45 posts categorized “Reaching Muslims for Christ”

December 27, 2013

MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: Loved Into the Kingdom

Throughout 2013, "Anna" has written posts for the PersecutionBlog about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. We have re-posted some of these blogs during this Christmas week. In this final post in the Moving Toward Muslims series, Anna challenges us to take what we've learned and put it into action.

In this year’s Moving Toward Muslims series, we’ve discussed ways to relate with Muslim individuals in a way befitting Christ’s followers. Instead of harboring hatred or holding at arm’s length, we’ve talked about ways to take a step forward in relationship with Muslims.

In February, we saw how initiating friendship can disarm a Muslim’s wariness. In March, we considered keeping a Name Notebook because you and I might be the only intercessor praying for our Muslim acquaintances. We discussed how you could offer hospitality to Muslims…without knowing one Arabic recipe! All of these are ways we can move toward Muslims.

Still, the primary way I see God transforming Muslims is through the sincere and sacrificial love of His children. “I’ve never met anyone like you!” Muslims sometimes exclaim to me. The love that naturally flows from a follower of Jesus is out of the ordinary to Muslims. Others-first, no-strings-attached Jesus love is not only disarming, it’s inviting. Muslim Woman and Baby

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, NKJV). When we demonstrate love to Muslims, particularly within the context of Christian community, they experience the love of Christ and what it could look like to follow him. It has been said that a Muslim needs to be “loved into the Kingdom.”

What does it look like to love a Muslim? It looks like…

  • Exhibiting patience when they show up late.
  • Going the extra mile to meet a need they’ve expressed.
  • Not being easily provoked when they say something offensive.
  • Bearing with their diet restrictions.
  • Believing God can change even the hardest heart.
  • Enduring persecution or ridicule as you explain the Gospel.

As the last post in the Moving Toward Muslims series, it begs the question: What are we going to do about what we’ve learned?

If you take Jesus’ teaching seriously, I hope you will take a step toward those he loves so much. This could include educating yourself about Islam, but beware: Never substitute supposed “book knowledge” for the value of learning from a living, breathing soul who identifies himself or herself as Muslim.

If you choose to move toward Muslims, there will be times you stumble for words. You will make some dead-wrong assumptions and some fantastic cultural blunders. This is certain. But what is also certain is that in the midst of your fumbling, what your Muslim friend will see is love.

He will see a person without all the answers, but with deep wisdom he respects. He will notice the open door, the gift given, and the community surrounding. His eyes will see your well-used Bible, his ears will hear your heartfelt prayer, and his hands will feel your warmth.

Some would say Muslims must be loved into the Kingdom. But who will be the ones to extend that love? Will you?

Your Turn: How has this series affected your thoughts toward Muslims? Are there any steps you plan to take as a result?

Anna loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


December 26, 2013

Repost: MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: Making a Convert or Pointing to Jesus?

Throughout 2013, "Anna" has written posts for the PersecutionBlog about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. This Christmas week, as we celebrate a Savior who came to earth to save Muslims (and everyone else), we thought it might be good to review some of the lessons Anna has shared with us throughout the year. Tomorrow we’ll have a brand-new post from Anna, her final post for 2013.

In August, I shared how I felt like a project when my Muslims friends try to convert me. But what if I turn the tables and ask myself: Should I, as a Christian, convert Muslims?

The short answer? No.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did a lot of converting. In fact, they traveled “over land and sea to make one convert.” Impressive, right? Not to Jesus. He said those efforts to impose religion were making the spiritual condition of their converts worse than before! (See Matthew 23:15.)

Instead of starting a new religion, Jesus of Nazareth ushered in a kingdom where he reigns as King. In this kingdom, people are healed physically and spiritually. The poor finally have some Good News. Dead people are raised to new life in Jesus.  

For any of us to move toward Jesus, the supernatural must occur. The Holy Spirit wind of God must blow through my life, regenerating my enemy soul. In Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”

Ephesians 2:4-5 describes the miracle: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (NKJV, emphasis mine).

As I interact with Muslim friends, I attempt to introduce them to Jesus Christ and Mosque2 the reality of his kingdom reign. With a growing admiration for Jesus, we can learn together what it looks like to obey him gladly. I look for the day when Muslims unburden themselves at Jesus’ feet, without taking on my religious baggage in the process. This is clearly supernatural!

