Ever since the September 11, 2001 massacre, I have seen and read numerous rants by my fellow Americans (and sometimes by my fellow Christians) against Muslims. Often these rants are filled with a visceral, violent hatred toward these 1 billion people who follow the teachings of Muhammed. For the record, I detest the terrorism done by jihadists. I detest the savagery done in the name of Sharia. However, as a Christian, while I detest certain behaviors, I am compelled to love people no matter who they are.
If John 3:16 means anything, it indicates to me that God loves all of us undeserving wretches and extends a saving (nail-pierced) hand of grace to all of mankind. Instead of spewing out hate-filled rants against people, could we as Christians instead take seriously our commission to be Christ’s ambassadors … even to Muslims? Here in America we have some large Muslim communities in our backyard!
Why not pray for them, and pray for Christians to be missionaries and love them all the way to the Cross? While we are thinking about that, let’s look at the lives of five famous (and not so famous) missionaries down through the ages.
1. Raymond Lull (c. 1232- c. 1316).
— St. John Bosco High (@StJohnBoscoHigh) June 30, 2014
Raymond (sometimes spelled “Raymon Llull,” or “Raymond Lully”) was a subject of the Kingdom of Majorca, a philosopher, author of the first major literature in the Catalan language, and a Roman Catholic missionary to Muslims. There were others before him, and many others after him, but Raymond is the first one we know of who purposely learned the language, theology, and culture of a targeted Islamic people group and then actually went to them as a missionary.
This was pretty courageous of him, especially since “Christian” Europe had spent the last two hundred years fighting bloody Crusades to retake the Holy Land from Muslims. And of course, Catholic knights were fighting their own wars on the Iberian peninsula to drive out the Moors from Raymond’s neighborhood.
In his writings, Lull describes himself as something of a playboy (or “troubadour” as he called himself) who cared nothing about spiritual things. However, when he was about 30 he experienced a conversion. He supposedly saw a vision of Christ crucified. Lull was so shaken by what he experienced that he devoted himself entirely to mission work.
Lull believed that the best way, the only way, to evangelize Muslims was through a peaceful, prayerful, and loving engagement and witness. He wrote in his book Contemplations of God: “It is my belief, O Christ, that the conquest of the Holy Land should be attempted in no other way than as Thou and Thy apostles undertook to accomplish it — by love, by prayer, by tears, and the offering up of our own lives.”
So, he spent the next nine years getting ready by studying Latin, Arabic, and the theologies of Catholicism and Islam. He also founded institutions to teach the languages of Muslims and train future missionaries. Lull wrote some 250 books of fiction, mathematics, philosophy, and Christian apologetics. He knew that the people he would talk to were very intelligent and would have many questions. He and his fellow missionaries needed to be prepared.
Lull practiced what he preached. He traveled to the city of Tunis in North Africa in 1285 and preached to the Muslims. Amazingly, they did not kill him. They heard him out, but eventually expelled him. His second missionary journey was in 1304. He sent numerous letters asking for an audience with the rulers of Tunis, but was rejected (and imprisoned for six months).
He went back to Europe undeterred, and begged the major universities to begin their own programs of studying Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and methods to present Christ to the Islamic world. The revered universities of Bologna, Oxford, Paris, and Salamanca listened to him and created departments devoted to these subjects.
Raymond Lull went back to Tunis one more time — at the age of 82 — in 1314. (Imagine that! When many of us would think he should be retired, Raymond was still engaging in missionary work!) They were not so receptive of his preaching this time. The aged man was stoned by a mob in the city of Bougie. Sailors from Genoa rescued him and took him aboard a ship bound for Majorca. However, he never recovered and died from his wounds in Palma the following year. Even though he could not count many converts, Raymond Lull’s love of Muslims for Christ’s sake was undeniable.
2. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226).
Yes, THAT St. Francis — whose statue people often have in their gardens. The St. Francis who loved nature. He also loved Muslims! Francis lived before Raymond Lull, and he did not map out a comprehensive strategy like Lull did, but he did reach out in love and grace to those of the Muslim faith.
Francis did not purposely train to evangelize Muslims, but he was ready when the opportunity arose. And the opportunity came in 1219 during the Fifth Crusade in which the Crusader and Muslim armies were locked in combat in Damietta, Egypt. During a lull in the fighting, Francis, burdened for the salvation of the Muslims, actually walked out of the Crusader camp straight for the Muslim army. He asked for a meeting with the sultan, al-Kamil, and was granted an audience!
No one knows the content of the conversations. However, we do know that Francis spent some days as a guest of the Sultan, and that the Sultan was intrigued with Francis’ preaching. We also know from Francis’ writings that he did not believe in “dialogue” by the modern ecumenical definition. He did not see Islam and Christianity as equals; instead he firmly believed that salvation was found only in Jesus Christ as the sinless Son of God. So, we can rightly assume that Francis’ talks with the Sultan contained much polite but energetic preaching about his understanding of Christ and salvation.
Eventually, Francis walked back across the lines and rejoined the Crusader camp. As far as anyone knows, no Muslim was converted at that time. However, we do know that Francis’ example ignited the fervor of some Catholics (especially Franciscan friars) to become missionaries to the Islamic world.
