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A First Century Story for the 21st

Yassir Eric
Photo courtesy of Brian Stiller

Yassir Eric’s story highlights one of the most important and exciting movements in the global Christian church today. Christians all over the world should be celebrating and supporting the acts of bold 21st-century apostles such as Yassir.

At age 19, Yassir Eric, living in Sudan, was a radicalized Muslim. He had memorized much of the Quran and was militant in his hatred of Christians—indeed, of anything that was not in conformity to the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.

But then Yassir met a Coptic missionary (Coptics are the Orthodox Church of Egypt) at a hospital where Yassir was visiting his sick uncle in Sudan. The Coptic missionary had come to pray for a sick child. Yassir asked him why he had bothered to come, since the child had little chance of living. Yassir was puzzled. Misled by extremist propaganda he didn’t think Christians prayed or even believed in God. He watched as the Coptic missionary prayed and then to his astonishment, observed the young boy open his eyes and move his hands as life reappeared.

“In that day, the Lord opened my eyes,” Yassir recalled.

His Family

When Yassir’s family learned of his conversion, he was not just ousted—they held a funeral service and a symbolic burial ceremony. To be excluded in this case meant separation from a very large family: his grandfather had six wives and his 69 uncles each had four or five wives each. The entire family turned their back on him.

Yassir was arrested due to his conversion and spent seven weeks in prison. When he could finally visit a church, the people there were unwilling to welcome him because of his reputation and that of his family. Eventually, a Swedish missionary, like First Century Barnabas, welcomed him and over many months, discipled him in the Christian faith.

“What held you together during this time?” I asked Yassir. “As devastating as it was to be forced out of my home,” he noted, “I found strength in the Lord’s Prayer. God was not sitting outside, but he’s the one who came into time in space, and I could call him father.”

Five years later, Yassir moved to Kenya, where he studied at Day Star University and met his future wife. The two eventually moved to her home country of Germany, where he completed further studies and pastored a Lutheran church. Today he is part of the leadership of Communio Messianica, a global network of Christians converted from Islam, often referred to as MBBs or Muslim Background Believers.

Though it is hard to verify numbers, reports of growing communities of Christians in Muslim-majority countries surface frequently. Since there is no official registration of membership, Yassir noted, only through friendships and baptisms can even Christians in these countries track the growth.

What Triggered This Growth?

Why, after 1,400 years of Islamic faith, and at a time when Islamic regimes are taking over countries and regions (especially in sub-Saharan Africa) with increased aggressiveness, are we seeing this remarkable growth of Christianity? Yassir noted five primary reasons.

The first is globalization. For many years, Christians sought to smuggle Bibles and Christian literature into religiously closed countries such as Saudi Arabia. Today, social media brings the world to the doorstep of young people, regardless of where they live or what they believe. Not long ago, many countries had just one TV channel and one newspaper; today, even if one is sitting under a tree on the edge of a desert, the universe is filled with channels and websites.

Second, the actions of radical groups have contributed to the growth of Christian faith. “In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood ruled for one year and the people realized Islam was not their solution,” Yassir observed. Too many have seen the face of Islam in groups like ISIS and it has horrified them, leading to the often-heard comment, “If that is Islam, I want nothing to do with it.”

Third, new media outlets such as the Arabic-speaking Al-Hayat, the first channel in 1,400 years to challenge Muslims about the Quran, are asking probing questions like “How do you know the Quran came from God? How do you know Muhammad is a prophet?”

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Brian Stiller is the Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance