by Erich Bridges
Look into the shining face of “Esther,” and glimpse part of the future of God’s work in the Muslim world.
Esther is a young Arab woman, born into one of the Middle East’s traditional Christian minorities. Intelligent and well-educated, she lives in one of the region’s more prosperous countries. If she wanted, she could seek worldly success there, or anywhere.
But for Esther, proclaiming Christ is more than a faded historical heritage. She plans to move— on her own—to a nation notorious for persecuting Christians, especially if they dare to tell majority Muslims about Jesus Christ. There she will attend a university—and tell Muslims about her faith.
Sound a little rash?
“When you don’t know anything, you trust God for everything,” Esther explains with a laugh.
Actually, she does know something about the country where she’s going. She made a trip there recently to scout locations for living and studying. She didn’t intend to tell anyone about her faith in Christ until she came back and settled in. She stayed in Muslim homes, however, and behind closed doors people quietly asked her about Jesus. Even “men with beards” (conservative Muslims) inquired.
“When you are hungry, you will ask for food,” Esther says. “They are so hungry. They have Islam, but it doesn’t stop their hunger.”
Even so, she felt dark forces pressing to prevent her from sharing her spiritual food. “At night, I would be dead tired, and something would come and wake me up,” she recalls. “I felt it was choking me. I couldn’t even say the name of Jesus.”
But people kept asking, and she found her voice. After she told them about God’s passionate love for them through Christ, some of her listeners declared, “Now we understand!” as tears of joy and relief streamed down their cheeks.
Esther’s spiritual adventure began several years ago, when she wondered why more Arab Christians don’t reach out to the Muslims among whom they live.
“I told God, ‘I love Muslims,’” she says. “But He convicted me. He said to me, ‘You don’t love them. You don’t even like them.’ And we don’t. If we did, more Arab believers would be sharing with Muslims. We don’t love them. And we are afraid. Let’s be honest: We are afraid of this giant called Islam.”
She began an intensive study of Islam and traveled to Muslim strongholds in the Middle East, North Africa—even India. In one Arab country, she became friends with a Southern Baptist missionary who has given many years of her life to loving and serving the people under difficult conditions.
But for all the missionary’s dedication and effort, it dawned on Esther that the missionary would never understand the nation’s language and people as well as she does. That realization sealed Esther’s own call to be a missionary.
“We [Arab believers] know Arabic. We understand the culture. We understand Islam. We know the Koran,” she says. “But we must take the next step.”
The next step, she believes, is action: loving Muslims and telling them about God’s great salvation—despite cultural barriers, old suspicions and fears, and new threats of persecution.
That’s what Esther is doing. And she’s challenging other Arab Christians to go with her. She has no illusions about the difficulties that lie ahead. But after seeing the utter joy in the faces of Muslims she has led to Christ, she cannot turn back.
Some evangelical strategists believe the Christian minorities of the Arab world are too mired in tradition, too small, too marginalized, too fearful after long generations of persecution, to make a significant impact for the gospel among Muslims. Some Arab Christians—by their words, actions or inaction—seem to agree.
Not Esther. She’s following God into the heart of Islam. She hopes others go with her, but she’s going whether anyone follows or not. “When you make yourself available to God,” she promises, “you will see miracles.”
Erich Bridges is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.