In my years of building relationships with Muslims, I have shifted my focus away from winning converts to my religion. Muslims are not prizes to be won. We are all flawed human beings who desperately need Jesus. I am identifying more with John the Baptist, who saw his role as a “mere stagehand” in the drama Christ is unfolding in the nations (Luke 3:16 MSG).

With this shift in focus, I can begin to recognize God’s everyday miracles of stirring the spiritually dead:

  • A friend in turmoil is comforted by a psalm of David.
  • A family matron asks a question about Jesus and her attentive daughters and nieces listen to the answer.
  • A light bulb goes on for a university student and she remarks, “God is showing me how much he cares about me!”  

I will never “convert” Muslims. Instead, by God’s grace, I will live wisely and take every opportunity to point to Jesus. I may be a player in the drama God is unfolding in my friends’ lives, but I want Jesus to be the star of the show.

He must increase, and I must decrease. Because, let’s be honest. If I tried to run the show, I would operate much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and make my convert twice as much a child of hell as I am.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Do you agree with the author’s premise that Christians should not convert Muslims? Is it possible to make a convert worse off spiritually than before?

Anna loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


December 25, 2013

Repost: MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: Take the First Step

Merry Christmas!

Throughout 2013, "Anna" has written posts for the PersecutionBlog about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. This Christmas week, as we celebrate a Savior who came to earth to save Muslims (and everyone else), we thought it might be good to review some of the lessons Anna has shared with us throughout the year. Friday we’ll have a brand-new post from Anna, her final post for 2013.

Has it ever occurred to you that Muslims might be as afraid of you as you are of them?

Afghan_ManAn Arab Muslim woman studying in the United States confided in me that her family was worried about her living in America. “They tried to stop me,” Najma said. “My aunt visited me and warned me, ‘Don’t you know America is full of violence? They will kill you on the street!’”

Together, we laughed at her aunt’s fears, knowing how far it was from the truth of the sleepy town in which Najma lived. Her aunt had based her impression of America and Americans on violent films she had seen. But Najma’s reservations evaporated once she began meeting average Americans—store clerks, teachers, her host family. They were nothing like the Americans she had seen on TV.

When people ask me, “What do Muslims think of Christians?” a simple answer eludes me. First, which Muslims? To lump all Muslims—the Western convert, the uneducated Bosnian woman, and the Syrian engineer—into one pile and ask what “they think” is presumptuous at best. And second, which Christians? Although you might define Christian as “evangelical” or “practicing Christians,” Muslims don’t define it that way. Most will categorize an entire nation as Christian, so we have to recognize and work with the Muslim’s definition.

“What do Muslims think of Christians?” is a loaded question, with no way around approximations and generalizations. But in a phrase, they are respectful, yet wary.

  • Muslims consider Christians “People of the Book” and respect their faith in one God. While still seeing themselves as superior for practicing the best religion, Muslims respect those who worship one God, pray, and treat others kindly. A Muslim recently told me, “Your prophet (Jesus) was the Prophet of Love, that is why Christians are so loving.”
  • Muslims are in a love/hate relationship with the West. They love healthcare, technology and some ideas from the West but regret its deteriorating effect on their cultures. Some blame television programs and government policies from the “Christian West” as the reason for problems and sin in their own countries.
  • Muslims tend to be wary of Christians. Stories circulate about argumentative, in-your-face polemicists that defame Islam, and most Muslims want to steer clear of a fight. They may be concerned that by befriending a non-Muslim they will be criticized by other Muslims, or even worse, influenced to sin.

These misconceptions run deep, but something stronger can disarm a Muslim’s watertight wariness: initiative on our part. Just as average Americans helped alleviate Najma’s fears, the same holds true when authentic Jesus-followers take the first step with wary Muslims. One perspective shift, coming right up!

Meeting a follower of Jesus should be like a refreshing breeze blowing or an attractive scent alluring. It piques the interest and leaves the other wanting more. As a believer I am instructed to “let [my] conversation be gracious and attractive” in interactions with outsiders (Colossians 4:6 NLT). Gracious. Attractive. That will blow the mind of Muslims…or anyone, for that matter.

