Author Tom Doyle talks about his work as a missionary in the Middle East and the incredible risks Christians are facing as they live out their faith in a part of the world fraught with dangers that include persecution by Muslims, terrorism and war.
Mr. Tom Doyle: Terrorism is real. There is no question. You can look at that trail of blood every night on the news and it seems to almost always go back to the religion of Islam, so it is hard. But yet, we have to offset that with Jesus has called us to go to all nations and make disciples; not just the safe ones—
Jim Daly: Right.
Tom: --not just the easy ones and here's what we're finding: Muslims, when they turn to faith in Christ, are on fire."
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Tom Doyle offers that provocative statement and he's been involved in ministry in the Middle East for many years now. He's our guest today on "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, many of us may not know this, but November is the twentieth anniversary of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and usually that falls on November 6th or 13th, depending what the church wants to do. I hope your church will do that and recognize the persecuted church around the world. If they don't, you might want to let your pastor know what that day is for—November 6th and 13th—to remember those who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ.
Here in North America, and probably Europe as well, we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to persecution. I mean maybe it's around the area of religious freedom where we feel government and other institutions are pressing in on us to take away some of our rights. In the Middle East, it's entirely different. This is a life-and-death decision that you're making. In parts of Asia that would be true as well, where you face perhaps beatings, maybe even your own life is taken because of what you believe. We're gonna talk about that today, because it's important for us as Christians to be informed.
John: And Jim, for most of us in the Western world, we can read about these things, but we can't relate. We don't understand. You've traveled the Middle East; you've gotten a better glimpse into this; but it's tough to be able to really get that, isn't it?
Jim: Well, it is, but on the one hand we've done this wonderful video series with Ray Vander Laan, That the World May Know, and Jean and I had the chance to be in Israel with Ray and Focus supporters. It was amazing. And the whole point that Ray was making is that the Lord takes us to the desert in order to draw us closer to Him, and the deserts of your life could be a broken marriage; maybe a prodigal child.
In this case, we're talking about literal persecution being one of those deserts that the Lord draws us toward, and what we're going to highlight today is that desert within the Middle East when it comes to the cost of claiming Christ in Muslim countries where it may cost you your life.
John: And Tom Doyle, as I said, is with us today. He's the vice president and Middle East director for E3 Partners. They're a global church-planting ministry, and Tom has a lot of expertise about the people and the cultures of the Middle East. He's written a number of books on this topic, and we'll have some information about those at our website.
Jim: Tom, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Tom: Thank you. Great to be here.
Jim: You know you are so much fun; I just appreciate your spirit. I think if you and I went out to dinner, we'd laugh most of the way through.
Tom: That's right!
Jim: But just the joy that comes from you is tangible, and it's such a beautiful witness for the Lord. Thank you for that.
Tom: Well, thank you, thank you.
Jim: When I'm in the Middle East, I mean it is palpable the conflict and the way Christians and Muslims see the world so differently. You know Paul, in the book of Romans, it's in 8:18, he wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." We hear of Christians being martyred in the Middle East. Some are beaten and even martyred in other areas. In Asia that can happen.
Jim: It's estimated that 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide. That just means they may have lost their jobs, they were taunted. There was something because they are a Christian that cost them in the culture.
Tom: That's right.
Jim: About 7,000 in 2015, just over 7,000 people claiming Christ were actually killed because of their faith. It's one of the highest years of death, being persecuted by death in that regard. I think the year previous it was only, you know, only 3,000 people had died, but it doubled in 2015.
Jim: So there is a rise of persecution when it comes to the Christian church, and even for those who are dying for the faith. Why do you think this is underway? What's happening that not just in the Middle East but it is globally that there seems to be a disdain, and hatred for Christians?
Tom: Yeah, you know I think as we're marching toward the return of the Lord, whenever that may be, God's moving; Satan's going to try to block that. We do know this, that in about the last decade more Muslims have come to faith in Christ than in 1,400 years of Islam.
You've written this book, Killing Christians, to I think alert people to both the good things that are happening, along with the troubling things that are happening. I want to get into it, because you have some amazing stories of your work there in the Middle East and Muslims coming to Christ.
I need to be blunt: I think a lot of us when we hear an admonition to pray for those terrorists, for people that are joining ISIS, it's hard, Tom, because of the cruelty of what they're doing and the inhumane nature of what they're doing, and the vengeance with what and how they are doing it. It's hard to bend my knee at night at the bedside and say, "Lord, I want to pray for those people." Speak to that reality, the flesh and our desire for our own vengeance in that regard, and then what we should be doing as followers of Christ.
