Dr. Cynthia has been involved with ethnic evangelism in America for over four decades. Although not Middle Eastern, her experience, personal, and professional connections with the Muslim World help her to understand and connect with Muslims.
Dr. Cynthia is a board-certified physician with decades of experience in America, and some overseas. Now retired from medicine, besides hosting for www.ChristianfromMuslim.com, she directs a American Ethnic Ministries, and is still active in outreach, personal evangelism, writing tracts and devotionals, and discipling new believers. She has taught in America and overseas for several renown ministries, churches of various denominations, and in universities. In the past, she held hospital, church, charity, and community leadership positions.
Two television series have been hosted by Dr. C: Woman Who Makes a Difference, and Becoming Christian from Muslim, both broadcast by satellite worldwide, targeting Middle Eastern viewers. Under a pen name, she has published a well-reviewed novel about Islam.
Q: Let's start with yourself: tell us a little about who you are and how you first got interested in reaching out to Muslims.
A: I grew up in a family that was involved in both international business and Christian missions. We were into multiculturalism long before it was fashionable. My father brought back stories from business trips to places like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran before its religious revolution. I was fascinated! I kept asking him to tell me more. Seeing the world, having adventure, and meeting people from all over became very important to me.
In high school and college I did a few short term mission trips. I got good grades, and decided to become a missionary medical doctor. As it turns out I did, but differently from what I had imagined.
My first real opportunity to meet Muslims came in university. I took advantage of the opportunity to learn from the Saudi Arabians there. So I met with them often, asked questions, and shared the gospel.
Q: What are your own experiences in ministering to Muslims?
A: My first opportunity to share the gospel with Muslims was those Saudis back in university. I knew a little about Islam, but had no idea of how to explain the gospel in a way that they could understand. I simply told them about Jesus being the Savior the best I knew how.
There followed a time when I did not know many Muslims. I was studying Medicine and working hard. The town I moved to had many Sikhs and Hindus, and I started reaching out to them with love and the gospel.
Then, in 1999 I reconnected with Muslims again, but overseas. For several summers I shared with Muslims in Europe. (So, this marks my 20th year continually active in Muslim evangelism!) It was an amazing experience sharing the gospel with them, and giving them Bibles! I had never expected such an opportunity.
An Arab Christian that I met overseas, Brother E, asked me what the situation was with Muslim evangelism in America? Actually, I didn't know. My mode of thinking was to reach Indians in America, and Muslims overseas. So I looked into it. What I discovered changed my life. There was virtually no one reaching Muslims for hundreds of miles around where I lived, and little anywhere else either.
I began actively reaching out to Muslims in America. Brother E, the Arab evangelist, joined me in it shortly afterwards. He trained me, and drilled me in Muslim thinking and evangelism, as well as Middle Eastern culture. He developed The Path of the Prophets method of sharing the gospel with Muslims.
Since then, we have used every way possible to bring the gospel to Muslims: personal relationships, connecting around town, open outreaches to mosques, campuses and neighborhoods, worldwide television, and now www.ChristianfromMuslim.com and Christian from Muslim YouTube channel. I've personally spoken to thousands of Muslims in America and overseas, and Praise God, I've seen Muslims coming to Christ!
Besides sharing the gospel with Muslims, we want to see them grow strong in Christian faith. So we also are involved in discipleship. The questions Muslims coming to Christ ask are different than you might expect. That is why besides teaching, our website/YouTube channel includes reality clips from a former Muslim. We follow her discipleship through her first year as a believer, teaching her important concepts, and answering her questions. Through this, Christians watching the videos will learn what Muslims are thinking, and how to explain things to them. Muslims watching will have their questions answered as they learn about Jesus and the Bible in a way tailored especially for them.
Q: Are there ways to help get rid of our fear of evangelism?
A: I sympathize with people who find it difficult to reach out to others, especially Muslims. I have felt that way too. It arises out of our culture's desire to respect others. And yes, some of it is due to personal fear.
