A SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST evangelist who wishes to cross the chasm that exists between Adventists and Islam must be concerned with the quality of his endeavors. A suitable approach to Muslims---and there are several---will certainly include the power of the Holy Spirit. The commission to preach and to make disciples requires the best that we have. Yet the work of conversion is God's work.
David H. C. Read, in a recent article in Christianity Today writes:
He [the evangelist] is not concerned primarily with the expansion of his own particular religious community or with the success of his own techniques. He simply knows what Christ has done for him and means to him, and longs that others should share this experience. He is concerned with people, people in their deepest needs, and not with triumphant argument or spectacular results. He wants to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit, a communicator of Christ. And he quietly asserts the right to convert, knowing that it is not he but Christ who really does the converting. 1
This fact is so obvious it is often over looked. No method, however correct, will create an evangelistic exodus from Islam. But there are multitudes of sincere, devout Muslims. Many of these will be allured by the gospel of Jesus as a greater reliance is placed upon the Holy Spirit.
Much common ground exists between Muslims and Seventh-day Adventists. Most of the methods discussed in this chapter and the next are from my own experience. Others have been suggested to me by men who have had long acquaintance with Islam. There are, undoubtedly, still other workable methods.
Often the success of an evangelist or worker is measured by the number of people he baptizes. A thoughtful administrator and evangelist knows that this is not necessarily true. God does not approve of lazy preachers. Yet the hard est worker may have little to show for his efforts.
Filling a Void
A spiritual vacuum, like a physical one, is bound to be a void. And there are many voids today among the Muslim people. These must be filled. A national evangelist who used one of the methods suggested here had a man come to him at the close of the series of meetings. "It is true, Padri Sahib, we are not Christians, but we are no longer Muslims." In his community he still had the appearance of a Muslim, but in his life Jesus Christ had done something to him. Who knows how many more are like that? The Holy Spirit has such people marked.
In the summer of 1960, W. H. McGhee and I held a nightly lecture series in Abbottabad, West Pakistan, which was reported in the Ministry. After telling the story of how God gave the Ten Commandments, I asked for a show of hands of people who wanted to keep God's commandments. Many people responded, but one I remember especially. A Muslim lady sitting in the section separated for women jumped to her feet and waved both hands high in the air.
Using the Health Approach
Adventists who use the health mes sage to witness to Muslims are on tremendous vantage ground. The fact that Seventh-day Adventists neither drink alcoholic beverages nor use tobacco or other narcotics in any form and abstain from pork and all other unclean flesh foods causes Muslims to respect them highly. (Their attitudes toward movies, dancing, and many other activities enhances this posture.) Because the standards of many Christians, who have been influenced by the West, are usually lower than those within Islam, conversion to Christianity from Islam is considered a step backward. Millions of Muslims, however, are religiously health-conscious, and the message that God is interested in people having healthy bodies provides the Adventist evangelist with a wonderful opportunity to witness. The use of this health approach, whether in a series of meetings, a set of correspondence lessons, or a group of tracts, makes a desirable foundation for all subsequent presentations.
The health message includes many subjects of general interest. For example, temperance, with its emphasis on abstinence from all hurtful indulgences and the moderate use of that which is good; food and nutrition, which may include cooking demonstrations; family health; first aid and a useful home treatment of common illnesses, with acceptable home care of the sick, illustrated by live, simulated demonstrations; child care; preventive medicine; community health and sanitation. The health mes sage approach may be made more graphic by the use of films, filmstrips, or slides, as well as other visual aids (motion picture health films are often available free or for a small fee from various health and information agencies). Some countries can use cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes and some cannot. But there are other aspects of health that can always be used and that will be appreciated.
The Story Method
A method I have found very successful in building and holding an interest is the story method. When stories are effectually told, prejudice is disarmed. The audience identifies with the story and the people lose their hostility. The stories not only grip the listener but provide him with a legitimate excuse for regularity. Instead of hedging with or dodging from his friends he can invite them to come hear what he hears. Opportunities for the presentation of truths common to Islam and Adventism, e.g. the Ten Commandments, inspiration of prophets, or the messiahship of Jesus, are legion. In series after series, night after night, Muslims, old and young, have returned to hear the stories of holy men and women of God. When asked for the sources of information, I reply that I get my data from secular and sacred history. That usually satisfies most questioners.
"Do you believe in Abraham?" a young Muslim accosted me in the local city market years ago. He had heard my evening lecture that had emphasized that God held the first place in that patriarch's affections. This university student in this old Muslim city was perplexed by my affirmative answer. "But I thought you believed in Jesus Christ."
What an opportunity to tell him that just as Muslims follow the teachings of Muhammad yet believe God spoke to Abraham, so Adventists follow the teachings of Jesus but believe in all the ancient holy prophets.
