Secretly gathered behind closed doors, they study their Bibles. Professing belief in the Scriptures can result in violent attacks or worse.
They are hundreds of Muslims across Israel and Palestine who have come to know Christ as Savior over the past year. Small groups of new believers scatter across the troubled region as they share a newly found faith with others in their extended families of parents, uncles, aunts — and sometimes multiple wives.
This is not the kind of movement Southern Baptists are likely to see covered on their six o'clock news, and it does not yet constitute a church planting movement. Nevertheless, the new responsiveness has created a sense of urgency and expectancy among Christian workers in the region.
"I've been working among these people for thirty years, and I've never seen anything like this," one Southern Baptist worker marveled. "God is moving here like we've never seen before. It is the first movement in which Muslim-background believers are reaching out to other Muslims."
Seeing the potential for a large-scale awakening, Christian workers are praying desperately, and carefully fanning fragile flames of faith that seem near igniting into a mass movement.
To what do Christian workers attribute the dramatic increase in responsiveness among Muslims?
One worker notes that responsiveness to the gospel increased dramatically after the Gulf War ended in 1991 and Christians worldwide began praying for the 10/40 Window, which includes most of the Muslim countries. Another influencing factor, he believes, has been the years of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. The almost-daily trauma has left many searching for answers.
Conversions are not limited to Muslims. Many Israelis with Jewish background have also accepted Christ as the Messiah. Christian workers estimate that Messianic Jews now number more than 6,000, and the number of their meeting places is growing at about 30 percent a year. In addition, Arab Baptists — most from Catholic or Orthodox backgrounds — have established eighteen congregations.
As with most faith-related stories from the Middle East, neither the Christian workers nor new believers want names or places publicized for fear of reprisals.
Their fears are well founded.
In the past year, radical Muslims have firebombed the homes of believers, burned their cars, run down their children, destroyed their crops, and committed other acts of violence against them. One incident resulted in a teenage girl being severely burned. As is often the case, the attack served as a catalyst resulting in even more Muslims coming to Christ within the girl's home village.
These modern evangelists seem no more deterred by threats or suffering than did Christ's disciples in the first century.
"I'm afraid, but the Holy Spirit gives me courage. The Lord is always with us and opens the way for us," says Christian convert, Phillip (Phillip is a pseudonym). "We may go to bed without supper for a week or a month, but He gave His own Son for us.
"In this beloved book," he said, picking up an Arabic translation of the Bible, "it says the cross costs."
Adapted from Missions Mosaic, magazine of Woman's Missionary Union, SBC.