While Eastern Orthodox Christians recently celebrated their Easter holy week, a historic church in Istanbul -- the once magnificent Christian city of Constantinople -- is witnessing yet another abuse at the hands of its current authorities.
4/20/15 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - Militant Islamic terror group ISIS released a new video Sunday, April 19, reportedlyshowing the gruesome murder of 30 Ethiopian Christian men in Libya.
The National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) wishes to join all Nigerians to thank God for the peaceful conduct of the Presidential elections. Despite the enormous tension and apprehension that preceded the election, Nigerians have demonstrated political maturity that elections can be won and lost without recourse to violence or acrimony.
The Presidential election has been concluded and a number of Christians are wondering what happened.
First, there is no cause for despair or hopelessness. I think that what God has primarily achieved is to avert bloodshed and violence all over the nation, particularly in the northern parts of the country. For that, we should be grateful. Before the election, many of the brethren were seeing visions and dreams of corpses, mayhem, and violence all over the nation.
If you spend any time keeping up with the news, you know that radical Islam is a significant and destructive force in the world. David Garrison, does not disagree with that assessment, but he says it’s only part of the story. There is also a revival in the Muslim world, Garrison says. He believes between 2 and 7 million former Muslims have converted to Christianity in the past two decades, and he has impressive research to back up his claim. He documents his findings in his book A Wind in the House of Islam.
Garrison has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and spent more than 25 years as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board. I had this conversation with Garrison in Atlanta at the recent International Christian Retail Show.
Many people, when they think of the Muslim world, feel discouraged by radical Islam. Your book has kind of a more hopeful message. What is it? Someone asked me the other day, “How do you interpret what’s going on in the world today in light of the Word of God?” I think Romans 8:22 is a good key for us to see, when Paul says that we know that all of creation groans as in the travail of childbirth.
That painful upheaval, all the trials, the violence that we see in the Muslim world hopefully are forbearers of new life that is taking place. That’s what my book focuses on, not on the things we see in the news every day, which are all very true and very valid. I wouldn't want to sugarcoat any of that. It’s horrific, the things that are happening. But I also want to give testimony to the fact that God is at work in the Muslim world, and, frankly, in ways that we’ve never seen before. [There is] more turning of Muslims to Christ than at any time in history.
Can you give us some specific examples of that happening? The striking thing about what we discovered was that there are movements of Muslims to Christ, and by that I mean not just individuals, but movements of at least 1,000 within a community who have been baptized or 100 churches planted over the last two decades. We’re seeing, currently, 69 of these movements that have just been formed in the last two decades that are moving … from one end of the Muslim world to the other, so from West Africa to Indonesia and everywhere in between.
I suppose one of the most striking examples is what’s happening in Iran today. We’re seeing that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s proving to be the greatest evangelist in the history of Iran because so many people are voting with their feet and they’re turning away from Islam and they’re walking toward really, all sorts of things. It’s not exclusively to Christianity, but certainly tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the last few decades have come to faith in Jesus Christ and followed him in baptism.
You said, “We are seeing.” Who’s “we,” and how do we know that what you’re saying is true? This was very important to me. Certainly, no one can know everything that’s going on, and the wonderful blessing I’ve had is a blessing of a great host of collaborators. Everywhere I went, I found I was able to work with missionaries who then introduced me to national partners, and so in my opening pages I talk about this great network. I think I’ve got about 150 people that I list that helped me in every region of the world. … I made it a point to document not only everything that I did in writing, but also to record, as much as possible, these actual interviews, to tuck them away, before I—what we call—sanitized them. I changed the names so that no one would be hurt and [for] security concerns.
How did you start down the path of documenting this phenomenon? I’ve had a long and twisting path. I’ve had 29 years with the International Missions Board and lived in places and studied languages like Japanese and Chinese, and then three different kinds of Arabic. In 1992, my wife and two kids and I at the time were assigned to work with Libyan Arabs. And over the next few years, we learned, probably, I don’t know, 100, 200 ways not to win Libyans to Christ. In the course of that, we realized this is a tough nut. This is not one that’s easily solved.
