Loving and Reaching Muslims in Europe
By Randy Hurst
May 4, 2014
The dream was unlike anything Mehdi had ever experienced. It seemed as real as if he were wide-awake.
“A man is coming from another country,” the person in the dream told him. “If you listen to his message, you will find the purpose for your life.”
Mehdi woke abruptly. He tried to put the dream out of his mind. When he finally fell asleep again, the same person appeared a second time.
“I will not leave you until you promise you will listen to this man,” the person in the dream said. “You will find the purpose for your life.”
Mehdi awakened his sleeping wife and told her of the dream. “Who might this man be?” he asked.
“Perhaps it is the man whose face is on the sign by the highway,” Mehdi’s wife said.
Mehdi thought of the face on a local billboard advertising a church in the city. He decided to visit the service and hear what the man had to say.
That Sunday morning as he listened to the man’s message about Jesus Christ, he felt something stirring his heart. When the man invited people to come and make a decision to follow Christ, Mehdi hesitated.
I don’t understand this, he thought. If I could just understand, then I would believe.
At that moment the man said, “You are thinking to yourself, ‘If I could understand, then I would believe.’ But if you will come to the front, I will pray for you. The understanding you seek will come after you believe.”
Mehdi stepped into the aisle and walked forward. As he prayed with the others who responded, immediately he understood that Jesus is the Son of God. He had found the purpose for his life.
After receiving Christ as Savior, he not only understood who Jesus is but he also gained greater insight in his profession. As a medical doctor, he had always believed his patients were suffering physical and chemical issues. Now he realized that many of them were also struggling with deep spiritual needs. He began to tell them how they could find true help in Christ.
A year after receiving Christ, Mehdi returned to his home country, a nation where public proclamation of the gospel is forbidden. Undeterred, he clearly shares his faith in Christ with whomever he can.
The Essential Supernatural Work of the Spirit
Experiences like Mehdi’s are not unusual and are happening more frequently.
Testimonies of Muslims coming to Christ through dreams, visions and miracles are increasing as the Holy Spirit prepares them for an encounter with the risen Savior. The Spirit was already working in Mehdi’s life even before he heard the message. And the Spirit prepared the messenger and guided him to say what would connect effectively with Mehdi’s mind and heart.
This year marks 100 years since the founding of our Fellowship when, in 1914, our early leaders boldly declared, “We commit ourselves and the Movement to Him for the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.”
How could 300 men and women make such a bold, even seemingly audacious, statement? Because they had an inspired, absolute faith in Jesus’ promise that the Spirit would empower them to fulfill His commands to proclaim the gospel and make disciples in all the world.1
They understood both the supernatural character of God’s mission and the work of the Spirit in evangelism and salvation. They depended on and expected the enablement, guidance and help of the Holy Spirit.
The unfinished task before us is more daunting than ever. Even with our best human efforts and unlimited resources, reaching a lost world would still be impossible. Many unreached people groups are in remote places, many are especially resistant to the gospel, and most are in restricted-access countries.
But the Spirit has an infallible strategy to accomplish God’s mission in the world. He chooses whom He will use to take the gospel and directs how the church can be established among each people group that has yet to lift their voices in worship to the living God.
Reaching the Muslim World Through Europe
The Spirit is moving in Europe, and the beginnings of a great spiritual breakthrough among Muslims are evident.
In consideration of the unfinished task of world evangelization, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims loom as the largest religious unreached people group. In 49 countries, at least 50 percent of the population is Muslim. And of the world’s 9,000 unreached people groups, about 40 percent are Muslim.
In August 2013, AGWM launched a prayer initiative focusing on the six major regions of the world. The leadership of the Europe region felt led to emphasize prayer for reaching the growing Muslim population throughout Europe.
The current Muslim population of Europe is estimated to be almost 30 million. Many researchers expect that number to continue to grow, but any projections are largely speculative. What is clear is that tens of millions are already here and need the gospel.
The massive immigration of people from largely unreached nations offers an unprecedented opportunity to reach Muslims with the love and message of Christ. Through relationships that are formed, the spread of the gospel can then extend to Muslim people groups living in restricted-access areas.
Muslim people groups are not in just a few countries of Europe but throughout the continent. In Austria, Muslims comprise 5.7 percent of the total population; in Belgium, 6 percent; and in Sweden, 4.9 percent. Millions of Muslims live in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The Muslim world is coming to Europe, affording the church a unique opportunity to share Christ with multitudes of people who have family relationships in nations with limited or no access to outsiders.
Europe is becoming a gateway to the Muslim world.
Seizing a Historic Moment
Recently I attended a gathering of Europe’s missionary leadership in a modest hotel outside Paris. As these missionaries sought the Lord together in a small basement meeting room and strategized about reaching the lost of Europe, they articulated what the Spirit has been placing in their hearts to reach a continent in which only about 1 in 50 people personally knows Christ. Their obvious passion for the lost of Europe was inspiring.
When the conversation turned specifically to reaching Muslims, they excitedly began to share what is already happening across Europe. Following is a portion of the conversation:
“God has given us a mission,” said Central Europe Area Director Jim Sabella. “Millions of Muslims are coming here who are open to the gospel and ready to hear. They’re coming right to our doors.”
“Every week we have an English service,” said Shawn Galyen, who leads a student ministry in Grenada, Spain. “And almost every week, Muslim students participate.”
“Last year we baptized 72 people, and probably a third of those came from Muslim backgrounds,” commented Larry Henderson, pastor of Vienna Christian Center in Austria. “Every week we have more opportunities to share Christ with Muslims.”
Northern Europe Area Director Tim Southerland added, “Missionary Dave Wentling wanted to reach Muslims in Liverpool, England, and the Lord guided his steps to start a Bible study in the bedroom of a house. The first night, 15 people showed up. The next week, the study was held in the living room, and 25 or 30 people came. Before long more than 100 Muslims were coming, and people came to Christ every week.”
“At a center in Madrid, missionaries Mark and Ellen Cannon are reaching out to families by teaching children and mothers Spanish,” Southern Europe Area Director Gil Rodriguez reported. “They also help children with homework and teach them how to adapt culturally. When I visited this center, I didn’t sense barriers. Instead, the Muslims who participated showed a sense of gratitude and appreciation that someone would take the time to help them.”
“People leave their home countries and move to Europe for the sake of their children,” Shawn added. “They have made the difficult decision because they want their kids to have a better future.”
As the discussion continued, the topic turned toward what the church can do to make the most of the opportunities before them.
“When the church steps in and demonstrates love,” Shawn said, “believers not only share Jesus individually but they also create a climate that is accepting and loving toward others.”
“I pray that we can really come to terms with what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” added Rick Wislocky, missionary to Hungary, “and serve people in whatever creative ways we can to reach them for the Lord.”
“You sense if there is a felt need and then you do something to address that need,” Gil agreed. “You bring down the drawbridge and love them. Let people show them genuine Christ-love and they will respond. Even if they don’t come to the church, at least you are meeting them at the point of their need. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
“It’s not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit!” Tim interjected. “I remember hearing stories of Muslims in the Middle East having dreams about Jesus and coming to Christ. Now we are having the same kind of thing happening in places like Norway and England and the Netherlands. It’s almost as if God is saying, ‘I will not allow anything to stop my Spirit from reaching these people.’ Jesus is worthy of these people’s lives. He wants to receive glory from them. And I believe that as we pray, we will break through strongholds that are keeping people from receiving what the Lord wants to do in their lives. Prayer is the key.”
The work God is doing among Muslims in Europe is having far-reaching effects.
“Recently a woman from our local Persian-language congregation went to visit four of her family members,” Larry said. “She couldn’t return to her home country, so the group arranged to meet in a neighboring nation. She had not seen her family in a number of years.
“After her return to Vienna, I learned what took place during the visit. As the woman shared her faith, all four family members — her mother, sister, niece, and her niece’s husband — came to the Lord. Afterward, they turned right around and went home — carrying the gospel back to the same nation the woman can no longer enter.”
The common mission and sense of God’s timing was tangible in the room. These missionaries have a strong conviction that they are at a historic moment of opportunity that must be seized. The compulsion and guidance of the Spirit and the results already being seen herald hope for reaching Muslims in Europe.
As I listened to the missionaries, I thought of the brand-new mosque across the road from the small hotel. At various times during the day, Muslims streamed in and out of it as they went to and from prayer. In many places of Europe, more people can be seen in Muslim mosques than in Christian cathedrals. In fact, many Christian cathedrals and churches have been converted to mosques.
In the midst of this, God is calling people to reach out to Muslims in Europe with the love and message of Christ.
Paul Trementozzi, regional director for Europe, says, “In God’s providence, millions of Muslims are moving to Europe where we can connect with them. Now is the time to demonstrate Jesus’ love to them and communicate a clear witness of His salvation. Our international churches are effectively ministering to Muslims in many ways. The Spirit is moving on the hearts of young missionaries to engage with them. We just pray that God will call more young people to come join the team.”
As Jesus told Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit, He described the Spirit’s work this way: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”2
We cannot see the wind, but we can see its effects. The rustling of just a few leaves indicates a breeze is beginning to blow. Similarly, the Spirit is already moving among Muslims in Europe and calling messengers to reach them.
God Prepares Both Works and Workers
Most believers know Ephesians 2:8-9 well: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” But Paul goes on to say in verse 10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV). Immediately after saying we are not saved by good works, Paul says we are saved for good works, which God has already prepared for us.
Jesus explained that in the spiritual harvest, the seed is “the word of God”3 — the message. The Holy Spirit prepares the “soil” of hearts to receive the “seed” of the message, and His messengers enter into the Holy Spirit’s work.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”4 In this statement, the nature of God’s work in the spiritual harvest is clearly distinguished from that of His human messengers. For a period of time, Paul planted the message. For another period of time, Apollos watered it. But when Paul describes God’s activity in this process, the verb tense clearly reveals that God did not merely work after the message was planted and watered. Instead, God was causing the growth all along while Paul and Apollos were doing their work.
God has prepared and placed people to plant and water the gospel message among Muslims in Europe, even as the Spirit prepares hearts to receive the gospel. Said and Fatima, a couple from North Africa who now live in Paris, are effectively sharing Christ with Muslims — ministering in ways they could not do in their home area. In Madrid, Mark and Ellen Cannon serve Muslims daily by helping them in practical ways, building relationships, and sharing the love of Jesus. Of the 10 new believers missionary Richard Dunn baptized recently at Brussels Christian Center in Belgium, three were former Muslims.
Missionaries in Europe are working not only for God but also with God. And we can partner with them through prayer.
Why Prayer Is Essential
How and why God has chosen to involve us in accomplishing His purposes through prayer is an unfathomable mystery — but it is clear from Scripture that this is His plan.
For example, Jesus commanded us to pray that He would send laborers into His harvest. He also taught us to pray that the Father’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. God uses our prayers to accomplish His will on earth.
Spiritually lost people do not come to faith in Jesus Christ because of human persuasion but through a divine work of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul wrote, “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them.”5 Without the Spirit’s help, a person cannot understand or respond to the truth.
Paul also wrote, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”6 Minds that have been supernaturally blinded must have their spiritual eyes supernaturally opened.
Only God can bring a nonbeliever to faith in Jesus Christ. A revealing example is found in Acts 16. When Paul and his companions went to a riverbank outside Philippi to pray on the Sabbath Day, they sat down and began speaking to a group of women. Luke described the scene this way: “A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”7 Paul spoke the message, but the Lord opened Lydia’s heart.
Those who work among Muslims in Europe are loving, diligent and clear communicators of the gospel message, but only God can open people’s hearts to receive salvation. How and why God works as He does is an unfathomable, compelling mystery.
Reaching the Muslim world with the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is one of the greatest challenges faced by the Church today. Europe is a unique gateway for taking the gospel to people and places that otherwise could not be reached.
Paul Trementozzi says, “If we don’t do something now to reach Muslims in Europe, we may never have another opportunity. We must seize the moment.”
Pray for our missionaries and believers in Europe as Paul appealed to the Ephesian church: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”8
Faithful and fervent intercessors are urgently needed in this critical time to join in spiritual partnership with those whom the Spirit is calling to reach Muslims in Europe. Will you make these unreached people a regular part of your daily prayers? Join your faith with those in Europe who are diligently following the Holy Spirit’s leading, believing that testimonies will multiply of transformed lives that bring joy to the heart of the Savior.
Randy Hurst is communications director for AGWM.
1 Acts 1:8, NIV
2 John 3:8, NIV
3 Luke 8:11
4 1 Corinthians 3:6, NIV
5 1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB
6 2 Corinthians 4:4, NASB
7 Acts 16:14, NASB
8 Ephesians 6:18-19, NIV
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