God’s Divine Plan for Muslim Immigrants

Data about how Muslims come to Christ should affect our thinking on immigration.

Given the current global context of migration, the church in the West finds itself in a unique place in history to help Muslim immigrants who come to our shores as refugees, students, vacationers, or workers. We offer the stranger the hope of the gospel by doing what Jesus commanded: loving him or her (Matt. 25:36–38). In so doing, many will be saved.

 

Naima* came to the United States from the Middle East with her family in the early 1990s. Though she was too young to remember most of the details, she distinctly remembers people from a local church welcoming her family of eight and helping them to get settled. Looking back on her early days in the US, Naima remembers that people from “the church … would bring us Christmas presents and all kinds of stuff. I have no idea how they connected with my family. I was not even five years old at the time. … [But] I remember them helping us with bills.”

After high school, Naima enrolled at the local community college, where she met Daniel, a fellow student. He became a good friend, listened to her struggles, and was always willing to talk about Jesus. At one point, he gave her a Bible and began reading to her out of the Book of John. Challenged by his faith, she brought him a Qur‛an and urged him to read it as well because she was convinced it was the truth—though she didn’t know much, if anything, about it. Evening study sessions often gave way to questions each had concerning the other’s Scripture. Some of the questions were pointed, the answers unsettling.

Naima and Daniel lost track of each other, but a few months later, Naima ended up in the hospital as a result of a drug overdose. There she met a janitor and a hospital transporter who, by their kindness and words of encouragement, demonstrated to Naima the love of Christ. After nearly two weeks, Naima was released from the hospital and reconnected with Daniel. She was excited to tell him all that she had learned and of the kindness of the Christians she met while in the hospital. When Daniel invited her to church, she gladly accepted.

The words of the Bible and the compassion of the Christians she met were nudging Naima toward the Christian faith while eroding her confidence in Islam. But it took the healing of her niece from an illness, in response to Naima’s own prayer, to convince her that the Christian faith was true. Once that was settled, Naima began attending a local church and, after several months, confirmed her faith in Christ in baptism.

Naima’s story is touching, but is it unique? Do she and others who have turned from Islam to faith in Christ have anything in common? If we listen to their stories, is it possible to see a pattern? Recent research conducted in Western Europe and North America indicates that it is indeed possible.

The Word of God and the Community of Faith

For my PhD dissertation, I conducted research in 2012–2013 on the conversion to Christianity of Muslim immigrants in France. In 2015–2016, I was co-leader of a team that conducted similar research on the conversion of Muslim immigrants to the United States and Canada, in partnership with the TIM Center of the Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto. Our work was published in 2017 as Fruitful Practices in Ministry to the North American Muslim Diaspora: A Mixed-Methods Study.

The studies, which made use of both qualitative (interview) and quantitative (survey) methods, sought to identify the observed causes for conversion, especially as noted by Muslim converts themselves. Each study identified the same top three factors leading to conversion of Muslims in Western Europe and North America: access to the Bible, relationship with a Christian friend, and experience with a local evangelical church, as noted in the table below:

The fact that the Bible shows up as significant in both sets of data should not surprise us. The apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” The writer of Hebrews asserts that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (4:12). As evangelicals who hold a high regard for the biblical text and its transformative power, we would expect this outcome.

For Said, a student from the Middle East, the impact of the Bible was unforgettable.

After a year of [pretending to agree with the words and practices of Christianity that I saw in my host family] I started to doubt myself. Maybe they were right? Maybe their religion was the right one. So I decided to actually read the Bible. I started in Genesis. The stories were so good. They resonated with me. They were all so familiar. Reading it was like being pulled into a powerful story; it was almost like watching a film; it was so moving and powerful. These were so much like the things I had heard all my life at home and from my dad. Then after eight months, I got to the [New Testament]. I started reading and Jesus’ words amazed me. He said things like “pray for your enemies and bless those who persecute you.” Who could this man be! No one ever talked like this. I could not put the book down.

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