Unique Qualities of Major People Groups: Middle Easterners, North Africans, and Central Asians
Because of the predominant religion in their homelands, students from this region are often regarded the most difficult to reach with the message of Jesus. It would be hard to dispute this view-except to note the power of God to touch any heart!
God is clearly doing something among the people of this region, including those raised in Islam.
- He is working in some very special ways to touch their hearts. Whether He speaks to individuals through dreams or begins a wave of interest in a particular culture-like young Iranians who are disenchanted with their nation’s theocracy-God is doing something special!
- Also, He is burdening His children with the needs of Muslims-causing more Christians to take His love to them overseas and in America.
Two qualities are especially needed in your relationships with students from Muslim backgrounds:
1. Trust – your Muslim friend must become confident that he or she can trust you.
Building rapport and trust is enormously important in reaching those from a Muslim background.
- Some may be initially distrustful of any American-due to political or religious reasons.
- Even those who are initially warm may be cautious in sharing their true feelings with you.
- Some Muslim theocracies will execute anyone who “converts” from Islam to another religion;
- In other nations, those evidencing faith in Jesus will face persecution through cultural or financial means.
- Thus, you must be very discrete in what you say to others-if anything– about your friend’s inquiry into Christianity. He or she may not be open with you until he is sure that you can be trusted.
- Should it become known around campus that “Ahmed” has become a Christian, he may be subject to harassment by fellow Middle Eastern students-not to mention pressures he will eventually feel from his parents or his government.
- We are not saying that “Ahmed” should deny his faith in Jesus, but we are saying it is not your place to divulge his faith to others before he is ready.
2. Patience – you must be extremely patient with your Muslim friend.
- Typically, students from this region of the world already have much knowledge about religion.
- Unfortunately, much of their information about Christianity is false or distorted.
Be prepared to listen patiently if, for example, a Muslim says that Christians worship three gods-and then respectfully share the truth from Scripture.
- Your Muslim friend needs to know that he or she will continue to be your friend no matter how he or she responds to the gospel. Do not make your friend feel like a “project.” Do not imply that there is some deadline after which he or she will not be your friend without trusting in Christ.
Despite the obstacles of religion, culture and family, believers from this region can rise to leadership for the cause of Christ. Here are five suggestions for finding and developing Christian leaders:
1. Internationals who did not grow up within Islam will not be risking as much, so they may be more likely to assume leadership. Yet those who did grow up in Islam can serve as a huge inspiration to fellow believers and an example to those still involved in Islam. Consider both types of believers-those from Christian backgrounds and those from Muslim backgrounds-as potential leaders.
2. Rather than immediately challenging a student to leadership, first involve him or her in personal evangelism. As you join the student in sharing the gospel, his or her faith and commitment will grow.
3. At a Christian conference, your friend may have the opportunity to receive basic ministry training as well as enjoy a unique opportunity for fellowship and inspiration. At some student conferences he or she will find inspiring fellowship with believers from other countries of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
4. Because of the very real threat of persecution, your friend must “count the cost” as Jesus commands for all his disciples. (See Luke 14:28-33.) Develop your friend’s commitment-and your own-by studying the courage of the disciples and the faithfulness of God in Acts. Note that even when your friend decides to take a stand for Jesus, there may be aspects of his/her background (home town, home university, etc.) that need not be divulged to others.
5. It may be helpful to your prospective leader for you to provide him or her with some ministry experience at another campus. Faith and skills can be developed during a “road trip” to another school; then put to use back at your target university.