Tom: Terrorism is real. There is no question. You can look at that trail of blood every night on the news and it seems to almost always go back to the religion of Islam, so it is hard. But yet, we have to offset that with Jesus has called us to go to all nations and make disciples; not just the safe ones--
Tom: --not just the easy ones. And here's what we're finding: Muslims, when they turn to faith in Christ, are on fire. Some of our leaders in Muslim countries are former Muslim imams that came to Jesus, were transformed, got trained. You would never know that dark past they have.But here's the thing that's different between them and us. Before that Muslim prays to receive Jesus, they ask them the two questions. They just have to be honest. They have to ask the two questions. So you're a Muslim; I'm sharing with you, "Okay man, Muhammad, I've got to ask you two questions. No. 1, are you willing to suffer for Jesus? Because it could happen, and probably at the hands of your family." "Yes."
"Okay, let me ask you the second one. Are you willing to die for Jesus?"And they say "Yes." And I think from in the beginning it's in their DNA, and I mean I have to look back to when I was pastoring. Can you imagine if we had those two questions in the new members' class?
Tom: Talk about thinning the ranks, you know.
Tom: But they know it from the beginning it's gonna be dangerous.And I'll tell you, in Killing Christians, there are some stories of Muslims that became believers that were willing to die for their Savior and they weren't even believers that long.
Jim: Right, and that's what's amazing. I wanted to have you share a couple of these stories and then we'll come back into the questions about why is God doing this. But you mention one in your book, Killing Christians, about a Bible smuggler named Azzam. That story caught my attention. This guy is brave to the nth degree. Tell us about him.
Tom: Azzam lives in Somalia, and his dad was a warlord, pirate. They robbed ships. He was a part or that.
Jim: So off the coast of Somalia.
Tom: Off the coast of Somalia.
Tom: And he starts to have dreams about Jesus, in the midst of this, and he's kind of careful, 'cause Somalia has been rated the second-worst country to be a believer and North Korea is No. 1. He's trying to ask people, but can't find anybody that can relate to him. He keeps having these Jesus dreams. Finally, he comes into his room one day and sees a cross on the bed with blood on it, and he hears God's voice. He said, "I think it's God, maybe it's an angel." Has to be God in this case, saying, Jesus saying, "My blood is still fresh enough for your sins. Come and follow me, Azzam."
Jim: My goodness.
Tom: --he finds the Bible, miraculously, and starts to grow. He finds some people that are interested, and then it ends up that his father finds out what's happened to him.
Jim: That he's become a Christian.
Tom: And his mother helped him escape. Yeah, and he's become a believer and the mother helps him escape, and the father had the mother killed brutally.
And he sent a picture to Azzam of the killers standing over the mother before she died. Fast-forward to some months later. Azzam is growing in the Lord. He sees these two men walking down the street—the ones that killed his mother—and he walks up and points to them and says, "I know what you did. I saw what happened to my mother. You need to repent. God has a plan for your life and this is not it, and I just want you to know. His power can give you the ability to forgive. I forgive you for what you did to my mother." And he walks off.
Jim: Oh my goodness.
Tom: These two men had already grabbed their knives; they thought he was going to retaliate. Later on they find him and just say, "Hey, what is this you're talking about?" It ends up that he leads them to faith in Christ over time.
Jim: His mother's killers?
Tom: His mother's killers and then he disciples them.And now they are working in the underground church in Somalia with him. They are with him in ministry, the power of forgiveness. So as I interviewed him, I mean smuggling Bibles in caskets? And I said, "Azzam, how could you do that?" And he said, "But we don't have Bibles. We have to do that."
Jim: And they put them in caskets because the Muslims won't touch or get near a dead body.
Tom: That's right. If they open a casket, they'd feel like they're judged. They'd feel like something's coming. So he rides in caskets in and out of the country to get Bibles and brings them back.
Jim: How amazing. I mean that—
Tom: He doesn't walk down to the store; he goes in caskets.
Jim: You know, Tom, let me ask you this, because again you were a pastor here in America and then you're fifteen years doing ministry in the Middle East, seeing and hearing these incredible testimonies.The person is thinking, "Really? He saw this kind of vision? I mean really?" But it's commonplace now—
Tom: It is.
