ONE of the greatest evangelistic challenges confronting the Seventh-day Adventist Church is unquestionably the 125 million people living in the countries of the Middle East, the vast majority of whom are Moslems. In the division membership of about 2,300 Adventists probably less than ten are converted Moslems.
This shocking disparity between the number of former-Moslem Adventists and the total number of Moslems in the division field can be partially explained by the fact that evangelism during the nearly seventy years of Adventist mission work in the Middle East has been largely directed at the Christian minority.
Bridge of Understanding Needed
The situation can be understood when one realizes the formidable communication barriers confronting the preacher who attempts to reach the Moslem mind through the usual evangelistic approach which builds on the premise that his hearers accept the Bible as the foundation of spiritual truth. In the Middle East there are great obstacles to this type of approach—obstacles rooted in profound religious and historical prejudices. Lacking a bridge of understanding, the church has not been able to effectively convey its message to the Moslem people.
In searching the Index to the Writings of E. G. White for a way of escape from this seeming evangelistic impasse, I found that the key words "Moslem" and "Islam" are nowhere listed as subjects for comment in her writings. This does not mean, however, that we have been left without specific and significant counsel that can be applied to meet this great challenge. In Counsels on Health, in the section entitled "Physicians and Evangelists," pages 543-548, there is a suggested solution. The key quotation is found on page 545:
It is well, in presenting the truth to unbelievers, first to present some subjects upon which they will agree with us. The principles of health and temperance will appeal to their judgment, and we can from these subjects lead them on to understand the binding claims of the fourth commandment. This work our physicians can help in doing. When the people see the value of instruction given regarding healthful living, it gives them confidence to believe that the teachers of these principles have the truth in other lines.
Usual Method Not Suitable
Teaching the health message in connection with public evangelism is not new. For years it has been a valuable adjunct to the preaching of Bible doctrine. Most often the health presentation takes the form of a ten- to twenty-minute talk given as a special feature, an added attraction, that hopefully will encourage listeners to come and stay for the evangelistic sermons. In other campaigns a qualified medical or paramedical worker, such as a doctor or nurse, is periodically given the full lecture period on several occasions for the presentation of a health topic or series of health topics in order to add variety and additional interest to the series of meetings. Such techniques, however, are not ideally suited to reach Moslems, who would not attend a meeting that was patently Christian and evangelistic in character even if an interesting health lecture were part of the package offered in the promotional advertisement.
The approach outlined by the messenger of the Lord is quite different. Notice: from the very first, subjects should be presented upon which the people will agree—specifically subjects on health and temperance. These topics will appeal to the unbelievers, win their confidence, and enable the gospel worker to lead them on to understand and accept the special doctrinal beliefs to Seventh-day Adventists. Furthermore, the plan can and should be carried out by Christian physicians. This is clear from a reading of the counsel:
The presenting of Bible principles by an intelligent physician will have great weight with many people. There is efficiency and power with one who can combine in his influence the work of a physician and of a gospel minister. His work commends itself to the good judgment of the people.
I am concerned because so many things engage the minds of our physicians which keep them from the work that God would have them do as evangelists. . . .
I hope you will exercise all your capabilities in this work. Present the importance of present truth from the physician's standpoint. The educated physician will find entrance in our cities where other men cannot. Teach the message of health reform. This will have an influence with the people.—Ibid,, pp. 546, 547. (Italics supplied.)
A Pilot Project
Encouraged by these pointed testimonies, the writer conducted an eight-week series of evangelistic lectures in Teheran, the capital city of Iran, during the summer of 1966, as a pilot project to test the evangelistic approach outlined above. An initial source of optimism was the excellent success of seven sessions of the Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking held during an eighteen-month period in the major cities of the Middle East. The Five-Day Plan helped people to stop smoking. It also won friends who opened up their hearts and expressed other health needs, both physical and emotional. It was the Five-Day Plan, too, that led in the choice of location for the experiment. In Teheran we had received such a friendly and openhearted reception that it encouraged further spiritual exploration.
The meetings were held in the Adventist Center auditorium, a relatively small hall seating only 150 persons. Consequently advertising was modest, consisting of only one newspaper advertisement and the distribution of 10,000 handbills, some of which were mailed to the names we had gathered from Five-Day Plan participants the year before. Personal invitations were also given to the students attending the regular English classes held twice weekly at the Center. The series was entitled "Science Speaks" and was advertised as health lectures for the general public.
A Health Questionnaire
On the opening night each guest was asked to give his name and address on a numbered registration card that matched the number on an attractive blue folder bearing on its cover the series title "Science Speaks" in the Farsi language and the coat of arms of the Adventist Center. In the folder was a personal health profile questionnaire, which was used by each person to evaluate his own individual health status and habits by answering a series of twenty health questions during the course of the meetings. Each night a summary of the lecture in the Farsi language was distributed to be placed in this folder, which was kept on file by number at the Center until the final night of the meetings.
The series of lectures was divided into three groups given in the outline below with some explanatory comments.
Physical Health Subjects
These were the confidence-building lectures on subjects of health and temperance that were designed to meet the people where they were with practical health information and counsel. The subjects presented were:
1. Cancer. This was chosen as an opener because of the subject's high interest value and wide public appeal.
2. The Twin Keys to Health. A presentation of the need for factual knowledge on health coupled with intelligent practical application. An important lecture because the people were told that finding health was in fact a search for truth, which demands an open mind and at times considerable personal courage. The appeal to objectivity and intellectual honesty was planned to be a valuable reference point for later lectures.
4. You Are What You Eat. A general presentation of the basic nutrients in food.
Mental and Emotional Health Subjects
These were the transition lectures designed to bridge the gap between physical health and spiritual health by showing the intimate relationship between mind and body. These three lectures were the best attended of any in the series.
Spiritual Health Subjects
Despite the frank admission at the end of lecture 15 that the remaining eight lectures would unavoidably be of a spiritual and religous nature, the audience attendance remained essentially unchanged in number and composition. This in spite of the fact that 169 of the 222 persons who registered during the series were Moslems-71 per cent of the total attendance!
It was in these last eight lectures that an effort was made to present spiritual truth "from the physician's standpoint." If the purpose implied in the series' title and confidence in the speaker were to be maintained, it seemed necessary that the spiritual lectures should have some scientific relevance, and definite practical application to the everyday problems of life.
Since most of the listeners were Moslems, little attention was paid to specific scriptural references by chapter and verse. The doctrinal messages were presented largely in narrative or conversational form as a philosophical discussion and personal testimony of belief. The final subjects were: