MUMBAI, India — Farooq* walked right into the trap set for him.
A Muslim-background follower of Christ in the Indian urban giant of Mumbai, Farooq was teaching other Muslims about the gospel in a “seeker meeting.” One of the attendees seemed especially interested. He invited Farooq to his neighborhood nearby to share more with family members and friends. Farooq gladly obliged.
Soon after he began speaking to the group, police entered the room with some relatives of the person who had invited him. They angrily accused Farooq of “forced conversions,” of bribing Muslims to become Christians, of evangelizing minors. None of it was true. But he was arrested, thrown into a jail cell with 30 felons and a single toilet, repeatedly beaten. Policemen demanded 5,000 rupees — their price to stop the abuse.
Farooq was bailed out of jail and eventually exonerated after repeated court dates. The judge dismissed the charges against him when his primary accuser didn’t show up.
It wasn’t the first time Farooq has endured blows for sharing his faith. It probably won’t be the last. But he is learning to thank God for such trials — like the early apostles who rejoiced in the privilege of suffering for Christ.
Other Muslim-background believers “have been beaten severely, multiple times, to the point that they had to leave the city, lose their jobs and possessions and go back to their native place to recover,” Southern Baptist worker John Wynn* reports.
“But they come back and go to work. Nobody walks away once they make that commitment.”
Where does such commitment come from? Solid training and discipleship — and the movement of the Holy Spirit among Mumbai’s Muslims.
Wynn and his wife Rose* tried for years to mobilize Mumbai churches to reach out to the lost of the vast city. They met with little success. Some congregations were in survival mode; others had their own strongly held ideas about evangelism.
“We were frustrated and discouraged,” Wynn recalls. “But the Lord kept saying, ‘There’s another way.’ He really convicted us that this is a huge place with a multitude of needs. So where is it that nobody is working? One of the biggest gaps is among Muslims.”
Mumbai is home to some 2 million Muslims. As in other parts of India, they are a large but sometimes embattled minority. Many live in Muslim-only areas by preference — or because of ethnic discrimination and threats of violence at the hands of extremist Hindus. Some of the city’s Christians fear them. Some believe Muslims will never listen to the Good News of Jesus.
“They want to know the truth,” Wynn says. “They’re undecided. They don’t know if they’re in the right sect of Islam. They don’t know if they have eternal life. So when they find out that through Jesus they can have it now through His sacrifice, that’s a big deal.”
Through an extended, trial-and-error search, Wynn became a teacher and mentor to two Muslim men pursuing truth: Farooq and Rasheed*. Farooq is well-educated and affluent; Rasheed comes from a lower-class village background. They offer access to different parts of Mumbai’s multifaceted Islamic community.
“I’ve taught them the same principles, but they’ve done their own thing with them,” Wynn explains. “I just keep giving them the Word of God and let them do what God tells them to do.”
God is telling them to teach truth to other Muslim seekers. Farooq started with 10 friends, including a professor, a lawyer, a store owner and several Islamic scholars. Individual contacts develop into seeker groups, some of which become full-fledged jama’ats — indigenous groups of Muslim-background followers of Jesus Christ.
The conversation has spread into some amazing places. Farooq befriended a high-ranking Islamic leader who invited him to speak nightly during an annual Muslim festival — for 68 straight nights. At least 10,000 Muslims heard truth.
“If anyone stood up and said, ‘That’s a lie!’ or ‘The Bible has been changed’ or ‘There is no Trinity,’ one of the big guys would stand up and say, ‘This man has some new truth to share with us. You sit down and behave and we’ll talk about it later,’” Wynn said. Farooq and others have continued teaching during the festival for three years.
Now the movement is spreading beyond Mumbai, as its leaders take the initiative to combine truth-teaching with relief ministry to struggling Muslims in other parts of India.
“They’re sharing Jesus,” Wynn says. “It’s their thing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.)