Jim: --in the Middle East. What is the Lord doing? And how do we rationalize it with our Western approach of Greek logic and—
Tom: That's right.
Jim: --we've never seen God do anything like that.
Jim: Why does God show this to some and not to others? Have you discerned this any differently—
Jim: --after being a pastor in this Western culture and now being this missionary in an Eastern culture?
Tom: Yeah, you know, here's my opinion. I don't have a verse on it. but you know I think about some of the stats we've seen. Eighty-six percent of Muslims worldwide—this is one-fifth of the globe, the religion of Islam—86 percent of them don't know one believer. But Jesus has called us to go make disciples. One-third of all Muslims that come to faith in Christ that are polled say they had significant high-definition dreams where Jesus came to them and told them that He loved them and they wanted to know more. They found an Internet, they got a Bible, they knew a Christian and asked, "Well, what does this mean?"
And so, I think it really comes out of the heart of God. Honestly, it didn't fit in my theology, so I can say this: I didn't go looking for it, that's for sure. I was shocked when I started to hear these stories, started to write them down, but God coming to people. One man that was asked, because he was interested in Jesus, a Muslim imam, "I need to talk to someone about Jesus," and this man that's a believer said, "Well, why? Did you have a dream last night?" And he said, "Yeah, I did, and every night for the last thirty nights I've had a dream about Jesus.And I can't wait to go to bed because He tells me He loves me--"
Jim: Oh my!
Tom: --and I don't hear that in my life. And he had his arm around me, and [said], "Who is this Jesus? Why would He come to me? Why am I so honored that He would come to me?"
Jim: That is breathtaking. It really is.
Tom: It really is.
Jim: Let me ask you this. In the United States we seem to be living in fear about everything—fear of the election, fear of what people are doing, our rights being diminished. It's not where God wants us to live, is it? Despair is a sin.
So how do we see the circumstance and even hear these reports that you're sharing with us, which are jaw-dropping, and then trust that, okay, God's got it in control. He knows what He's doing, no matter who's the President and what's going on in this country or any other country. And if it gets to the point where it's going in a direction God doesn't want it to go, He will give us dreams as well, I believe—
Tom: That's right.
Jim: --and He will do what He needs to do to motivate us to do the things that we need to do for Him. Do you agree with that statement?
Tom: Oh, absolutely. I mean I just thank God.
Jim: So we shouldn't be fearful!
Tom: We shouldn't be fearful. Over 300 times in the Bible, "Don't be afraid. Don't worry." Jesus is not on the throne biting His nails because of the American election. You know those things aren't happening.
We have to, I think, somehow limit our connection to the news to where it's what's happening. Christianity, I think the people are getting their worldview from the news. I think that's where it's coming.
Jim: Well, you know so often, Tom, I'm thinking about end times, and many people would say it feels like we're getting closer, right?
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: Look at the despair that's in the world and the evil that's going on.Christians are gonna live in that generation or two where it's going to be happening. It's not their fault.
Jim: And God will be with them.
Tom: That's right.
Jim: Even though very difficult things will be happening to them, God is still present. God is still God. And we need to begin to condition ourselves like those Middle Eastern Christians who are willing to die for the Lord and not even think twice about it. in fact, to think of it as an honor.
Tom: Exactly right. Change our thinking.
Jim: Wow. We are so far from that.
Tom: Change our thinking, and you know, when you think about it, Jesus said in Matthew 16, "Upon this rock I will build my church. I am going to do this. And the gates of hell will not be able to stand. They are flimsy."
No terrorist group, no dictator, no government will be able to stand against the power of Jesus building His church, so in some of the most unlikely places in the world, the church is thriving. There is an underground church in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, today. If they're found out, there is no court case. It's immediate execution, and they are decapitated right there. And they are privately, in the middle of the night, worshiping Jesus. We're seeing this all over. We are seeing Muslims open to the love of Jesus.
Jim: Hm.You mentioned someone you met there, Shukri I think his name is?
Jim: Tell that story. Shukri sounds [like] another inspirational figure. And folks, we want to share this with you because there are people who are laying it on the line each and every day, not just for tax exemption or for, you know, a comfort issue. Their lives are being laid down because of what they believe. Talk about Shukri.
