Above, the underground church in the Middle East often meets in homes. Headline taken from 2 Corinthians 4:9.
April 2018 – Farah* was ready to commit suicide, in company with her mother-in-law, who suffered from debilitating multiple sclerosis. Farah had always been a hardcore Muslim, raised in Islamic schools from age three. But Islam had no answers for her or her mother-in-law’s illness, despite countless faithful prayers.
On the night they planned to commit suicide, they kept the TV playing in the background. By providence, the broadcast that came via satellite TV featured a Middle Eastern Christian evangelist.
“If some of you are thinking of committing suicide, stop right now,” was his opening remark. “I want to give you an offer for peace.”
What was there to lose? One phone call couldn’t hurt. After talking with the evangelist for half an hour, the mother-in-law accepted Christ. The daughter argued for a long time, and finally he said: “Why don’t you give Jesus one week? And if He doesn’t change your life, go ahead and commit suicide.” That suited Farah just fine. She would call back and commit suicide on live TV, scoring a point for the sake of Allah.
Praying to Jesus
Late that night, she heard her mother-in-law shouting. Whereas before she had been unable to walk, now she was coming down the hallway, totally healed of MS.
At the hospital, the doctors ran tests and couldn’t explain the miracle. “What imam did you pray to for healing?” the doctor asked.
“We didn’t pray to an imam,” Farah answered. “We prayed to Jesus.” A few weeks later, she founded Global Catalytic Ministries, her house was soon full of new Christians, and the first house church of GCM was launched.
Now she, her family, and an ever-growing band of disciple-makers ask others the question, “What is your need?” For many, it is their first introduction to Christianity.
Having needs met keeps people coming back to hear and share more. Working in undisclosed Muslim nations, GCM’s simple approach has led to an underground network of more than 4,000 believers in more than 90 cities, all led by native believers.
“In 2017, these Christians had more than 6,000 conversations with Muslims and identified 1,500 persons open to the gospel,” GCM executive director P.W.* told AFA Journal. “Of those, 10% began a Bible study with GCM, 83 were baptized, and 19 new house churches were begun. This is about average, despite more arrests, more police, and more unrest in the regions where we work.”
While Americans may hear only of violence and religious extremism from the Muslim countries of the Middle East, people there are hungry for good news.
“The young population is realizing that the religion their parents have been forcing down their throats is not the correct way,” P.W. said. In addition, they face a plethora of social ills, such as drug addiction, prostitution, child trafficking, poverty, and domestic violence, along with strict military control and political unrest. Islam has no answers for these things, but only compounds them under Sharia Law.
As a former prostitute converted to Christianity told P.W., “For years, I’ve been trying to follow Islam, and I never had Allah answer my prayers like your God did.”
“The nice thing is a lot of people already know they have a need,” P.W. said. “In America, you have to tell people they are lost before God can save them. In the Middle East, they already know they are lost. We want to tell them the solution to their need is Jesus. Once they realize there is an answer to their problems, they gladly make the choice and say, ‘Yes, I want to do that.’”
It might be hard to believe in the West, with all the evils we hear coming from the war-torn Middle East, but Operation World points to this Muslim dominated region as having some of the fastest growing populations of evangelical Christians in the world – even while the church remains underground in countries that are also considered among the most persecuted according to Open Doors World Watch List. (See related story here.)
Christianity survives and thrives due to the efforts of native Christian leadership, both within and without the most hostile countries.
In Iraq (number eight on the World Watch List), this past Christmas, Christians in the country gathered for their first Christmas church service in four years. Although tens of thousands of Christians have left the country, in Mosul – newly liberated from ISIS – hymns, tears, and cries of joy filled long-abandoned churches as worshippers partook of communion.
In the former ISIS headquarters of Raqqa, in a town square where ISIS once held beheadings and crucifixions, residents decorated with a cross, a Christmas tree, and a banner reading, “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Iran (10 on the World Watch List), is often reached from the outside. Elam Ministries recently reported that over 1,200 people attended a Persian-speaking church in a country near Iran. Over 100 Iranians there gave their lives to Christ, and later 300 more former Muslims were baptized.
Heart4Iran, a ministry that broadcasts into the country, reports record numbers of people reached.
“It appears that roughly 16 million Iranians within the last 12 months have viewed one or more of our programs – that roughly translates to about 20% of Iran’s population,” Mike Ansari, president of Heart4Iran, told CBN News. “Within the last 11 years, we’ve been able to connect with over one million Iranians through our call center. … In 2016, our call center processed about 700 contacts per day, which resulted in about 93 decisions for Christ per day. That’s roughly three people every hour that confessed their faith in Jesus.”
Syria, another ISIS-dominated region, is number 15 on the World Watch List. But hundreds of Syrians are finding Christ through outreaches in Lebanon. Good Shepherd Kurdish Church started with six believers in 2013 and now serves over 140 families. Another Lebanon ministry, Hope for the Nations Evangelism, Discipleship, and Training Center, has seen more than 850 professions of faith in three years, and currently holds 13 weekly services with 200 to 300 people attending each.
In all of these ways and more, the gospel is alive and blooming in a church that exists despite persecution. P.W. can testify to that after having led many tour groups into the heart of the Middle East.
“Most Americans just see how terrible these Islamic countries are, but on the other hand, God is at work in a very special and unique way,” he told AFAJ.
Prayer resources and guides can be found online for needs in countries included on the Operation World and Open Doors lists of the fastest growing and most persecuted countries. In addition, a printed prayer guide is available from Elam Ministries.
“As Christians, we need to be praying that the church will be growing – like in the book of Acts,” P.W. said. “And that includes countries that, on the outside, look very tough.”
*Names are changed for the safety of our interviewees.
Learn more about groups who are bringing the peace of Christ to the Middle East.
▶ Global Catalytic Ministries
P. O. Box 3343
Nampa, ID 83653-3343
▶ Operation World
▶ Open Doors
▶ Elam Ministries