RICHMOND, Va. – Harry* has a decision to make. A big one. The direction he takes might change history, at least in his town in one of the most rigidly traditional parts of the Muslim world.
It will definitely change his own life forever.
Harry is a prosperous and respected businessman, 50ish, his hair and thick mustache mostly gray. He deserves the respect he commands. Unlike some businessmen in his town, Harry doesn’t cheat his customers or gouge the tenants he serves as a landlord.
“Landlords say, ‘Yeah, you fix up the place, you pour your money into it, and I’ll raise the rent on you,’” says an American Christian worker who lives in a house Harry owns. “But he’s not that kind of guy.”
With his children growing up and his family well-established, Harry has reached a stage of life when men in his culture grow more introspective and serious about religion. For several years he has talked about going on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
In the meantime, however, he has developed a friendship with his American tenant. They’ve talked a lot about spiritual things – from the Islamic festival of sacrifice to the supreme sacrifice Jesus Christ made as atonement for humanity’s sin.
“He started asking some things about our scriptures,” the worker recalls, “and I just took a shot and brought them out to him one day, the full scriptures in the local language.
“He took them home. Two months later he was in 1 Samuel. I asked him why, and he said he’d read from the beginning to 1 Samuel. The next time I saw him he was in Jeremiah, and the next time I saw him he was in the Gospels.
“He’s asked all the [common Muslim] questions of me like, Why do you call Him the Son of God? How do you get your scriptures? Did Jesus really die on the cross? I told him at least two or three times the crux of the gospel, about what it takes to get into heaven, that it is repentance toward God and faith in God’s sacrifice. I didn’t try to ‘close the sale,’ but he knows everything I could say about Jesus, who He is and what He has done. I’ve just got to believe he’s counting the cost because he’s listened to me. He’s been very intent. He’s got to make a decision about who Jesus is.”
What does counting the cost mean for Harry? If he makes a decision to follow Christ and makes it public, he likely would lose his standing in the community very quickly. His children would lose their opportunities for higher education and good jobs. If a Muslim mullah decided to preach against him during Friday prayers, he could lose his life.
His decision could go either way.
“Actually, the last time I saw him, he didn’t look very good,” his American friend says. “He’d been in a life-threatening car accident and had his arm all bandaged up and in a cast. He looked kind of scared. … I’ve seen a man of this age and stature come into the Kingdom and then turn back because there was so much pressure [from the community]. Harry’s saying to himself, ‘Could this really be true? How could I ever become a follower of Jesus?’”
If he follows Christ, he won’t make it alone. Nor should he have to. As an influential man in his town, he could bring others with him if he shares his faith wisely – perhaps starting with his own family.
“We’re looking for a movement,” the worker says. “We’re not looking for one man of peace who has to weather the whole storm. It’s very hard for one person to do that. But if 12 or 15 or 20 pop up, he has some fellowship. We’ve got to have movements. In places like this, when one guy comes to Christ it’s just hard to stand against a raging flood. You’re trying to go upstream.
“So pray that he will listen to what God is saying and count the cost.”
And pray for all the other Harrys now counting the cost in the Muslim world. There are many of them.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. To listen to an audio version of this column, visit http://media1.imbresources.org/files/160/16043/16043-88568.mp3.)