Tom: Ooh, Shukri lives in the Baghdad area, and it ends up that things happen and he comes to faith in Christ. He comes from a Muslim background. After growing, he and his wife, Khadija, believe that God's leading them to go to Mosul. This is right as ISIS is starting to invade Mosul. This is a traditionally Christian city; it's on the plains of Nineveh. There are some historical links there. The Assyrians, the most feared group in the Old Testament were there, the Ninevites, and you know I think the first time I read Jonah I thought, "Gosh, Jonah, couldn't you trust God? You know, why did you wimp out?"
So loosely translated today, "Hey, Jim, I want you to go to the Middle East and you've got a message for the Islamic State." How would you like that assignment? But yet, Shukri believes God is leading him and his wife and two children to Mosul to share the Gospel with Muslims because all of them aren't with ISIS. And he goes, and it ends up he's seeing fruit. He gives out Bibles. He stands at the mosque and gives out Bibles and talks to people about Jesus. You talk about spiritual guts. I don't know how else to put it, but he did that.
And finally one morning he had a dream. He felt like the Lord was saying to Him he would see Him today. He didn't know if that meant he was going to die or if He'd see the Lord move and Muslims would come to faith in Christ. Gave out the Bibles, was walking home, felt a tug on his collar, turned around. It's terrorists from the Islamic State, and they killed him brutally.
And it ended up that they got ahold of his wife and she went to the scene, and Shukri just had a joy in the Lord. He just didn't live in fear. He was a joke-cracker. People used to say in Iraq if Saddam Hussein would have met him, he would have been on the floor laughing. He just was just that kind of endearing man. And ISIS killed him brutally. They shot him and then they cut him. They buried him in sand. But there was a policeman walking by, and he saw some fingers out of the sand and he thought, "Uh oh. Something's happened." They dig up and there was Shukri. They pulled him out. His hand was raised to God and he had a smile on his face.
He was in the presence of Jesus. Mission fulfilled. Gospel delivered in one of the worst places in the world. And so, his wife dearly misses him, certainly she does, but she said, "Look, they didn't get him. He wasn't even afraid of them." He used to say, "They ought to be afraid of us. We have Jesus. That's who they ought to be fearing." He went to be with Jesus. He's with Him now. Mission completed.
Jim: Well, of course that's probably what Mary might have said of Jesus, too, huh?
Tom: That's right.
Jim: That's the attitude He had. They didn't get me.
Tom: That's right.
Jim: And I prevailed.
Tom: That's right.
Jim: And that's the spirit in which Shukri followed the Spirit of the Lord.
Tom: That's so true.
Jim: And it's not power as man knows power. It's laying down your life for another is real power.
Tom: That's right. I was thinking about John 16 where Jesus said, hey, they're going to put you out of the synagogue. In fact, a time is coming when anyone that kills you think they are doing God a service. And I wonder if the first part of that verse is Judaism that first century, and they are pushed out and the Gospel went out. And maybe the second part is Islam, where they would consider that an honor to kill someone that had converted to become a Jesus follower.
Jim: Well, that's an insightful comment.
Tom, it is so good to talk with you. Killing Christians is a sobering read, but it's something we should all be aware of and pray again in November. Because November is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. And this has been great to have you with you. We're gonna have a little addition here about our work in the Middle East with Sammy Yacoub, and we're gonna transition to that now, but thank you for being with us.
Tom: Thank you. It's a great blessing. Thank you so much.
Drop-In: Middle East Ministry Update
Jim: Today we have two really important people in the Focus on the Family network and that's Sami Yacoub and Remon Shohdy from Egypt and it is a privilege to welcome you two to the program. Let's talk about the activity there in the Middle East. We did something together which was, I think, very good and we build homes for those who were martyred--the families of those who were martyred in Libya. Talk about that project. Tell us the update. It's all completed. Where is that at today?
Remon Shohdy: Yeah, we have helped 20 families in that one town. I mean, most of them are in one village. But it's one of the areas of the country where Christians are, I could say, persecuted and still is, I mean, till the last moment.
We are like devastated by the news. We feel overwhelmed that such a tragic evil incident happened." And we were with tears, we were praying, "Lord, help us to know where You want us to be, to help and to stand alongside these families."
So, we said, "Okay, Lord, if this is it, we have nothing, I mean, to offer, but we pray for it. We made ourselves available." Then the generosity of people giving out for this goal has like, I mean, brought us again to the village to say, okay, "We are here to help with this and … and what else would you need?" So, we built some houses from zero. We furnished some of them. We finished some of the walls, so … according to the needs.
