“This is our place. This is our culture, this is our language, this is our people, so this is the place we live and this is the place we’ll die. We live for Christ and we die in Christ – in this place. So it’s a living testimony,” said Dr. Ousmane Soh, Senegal Ministry Director.
The Luke Society’s mission is to come alongside Christian health professionals with a calling to bring physical healing and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their own people. When the Luke Society began more than 40 years ago, this approach to missions was controversial. Entrusting nationals with finances and decisions in management seemed to be a dangerous proposal. The risk was great but the probable benefits outweighed the possible pitfalls.
“Clearly, non-indigenous people are never fully integrated into the foreign cultures and societies in which they work,” said Dr. Greg Kuiper, Luke Society Director of Ministry Development.
“They do not have the same appearance, do not speak the same native language, and have not had the lifetime of experiences that come from growing up in a specific social context,” he explained.
The social, cultural advantage of indigenous missions becomes particularly clear when evaluating evangelism efforts among Muslims.
“Muslim communities are the second biggest religious population after Christianity,” said Dr. Julius Surjadi, Regional Coordinator for Asia and Indonesia Ministry Director.
“But they are the fastest growing religious population in the world. They’re growing mostly by natural ways (bearing children), but the way they convert people of other religions is usually by marriage,” he explained.
Since September 11th, 2001, Western literature has been bombarded with books, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles addressing Islam. A significant number of these books target North Americans, instructing Christians in their approach to the Muslim religion.
Unfortunately, none of this literature is all-encompassing. No amount of information can replace innate knowledge and indigenous perspective. Indeed, none of these books can transform a North American into someone with whom people in the community feel a sense of camaraderie and comfort.
Each ministry deals with diverse needs, personalities, obstacles, and social norms. In addition, Luke Society ministry directors have unique backgrounds that help them understand the needs of the community and the most effective way to present the Gospel.
“I remember that Friday, the prayer rugs were spread onto the road. Any other activity had to stop to make room for prayer. I still remember how difficult it was to be alone, not observing the Islamic fasting in a group of friends or neighbors. This was judged by others,” recalled Dr. Martin Luther Osse, Benin Ministry Director.
Born in Niger into a Christian family, Osse was among the minority in a country that is very heavily Muslim. At a young age, he developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Then I discovered how difficult it was to be a Christian and to evangelize in a Muslim environment. Indeed, at school and in town, Christians were openly referred to as ‘infidel,’ ‘the lost…’ Even children made fun of Christians,” he said.
During his childhood, numerous friends told Osse of their desire to know the Gospel, but they were afraid of pressures from their parents and society. These pressures prevented them from becoming Christians. One of Osse’s friends, Abdourhamane, even waited until adulthood to openly follow Jesus.
In the community where Osse works, Islam is often practiced in a hierarchical manner. If the head of the family follows Islam, the rest of the family must also practice Islam.
According to Osse, Islam is carried through generations by tradition, and Muslims are often nominal in the practice of their faith. For example, nominal Muslims continue to participate in fetish worship and consume alcohol. In addition, the majority of Muslims rarely observe the hours of prayer. In spite of this nominalism, they remain closed to Christianity.
“They often admit that Christians hold the truth,” Osse said, “but we see this does not cause them to engage in Christianity.”
According to Kuiper, North Americans often misunderstand this obstinacy:
Even though we are informed that every facet of Islamic life revolves around their belief system, I still think that as North Americans we have difficulty with fully comprehending how strong this integration of family life, religious activity, and business/social relationships is among Muslim followers….In reality, our social and financial well-being is not directly impacted by what we believe, so it is hard for us to understand how dramatic the change is for Muslims who become Christians and find themselves totally ostracized by their family and society.
Osse explained, “The fact that the Luke Society is based on the vision of a local doctor makes the ministry more in harmony with the community and its needs.”
With the assistance of his medical bag and his knowledge of the local people, Osse said he is able to choose the best strategies to share the Gospel with Muslims in his community.
For example, people were fighting spiritual warfare with curses and animist practices. They thought they could ward off calamity with sacrifices and rituals. Osse was able to use his knowledge of these practices to teach them about a positive, valid approach Christian’s have – prayer. He showed them the differences and the positive ways to use prayer.
Osse also began to hold classes on disease prevention in one of the Fulani camps. When the leaders saw Osse and his team introducing the Word of Jesus during these visits, they hired a Muslim leader to live in the community and teach Islamic lessons.