First, ask God to fill your heart with love for Muslims, because "perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18). That love will also keep you from acting for the wrong reasons, or saying something harmful. I do believe that you can say almost anything in love and get away with it.
Here are 5 thoughts that can help overcome fear of talking to Muslims:
1. Muslims are in America to hear the gospel. According to Acts 17, God moves people around so that they can get to know him better. Remind yourself that God is fulfilling his word through you!
I was even told by a Muslim who had been here just a few weeks, "One reason I came to America was to learn more about Christianity." Another told me recently, "While I am in America I think I should learn about Christianity. I really want to know the truth."
2. It is natural for Muslims to talk about religion. For most Americans, religion is a personal thing. They don't think about it much, and hate talking about it. For Muslims however, everything in life is related to religion. They really like talking about it!
Of course, this often means that we need to listen far more than we talk. But that's good too. That is how we learn what people believe and how they think.
3. Muslims are very appreciative of someone who speaks to them. Their cultures are more sociable than ours. They like to know that they are accepted by Americans. You will be amazed at the warm response you get, even from someone very covered that you feel "afraid" of.
For example, a refugee woman who I was initially reluctant to speak to, I discovered was having trouble adjusting to life in America. She turned out to be so sweet, and we became close. After a few visits when I asked her if she liked living in America she was reluctant to reply. Then she smiled and said, "I like it - when I'm with you."
You might think we are annoying people by giving tracts or speaking to them, but most of their responses are positive. "Thank you for taking the time to come and talk to us," said a Muslim on campus. This was after not only hearing the gospel, but even being gently challenged in her faith in Islam.
4. Try saying "Asalaam alaykum." It means Peace be upon you all. I call it a "magic word bridge" because it immediately connects you to a Muslim. Why? It lets them know that you come in good faith and wish them well. It shows that you know something about their culture, so they feel respected.
In their culture, they are then obligated to return peace to you. Then everyone smiles and you start out being friends! So, if you are shy, pray for the courage to say this, and see the doors that God opens.
5. Jesus asks us to be willing to suffer for him. If it is out of our comfort zone to reach out to a Muslim, could we do it for the Lord as a small token of love to him? Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Jesus took up his cross why? To save himself? No. For us!
Jesus asks us to take us our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). Why? To save ourselves? No. To bring salvation to others! Letting God fill our hearts with love and carrying it to others is surely a small burden in comparison to his cross of physical suffering.
Q: Why do so many churches fear outreach to Muslims, here in the US?
A: Part of why churches don't reach out more to Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists in America is because we still see foreign missions as overseas. But that is the old model, the old paradigm.
Now, 20% of America was born overseas. Wow! That's amazing! We need to realize that not only are foreign missions here, but we have greater opportunities to share the gospel here, because:
every corner of the world is now here, places I only dreamed of in my childhood!
we already know the language and culture
it's cheap and convenient compared to going overseas
and we still have freedom to share the gospel in America, compared to the restrictions in every Muslim country
God made it soooo easy for us to share his love and truth at this precise time in America. We can't afford to let this window pass us by! Because of this, Brother E tells American Christians not to waste their time and money going overseas to share the gospel with Muslims. Or at the very least, start doing it here first. Here is where we are most effective.
Besides not seeing the opportunities, there is a reluctance among most churches regarding reaching out to Muslims and other unreached immigrants. Yes, there is some fear of the Muslims themselves. But what I see is the fear is not wanting to look intolerant. Sharing with unreached peoples overseas gets a church credit. Doing it across town gets them criticized.
We get surprisingly positive responses from immigrants to our outreaches. Most criticisms come from fearful Christians. "We don't want them to think we are starting a holy war," one lead pastor told me this year as he declined outreach.
The lead pastor of another church said, "I don't want to split their focus." Churches have many competing programs, all of which seem valid. Every church is bound to have an influential naysayer. Why not stay with programs that benefit church families? Why take the risk, they say, of looking intolerant, or getting Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs angry? They point to examples of obnoxious, unloving, judgmental Christians, and threaten that is what their whole church will look like if they reach out with the gospel to Muslims, Hindus, or Sikhs.
Each of you can make a difference in this problem. Encourage your pastors to get your church involved in reaching immigrants and refugees. Remind them they will need to boldly stand against Christian and secular naysayers, not collapsing to fear. They should focus on Jesus in reaching the unreached peoples that God has sent to us. Perhaps ask him to allow a Christian from Muslim study group in your church.
Q: What do Western Christians need to know about how Muslims communicate and interpret Scripture?
A: Muslims claim that they accept the holy books of all of the prophets, including the Bible. But they follow that by saying that the Bible has been corrupted, so it cannot be trusted. They believe that only the Qur'an is the unchanged word of God.
That belief, however, is not what the Qur'an itself claims. It claims that no one can change God's words. Many times it says that the books of the Christians and Jews had guidance and light. It tells them to refer to us if they have questions (for example Qur'an 10:94).
It is called the Qur'an dilemma: the Qur'an tells Muslims to believe the Bible, yet if they do, they will not stay Muslim.
Besides, the Qur'an actually has been changed. I don't bring this up, but if Muslims insist on telling me that the Bible is corrupt, I gently answer that the Qur'an has been changed far more than the Bible. Their own sources tell of the many changes in the Qur'an. (I have done a lot of research on this topic, and have written about it under a pen name. An easy example is that the first chapter of the Qur'an, the Fatiha, is even in dispute. It is not considered part of the Qur'an by Ibn Massoud, whom Prophet Mohammed said was trusted source for the Qur'an.)
Another great verse from the Qur'an is 2:111. It says if Christians know the way to paradise, we should present our proof. So, when I answer their questions, and share what the Bible says is the way to heaven, I tell them that I am actually fulfilling the commands of Jesus and Prophet Mohammed at the same time!
Q: The trinity seems to be a big hindrance for Muslims. How do you explain the trinity to a Muslim?
A: We need to remember that there is a big difference between professional debaters and the average Christian, when it comes to defending our faith or challenging another faith (known as apologetics and polemics). And it's not primarily our skills. Professionals, in their videos and writings, or in formal debates, have the time for a well-developed full presentation. They can make a complicated step-wise presentation.
Average Christians and those of us in the trenches, do not have such luxury of time and attention. We have only one or two sentences to say something sharp - something clear and powerful which sweeps aside obstacles to believing the gospel and the Bible. That is why we developed SWAP - Street Wise Apologetics and Polemics.
We don't look for arguments. But The Big Four objections that virtually all Muslims have against the gospel will sooner or later need to be addressed. The trinity is one of them. God becoming man, Jesus dying on the cross, and the supposed corruption of the Bible are the other three.
Arguing the Trinity is not an approach we suggest. That would be addressing Western thinking. We want to speak to the way Muslims think so that they will understand and come to accept the gospel. We do address the trinity, but as it comes up naturally in presenting the gospel, not as a theological argument. Done that way, it is far less of an obstacle.
Our approach is to build upon the truth that Muslims know, revealing to them ever greater truth. This is why we present the gospel through The Path of the Prophets (verbal and video tract online).
Muslims know about one Creator God who sent prophets with his messages. They know that Abraham almost sacrificed his son, but God sent a substitute. This essential truth of sacrifice and substitution is what we connect into to help them understand salvation. We show through the Bible characters they know about, that blood sacrifice and substitution was God's way. And over the years it was clearly revealed that God himself would come to earth as the prophesied final sacrifice - Jesus.
Once they understand and accept the gospel, we have found that the trinity folds easily in. This way it makes sense to them that Jesus is God, even if they don't believe it. Otherwise they think that we randomly decided to promote our prophet to God. So they look down on us as superstitious and misguided; whereas they see themselves as logical, honoring God too much to do that.
