Missionaries of the 90's Target Muslims

They don't show up at pansy Interfaith breakfasts. They make adept use of the Internet and e-mail to network deep in their assigned fields. They're obsessed with winning the souls of Muslims. Call them the foreign legion of the Christian Coalition, call them missionaries of the 90s, but don't call them unwilling or unprepared to act.

For today's eager evangelical Christian missionaries, Muslims are like China for the Coca-Cola company: one billion people dying to hear. Mike and Cindy Bowen of LaGrange, Georgia first went to Malaysia in 1987, on a short-term outreach for the Pentecostal Holiness Church. According to the Bowens, it was on the plane home that God confirmed His call to them. "We both knew that God would eventually bring us back home to Malaysia to teach and preach to the Malay people who haven't heard," says Cindy Bow en, of her husband-and-wife team.

This year, the Bowens will leave their home in Georgia and commit full time to proselytise in Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur. They have been preparing nearly ten years for this opportunity. Since their first trip to Malaysia, Mike got a bachelor's degree in Missions and Evangelism from the South-western Assembly of God College in Waxahachee, Texas; Cindy majored in Christian Education. They will join an estimated contingent of 559 Christian missionaries (370 Catholic, 189 Protestant) in Malaysia.

'The Bowens plan to help establish two Pentecostal Holiness churches in Kuala Lumpur by training the pastors and bringing forth leaders to start plant more churches in this emerging Southeast Asian Muslim-majority nation of 19 million. A spokesperson for the National Evangelical Fellowship of Malaysia claims that 600 Christian churches have started there since 1992. Evangelical Christians like the Bowens tout Muslims as the largest block of unreached peoples in the world. Having scored remarkable successes among Catholics in Latin America, notably in Brazil, and spurred by the fall of the Soviet Union, missionaries in the 1990s regard Muslims as a "final frontier" for evangelism. Their strategies call for ''creative access, cultural sensitivity, and church-planting in the 10/40 Window." The 10/40 Window is evangelical-speak for the rectangle with boundaries of latitudes 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator; encompassing most of the Muslim World.

Muslim countries especially targeted are the newly independent states in Central Asia - particularly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and the Southeast Asian tigers, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Nevertheless, Frontiers and other Christian groups strive to place missionaries throughout the tough "10/40 Window." Most Muslim countries remain closed, either because of the strong linkage between ethnic and religious identity amongst Muslims, or because of heavy restrictions on proselytization. This restricted access has led U.S. Christian mission groups such as Frontiers to lobby Congress on the issue of "the persecuted Church" in Muslim countries. These lobbying efforts have spurred the creation of a US State Department Commission on Religious Freedom, albeit one whose original stress on persecuted Christians has been slightly diluted. The Commission will now include representatives from multiple denominations and faiths, including Dr. Laila AlMarayati of the Muslim Womens League.

The "persecuted Church" primarily within the 10/40 Window has been a rallying point and foreign policy crusade for the Religious Right in their quest to gain wider access to the untapped millions of non-Christians within the Window. Frontiers, a mission group devoted completely to converting Muslims, boasts that "through creative approaches, patient sowing, and fearless proclamation, more Muslims have come to Christ in the last 25 years than in the previous 1400 years combined!"

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"Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance." Qur'an 16:125