So in 2002, when our family moved to India, we started hearing reports of Muslims coming to Christ in South Asia, and then we started hearing other reports from Central Asia and a few from West Africa and East Africa. We took note because we knew this was not the norm, and we began making lists of movements that we had heard about, but had not personally verified. Before long, we had about 25 on our list.
Then in 2011, I was approached by a foundation that said, “We’re hearing these same rumors of angels, you know, things happening in the Muslim world. Would you be willing, if we would fund you and underwrite the expenses, would you be willing to go and find out what’s happening?”
You are talking in this book about truly supernatural experiences that Muslims are having, that are leading them to Christ. Am I hearing you right? In many cases, yes. Now, in some cases, it’s very normal, very routine, almost mundane, but of course, any time someone is turned from darkness to light it’s a miracle. Any time Christ saves someone, it’s a miracle. But certainly, we are hearing reports, also, of things that are out of the ordinary, and I’m a Baptist, so I say that with a healthy dose of skepticism.
I wanted to find out, and the reports I heard were just marvelous, particularly those of dreams and visions. Almost no one now denies that, for whatever reason, from one end of the Muslim world to the other, Muslims are having their sleep disturbed by visitations and by answered prayers, as well. We’ve talked to a number of folks who just talked about how they’d tested God. They said, “If this is real, I’m going to just pray, and if you’re really there, Lord, I want you to hear this,” and Jesus began to reveal himself through his faithfulness, and they realized that to follow Christ was not to follow a 2,000-year-old prophet, it was to follow a living Lord. That, for them, was the turning point.
What brought you to the point where you actually started believing there really is a movement of the Holy Spirit going on in the Islamic world? It was really when I went to these places myself. I traveled more than a quarter of a million miles over the next two years into the Muslim world, and [in] every corner … interviewed people I would have never imagined—I mean, sheikhs and imams and mullahs, leaders in the Islamic community—who gave testimony to having been baptized after having met Jesus, and knowing that in doing so, they were saying, “I’m willing to die” because they knew very well that Islamic law did not allow for conversion from Islam to anything.
Over the course of the next couple of years as I began compiling lists and ferreting out the truth, what I discovered was, in the whole course of Muslim-Christian interaction, there’s been 82 times, 82 movements, of Muslims to Christ of at least 1,000 baptisms or 100 church plants over two decades. Eighty-two times. Now here’s what’s striking: 69 of those have occurred since the year 2000. We are in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history. I don’t think the church of Christ is aware of this. Even though it’s minuscule when you look at 1.6 billion Muslims—less than 1.5 percent of Muslims have been touched by the gospel at this point—we’re still seeing 84 percent of all movements that have ever happened are happening right now.
I actually describe four desired outcomes for this book. The first one was to be historically accurate, to capture and document with real clarity these movements so that there’s no question about capturing this moment in history.
The second one is to be a word of encouragement to Christians who are afraid of Muslims, who are angry with Muslims, who see them as a threat, to realize that this is their day of salvation. God may want to use us to love Muslims, to minister to them, to take the Gospel to them because they’re very much on God’s heart.
A third purpose for this book was that we would learn the ways that God is at work in the Muslim world because, clearly, something is different today, something we haven’t seen before. If the body of Christ can learn the effective ways the body of Christ is at work, then we can all do the work of Christ much more effectively. The fourth purpose, and this comes to the heart of your question, is I hope this would be an encouragement to Muslims who are considering another way, that they would realize that they are very near to the heart of God.
POLITICS AND THE NIGERIAN CHURCH: THE NATIONAL CHRISTIAN ELDERS FORUM’S (NCEF) VIEW POINT
Politics affects the lives of all of us, it cannot become an Exclusive Preserve of a handful of Politicians
Neutrality of the Church at “TIMES LIKE THIS” is tantamount to “Leaving the flock alone without the guidance of a Shepherd (Mk. 6:34)
We have watched and followed closely the security and political developments in the Nation; as a result the National Christian Elders Forum is concerned with the seeming lack of unity and direction of the Church in the face of the critical issues at stake regarding the 2015 Election. There is the call on Nigerian Christians to “vote their conscience” at the polls. As good as this directive sounds it should be preceded by sound civic education on the issues at stake in the Elections. It is only when people understand the issues at stake that they could be depended upon to vote their conscience. The opposite would be to “vote according to manipulation.”