Muslims may be hesitant to initiate a relationship, which leaves the ball in our court. I’d hate to have Hollywood do all the talking, wouldn’t you?

Your turn: How much of your opinion of Muslims is based on films and other media? Have you met a Muslim who blew apart your preconceptions?

Anna loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


December 24, 2013

Repost: MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: Hospitality 101

Throughout 2013, "Anna" has written posts for the PersecutionBlog about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. This Christmas week, as we celebrate a Savior who came to earth to save Muslims (and everyone else), we thought it might be good to review some of the lessons Anna has shared with us throughout the year. Friday we’ll have a brand-new post from Anna, her final post for 2013.

Did you know that the majority of Muslim international students living in the United States have never set foot inside a Christian home?

The home can be a place where hospitality is offered and deep values are communicated. When a meal is shared, it ups the stakes even more. For Easterners, to share a meal is to commit to one another in friendship. You can hear similar overtones in Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (NLT, emphasis mine). 11_2 Muslim Women_small

So what prevents us from sharing a meal as friends with Muslims? For me, it was the feeling that I wouldn’t “do it right.” My rented house was sparsely decorated and I didn’t know how to cook any Arabic dishes. And what about conversation – what would I talk about with students who were still learning English?

Your home will probably never be perfect for entertaining, and you’ll never say and do all the right things. But by learning some basics, you could drum up the confidence to invite a Muslim to your home.

Here are some basic guidelines when hosting Muslims:

On the table. Steer clear of pork products and all alcohol. Rice, curries, and roasted lamb or chicken will please almost any Muslim dinner guest. (Takeout from an ethnic restaurant is also a fabulous idea.) The larger the quantities of food you serve, the more honor you bestow on your guest!

What to wear. Modesty is important to all Muslims in differing degrees. Most will feel comfortable in your home if you dress modestly. For women, that could mean a long skirt or loose-fitting pants, and a high-necked shirt with sleeves. For men, long pants are more respectful than shorts.

In the doghouse. Dogs make some Muslims uncomfortable. If at all possible, keep your dog in another room while your guests are present.

Gender divide. Ask a Muslim couple if they prefer to segregate inside your home. If so, prepare a separate space for the women to sit - even an office or spare bedroom will do. (It should go without saying that single men and women should only invite Muslims of their same gender.)

I have found that Muslims almost always accept a meal invitation. Or you can begin gradually with tea or coffee together. They may bring a small hostess gift – chocolates or a trinket from their country – as a way of saying thank you. Don’t be surprised if they remove their shoes and take detailed notice of the room’s décor and pictures.

Perhaps the most important way you can prepare to host a Muslim is to bathe the visit in prayer. You could even place your hand on the chair your friend will sit in, praying for him or her to encounter Christ in a real way inside your home.

Don’t let fear or perfectionism hold you back. Can you think of a Muslim – a co-worker, an international student, or an employee at a store you frequent – that you might bless with the gift of hospitality? All you have to do is extend the invitation. In opening your home, you are sealing the bonds of friendship that can eventually point a Muslim to Christ.

Your Turn: Are there lessons you have learned from hosting Muslims? What holds you back from welcoming Muslims into your home?

Read More: Both men and women can benefit greatly from the cultural insights shared in Joy Loewen’s book Woman to Woman: Sharing Jesus with a Muslim Friend. (Also available for Kindle.)

Anna loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.

 

Disclosure: VOM is a part of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on the links above and purchase a product, a small referral fee will be paid to VOM.


December 23, 2013

Repost: MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: The Only Intercessor

Throughout 2013, "Anna" has written posts for the PersecutionBlog about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. This Christmas week, as we celebrate a Savior who came to earth to save Muslims (and everyone else), we thought it might be good to review some of the lessons Anna has shared with us throughout the year. Friday we’ll have a brand-new post from Anna, her final post for 2013.

Kris kept a little notebook on hand. The Name Notebook. On her trip through several Muslim countries, she met dozens of people. At a salon, Kris took the names of the beauticians she met. From bathroom cleaners to teenagers sitting beside her in a coffee shop, if she got to know them personally, she asked their names and wrote them down in the Name Notebook. Why? To pray for them.

104-0447_IMG As believers, we have many people praying for us: perhaps Bible study leaders, parents, and friends from church. But most Muslims don’t have that privilege. If you know a Muslim by name, have you ever considered that you may be the only praying Christian in his life? Perhaps no one else but you is bringing him before our Father God, interceding for him in prayer.

If Jesus has made you right with God, you are particularly poised to intercede for Muslims in a powerful and effective way (James 5:16). Petition, prayer, intercession and praise in the name of Jesus draws on the authority of His Name as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Don’t know how to begin praying? Like Kris, you could record the name of any Muslim you meet and begin to pray for his salvation. Or, if you meet a Muslim, you could pray with him right then and there! First ask his permission then pray aloud a simple prayer of blessing upon him, his business, or his family. 

Or maybe your new friend has an immediate need, like Abdullah did. I met Abdullah on his way home to visit an ailing sister. After listening with concern, I asked for his sister’s name. Sara. “I will pray for Sara to be well.” I went on to explain, “Jesus the Messiah has power and authority to heal our bodies as well as our hearts.”

Perhaps you don’t know any Muslims personally? Then pray through the Middle East news, naming specific Muslim dignitaries, authors and artists. Or pray through VOM’s newsletter. As you come upon the name of a Muslim persecutor, or someone’s hostile family member, could you find it in your heart to pray for him? First repent of any hatred you might be harboring (Psalm 66:18) and then pray for his salvation.

I heard of a man who walks around a mosque in his city once a week, interceding for the Muslims who worship there. He prays for Jesus to reveal himself in an undeniable way in their lives. Quietly and simply, with no banners or megaphones, he asks the Lord for a harvest of souls among Muslims in his city.

There are many ways to go about praying for Muslims. You might even start a Name Notebook like Kris. However you pray, know a unique privilege is yours: you could be the first believer to truly intercede on a Muslim’s behalf.

Your turn: What creative ways have you discovered for intercession? Are there specific Muslim friends you pray for regularly? Please share in the comments.

"Anna" loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


December 12, 2013

The Man In My Dreams

Have you ever read the book of Acts and wondered why it doesn’t feel like God is working as miraculously in the world as he did then? Peter and the other disciples stood on the temple grounds on that Pentecost day and spoke in the tongues of many nations and about 3,000 people came to Christ in one day.

If you need some encouragement that God still DOES work in amazing, miraculous ways, then I recommend a new book VOM is offering called Dreams and Visions, by Tom Doyle, a VOM partner. Dreams and Visions has more than 20 testimonies of how God is using dreams and visions in the lives of Muslim men and women who might otherwise never be able to experience who Jesus Christ is. God interacts with them miraculously to call them to himself. Dreams_And_Visions

I praise God for how he works! But the other thing that stands out to me from these testimonies is how in almost every case, God gave the person a supernatural experience with himself, but they also needed human contact with a Christian for them to take the final step to accepting Christ, or to provide them with a Bible or to explain some aspect of Christianity to them.

Most of us probably don’t think we’ll ever have much opportunity to assist a Muslim or anyone in this way. But Tom tells a story of stopping at a gas station one day as he was late to an appointment. Somehow his conversation with the woman at the cash register led to his asking her what she knew about Jesus Christ… and suddenly she revealed that she’d been having “Jesus Dreams” for more than 20 years.

Though she lived in the United States, she’d never had an opportunity for someone to explain Christ more fully to her. God was at work in her life for 20 years, preparing her heart, and was just waiting for one of his followers to finish the job for him.

Clearly God doesn’t need us to do his work. But he invites us to be a part of transforming the world, one person at a time as we stay attuned to the Holy Spirit. I want to be a part of that, and I hope you do, too. Dreams and Visions ($9)  will get you inspired about what God is already doing… and call you to join in where you are. 

Dory P. has worked with VOM for six years. She grew up in Ecuador, met her husband while working with another mission organization, and now lives in Oklahoma. Between Dory, her husband and three-year-old son, they share five passports. Dory helps tell the stories of the persecuted through VOM's newsletter, and her husband serves with VOM's international department.


