SOUTH ASIA – Years of heartache, frustration and setbacks have been the unfortunate anthem song of ministry efforts among an unreached Muslim people group in South Asia.
God is the divine composer and has already written the musical score to accompany this people group’s story. Local Christians and IMB workers are anticipating a crescendo where the fruits of long, hard years of labor will lead to a strong and multiplying church.
For nearly 20 years, the IMB struggled to maintain a presence in this region. Time and time again, the efforts were thwarted. Ralph Adair*, an IMB worker in the region, said spiritual warfare is the main culprit. However, Adair sees a pivotal point in their ministry.
“Make no mistake, the Spirit of Christ has always left Himself a witness among the [people group], even if we haven’t seen it. But the time has come, and is coming, when bold national partners rise up,” Ralph said.
Saalim* and Aamira* are two national partners who’ve risen to the challenge of reaching their people.
Saalim is a Christian from this people group. He chose to leave Islam 10 years ago, but he was afraid to share about his faith in God for fear of repercussions from his community. Through the discipleship and encouragement of Luciano Serrano*, Saalim made the commitment to be intentional in sharing his faith in his community.
Luciano and his wife are Baptists from another country who have recently moved to the area. The Serranos partner with Ralph and his wife, Lovie*, who live in a neighboring region.
The Serranos have chosen to serve in this region, in spite of the stories they heard of the men and women who came before them and, for one reason or another, had to leave. Their move to the region was an answer to many years of prayers and tears. The Lord is using the Serranos’ proactivity, courage and perseverance to open doors and hearts.
Women from this unreached people group are responding in growing numbers to the gospel. Not too long after moving to the region, Sofia led a woman to Christ. Shortly after that, Sofia met Aamira, who is also from this people group. Aamira became a Christian while working in the Middle East and brought the good news of the gospel back home.
Sofia and Amira have led several women to the Lord and are discipling them. Their discipleship meetings focus on encouraging the new Christians to not keep the hope they’ve found to themselves but share it with their family and friends.
Luciano uses sports as a way to make friends and share the gospel. Luciano was a part of Saalim’s transformation from a fearful witness to a fearless one.
Saalim, Luciano and Ralph regularly take to the streets, introducing themselves to people they meet along the way. Saalim and Luciano follow up with those who are interested in learning more. Saalim’s phone is filled with the numbers and contacts of people given to him by volunteer teams from Southern Baptist churches in the U.S. who’ve come on short-term trips to share the gospel with the people group.
It’s not that there aren’t any Christians in the area; there are, and Ralph sees them as a potential missions powerhouse. However, many local Christians, who are from different people groups but speak the same language as the Muslim people group, are afraid to share the gospel with their Muslim neighbors. Some fear negative reactions to the gospel message. Others doubt sharing their faith will make any difference because of the historical resistance Muslims have shown toward the gospel.
Islam has a long history in the region. The oldest mosque in the region is located in this area. Islam came to the region with the spice trade centuries ago. Ships came in and out of harbors, and Islam was adopted by many. These same ships brought the Apostle Thomas, and as a result, Christianity, to the region. In the years that followed, Catholicism came with Portuguese conquerors and missionaries. In the 1800s, Protestant missionaries came under the banner of British colonialism.
The intersection of Islam, Catholicism, Christianity and Hinduism provides both inroads and blockades to modern Christian work in the region.
For decades, Christians from other people groups in this region have sent ministry workers to serve in other parts of South Asia where there have historically been fewer Christians, and they’ve largely ignored this unreached people group in their backyard. Now, people who were on the receiving end of local ministry workers are sending their own Christian workers to reach this Muslim people group.
Ralph’s vision is for the church to emerge from among the existing local Christians, those who’ve recently committed their lives to Christ as well as those who’ve yet to, but will eventually, choose to put their faith in God.
IMB ministry efforts seek to embolden and equip local Christians to share the gospel with their Muslim neighbors. The Adairs and the Serranos diligently look for Christians who speak the same language as the people group and who are willing and motivated to learn how to effectively share the gospel. They model evangelism and one-on-one discipleship.
Ralph and Luciano host training events for local Christians on best practices in sharing the gospel with Muslims. Ralph estimates that 50 people usually come to the trainings, but only four will choose to go out into Muslim communities to put into action what they’ve learned.
In addition to Saalim, two other men, one who is a former Hindu, and another man from a Christian background, have come forward at a training event Luciano hosted and are partnering with him. Everything Luciano teaches in class, he also models outside of the classroom.
Ralph said Southern Baptist churches in the U.S. have extended the IMB’s reach among the people group.
Two churches have come alongside the Adairs and Serranos in ministry efforts. The churches have sent volunteer teams who’ve faithfully spread seeds of the gospel. Ralph said U.S. partnerships are crucial in multiplying kingdom efforts in the region.
Ralph’s vision and hope for the work among the people group is that more people—both local Christians, international ministry workers and U.S. churches—will join them in the task of broadly sharing the gospel.
“My hope is that there would be a large number of seed sowers of the gospel who would go there and be committed to sharing the gospel no matter what,” Ralph said. “We know there is a harvest. We know there are going to be [members of the people group] around the throne forever.”
Join the Adairs and Serranos in praying local Christians will be obedient to what the Lord calls every believer to do—share the message of salvation. Pray for protection for the Serranos as they serve in a place known for spiritual warfare.
Will you join in the task by giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program? Want more information about how you or your church can join the work in South Asia? Visit imb.org/go or contact IMB at email@example.com.
*Names changed for security