WEEK OF PRAYER: Former Muslim buoyed in sub-Saharan desert by church's prayer

Baptist Press
Posted: Dec 18, 2012 4:22 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this month centered on the theme of "BE His heart, His hands, His voice" from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists' 5,000 international missionaries' initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year's offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.

PRINCE GEORGE, Va. (BP) -- Late one night in the sub-Saharan desert, Ibrahim* felt God leading him to read John 14.

"Your heart must not be troubled, the passage begins. "Believe in God; believe also in Me" (HCSB).

A Christian had given him a Bible in 1993. As the son of an imam (teacher of Islam), Ibrahim had been struggling to reconcile the God of Scripture with what he had been taught -- that it was blasphemous to call Jesus the "Son of God."

But the more he read, the more he questioned the faith in which he had been raised. "The doubt grew in my life," he recalls. "I had no peace."

That night in the desert, he had prayed to God, "I would like You to reveal the truth (of who You are) to me."

He found the answer in Jesus' words in John 14:6: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (HCSB).

Over the next few days, Ibrahim continued battling his doubts. "But the lack of peace was just becoming greater and greater in my heart," he says. By the end of the week, Ibrahim accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. Immediately, the strife he had felt was replaced by joy.

But that joy has been tested. Since becoming a believer 20 years ago, Ibrahim has faced persecution from family and friends. He is often lonely and discouraged.

Ibrahim is one of the few known believers in his predominantly Muslim people group of more than 100,000 known as the "hidden people" who live in a remote, conflict-ridden desert area that is dangerous to access. Ibrahim's people are among more than 3,000 unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGS) in the world with less than 2 percent evangelical Christians and no active church-planting strategy.

Prayer connection

In October 2011, Ibrahim came into contact with a team from Unity Baptist Church in Prince George, Va., who had been praying for his people group since 2009 and had started going on mission trips to sub-Saharan Africa to reach the people group with the Gospel.

"It's a great encouragement," Ibrahim says, to have churches praying and partnering in this way. It made him feel like "part of a big family."

Unity's senior pastor, Chris Jenkins, said, "It was an honor to be able to sit there next to our one believer that we've been praying for for several years and to hear him so eloquently share his testimony and to share what God is doing with the people even before we've ever gotten involved, and seeing that we are just a part of a bigger team that God has been bringing together for some time now."

Rebecca Waters*, a native Texan and a Christian worker in sub-Saharan Africa, helped bring Ibrahim and Unity together. Unity, Waters and other Christians in the area are helping Ibrahim provide others with the Scripture that changed his life. Ibrahim is translating the Bible into two local languages, one of which is his people group's native tongue, and he's working to record his translations into distributable audio files.

Ibrahim has been able to share his faith while checking the translation's comprehension. A few have come to know Christ, but Ibrahim calls them "secret believers," since they keep their faith hidden to avoid persecution.

"I understand these people," Ibrahim says. "Who wants to be rejected by his family? Nobody. Rejection from his family is nothing easy. ... They need prayers from us."

When Unity first became involved in embracing the hidden people, security issues prevented the church from visiting the people group in the desert, but several families migrated to the cities where Unity and other believers could work with them.

In recent months, turmoil in the hidden people's country has forced many from their remote desert homes to become refugees in other, more accessible regions. Though the unrest has caused tragedy, God has opened a door for Unity to more easily reach their people.

Technology has helped introduce Ibrahim to the Virginia congregation that has faithfully prayed for him and his people.

One Sunday morning Jenkins coordinated a Skype conversation between Ibrahim and the congregation. It not only encouraged Ibrahim but impacted Unity.

" challenges ," Jenkins notes. "It motivates them and it lets them see that God's work is not just something that you write a check for at Christmastime, that it's not just something you get in a prayer letter once a month. But it is something that they are very much tangibly involved in."

Unity still keeps in contact with Ibrahim through Skype conversations and continues to strive to reach their hidden people in any way they can -- by sending teams to connect with their people, raising funds to help those in the refugee camps, strategizing human needs projects, and continuing to support Ibrahim in his Bible translation and distribution project.

"We are ecstatic with God's continued working among our hidden people," Jenkins says. "We are still learning our role as we continue to bring into a clearer focus of what this long journey to the cross for them is going to look like."

To learn how a church can embrace an unengaged, unreached people group, go to call2embrace.org.

*Names changed. Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Mission Board. Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the Gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.

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