3. Nils Fredrik Höijer (1857-1925).
The first missionary to venture into the hostile environment of western China (now called Xinjiang Province) was the Portuguese Jesuit Benedict de Goes. In 1603 he briefly passed through this area inhabited by a Turkic people group today called the Uyghur. Benedict was actually traveling through the area to explore and evangelize other areas of China, but he let the world know of this hidden and forgotten Muslim minority in the far reaches of China.
Sadly, the Christian world ignored this area until the late 1800s when Swedish missionary Nils Höijer traveled through Russia and Central Asia preaching the Gospel of Christ. He founded the Swedish Missionary Society in 1878 and called for Christians to come to this remote and desolate area.
In 1892, these Swedish evangelicals established a medical aid station and school in Kashgar (at the westernmost tip of China). In spite of much harassment from the Uyghurs and the Chinese authorities, the stubborn Swedes under Höijer’s guidance stayed and continued their quiet evangelism. Sometimes they were met with violence, but they were rewarded with dozens of Muslims giving their lives to Jesus Christ.
The Swedes continued to expand medical dispensaries throughout the region, distributing medicine and food during times of great famine or pestilence. They established orphanages and schools, and translated the Bible into Uyghur. The Swedes were wise, respectful, and bold in their faith, all at the same time. By 1929 it is estimated that there were some 200 Uyghur adults who had converted from Islam to Christianity and were practicing their newfound faith.
Tragically, in 1933 violent Muslims took control of the region and murdered many of the Uyghur and Chinese Christians. The surviving Christian women and girls were sold into slavery. The missionaries were beaten and expelled. For almost 50 years, there was no viable church among the Uyghurs. Fortunately, since Communist China has opened up to the West, courageous missionaries have gone back into the area, and once again there is a small, vibrant church of former Muslims in that land.
4. Henry Martyn (1781-1812).
— JoS. S. L. (@paleomexicano) October 19, 2016
Henry was an Anglican pastor who felt called of God to evangelize Muslims in India and Persia. This was a time when the British East India Company was carving out its interests in Asia. They really did not want “religious people” who held to absolute moral truth interrupting their business deals, but eventually some evangelicals convinced them to allow Christian clergy to enter their areas of operation as chaplains.
One of those chaplains was Henry. He had read the life of American missionary David Brainard and his work among Native Americans. From that moment on, Henry was determined to “burn out for God” as he later stated.
He arrived in India in 1806, and immediately began translation work to put the Bible in the common languages of the people. Henry saw that Persian was a key language in that corner of the world since the royal courts spoke Persian, and many people groups spoke dialects of Persian. So, for the first time since the fifth century, a new translation of the New Testament was written in Persian — by the young, brilliant scholar Henry Martyn!
He also translated all of the Psalms into Persian, and then mastered the Urdu language (the dominant language of modern Pakistan today) and translated the entire New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer into Urdu! All this by a man not even 30 years old!
But Henry was failing in health, so he was urged to go to sea to get away from the stifling heat and disease of the subcontinent. While he was sailing in the Indian Ocean, his desire was to work on a new Arabic translation of the New Testament. All of this so that Muslims could hear the Word of God and come to know Christ as Savior and Lord. He returned to Bombay in 1811 and immediately set out for Persia.
Martyn wanted to evangelize the learned scholars of Islam in Isfahan, Shiraz, and Tabriz. He got his wish and politely debated the great Islamic scholars of his day. There were no conversions at the time, but the Word of God went out nevertheless. In Tabriz, he asked to meet with the Shah of Persia. He was not received by the Shah, but the king did receive Henry’s Persian translation of the New Testament, and the ruler wrote him that “the whole of the New Testament is completed in a most excellent manner, a source of pleasure to our enlightened and august mind.”
Henry Martyn’s health went from bad to worse, and he died on October 16, 1812 in Persia. He was only 31. His last words were, “Let me burn out for God.” He did.
5. Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952).
He was known as “the Apostle to Islam.” Samuel was born in Vriesland, Mich. in a staunch Dutch Reformed home. His father was a pastor, and young Samuel believed early on that he too was called to preach the Gospel. But where? Sometime while he was in seminary he co-founded the American Arabian Mission (he had been turned down by another mission agency).
He wanted to go to the “toughest” (in his mind) mission field out there … the mission field of Islam. Zwemer read all he could about Islam and its culture. He also devoured all the information about Raymond Lull he could find, and used his life as a model to evangelize Muslims.
He and his fellow missionaries evangelized Busrah Bahrein and other areas in Arabia around the Persian Gulf from 1891-1905. He also lived in Egypt from 1913-1929. While living and traveling widely throughout the Middle East, he wrote extensively about Islamic culture and how the Christian is to interact with Muslims and talk to them about Christ.
Although Samuel never saw more than a dozen Muslims convert to Christ, he was not discouraged because he saw what he was doing as something foundational. He knew this would take time, and others would build on the foundation he had developed.
Zwemer taught at Princeton Theological Seminary until he was 70 years old, then “retired” and went right on writing books and traveling the country recruiting more missionaries. He continued his work until he died at the age of 84.
We certainly do face an enormous crisis today with Islamic jihadist terror. Of course not every Muslim is a jihadist. Muslims’ beliefs range widely on a scale from very violent “fundamentalists” to people who see themselves only as “cultural Muslims.”
But they are all sinful human beings in need of a sinless Savior. And only one person in history qualifies as that sinless Savior … the Lord Jesus Christ. His desire is that Muslims come to Him and confess Him as Savior and Lord. Is your desire to pray for them and tell them about Him?