November 22, 2013

MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: Five Lessons Muslims Taught Me

After a few years of living in the Middle East, I am learning some things. My teachers? Muslim men and women. By observing, hosting, playing, and sharing alongside Muslims, I am changing, I think, for the better.

Here are five things I’m learning as I move toward Muslims:

1. Don’t judge by appearances. As an outsider, my first assumptions are almost always wrong. The seemingly religious woman turns out to be a fashionista with an obsession for American sitcoms. The well-educated researcher with the latest gadgets fasts once a week and spends his evenings at the mosque.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NLT) Clothing and pastimes, nationality and gender can be indicators, but they never tell us the whole story about a human being. I want to stop categorizing by appearances and start looking at people from God’s perspective.

2. People come first. Before promptness, people. Before tasks, the person before me. There is no casual wave and ducking into my house here; neighbors must be greeted properly and news must be exchanged. By looking people in the eye and taking time for them, I have grown in my “others-awareness” and become a little less self-absorbed.

3. Modesty does not equal oppression. In this conservative culture, I cover up more than before. That effort to cover my legs and arms gives me a different perspective on my body and what I choose to show when I go out. I no longer see Muslim veils as intrinsically oppressive*, but a way some women choose to protect what they deem most valuable. Like one woman told me, “The most valuable pearl is covered in its shell.” Story04_Veiled

*Note: I believe forcing a woman to veil is oppressive, whether through subtle coercion or societal pressure.

4. Close proximity is not always invasion. The Arab world is what I’ll call a warm culture hybrid. That means people tend to touch more than we are used to in the West. A comforting hand on my shoulder, multiple cheek kisses, and even holding hands communicates affection, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Instead of feeling put off by an invasion of my personal space, I’m learning to feel cared for instead.

5. There is wisdom in discretion. Arabs have polite yet firm ways of declining to share details. Sensitive information, like family members’ health, work issues, or future plans are reserved for close, trusted relationships. I am learning that not everyone needs to know everything all of the time. Healthy discretion curbs my tendency toward over-sharing and replaces it with speech that fits the moment and the hearer.

It is always easier to criticize another culture than to let the Holy Spirit change us by it. Don’t let negative stereotypes about Muslims lead you to believe you have nothing positive to gain from them. Take a step toward a Muslim; you might be surprised what you learn!

Your turn: Do any of these lessons resonate with you? What positive traits have you observed in Muslims? 

"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


November 21, 2013

A Look Inside Iran

As you look at this graphic from the BBC, about media usage inside Iran, take time to pray for Christian ministries--including VOM--that are using different media to reach inside Iran with the gospel message.

Media In Numbers

Among the ways VOM supports persecuted Christians in Iran is support for Christian satellite broadcasts carrying the gospel message and discipling believers inside that nation. As you can see from the graphic, 60% of Iranians watch satellite TV…even though owning a satellite dish is illegal. In fact, one of our partners jokes that the satellite dish is the national flower of Iran!

Image credit: BBC


October 15, 2013

MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: The Momentous Sacrifice

Today, the Muslim world shifts its eyes to one thing: The lamb.

Today is Eid ul-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.

Marking the end of the haj, the pinnacle event of this feast is sacrificing a lamb — literally slitting its throat while reciting verses from the Quran. After reserving a portion of meat to give to the poor, Muslims will clean the meat and rub it with fennel seed, turmeric and other aromatic spices. Then they will braise or roast it until the tender meat falls off the bone. 

ISLAM_-_Haj-Pilgrimage
Last year Saudi Arabia reported more than 4 million pilgrims for the Haj. (Photo: AsiaNews)
In almost every country, new clothes are a must for this special day. In the Middle Eastern country where I live, local men attend prayers early in the morning, and then receive guests as early as 6 a.m. Women with henna-decorated hands pass out chocolates and money to children who knock on their doors. But the lamb takes center stage, and some Muslims don’t even know why.

The event behind Eid ul-Adha is Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son. Muslims know that God stopped Abraham as he raised the knife and sent a ram from heaven so the son could go free. But the deeper significance of this story — and how it points to Jesus — most will never know.

Several years ago I had coffee with a South Asian woman near the celebration of this meaning-packed holiday.