As Christian Elders, the Forum cannot remain neutral on key issues that affect both the survival of the Church and of the Nation. Such neutrality, in the light of the mountain of challenges facing the Church, particularly in Northern Nigeria, is an ill-advised position. Therefore, the Christian Elders seek to educate Christian adherents on key issues at stake in the Elections as a prerequisite to vote their conscience; no one should view such endeavor as partisanship or a meddling in partisan politics. The intervention of the Christian Elders at this critical juncture is not an option, but a duty.
It is important to make clear that the National Christian Elders Forum has no objection to a Muslim or Nigerians of other religions aspiring to the office of the President, or into any political office in the nation. Every Nigerian citizen of good reputation and qualification is qualified to lead.
The 2015 Elections far transcends the narrow partisan orientations of the PDP and the APC. The coming elections are not about which party is better, holier, or more saintly than the other. As a matter of fact, it is not about which of them can better deliver in the area of security or fight corruption better than the other. Neither of the two major parties is holy or saintly. Both of them have large dosage of deceit, hypocrisy and propensity to greed and avarice. They both stink.
At the heart of the security and social upheavals in Nigeria is the conflict between Liberal Democracy and Sharia ideology. As a multi-cultural and multi-religious society, Nigeria requires a democratic platform that will accommodate the various diversities within the nation. Such ideology will promote integration and peaceful, harmonious co-existence. Currently, Nigeria has two (National) laws, call them Constitutions if you wish, running concurrently for people of one Nation.
Nigeria does not require an agitation for the introduction of the full blown laws of any one Religion (be it Ecclesiastical law or Sharia law) in the Constitution of Nigeria (as it was surreptitiously done under past military dictatorships), but a Legal system that is made up of the “reducible minimums” of ALL existing religions and cultural orientations, into what is called a “Common or Civil Law”, that is applicable (equally) to all citizens, irrespective of Religion and Ethnicity.
Therefore, those seeking elective offices today, whose past actions, utterances and body language, have shown them to possess instincts of religious extremism, religious fundamentalism and religious bigotry, should not be trusted with exalted offices in our national life, for fear of them tampering with these fundamental principles of our quest for nationhood.
What is truly at stake in the 2015 Elections is the survival of Liberal Democracy in Nigeria. This threat to democracy implies that freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and fundamental human rights are facing extinction in Nigeria. For us as Christians Elders, the 2015 Election is about the future of the Christian faith in Nigeria. It is crucial for us, as Christian Elders, to leave behind a country where generations yet unborn will take their rightful places as equal citizens of Nigeria, with the right to live and practice their Religion in any part of Nigeria without being discriminated against.
We observe that the Church is under threat as we are witnessing today through violent terrorism flowing from radical Islam, we should therefore play politics in a way that will end intolerance and other forms of exclusivist and closed mentalities. The fundamental issue is whether we are committed to growing/building one Nigeria for all Nigerians, a truly democratic State grounded on the principles of Liberal Democracy. We want a Nigeria where Christians and Muslims will freely choose to live in any of its parts and practice their Faiths/Religions in peace and security, without any molestation or discrimination. We therefore insist on upholding the provisions of the Constitution which provides that Nigeria is a secular state.
The quintessence of “goods” that this election represents is the enthronement of religious liberty for all. While security and zero level corruption are values to be cherished and pursued, freedom to live in any part of Nigeria and practice your religion without molestation is for Christian Elders more important and should take primacy over all others.