Soon after, attendance to Osse’s classes began to decrease. A few women confessed that their husbands had forbidden them to come to the classes.
“But our teaching is not only evangelical,” Osse said. “The boycott also means they were missing the lessons on disease prevention.”
However, the people gradually realized they were losing the opportunity to learn about disease prevention that would improve their quality of life. Osse and his team remained patient and attendance increased once again. Soon after, the team noticed the Muslim teacher had left the village quietly.
“Medical activities and health education help to maintain permanent contact with the villagers. This permanent bond is required of them despite some hostility to the Gospel because of the great need for good health. This establishes the permanent opportunity to talk about the Gospel,” Osse said.
The same adherence to traditions and hierarchical religion that exists in Benin also causes Senegalese, especially Fulani Senegalese, to remain staunch Muslims. As a former Muslim, Dr. Soh is able to approach the people in his ministry with an extra measure of understanding.
Raised in a traditional Muslim home, Soh attended Quranic schools and even received a scholarship to an Islamic institute in Libya. Soh soon rebelled against Islam, however, believing it to be the religion of the Middle East. He became a Rastafarian, which he thought of as the religion for Africans. Finally, through the prayers of a stranger and the urgings of a friend, Soh learned about Christ’s promise of salvation and became a Christian.
“I had a burden for the Muslims since the light of Christ shone in my heart in 1997,” Soh said.
“The problem is there are so many of them and they increase biologically every day! But the opportunities have always been there, and many have come to know the Lord through what God has done in my life, sometimes even from a distance, those who just observed me,” he exclaimed.
He continued to explain that many people in his country believe Christianity is a Western religion. According to Soh, the only way to change this stereotype is to empower the people. The people must embrace the Word of God and minister to their own people.
Imam Abukakar, one of the Muslim leaders in the community, seeks out Soh for all his medical needs. In fact, the Imam exclusively recommends Soh’s clinic to everyone in the area. He also expressed the importance of having an indigenous doctor.
“It’s different when you talk to someone that you know because that sense of communication and belonging gives you trust in that person. It gives you an outpouring that you can give all your secrets and you can communicate with a person, freely. It’s not like when you have that cultural barrier with someone from the outside,” Abukakar said.
“Someone who is from here,” he said, “he will stay with us, he will live with us, he’ll die here. So it’s a huge difference.”
This daily interaction is Soh’s main method of evangelization – through forming relationships with people. He also said the most powerful tool he has is prayer. Through the power of prayer, Muslims see Soh’s life and ministry and begin to ask questions.
Two months ago, Soh and a group of four local evangelists were able to witness to another Fulani man. The man had told an evangelist in the village to bring him even one Fulani Christian and he would listen to the Gospel. Although the man thought he had found a barrier to the Gospel, these five Fulani Christians came to his village one day. Amazed, he invited them to come inside his home and listened to them speak about the Word of God for many hours. Now, the door is open for the Good News to spread throughout that village.
Working in a totally different environment, Dr. Kapil Mishra, Ministry Director in Nepal, approaches evangelism to Muslims in much the same way as Soh – through friendship.
Although the approach to evangelism is much the same, the environment and impact of Islam in Nepal is another story.
“The percentage of Muslims in Nepal is 12%. Though they are in the minority, because of their aggressive attitudes their impact is quite big in Nepal,” Mishra said.
With a small mosque in every village and loud speakers projecting prayers and verses of the Quran, the majority of Muslims in Nepal are far from nominal in their religious beliefs and practices.
These believers make the pilgrimage called Mecca Medina to Saudi Arabia. They also have one month of fasting, called “Ramadan,” in which they do not drink water during daylight hours – even prohibiting a believer from swallowing their own saliva. In addition to prayers and worship, they have numerous training centers.
“They mind their religion to the most of their ability. If anyone is found going to any other religion from Muslims – that is the point of death. Another Muslim will kill him, which they think is their atonement of sin,” Mishra said.
With the population of Muslims increasing at “double the birth rate” in Nepal, there is a tremendous need to find an effective avenue for evangelizing.
“The challenge is very big while ministering to Muslims. As I have mentioned earlier, sometimes it might cost death both to a converter and the preacher of the Gospel. Muslims are very devoted to their religion and do not tolerate conversion to any other religion,” Mishra said.
Despite these dangers, 16 Muslims have converted to Christianity. Five of these people have become Christian leaders and pastors. The testimony of these indigenous Christians is of vital importance in spreading the Word of God in Nepal.
Although Muslims and Christians can agree on similarities in their religions, Muslims remain angry about the Christian Bible. They believe everything in the Bible, excluding the first five books, was formed by Westerners to suit their own desires and will.
For this reason, friendship plays a significant role in evangelism. The most effective way to evangelize is to lead a Christian life among the people. The power of example opens the door for opportunities to share the salvation message.
In one instance, two training centers were built next door to each other – one Christian and the other Muslim. A few of the young adults at the Muslim training center approached the staff at the Christian training center. The young people said they wanted to become Christians because they saw the way of life for Christians was simple and easy compared to the complex bondage of their religion.
“They said ‘your life is a life in heaven and ours is in hell because we get bad treatment here in the training center,’” Mishra explained.
Although Mishra’s main focus is spreading the salvation message, people are initially attracted to his ministry by the availability of healthcare.
“The Luke Society has a very big platform, which is healthcare, which we can use for their concern making them in our favor or attract them that we have a concern for them especially in Nepal’s context,” Mishra said.
A common thread among Luke Society directors is their ability to draw people into their ministries through love.
Phil David, Luke Society International Ministry Coordinator, explained, “In more than one report over the years, we have read how Muslims have received Luke Society directors into their communities because of their medical expertise but have been surprised by their willingness to help Muslims even though directors are Christian.”
Speaking (and Acting) the Truth in Love
Indeed, when an earthquake hit a major city in Papua, Indonesia, Surjadi and his team went to the Muslim villages where most of the damage had been done. They brought food, supplied drinking water, and spent time visiting with the people. Pouring out their hearts to the team members, these Muslims even allowed the team to pray for them.
“Christianity has to offer the power of the eternal love,” Surjadi explained. “Many Muslim people are struck with the command from the Bible ‘to love your enemy and to pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44). They don’t have this concept in them.”
Recently, more than 1,000 churches were burned down in Indonesia, and hundreds of pastors were killed. Yet Christians did not seek revenge. The Christians’ reaction made Muslims question their constant quarreling.
Soh explained the similarities and key difference, “They know what is God, what is sin. They have what they call a revelation book, which is the Quran. They have a prophet and they believe in ‘God’ somehow.”
“But they do not have salvation. It is Jesus only who can offer salvation. You don’t have salvation in any other religion here,” he concluded.
Although Muslims make their own efforts to obtain peace with Allah, they have no guarantee in the life hereafter. When Soh asks Muslims whether they will go to heaven if they die that very day, they say they do not know.
Soh shows them the difference in Christianity –absolute assurance through Christ’s blood, which was shed in love.
When the Fulani see Soh living his life according to the Bible, they gain hope that they too can be Fulani Christians.
“The opportunity we have is huge—we proclaim the message of a God of love, which is not something that Muslims have heard. And because of that, the Gospel is very appealing. Every other religion in the world, Islam included, preaches a message of trying to please god by your deeds, gifts, sacrifices, etc.—and people invariably cannot measure up…. No other religion can hold a candle to this liberating message of the Bible,” Kuiper said.
Luke Society directors feel a particular burden in their heart for the people in their own countries – for people living not only in physical poverty but in spiritual poverty. They seek to relieve the unseen oppression and bondage to religions that lack the single greatest promise – salvation.
Dr. Boateng, Regional Coordinator for Africa, explained, “The need, and why we evangelize to and among Muslims, stems from the mandate of our Lord to GO to ALL nations. Our call is holistic ministry to the whole community. How can they be saved unless they hear and see the Gospel in us and through our ministry? The love of Christ constrains us to rescue the perishing.”
Partnering with the Luke Society empowers Christian doctors like Boateng, Mishra, Soh, Osse, and Surjadi to fulfill their calling to reach their own people.
Dr. Wrede Vogel, Luke Society Executive Director, explained, “God has provided us with a remarkably effective way to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims. He has led us to committed Christian doctors who were born and raised within Muslim communities. They know the culture and the language in those communities. And they love their neighbors and have a passion to share their faith. We have the privilege of coming alongside these Christian physicians and empowering them to follow their calling.”