’ve had 29 years with the International Missions Board and lived in places and studied languages like Japanese and Chinese, and then three different kinds of Arabic. In 1992, my wife and two kids and I at the time were assigned to work with Libyan Arabs. And over the next few years, we learned, probably, I don’t know, 100, 200 ways not to win Libyans to Christ. In the course of that, we realized this is a tough nut. This is not one that’s easily solved.
So in 2002, when our family moved to India, we started hearing reports of Muslims coming to Christ in South Asia, and then we started hearing other reports from Central Asia and a few from West Africa and East Africa. We took note because we knew this was not the norm, and we began making lists of movements that we had heard about, but had not personally verified. Before long, we had about 25 on our list.
Then in 2011, I was approached by a foundation that said, “We’re hearing these same rumors of angels, you know, things happening in the Muslim world. Would you be willing, if we would fund you and underwrite the expenses, would you be willing to go and find out what’s happening?”
You are talking in this book about truly supernatural experiences that Muslims are having, that are leading them to Christ. Am I hearing you right? In many cases, yes. Now, in some cases, it’s very normal, very routine, almost mundane, but of course, any time someone is turned from darkness to light it’s a miracle. Any time Christ saves someone, it’s a miracle. But certainly, we are hearing reports, also, of things that are out of the ordinary, and I’m a Baptist, so I say that with a healthy dose of skepticism.
I wanted to find out, and the reports I heard were just marvelous, particularly those of dreams and visions. Almost no one now denies that, for whatever reason, from one end of the Muslim world to the other, Muslims are having their sleep disturbed by visitations and by answered prayers, as well. We’ve talked to a number of folks who just talked about how they’d tested God. They said, “If this is real, I’m going to just pray, and if you’re really there, Lord, I want you to hear this,” and Jesus began to reveal himself through his faithfulness, and they realized that to follow Christ was not to follow a 2,000-year-old prophet, it was to follow a living Lord. That, for them, was the turning point.
What brought you to the point where you actually started believing there really is a movement of the Holy Spirit going on in the Islamic world? It was really when I went to these places myself. I travelled more than a quarter of a million miles over the next two years into the Muslim world, and [in] every corner … interviewed people I would have never imagined—I mean, sheikhs and imams and mullahs, leaders in the Islamic community—who gave testimony to having been baptized after having met Jesus, and knowing that in doing so, they were saying, “I’m willing to die” because they knew very well that Islamic law did not allow for conversion from Islam to anything.
Over the course of the next couple of years as I began compiling lists and ferreting out the truth, what I discovered was, in the whole course of Muslim-Christian interaction, there’s been 82 times, 82 movements, of Muslims to Christ of at least 1,000 baptisms or 100 church plants over two decades. Eighty-two times. Now here’s what’s striking: 69 of those have occurred since the year 2000. We are in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history. I don’t think the church of Christ is aware of this. Even though it’s minuscule when you look at 1.6 billion Muslims—less than 1.5 percent of Muslims have been touched by the gospel at this point—we’re still seeing 84 percent of all movements that have ever happened are happening right now.
Christians here in the United States are reading this book. What you do hope they do after they’ve finished? That’s a great question. I actually describe four desired outcomes for this book. The first one was to be historically accurate, to capture and document with real clarity these movements so that there’s no question about capturing this moment in history.
The second one is to be a word of encouragement to Christians who are afraid of Muslims, who are angry with Muslims, who see them as a threat, to realize that this is their day of salvation. God may want to use us to love Muslims, to minister to them, to take the Gospel to them because they’re very much on God’s heart.
A third purpose for this book was that we would learn the ways that God is at work in the Muslim world because, clearly, something is different today, something we haven’t seen before. If the body of Christ can learn the effective ways the body of Christ is at work, then we can all do the work of Christ much more effectively.
The fourth purpose, and this comes to the heart of your question, is I hope this would be an encouragement to Muslims who are considering another way, that they would realize that they are very near to the heart of God.
Hear Warren Smith’s full conversation with author David Garrison on Listening In: