Easter 2008 Update(Washington, D.C., March 24, 2008) -- "I will build my church," Jesus said, "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)
The lead story on Drudge over the weekend was the Pope baptizing a prominent Egyptian author who converted from Islam to Catholicism, and for good reason. It's a huge story in Italy and the Muslim world, especially coming as it did the week that Osama bin Laden accused the Pope of waging a "crusade" against Islam. But this particular baptism is just the tip of the iceberg.
Despite unprecedented press coverage of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East since September 11, 2001, one big story is generally not being told by the mainstream media. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims are converting to evangelical Christianity and will be celebrating their first Easter this year, even amidst widespread persecution and the very real threat of death.
I first began reporting this story in 2005 after interviewing some three dozen Arab and Iranian pastors and evangelical Christian leaders in the U.S. and the Middle East. Over the last three years, however, I have had the privilege of traveling to Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, the West Bank, Turkey, and Morocco. What's more, I have had the honor of meeting with and interviewing more than 200 Arab, Iranian, Kurdish, Sudanese and other pastors and Christian leaders. With more data, the trend lines are becoming even more clear and the story is even more exciting.
The God of the Bible is moving powerfully in the Middle East to draw men, women and children to His heart and adopt them into His family in record numbers. More Muslims have come to faith in Jesus Christ over the last thirty years -- and specifically over the last seven to ten years -- than at any other time in human history. There is a revival going on among the ancient Catholic, Coptic, and Chaldean churches. Today, the Church is being truly resurrected in the lands of its birth.
Consider the latest evidence:
* AFGHANISTAN -- In Afghanistan, for example, there were only 17 known evangelical Christians in the country before al-Qaeda attacked the United States. Today, there are well over 10,000 Afghan followers of Christ and the number is growing steadily. Church leaders say Afghan Muslims are open to hearing the gospel message like never before. Dozens of baptisms occur every week. People are snatching up Bibles and other Christian books as fast as they can be printed or brought into the country. The Jesus film, a two hour docudrama on the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke, was even shown on television in one city before police shut down the entire TV station."God is moving so fast in Afghanistan, we're just trying to keep up," one Afghan Christian worker told me, requesting anonymity. "The greatest need now is leadership development. We need to train pastors to care for all these new believers."
* UZBEKISTAN -- There were no known Muslim converts to Christ there in 1990. Now there are more than 30,000.
* IRAQ -- As I shared on Fox & Friends on Easter morning, in Iraq, there were only a handful of Muslim converts to Christianity back in 1979 when Saddam Hussein took full control of that country. Yet today, there are more than 70,000 Iraqi Muslim background believers in Jesus (MBBs), approximately 50,000 who came to Christ as refugees in Jordan after the first Gulf War in 1990-91, and another 20,000 who have come to Christ since the fall of Saddam Hussein. John Moser, the executive director of The Joshua Fund, and I just returned from nine days traveling through five provinces in Iraq. We met with 19 Iraqi evangelical Christian leaders. I had the privilege of preaching in a church of more than 100 MBBs from Baghdad -- a church that didn't even exist in 2002 before liberation. We also had the privilege of meeting and interviewing numerous former Islamic jihadist terrorist who have come to Christ and are now pastors and church planters.
* KAZAKHSTAN -- In Kazakhstan, there were only three known evangelical Christian believers before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today there are more than 15,000 Kazakh Christians, and more than 100,000 Christians of all ethnicities.
* EGYPT -- More than 1 million Egyptians have trusted Christ over the past decade or so, report Egyptian church leaders. The Egyptian Bible Society told me they used to sell about 3,000 copies of the Jesus film a year in the early 1990s. But in 2005 they sold 600,000 copies, plus 750,000 copies of the Bible on tape (in Arabic) and about a half million copies of the Arabic New Testament. "Egyptians are increasingly hungry for God's Word," an Egyptian Christian leader told me. Last Christmas, I had the privilege of visiting the largest Christian congregation in the Middle East, which meets in an enormous cave on the outskirts of Cairo. Some 10,000 believers worship there every weekend. A prayer conference the church held in May 2005 drew some 20,000 believers.
* IRAN -- In 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini led the Islamic Revolution, there were only about 500 known Muslim converts to Christianity. Today, interviews with two dozen Iranian pastors and church leaders reveals that there are well over 1 million Shia Muslim converts to Christianity.
* SUDAN -- Despite a ferocious civil war, genocide and widespread religious persecution, particularly in the Darfur region -- or perhaps because of such tragedies -- church leaders there tell me that more than 1 million Sudanese have made decisions to follow Jesus Christ just since 2001. Since the early 1990s, more than 5 million Sudanese have become followers of Jesus. Seminary classes to train desperately-needed new pastors are held mountain caves. Hundreds of churches have been planted, and thousands of small group Bible studies are being held in secret throughout the country.
In December 2001, Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, a leading Saudi cleric, appeared on a live interview on Aljazeera satellite television to confirm that, sure enough, Muslims were turning to Jesus in alarming numbers. "In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity," Al Qataani warned. "Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity." Stunned, the interviewer interrupted the cleric. "Hold on! Let me clarify. Do we have six million converting from Islam to Christianity?" Al Qataani repeated his assertion. "Every year," the cleric confirmed, adding, "a tragedy has happened."
One of the most dramatic developments is that many Muslims throughout the Middle East and even in the United States are seeing dreams and visions of Jesus. They are coming into churches explaining that they have already converted and now need a Bible and guidance on how to follow Jesus. This is in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The Hebrew Prophet Joel told us that "in the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days....And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved." (Joel 2:28-32)
In Epicenter: Why The Current Rumblings In the Middle East Will Change Your Future, I devoted an entire chapter to these dramatic trend lines and why Muslims are converting in record numbers. I am currently working on a new non-fiction book and documentary film called Inside The Revolution, to be release during Easter 2009, with much more detail on this subject, including first person accounts of former Muslim terrorists who have become the new Apostle Pauls of our time -- murderous religious zealots who had visions of Jesus Christ and are now pastors, evangelists, church planters and powerful Christian leaders. Other books I would highly recommend on this subject are Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen; and Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe In Christ.
Is life easy for these Muslim converts? By no means. They face ostracism from their families. They face persecution from their communities. They face being fired by their employers. They face imprisonment by their governments. They face torture and even death at the hands of Muslim extremists. But they are coming to Christ anyway. They are becoming convinced that Jesus is, in fact, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father in heaven except through faith in Jesus' death on the cross and powerful resurrection from the dead.
One of the reasons my wife and I began The Joshua Fund was to educate the Church around the world at what God of the Bible is doing in the epicenter. We want to mobilize a global movement of Christians praying for these dear brothers and sisters. We want to find ways to encourage and strengthen them. We want to provide them with Bibles and Christian literature, and with humanitarian relief supplies so they can love their neighbors and their enemies, as Jesus tells us to do. Their stories are typically being told by the mainstream media, but they are important stories nonetheless. Theirs are testimonies of the greatness of our great God.