We want to keep the main thing the main thing - the gospel - not get sidetracked into non-productive arguments. The main exception to this is when we are directly challenged by Muslims to explain the trinity. I realize strict theological theologians might resist our approach, but SWAP for the trinity is to stay casual. When pressed, we say something like,
"Actually, trinity is a theological term that is not in the Bible (they will throw this at us anyway, so we admit it up front). We agree with you that there is one God. God is incredibly great and beyond what humans can conceive of (they agree). Trinity refers to the three aspects of God we experience: the Father is the loving creator and provider, the Son is God in the flesh, the Word of God (they know that Jesus is called the" Word of God that was bestowed upon Mary"), and the Holy Spirit is the invisible presence of God that is everywhere."
They know that the Jews believed in one God. If you have your Bible handy, you can show the powerful examples of these aspects of God in Isaiah 63 of the Old Testament. In this passage, verses 8, 11, and 16 show how God is our Father, Savior, and Holy Spirit.
If they object to God becoming man, we ask, "Are you saying he cannot or would not?" They know from the Qur'an that God spoke from the burning bush to Moses. So why can't God become a man? If they say he would not, then we point out that he said in the Bible that he would, and then he did!
Usually that is enough. There is no need to convince them. Admit that it is a difference in our views of God. As the Holy Spirit works in their lives, they will gradually come to accept and understand that God is far different, and far more wonderful, than they had ever known or thought.
Q: Are there easy ways our churches can reach out to Muslims in our communities?
A: There are many ways churches and groups can reach out. Some of them are easy. First, as we discuss above, encourage your pastor to be see the opportunities for ethnic evangelism. Visiting immigrant neighborhoods with gift packs, putting on free events in their parks, or inviting them to a church program can be done as a one-time thing. Visiting college campuses is especially productive. For drama teams we have a bilingual drama of The Path of the Prophets that your church could host as a special outreach event. It has been performed in successfully in six states and overseas.
Deeper commitment could be something like having more regular outreach programs, opening their buildings for community coffee and chats, offering to teach English, and having a Christian from Muslim study and outreach group. Perhaps they could even start budgeting for these outreach expenses, or get an ethnic missionary or pastor.
For a fuller discussion, see our free 45 page Training Manual for Building Bridges with Muslims, available through the lessons page of www.ChristianfromMuslim.com.
Q: What should we do if, while sharing our faith, we are faced with a question we can't answer?
A: It is guaranteed that anyone sharing their faith with unbelievers will run into questions that they cannot answer. Expect it. Don't let that worry you. Be glad that you have them thinking! Simply offer to look into it and get back with them.
Not knowing an answer can inspire us to learn things we wouldn't otherwise bother with. It strengthen our own faith (Philemon v. 6). And not knowing can be good, since it might provide another opportunity to meet and share with them.
If the puzzling question is from a Muslim, you will likely find an answer to it in our videos or study guides. You could either learn and repeat the answer, or share the link with them. If they are very open, our videos were made in a way that they could be watched together with your Muslim friend. They usually speak respectfully, but firmly with areas of disagreement between Christianity and Islam.
Q: Tell us more about "Christian from Muslim." How can this resource help us in reaching Muslims for Christ?
A: We think www.ChristianfromMuslim.com and Christian from Muslim YouTube is the best available tool for Muslim evangelism and discipleship. The video format makes learning so approachable! For a quick overview, watch the 2 minute intro video on the home page.
We currently have over 150 videos posted. Short videos answer a single question. But for serious learners, there are full half hour lessons on essential topics, with downloadable study guides and discussion questions. Through these, Muslims can learn about Christianity on their own, and Christians can train themselves on how Muslims think, and how to share Christ with them.
Our videos use diverse methods to teach you and hold your attention: different people, beautiful settings, reality clips, personal opinions, expert answers, and testimonies.
Now, churches and study groups don't need to pay thousands of dollars to have an out-of-town expert visit, or ask an unexperienced church member to teach. We provide the experts on video.
Almost anyone can lead a Christian from Muslim study group. Simply show the half hour videos, and lead discussion with the study questions. And if anyone wants to dig deeper, the study guides contain more information and documentation, combining to make a free book on Muslim evangelism and discipleship.