A group of Southern Baptist pastors are urging churches to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by taking an offering to pay for smuggling Bibles into the Muslim world.
“The terrorists sent us their bombs,” national spokesperson Johnny Hunt says in a message on the Muslim Bible Day Web site. “We have an opportunity, in the name of Jesus, and because of the love of Jesus, to respond by sending Bibles.”
Hunt said his church, First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., has set aside the second Sunday in September to send the Bible to Islamic nations “in response to 9/11.”
“There’s 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, and we want to respond with the love of Christ, by giving the opportunity to Christians all across America to join us for this Christ-honoring event of sending the Word of God,” he said.
Other national spokespersons are pastors Allan Blume of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, N.C.; Rick Fisher of Lexington Baptist Church in Lexington, S.C.; Wes George of First Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark.; Chuck Herring of First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tenn.; Monte Shinkle of Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.; Keith Thomas of Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala.; Hayes Wicker of First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla.; and Danny Wood of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Distribution of Bibles, New Testaments and Scripture portions in various languages of people who live under Islamic rule is handled by Global Commission, Incorporated, a Woodstock, Ga.,-based organization that supports Scripture distribution to Muslims for five organizations. They are Open Doors with Brother Andrew, Trans World Radio, Campus Crusade, EPIC International and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The IMB has been in partnership with Global Commission since 1998, President Jerry Rankin said in a letter on the Muslim Bible Day Web site. “Together we have made the Scriptures available in some of the hardest places in the world of Islam. The success in penetrating these dark areas with the gospel has increased tremendously through our partnership.”
“For 1,400 years, the church has been neglecting, avoiding and running away from Islam. But now, their time has come,” the Web site says. “God is at work among Muslims… and believers throughout America are becoming purposefully involved in this movement of God through Muslim Bible Day.”
The Web site says there are fewer Bibles available to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims than for any other major people group, and that most Muslims have never seen a Bible, let alone own a copy.
“For several years, a group of ministries has been operating a secret distribution network in the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia,” it says. “This work has been done at great risk to local believers who are committed to presenting the gospel to the followers of Islam. Thousands of Bibles have already been discretely placed in the hands of Muslims … yet millions more are needed.”
Hunt told Agape Press he knows for a fact right now a minimum of 2 million Iranians would like to receive a copy of the Bible.
“What needs to be changed is not their philosophy but their hearts,” Hunt said of Islamic extremists, “and I know of nothing that can change them like the gospel.”
“The Islamic extremists sent bombs and bullets,” the Web site says. “We want to give an appropriate response by sending Bibles. Will you join us?”
For $5, participants are told, they can purchase a Bible to be sent to a local believer in an Islamic country to “discreetly” pass on to a Muslim neighbor. A video on the Muslim Bible Day Web site said this year’s emphasis is on areas where U.S. troops are currently engaged, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Where there has been hatred sown, we can sow the truth of God’s word that’s eternal,” Hunt said.
Experts on ministry in Arab countries contacted by EthicsDaily.com, meanwhile, questioned the approach.
Faysal Sharif, Arabic/Muslim Kingdom Advance ambassador for the Baptist General Association of Virginia, said he agrees there needs to be more mission outreach among Muslims. He estimated there is one Christian missionary for every 1 million Muslims worldwide.
But he said any outreach effort ought to be non-confrontational and avoid politics. Labeling Islamic militants “terrorists,” for example, can be counterproductive in parts of the world where they are more likely to be viewed as “freedom fighters.”
Many missionaries make this mistake, Sharif said, especially when it comes to U.S. policy toward Israel. “I have seen western Christians who try to reach out to Muslims with a hate-love approach,” he said. “They brand (label) the Muslims for terrorism while they feel the requirements to follow the Great Commission. This is totally contradictory strategy. In outreach to Muslims, there will always be discussions on the Middle East politics. This is where the western missionary will be caught in a collision with Muslims.”
David Harder, communications manager for SAT-7, a Christian satellite television network that broadcasts in the Middle East, said there are some countries that do not allow Bible distribution. Missionaries desiring to work in those countries, he said, may need to bring Bibles surreptitiously to those who want one, use false names and not identify their location when communicating with Christians in the West.
But Harder said it is misleading to present that as the norm, or use it to sensationalize or as an excuse for lack of transparency about funding.
Arabic-language Bibles, for example, are already being published in Lebanon and Egypt and distributed legally in several, but not all, Arab countries, through the United Bible Societies.
“Many people seem to be unaware of the United Bible Societies’ excellent work around the world of translating, printing and distributing Bibles,” said Reid Trulson, area director for Europe and the Middle East for International Ministries of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. “This work is being done through legal avenues that give respect to local cultures.”
According to the United Bible Societies Web site, the Beirut-based Bible Society in the Gulf distributed 34,068 Bibles 13,363 New Testaments in 2005 in Gulf States including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
In Iraq, the Bible Society in Lebanon and Syria distributed 4,473 Bibles and 28,376 New Testaments. Plans are in the works for a national program of Bible work in Iraq, but for now a fledgling Bible Society operates from rented space in a Christian residential area of Baghdad. Since 2003 a task team has worked with churches to distribute thousands of packages containing both Scriptures and food.
In Lebanon, where the society handed out 17,520 Bibles and 115,236 New Testaments last year, the UBS is seeking to raise $20,000 to cover half the cost of preparing 2,000 relief packages of food, basic medicines and blankets for people displaced by current fighting.
“We will also be providing some Scripture materials, to keep the people preoccupied with some comforting reading, and coloring books of Gospel stories for the children,” according to a description. “The cost of each package will be around U.S. $20. All the contents must be purchased locally because of the siege. Our team is planning to do the distribution, going from school compound to another, providing a relief package for every family.”
Harder said SAT-7’s approach is to work openly with Bible societies and local churches.
Even in places where it is difficult to obtain Bibles, he said “a persistent and respectful approach might work best.”
“There is certainly a great need and hunger for the Word of God in parts of the Arab world where they have little access, and where there are few Bibles available, which is one reason why SAT-7’s biblically based programs have a large audience,” Harder said.
“There are one or two countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran where the open importation of the Bible is not allowed,” he concluded. “In such situations, SAT-7 respects the right of others to ‘smuggle’ Bibles into such places, so long as they are meeting a real need (defined by local Christians) and so long as local Christians are aware of and supportive of the actions taken. After all, they are the ones who will pay the price if things go wrong!”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Click here for free worship resource for commemorating 9/11 from Acacia Resources.