The annual Ramadan observance has begun, and Muslims around the globe are fasting during daylight hours. At the same time, our church is participating in the “30 Days of Prayer” worldwide movement that prays “with faith, hope and love for the Muslim world” during this period.
According to the “30 Days of Prayer” booklet, Ramadan is a time when Muslims put a renewed emphasis on prayer, charity and reflection. It is a time when their hearts are open.
And the booklet states that the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history has been occurring in the 21st century. It adds: “It is no small coincidence that this great awakening in the Muslim world has coincided with an unprecedented prayer movement.”
Here in Australia we see modest signs of this awakening, with a small but steady stream of Iranian Muslims turning up in church and expressing a desire to learn about the Christian faith.
At a church where I previously worshipped there were even Farsi-language Bibles available for newcomers, and when we went on a church camp all the lecture slides were in both English and Farsi.
Over breakfast at the camp one morning I tried to engage in conversation with some of the Iranians in attendance – mainly young men – asking them questions about their lives. But I found them strangely reticent to talk with me.
Later, the wife of our senior pastor quietly approached and told me that – very sadly – Iranians attending church have learned to be suspicious of questioners. “They don’t know who their real friends are, even in church,” she said. “They never know what will get back to the Iranian authorities. Their new faith could be used against them or their families. There are spies around.”
Still, as I have prayed for – and have come to know – some Iranians in Australia, I have heard a few of their inspiring stories.
One told me how he used to secretly watch Christian sermons on the internet back in his home town. “Christianity is a religion of love,” he said. “That really attracted me.” He is still formally Muslim, but often attends church and a Bible study group.
Another said she had a job in Iran that involved meeting foreign tourists. “I used to ask them questions all the time about Christianity,” she said.
A third was a refugee who came in a leaky boat to Australia. She was detained for a time on Christmas Island, where the Australian government maintains a refugee processing center.
“I met a missionary couple there, and they started to teach me about Jesus and the Bible,” she told me. “I wanted to learn more and more. All the other refugees couldn’t wait to get off Christmas Island, but I loved it there, because of those missionaries.”
She enrolled in art classes, and was so enthusiastic about her new faith that her first major painting was a shimmering image of the cross of Jesus. It was recently displayed in a public exhibition of refugee art. She is donating it to the church that baptised her.
So I have come to appreciate the wise words of the “30 Days of Prayer” booklet: “It is important, when getting to know Muslims, not to make assumptions about their beliefs based on what you may have read on the internet or seen in the news. Every individual Muslim is on their own journey of faith.”
And, more than ever, I have learned the truth of the booklet’s conclusion: “As we pray for Muslims, we find that our heart begins to change. We begin to see them as God sees them. They are not the unknown purveyors of a dangerous and threatening ideology. They are men and women, boys and girls, who are lost – as we once were – and in need of a Saviour.”