In Jerry Trousdale’s book Miraculous Movements, there is a chapter entitled, “The Hardest People Yield the Greatest Results.” I’d like to share several pages of that chapter with you. I think they speak for themselves.
Sometimes God Calls Us to Engage Unlikely People
Elsewhere in this book, we described an important principle of Disciple Making Movements that involve seeking out the person whom we refer to as the “person of peace.” But there is another principle that, on the surface, sounds almost contradictory: sometimes the most difficult person to reach with the gospel will become the most dedicated follower of Christ. Such people may seem, at first glance, to be the opposite of a person of peace, openly hostile to God’s Word and frequently hostile to those who follow Christ. Yet when God leads disciple makers to engage these people, they can often be brought into God’s kingdom, and they channel their zeal into winning others to follow Jesus.
Jesus chose some very unlikely apostles. Consider Matthew (also called Levi) the tax collector. Matthew essentially had a franchise to collect taxes, some of which he undoubtedly kept for himself, the rest of which supported the pagan system of the Roman Empire. By rabbinic custom, Matthew could never enter the temple, never give testimony in court, and never be forgiven for his sins. That is why he was seen hanging out with the “sinners’ crowd.” No God-fearing Jews would have anything to do with him. Yet Jesus chose him, an outcast among Jews, as one of His twelve disciples, and Matthew eventually wrote a book that helps us understand Jesus’ focus on the gospel of the kingdom of God.
We could say the same thing about Simon the Zealot, who was once probably a member of a radical nationalist group with a very bloody record. And then there is Paul, who participated in the martyrdom of Stephen, but later because the Apostle to the Gentiles in the first century and an author of the New Testament books.
If Jesus would pick these unlikely folks to be His closest associates and would bestow upon them trust for helping launch God’s eternal plan for the nations, is it surprising that He chooses some of the most unexpected Muslim people to extend His love and proclaim His kingdom to the Islamic peoples of the world?” (Trousdale, 2012, pp. 161-162)
Within that chapter is a story entitled, “The Bomb Maker.”
Riyad was a Muslim imam, the man who called people to prayer at four local mosques. He was a respected man in his community, one whose counsel was regularly sought out in all sorts of community disputes. He was personally responsible for teaching the Qur’an to nearly fifteen hundred people, but this was not where his zeal lay. He had committed himself to one overall task in life: to rid his town of all Christians and to do his utmost to destroy the Christian church in his native land.
Riyad used his official capacity as an imam to further his private agenda. He would collect alms from his followers, but he would not turn the money over to his four mosques; instead, he used it to purchase supplies for making bombs. He would secretly lead raids on Christian churches and private homes, sometimes burning them to the ground, sometimes detonating bombs, sometimes simply vandalizing and intimidating. He was a very bold man, afraid of nothing, and he had a great capacity for hate, all of it directed toward the message and followers of Jesus Christ.
He did not openly commit these acts of violence, but such matters are not easily concealed, and the people of his region knew full well who was responsible for the ongoing reign of terror. Government officials, however, turned a blind eye on the matter because of Riyad’s powerful influence among Muslims in his area. And his Muslim followers didn’t see anything particularly reprehensible in his acts; extremism in the cause of Allah was hardly a vice in their eyes. The only people who openly responded to Riyad’s deeds were his victims, the Christians.
And here is what the Christians did: they prayed for him. They organized prayer campaigns throughout the region, holding all-night prayer meetings to ask God to either change Riyad’s heart or remove him from the area. They made no secret of this, but openly told others how they were praying.
“If something of yours gets stolen and you don’t know who took it,” Riyad told us recently, “you call your neighbors and family together and collectively curse the thief. You ask Allah to bring punishment on the thief’s head and send plagues and disease and death upon him. But while I was burning and destroying and killing the Christians, the Christians were praying for me. ‘Oh Lord,’ they’d say, ‘please call this man to your kingdom,’ crying for me and praying. I would hear them as they walked on the road, praying aloud! ‘Ah, these people are crazy,’ I said. ‘I am going to destroy them again and again! Why are they praying for me? Instead of defending themselves or casting curses on me, they bless me!’”
Then one day, Riyad met some Christians who asked him to study the Qur’an with them. Riyad was always interested in studying the Qur’an, especially if he thought that he could persuade Christians to become Muslims. But these new friends began to gently ask Riyad to explain the many passages in the Qur’an that speak of people mentioned in the Bible, including Jesus. They talked for hours and hours about Abraham, Noah, Moses, and also about Jesus, but the one who was learning was the one who thought he was teaching. Gradually, over a period of time, Riyad began to change.
“I began to realize,” he now says, “that these men could never have understood about God unless He had revealed truth to them, and as a result, I started to change my ways. Then I began to discover verses from the Qur’an, showing how Jesus is the gift from God, He is the sign. I knew these verses already, but I had never understood them. But now I began to see: it says that God will ‘make of him [Jesus] a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us [God].”
Eventually, his friends began to help bridge Riyad from the Qur’an to the Bible, and everything became clear. He turned his life over to Jesus Christ, but he did not lose his zeal; the Lord merely redirected it. Soon after becoming a Christ follower, he went to one of the mosques as he had always done. Hundreds of people were gathered there, waiting for him to come and lead them in their prayers. He stood in front of them and said, “Listen, Jesus is the grace and the truth from God! Unless we follow Him, we cannot go to Jannah [heaven]. So you must come after Jesus if you want to inherit God’s kingdom.”
The people, needless to say, were shocked to hear such words from their imam. The moment he finished speaking, the people leaped up, surrounded him, and forced him to the ground. They tied his hands behind his back with scarves, then began to collectively beat him and kick him where he lay. Some ran into the street and screamed, “Our imam has become crazy! He has gone mad!” Those beating him shouted, “Who made you leave Islam? Why have you become a Christian? Did they bribe you? Drug you?”
The crowd held him prisoner until three in the morning, but they finally let him leave rather than killing him. Riyad fled the village, and the next day a crowd swarmed his house, stealing whatever they could carry and destroying the rest, including the house itself. But Riyad grew in his faith and understanding, and the Lord used him in powerful ways to lead many sheikhs to Christ. Again, like Paul, the man who violently persecuted the people of Christ became a committed follower of Christ, all because some Christ followers were willing to take the risk of reading out to a difficult and dangerous person.
We asked Riyad how Christians ought to respond to Muslims, and here is how he answered:
- Never hate Muslims. My message to Christian brothers and sisters is first to choose to love Muslims. Even though they persecute us, hate us, and harm us, we should love.
- We must pray for them. Pray for Muslims with love, because they don’t understand what they do.
- Demonstrate genuine compassion. Serve them, even to the point of sharing what we have with Muslims, even though we may previously have seen them as our enemies.
- Share the gospel. Christians need to understand the issues of darkness and help Muslims discover for themselves the truth and the light.
- Always remember that Muslims are in darkness. Before I was a believer, I was in the darkness, but now I’m in the light. Unless God opens people’s hearts to what they do, they can’t understand the light. They don’t even know what they are doing, because of their darkness. Only God can show them. We collect the harvest, but it is Jesus who brings Muslims to himself.” (Trousdale, 2012, pp. 162-166)
Trousdale, J. (2012) Miraculous movements. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.