We are alarmed at the violent terrorism which is an offshoot of radical Islam that is prevalent all over the world and symbolized in our Country by the Boko Haram Islamic sect and the Fulani Muslim Insurgents. What promotes this kind of intolerance that eventually leads to the persecution and systematic extermination of other Nigerian citizens with reckless impunity is the philosophy of dual ideology. Those who obstructs fundamental human rights in favor of their narrow world views, are advocates and sympathizers of this reductionist form of philosophy (Dual or Multiple National Ideology), which must be discountenanced in a plural and heterogeneous society such as ours.
Unfortunately, one of the Presidential Candidates for this year’s elections (by his utterances and body language) epitomizes this philosophy as was demonstrated when he reiterated his position on the Sharia in a speech that he delivered at a seminar organized by the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria in August 2001 that “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria … God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country…” (The News, 19 January 2015), ThisDay of 21 January, 2002 also reported that this same individual called on Muslims to “vote only for the presidential candidate that would defend and uphold the tenets of Islam”. These are rather dangerous worldviews in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.
Our leaders at all levels of governance can be devout adherents of their religions of preference, but must have sound disposition to respect our diversity and common humanity as the basis for relationship in a complex and pretty heterogeneous society like ours. Those with extremist ideologies do not. On the contrary, they see others outside their religious and ethnic folds as second class citizens. They will first want to conquer, subdue and reduce them to the “dhimmi” status and then place them under their mercy or what they call “under their protection”. This is what advocates of the Caliphate society want to reduce us to. It does not matter whether it is a Shekau who wants to bring this about through the slashing of throats of innocent and vulnerable people, or a religious bigot in an exalted political office, who wants to bring this about through the ballot box. There are certain values which are non-negotiable in a pluralistic society and it seems advocates of the Caliphate do not respect this. A dual–ideology - driven Nigeria cannot be the Nigeria of our dream. We want a Nigeria, where citizens are treated equally before the law at all levels of our existence.
The decision of twelve States in Northern Nigeria to adopt full blown Sharia in 2000 contradicts the multi-Religious liberal democratic character of our Nation as enshrined in our Constitution.
The victory of a party that respects Liberal Democracy will give advocates of this ideology added time to continue the liberation struggle and consolidate liberal democracy both in our books, our psyche and in our socio-political life.
We should therefore vote wisely in this crucial election.
It should be on record after the election that we had a position based on certain principles that are sacrosanct, and not on expediency.
Therefore, the National Christian Elders Forum, counsel all Nigerians to:
- Vote for liberal democracy that guarantees level playing ground for adherents of every religion and not dual ideology sympathizers, who give preferential treatment to one religion over and above others;
- Vote for a National Ethic that promotes National Unity and National Integration with the Common Law made up of the “reducible minimums” of all religions and culture inspired by the “golden rule”. (Do unto others, as you will want them to do unto you);
- Vote for the survival of Christianity and any other religion that exist in Nigeria;
- Vote against an insidious agenda of the Sharialization and Islamization of Nigeria as hatched by Saudi Arabia, OIC, Islam in Africa Organization and D8 Nations in collaboration with willing cronies in Nigeria;
- Vote for the survival of Christian values which accommodate the interest of all irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliations by its irrevocable commitment to principles of fairness, justice, respect for the dignity and inviolability of human life, respect for the family as cradle for civilization;
- Vote for the survival of the Christian Heritage and the heritage of other religions;
- Vote for the survival of Freedom of thought, Conscience and Religion,
- Vote against the enthronement of a theocratic state as is advocated by fundamentalist and people with religiously extremist instincts in their un-repentant commitment to the Sharialization of Nigeria;
- Vote for the establishment of ranches and their operation in the States of origin of nomadic cattle rearers as a way to ending fatal clashes between farmers and cattle rearers.
- Vote for the restructuring of Nigeria to give every ethnic group equal right and standing in the nation, as recommended by the National Conference;
- Vote for the dismantling of the pillars of corruption as recommended by the National Conference;
- Vote for a Nigeria that will remain united, peaceful and stable.
For, and on behalf of National Christian Elders Forum,
Mr. Solomon Asemota, SAN