The Two Combined
Another excellent way to get and hold public interest is to combine the health message approach with the story method. When this method is used, however, the preferable procedure is to divide the meeting into two distinct parts, with the health part first. If this plan is followed, an announcement at the end of the first part that any who wish to leave may feel free to do so is both beneficial and practical. At the same time an appeal to stay for the story part is clearly made.
Ordinarily, no wise evangelist would offer his audience an opportunity to leave a meeting before its close. But no Muslim audience is ordinary. So an open invitation to leave is made. This notification serves a number of useful purposes. One is that such an announcement makes it appear that the two parts of the meeting are unrelated, and one is not a hook for the other. Then, not everyone is interested in the same thing and if a person's interest-saturation level has been reached he will only be a rest less listener apt to disturb others, nor would he absorb with profit what he will hear. Again, some potential trouble makers will leave. Usually not having found that for which they came, and with their interest satiated, they will depart.
The Correspondence Course
Another fruitful evangelistic tool is the use of or enrollment in a correspondence course. These usually need, however, to be adapted to the local culture.
Correspondence courses reach many people where the evangelist or his helper cannot go or are not welcome. With this hostility from family or friends the correspondent often prefers to keep his activities secret. For this reason lessons dispatched should bear no return ad dresses on the covers and it might even be desirable to use government-stamped envelopes.
A need exists for a number of short ten to fifteen lessons sets. In a few places adaptation of courses as well as several short sets have been printed, but much more needs to be done in this area. For example, an introductory health course should precede all others. Other sets might include one of Bible stories or biographical sketches, a set designed for Muslim women,2 a set on archeology and the Word of God,3 possibly one on the importance of prophecy and its significance for current events, one on the life of Jesus, another on His teachings, and a couple of sets on Bible doctrines. To administrators, this quantity of courses looks more idealistic than practical. I am not suggesting, however, that all the courses be offered to every prospective student, or even that each field should have all available at the outset. It is some thing to work toward as funds are available. Enrollees might be offered options according to their personal tastes, while others should be for all, and some should definitely precede others, yet the precise order might be decided by each school or its administrative board.
The Need for Literature
The want of adequate Adventist literature is great. There is virtually none. To my knowledge, none of what there is matches any public lecture topics. The need for such literature is desperate. It must be in the local idiom, kept so simple that high school students can understand it without recourse to a dictionary. It must appeal to things and experiences people in that society understand. It must be well illustrated, in keeping with the printing times of the surrounding public, avoiding offending people's tastes by being either too conservative or too progressive, and economical. Translations of Western Adventist articles and authors, as well as uninhibited distribution of papers prepared for Western home lands, are better than nothing at all, but an effort toward acceptable, inexpensive, adapted local materials must be made. Fortunately, the Middle East Union, under the leadership of R. C. Darnell, has appointed a special team to do some of this work. This group which is already functioning will include among its activities the preparation of suitable literature for Muslim readers. Others, especially national writers, must be encouraged by all possible means.
Where people read, if Adventist topical literature is not available, the Bible Societies have some very attractive and inexpensive Gospels and Gospel portions that should be used freely. Gift Bibles have been used to good effect, but these other materials have not been used as they should be. God's Word will never be lost. He has pledged this. Its cost is as legitimate an evangelistic budgetary item as standard literature.
The Literacy Problem
The three foregoing methods require proficient literacy. In many underdeveloped areas of the world people are illiterate. There even most Seventh-day Adventist nationals cannot read. How can members be strong in the faith if be lief rests only on what they hear?4 Modern Bereans are impossible if people can not read the Word of God. Adult literacy is not usually thought of as an evangelistic method, but it is certainly well worth our exploring its possibilities. Others have prepared the basic materials; our task is teaching people to use them. Of course, we cannot expect that just because we teach them to read they will accept the three angels' messages. But merely knowing that we have helped these needy people will break down much prejudice. I sincerely believe that adult literacy is a method that ought to have more of the evangelist's attention.
This is a recital of some of the evangelistic methods that an Adventist evangelist may consider. The next and concluding article of this series will suggest a few more. Jesus' most effectual work was His personal ministry---one-to-one, person-to-person---combined with His public work, and thus will it be with the Adventist evangelist's work today.
1 David H. C. Read, "The Right to Convert," Christianity Today, Aug. 27, 1971, p. 11.
2 See Part 4 in this series of articles---September issue of MINISTRY.
3 Something on the Dead Sea scrolls, which were found by Muslim Bedouins, would be helpful.
4 To talk of the preparation of a certain class of literature for Adventist readers may not be considered relevant to a discussion of evangelism among Muslims. But Muslim converts, like all other Adventists, need to be strengthened in their experience. This work can be done in the most effective and economical way among literate Adventists by the translation and placement of God's counsels to the remnant church. This may need heavy subsidization. In an age when institutions are being nationalized, this investment in God's messages to the remnant could well be the best that the church can make. Publishing houses, which think in terms of sound, fiscal economy, may need to be helped by large appropriations to meet this expense, but the permanent effect of this action will be its justification.