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David Garrison has a new book coming out in January 2014 called A Wind in the House of Islam. In this book he looks at Christian movements in the Muslim world. He classifies a movement as at least 1,000 baptisms or 100 new churches started from one source. He notes there have only been a handful of such movements from 1600-1980. However in the last 20 years there have been 70 well documented independent movements of this magnitude. His point? The Sprit of God is blowing in some unique and powerful ways in the Muslim world.
Exploring partnerships for ECO in the Middle East
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel with a few others to the Middle East on a vision trip to see how ECO might be called to join with the Holy Spirit in this movement in the Muslim world. We met with many pastors, church planters, and Christian business leaders to learn first hand what God was doing. There were several things I was amazed by.
First, I was overwhelmed with the hunger that there is for the gospel. We often bemoan the fact that America is a post-Christian culture. I had never thought if there was a parallel reality in other parts of the world. The reality is that there is also post-Islamic culture in much of the Middle East. One Iranian pastor we talked with (outside of Iran) said that in dealing with Iranians you don’t have to convince them that Islam is not the answer; they know it is not the answer. What you have to show them is how the authentic gospel is different than the oppressive religion that they have faced.
Second, I was impressed with the cooperative nature of many local Christians. For example, we went to an international church building in one country that was given by the government, which alone is encouraging. In this facility there were 73 churches in almost as many languages meeting at various times. There were other countless stories of Christians working together for the sake of the kingdom. They were all what we would describe as biblical and evangelical. They held the same core theology, even if they differed on non-essentials.
I was pleased to see hunger for training amongst the pastors and lay leaders. In many places where the church is not in a building but a network of house churches, leaders were home grown from other house churches. There are some tremendous advantages to this, but there can also be a lack of biblical and theological depth of understanding among these leaders. Many of them, however, would take unpaid leave of absences from their jobs in order to travel, even outside of their country, to get additional training. This was certainly an aspect of mission that ECO could easily get involved in.
Listening to the wind
I can think of three responses that I hope that ECO could have as a result of the wind that is blowing in the house of Islam.
First, can we pray that the Holy Spirit would blow in the United States in the same powerful way? One reason I would like to see ECO get involved in what God is doing in that part of the world is that I think it would have a stimulating affect on us. Could we pray more expectantly and live more boldly for the gospel in the contexts in which God has placed us?
Second, might we be willing to partner with our gifts and skills with what God is doing? When it comes to world mission, we don’t want churches to stop doing something that is God honoring and Christ exalting just to join with the denomination. However, if churches are looking at opportunities to get involved in world mission, you might want to consider joining with others in ECO that want to partner with what God is doing.
Third, could there be a couple of people whom the wind of the Sprit of God might be calling to be short or long term missionaries in the area? Here is one quick example: we met a pastor of an Arabic congregation, but the students and young adults of that congregation speak English and so they are looking for an English speaking person to pastor this group of people.
In the months ahead you will see different opportunities for us to get involved in that region. We will need to be vague in the information that gets posted on the Internet, but we can cover more detail confidentially.