Stealth Crusade

Stealth Crusade:

‘This morning’s lesson is about going undercover. Many of Love’s students are missionaries themselves, temporarily home from assignments in places ranging from Kazakhstan to Kenya. They know firsthand that evangelism is illegal in many Islamic nations, and they face expulsion if their true intentions become known. Love’s lesson for today is how to mask one’s identity while secretly working to convert Muslims. Evangelists, he explains, should always have a ready, nonreligious explanation for their presence in hostile areas.’

“Did Jesus ever lie?” In unison, the class says, “No”. But did Jesus raise his hand and say, ‘I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?'” Again, 20 voices call out, “No!”

”The students nod thoughtfully; they agree that Muslims must be reached by whatever means possible. Their zeal is helping to fuel the biggest evangelical foray into the Muslim world since missionary pioneer Samuel Zwemer declared Islam a “dying religion” in 1916 and predicted that “when the crescent wanes, the Cross will prove dominant.”

“We see Islam as the final frontier,” says David Cashin, a professor of Intercultural Studies at CIU who used to don Muslim clothing and pursue converts in the tea shops of Kaliakoir, Bangladesh. Like many of his fellow evangelicals, Cashin regards the Islamic world as a hinterland that must be penetrated before the Messiah can return. “History is coming to an end,” he says. “If you believe Christ is coming back, why has he delayed 2,000 years? We haven’t finished the task he set out to do.” That task, he says, is to win converts among all the world’s ethnic groups.

The growing movement to hunt souls in Muslim lands-by missionaries who often pass as aid workers, teachers, or business owners-has raised hackles outside the evangelical world. Missionaries themselves acknowledge that their work endangers the lives of converts, and critics charge that it disrupts the delivery of humanitarian aid and fuels resentment of Westerners during one of the most dangerous moments in recent history. But to those at the heart of the movement, including Rick Love’s students, any damage done by their work is outweighed by the importance of their mission: to wipe out Islam. “I believe it’s a false religion, and I’d like to see it be gone,” says Kim McHugh, a 36-year-old CIU student who is training to convert Iranian refugees in Turkey. Her husband Brent agrees. “If they don’t have a chance to experience Jesus,” he says, “they’re going to hell.”

But he still believes Islam is the work of the devil. “People cheer at baseball games,” Dedrick says. “I cheer at worship services. And when I go to a culture 10,000 miles away and don’t see that righteousness, that holiness, reflected in that culture, I get sad. Satan has deceived them away from a relationship with their creator God.”

For all their work, Dedrick and his fellow missionaries win few new believers. That doesn’t seem to faze them. “My goal is not to convert a Muslim,” says Al Dobra, a 45-year-old with a gravelly voice and military haircut who befriends Muslim businessmen in Nairobi, Kenya, and then tries to convince them of Islam’s fallacies. “My goal is to plant a tiny seed that will fester and gnaw and grow, so that eventually they will begin to question their religion. My prayer is that they will become restless sleepers and troubled by what they hear. That’s a horrible thing to wish on someone.”

The anti-Islam prayers reflect CIU’s official attitude toward what it considers a competitor religion. Prominent on the university’s Web site is an essay posted shortly after September 11. “To claim that ‘Islam’ means ‘peace’ is just one more attempt to mislead the public,” it reads. “Muslim leaders have spoken of their goal to spread Islam in the West until Islam becomes a dominant, global power.” The essay was written by Warren Larson, who directs the university’s Muslim Studies program and served as a mentor to John Weaver, the Afghanistan missionary. A former missionary himself, Larson fears that Christianity might be losing the race for world domination. “Islam is biologically taking over the world,” he says. “They’re having babies faster than we are.”

If a first-century evangelist can undergo circumcision to win converts, how far can a 21st-century missionary go? At lunch, Christian Dedrick takes a spoonful of his wife’s homemade broccoli soup and ponders the question aloud. “Should we call ourselves Muslims?” he asks. “The old meaning of the word is ‘one who submits.’ In Jordan, the missionaries had ‘Jesus mosques.’ They called themselves ‘Muslims of the Messiah.’ We wrestled with that. We wanted to call God ‘Allah’ so we could be on that relational level with Muslims.”

In the end, say evangelicals, the earthly suffering of Christians pales before the eternal hell to which Muslims are sentenced. “It’s hard for me to say, ‘I have a passport out of here if things get out of hand, but you have to stay here and take it,'” says Raymond Weiss, a former missionary in Bahrain. “But that’s what Jesus says: Sometimes it will be fathers and mothers against each other for his sake. If Jesus is cosmically, ultimately true, then whatever cost in this world is nothing.”

“Some Christians have said to us, ‘They have their own faith; why do you need to reach them?'” says Brent McHugh, the evangelist bound for Turkey. “But if you lean your ladder against the wrong wall and you spend your life climbing up that ladder, when you get to the top, you’ll find there’s nothing there.”


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