A few simple questions led to a topic most Americans would avoid: sin. As a Muslim, Hanna explained to me how she views sin: Everyone sins, at least a little. But the payment for sin is good works.

It gave me the entrance to share about the seriousness of sin, its penalty of death and that no amount of good works are good enough for God. Ever.

The table was silent. Suspension had sufficiently been built. Hanna appeared deep in thought when she looked up from her drink and asked, “So how can anyone go to heaven?”

I was so glad she asked! “You know about Nabi Ibrahim?” I ventured, referring to the Eid ul-Adha story. “The ‘ram from heaven’ was given in place of Abraham’s son, and this sign points us to Jesus.” (As a note, some Muslims insist the son was Ishmael, not Isaac, so I used “son” in general to avoid confusion or an argument.)

After relating the story to Jesus the spotless Lamb of God who gave his life so we could go free, I asked Hanna, “Have you ever heard this before?”

“No. Never.” At the end of our coffee date, Hanna thanked me for explaining about Jesus. She said, “I have always wondered why he came.”

The Quran ends the story of Abraham and his son with this: “And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice” (as-Saffat 37:107, Yusuf Ali Translation). So, every year on the occasion of Eid ul-Adha, astute Muslims are left wondering, What is the “momentous sacrifice?” Surely it means more than a ram caught in the brambles.

God in his wisdom tucked this meaning-packed story in the Quran and made it the focal point of the biggest feast in Islam. Having woven this account into the fabric of Muslims’ lives, God has prepared these precious men and women to hear about His provision of the “momentous sacrifice,” Jesus, the Lamb of God.

This Eid, may they not be left wondering.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever taken part in an Eid ul-Adha celebration? Do you know any Muslims who are celebrating today?

"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


October 14, 2013

Saudi Arabia: No Religious Freedom

This week offers a tremendous opportunity for prayer that those of the Muslim faith visiting Saudi Arabia encounter Christ.

Saudi-mapThis week, men and women from as many as 190 countries will make the journey to Islam’s holiest city in order to complete haj — a pilgrimage that all Muslims are expected to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able. As over two million Muslims converge on Mecca, Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage that started on Oct. 13 and ends Oct. 18 this year, pray they might have dreams that point them to Christ or that they even meet Christians as they travel to the kingdom to fulfill their religious duty.

Saudi Arabia is ranked as the second-most oppressive nation for Christians. Even foreigners visiting the country risk jail, expulsion, lashings, torture and even death for sharing their Christian faith with Muslims or even practicing it.

In this country that allows no religious freedom, men and women who have decided to follow Christ do so despite the great costs. Some must flee for their lives. In May 2013, a woman known only as “the girl of Khobar” fled the country after her father threatened to kill her because she had converted from Islam to Christianity. The woman’s family accused two of her male coworkers of brainwashing her and helping her flee the country. One, a Saudi, received 200 lashes and two years in prison for helping her flee. The other, a Lebanese Christian, was sentenced by authorities to 300 lashes and two years in prison for converting her.

Like the Lebanese man, Christian expatriates from other countries, particularly Eritrea, India and the Philippines, are often targeted by Saudi religious police and face severe punishment for proselytizing or even meeting together for private worship.  Mussie Eyob, a 33-year-old Eritrean Christian and a convert from Islam, was arrested in Feb. 2011 for preaching to Muslims and sentenced to death. Numerous groups, including The Voice of the Martyrs’ readers, prayed and contacted authorities, and instead of death, Eyob was deported back to Eritrea in Nov. 2011.

On Jan. 21, 2011, just prior to Eyob’s arrest, Indian Christians were targeted by religious authorities who raided their prayer meeting. Four escaped, but Vasantha Sekhar Vara, 28, and Yohan Nese, 31, spent 45 days in prison and were subject to beatings and harsh conditions in the overcrowded prison. When pressured to convert to Islam, both men remained committed to Christ. Vasantha told his pastor, “If I have to die for my God, I will die for him here.”  Released and deported to India in July 2011, the two are examples of what Christians often face in Saudi Arabia. Their house church is still in danger of being discovered by religious police.

YOUR TURN: How will you pray for Christians and Muslims in Saudi Arabia during this week of heightened spiritual significance?  

Sources: VOM sources, Reuters

Ann Kay is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.