But one of the wonderful things, as well, that this opened the doors in these villages to talk to … to those people about Christ, to talk about faith. They taught us many lessons, but again, you just enter into the village right at the beginning of the road, you find the whole village knowing there are some guests.
So, you have Muslim children playing around. Neighbors asking why are you here? What are you doing here? So we have a chance to share the Gospel, to share what is in our hearts. And we have learned a lot uh … through this experience and we are quite thankful that the Lord would use us in such endeavors.
Jim: Now in that context, the way I understand it, I mean, Sami, you and I had that phone call and we said, "Is there a chance we could build the houses and let's see how much it would cost." And we were able to pull that together.
Sami Yacoub: Jim, we were really thrilled for the swift response that we got from Focus on the Family and from you to help these families. I mean to help, you need to be in time. And it was really timely wonderful and accepted and appreciated by the church and by the people. And by the way, to add to what Remon have said, we have built also some other houses around the martyrs. And we felt that the blood of these martyrs have given witness to the whole world, but it gave a blessing also to the community.
Sami: I mean, if I can say something, I mean, you might have heard me saying this before, houses are built by bricks and stones. Homes are built by love alone. So we have done the bricks and stones, but our No. 1 item in our core ministry, core values, [is] showing God's love to people--
Sami: --to everyone.So, with that kind of live, we looked to our community, not as Muslims and Christians. We looked to Egyptians who we would like to show them the love of Christ, which is powerful, which is the only divine changing agent in a culture that is missing love.
Jim: Remon, where are the families in the village today? How are they doing?
Remon: They are settled in their new homes, somehow, I mean they're—
Remon: --most of them, I mean, those who didn't have homes before. They were living with other family members. They are settled in their homes. One young daughter, I mean, she told us that she was ashamed every time she would go to school, that she would, I mean, her other colleagues would mock of her because she doesn't have a place to live.
Jim: Make fun of her, yeah.
Remon: Yeah, exactly.And she said, I mean, "By the grace of God and by your help, now I walk with confidence, that I have a place to live and safe, secured place." I mean, many, many stories that it's hard taking it, yeah. We want to give our life for such testimonies.
Jim: Yeah, well, it's beautiful what you're doing there.
End of Drop-In
John: That's just a part of a conversation we had with our colleagues, Sami Yacoub and Remon Shohdy from Focus on the Family's ministry in Egypt and the Middle East.
Jim: John, let me say a huge thank you to all of you, our friends who's financial support helped provide those homes and gave new hope to the families of those Egyptian martyrs. You've helped us rebuild their lives and offer a tangible example of God's love to that entire village, I'd say that region, 'cause the word has spread.
But as we know, the situation for families across the Middle East continues to be appalling. They're fleeing war zones, facing persecution, even death and many are in refugee camps, trying to survive without even the basic necessities of life. And what breaks my heart and I hope it breaks yours are the incredible number of children who are impacted by these terrible events. They will likely be scarred for the rest of their lives.
And now Sami and the rest of our Middle East ministry team has already launched into action to help those refugees, but they need our support moving forward. Right now we have a matching grant opportunity that will effectively double any donation you can make to this international effort today. We're talking about meeting basic needs like blankets, hygiene, groceries, even water. But in addition to that, our team is also committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone who will listen. We're not holdin' back.
So, I invite you to respond, to help us rescue, feed and encourage these needy refugees in the name of Christ. And that's most important, to share God's love with them. Today we heard some inspiring stories from Tom and Sami and Remon about how God is transforming lives in the Middle East. Yes, it is a mess, but isn't it wonderful that God shows up in the messes of this world? And if you're able to send us a gift of any amount today, I want to send you a copy of Tom's book, Killing Christians as our way here at Focus on the Family of saying thanks for your support.
John: And you can be a part of the global outreach of Focus on the Family when you donate by calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Well, thanks for joining us for this important program today and we hope you have a great weekend with your family and that you'll connect with us again on Monday for a creative story about why voting in next week's election is so critical.
Whit: You don't see what's great about deciding who'll run our country?
Connie: Sure, if my vote was the one that did that. But it wouldn't. I mean, when you come right down to it, one vote really doesn't any difference.
End of Excerpt
John: Well, you might be surprised about the difference you can make. It's a fun lesson on civic duty that your whole family can enjoy next time. And programs like this are paid for by generous friends like you. On behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time for "Focus on the Family."
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