Daily Dispatches
Iranian Christians at a service in Tehran
Associated Press/Photo by Vahid Salemi
Iranian Christians at a service in Tehran

The rising tide of Muslim converts to Christianity

Q&A

If you spend any time keeping up with the news, you know that radical Islam is a significant and destructive force in the world. David Garrison, does not disagree with that assessment, but he says it’s only part of the story. There is also a revival in the Muslim world, Garrison says. He believes between 2 and 7 million former Muslims have converted to Christianity in the past two decades, and he has impressive research to back up his claim. He documents his findings in his book A Wind in the House of Islam.

Garrison has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and spent more than 25 years as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board. I had this conversation with Garrison in Atlanta at the recent International Christian Retail Show.

Many people, when they think of the Muslim world, feel discouraged by radical Islam. Your book has kind of a more hopeful message. What is it? Someone asked me the other day, “How do you interpret what’s going on in the world today in light of the Word of God?” I think Romans 8:22 is a good key for us to see, when Paul says that we know that all of creation groans as in the travail of childbirth. That painful upheaval, all the trials, the violence that we see in the Muslim world hopefully are forbearers of new life that is taking place. That’s what my book focuses on, not on the things we see in the news every day, which are all very true and very valid. I wouldn't want to sugarcoat any of that. It’s horrific, the things that are happening. But I also want to give testimony to the fact that God is at work in the Muslim world, and, frankly, in ways that we’ve never seen before. [There is] more turning of Muslims to Christ than at any time in history.

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Can you give us some specific examples of that happening? The striking thing about what we discovered was that there are movements of Muslims to Christ, and by that I mean not just individuals, but movements of at least 1,000 within a community who have been baptized or 100 churches planted over the last two decades. We’re seeing, currently, 69 of these movements that have just been formed in the last two decades that are moving … from one end of the Muslim world to the other, so from West Africa to Indonesia and everywhere in between.

I suppose one of the most striking examples is what’s happening in Iran today. We’re seeing that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s proving to be the greatest evangelist in the history of Iran because so many people are voting with their feet and they’re turning away from Islam and they’re walking toward really, all sorts of things. It’s not exclusively to Christianity, but certainly tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the last few decades have come to faith in Jesus Christ and followed him in baptism.

You said, “We are seeing.” Who’s “we,” and how do we know that what you’re saying is true? This was very important to me. Certainly, no one can know everything that’s going on, and the wonderful blessing I’ve had is a blessing of a great host of collaborators. Everywhere I went, I found I was able to work with missionaries who then introduced me to national partners, and so in my opening pages I talk about this great network. I think I’ve got about 150 people that I list that helped me in every region of the world. … I made it a point to document not only everything that I did in writing, but also to record, as much as possible, these actual interviews, to tuck them away, before I—what we call—sanitized them. I changed the names so that no one would be hurt and [for] security concerns.

How did you start down the path of documenting this phenomenon? I’ve had a long and twisting path. I’ve had 29 years with the International Missions Board and lived in places and studied languages like Japanese and Chinese, and then three different kinds of Arabic. In 1992, my wife and two kids and I at the time were assigned to work with Libyan Arabs. And over the next few years, we learned, probably, I don’t know, 100, 200 ways not to win Libyans to Christ. In the course of that, we realized this is a tough nut. This is not one that’s easily solved.

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