Jul 31, 2017 | Erin Ford
Walking through the market in Desert Rain is a daily activity. The smell of sweet fruit juice filled my nose as I navigated stalls upon stalls of food, fruits, and clothing. The sun beat down on the city with threatening temperatures close to 40 degrees. It was a dry heat at least, so much different than the humidity that ruins my curly hair back home. The sounds of call to prayer rang loud all over the city. It muffled the conversations around me as people made their way to the large mosques, to pray.
I arrived at a local tea shop to meet up with a student I met on campus the week before. We had immediately connected when I complimented her headscarf and we bonded over shared interests in hobbies and subjects we were both studying. Our conversation quickly turned to spiritual topics as I asked her about her Muslim faith and background. I had the chance to share about Jesus when she asked me if I pray. We were meeting up again this afternoon to talk more about our holy scriptures and what the Bible says about Jesus.
For a nation that’s almost completely Muslim, there is a spiritual openness and awakening in Desert Rain. There is a deeper desire to connect with God on a new level, to hear from him, and to have assurance of salvation. There’s a new curiosity forming about who Jesus is and who the Bible says he is.
God’s Spirit is Starting to Rain in the Desert
The Desert Rain partnership launched in 2006 with a mission trip with a partnering ministry, then regular summer mission trips on our own began in 2010. The vision for doing ministry in Desert Rain is: changed hearts (for our hearts to be changed towards the Arab world), changed lives (to see lives of Arab students transformed with the gospel), and changed nations (for lasting change in the Arab nations through the growth of local believers and the resourcing of our partnership).
Among other influences, the Arab Spring has caused many people to question their beliefs and their regard towards authority. They are becoming more critical thinkers and many are casting off their Islamic religion and declaring themselves atheist. However, this shift is leaving a void in their hearts. As one local believer said: “I pushed God out of my life but had nothing to fill the hole. I am thankful that my friend was able to tell me about Jesus so that I could fill that hole.”
The dry ground is cracking and water is starting to pour in.
A Mission to Journey
For six weeks in May and June, a team of students and staff travel to the nation of Desert Rain to bring the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ into an unreached people group who only know of Jesus as a “prophet”. Statistically it takes about 5 years for a Muslim who is journeying with a Christian to accept Jesus as God and surrender their life to following him. The emphasis in ministry then with Muslims, needs to be on authentic relationship building and journeying over the long haul.
Our six week trips help surface students who may be interested in learning more about Jesus and then our year-long international interns can follow up with their journey over the course of 1-2 years. Spiritually interested students get passed on from Christian to Christian until hopefully they come to know Jesus. A commitment to friendship and relationship makes the difference in an authentic sharing of the gospel, and in seeing the Holy Spirit open the hearts of people to discover God in a way unlike before.
There’s a shift happening in Desert Rain: whereas students used to immediately scoff at the idea of Jesus being God and refused to enter a conversation, they are now more curious and willing to talk. There is a new openness forming to talk about who Jesus is and even question the spiritual assumptions they were raised with.
I was reflecting on this shift in Desert Rain as I stepped into the tea shop to meet Miriam*.
“God talks to you?! Where can I get a Bible?”
The last time I had seen Miriam she asked me if I prayed, to which I answered, “Yes I do, I talk to God and he talks to me.” She looked at me in shock and said “God talks to you?! How?” I was then able to share the gospel with her and explain who Jesus is. Miriam was raised to believe Jesus was only a prophet but was amazed when I shared about Jesus being God and dying on the cross for our sins. She was curious and interested to know more, and thus wanted to meet again to examine the Bible together.
I took a seat in the crowded tea shop near the wall where there was more space so that our conversation wouldn’t be too obvious to other people. It seemed counterintuitive to me at first to drink hot tea when it was so hot outside, but it was common to the local culture and I wanted to try and embrace as much as I could while I was here. Miriam entered the shop and sat down with me, we caught up on our weekends and then I began to show her some Bible passages on my phone explaining who Jesus was. John 1:1-2 really stood out to her:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (ESV)
Miriam kept reading it over and over again, so fascinated how Jesus was the Word become flesh. She took the bill from the tea she bought and wrote the Scripture on the back, not wanting to forget. I looked at Miriam and saw in her face how eager she was to understand who Jesus is. I asked her if I could pray for her and she agreed. In the middle of the crowded tea shop with customers walking in and out, I closed my eyes and prayed that God would help Miriam understand everything I had shared with her through his Holy Spirit.
When I was done she touched her hand to her chest and said, “Wow, I feel like you really love me.” Tears started to well up in my eyes as I told her that I did love her and that God loved her too. Miriam asked me where she could access a Bible in the country we were in. I was able to give her a copy of the Bible and she was so excited, promising to read it.
Will You Join Us?
The story of Miriam points to the fact that Muslim students are spiritually open to learning about what the Bible says about Jesus. They long to know “the one true God and Jesus Christ whom [God has] sent.” (John 17:3, ESV) Muslim students are getting introduced to Christianity, yet need to interact with more Christians in order to grow in their faith and get plugged into Christian community. There is a need for Christian fellowship in Muslim nations where national underground churches are hard to find and heavily persecuted.
Would you consider joining us for six weeks or even a year to journey with students like Miriam who are longing to learn the truth about Jesus? You will learn more about how to share your faith in a Muslim context and explore a culture different from your own. You can dig deep with God as you grow your faith in new ways. Come discover the beauty of Desert Rain and see people from unreached people groups take steps closer to knowing God.
Contributions by Erin Ford and A. Erica
*Name has been changed