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Undercover miracles in the Middle East
David John works as a missionary in a dangerous, anti-Christian environment, but this hasn’t prevented God working miracles in order to bring people to him.
Healing in Jesus’ name is one of the most powerful ways we can communicate the love of God,’ says David John, a missionary to the Middle East.
Evangelising in Muslim countries is often illegal, which is why John finds that allowing Jesus to communicate through the supernatural can be particularly effective. ‘Criticising Islam is a punishable offence in all the nations I’ve lived in here [in the Middle East],’ he explains. ‘So almost our entire approach to engaging Muslims is through supernatural encounters.’
There are reports of God moving in this way throughout the Muslim world – of dreams, visions and healings that lead people to Christ. John and his team say that they regularly see supernatural events in their ministry, though the growth of Christianity that’s been seen in other Muslim countries hasn’t yet happened where they live. ‘We are seeing a growing number of conversions, as is the trend across the Muslim world,’ he says. ‘But we still live and work in one of the most resistant and least responsive areas for the gospel in the world and so we are seeing but a trickle compared to places like Iran and North Africa.’
HEALING AS EVANGELISM
John and his wife moved to the Middle East more than 20 years ago after learning Arabic and working with Muslims in the UK. Since then, they have been kicked out of one Arab country and arrested in another. They moved to their current location following two dreams that seemed to guide them there.
The team can’t have big revival meetings or evangelistic events as these would pose too much of a risk. Instead, they find that God speaks to them while they’re going about their day-to-day life. ‘We’re living our lives here, going to the mall, going to restaurants,’ says John. ‘Often it’ll start with a word of knowledge. We’ll be engaging someone, and we’ll say, “Can I ask you a strange question? Do you have a problem with your shoulder?” or “Do you have a problem with your lower back?” – whatever a word of knowledge has indicated.
The fear of evil spirits is often what prompts Muslims to come to Christians for help
‘This is often the most shocking thing for a Muslim. They are usually radical cessationists. They don’t believe God speaks to them. They are often more shocked at the revelation of their sickness or their pain than the healing that might happen.’
In other ways, the supernatural is not a surprise to people living in Islamic countries. In the Muslim world there is often a strong belief in curses or, in John’s experience, the ‘Eye of Envy’. In fact, the fear of evil spirits is often what prompts them to come to Christians for help, having exhausted other avenues.
‘Right below the surface, every Muslim in the Middle East is living with what I would say is a far more biblical worldview than most Western Christians have – a world that is full of the demonic,’ says John. ‘But they don’t have any sense of authority over that realm. If you put them on a theological spectrum, they’re all hyper-Calvinist fatalists. They see God’s role in all of it as quite aloof. That is where the rubber really hits the road in the Middle East. We are demonstrating our authority over the realm of the demonic. It’s huge.
‘Generally, Islam hasn’t given Muslims freedom. They went down the orthodox faith route first; they went to the mosque and to Mecca, but it didn’t work. Then they went to folk Islamists and paid a lot of money. All of a sudden, with the sovereignty and providence of God, they come to us. They have heard we can help them.’
EXORCISMS AND HEALING
Although John and those he ministers with often see healings, conversions to Christianity don’t necessarily follow. But when the team started to do more exorcisms together with healing, they really started to see Muslims wanting to know Christ. The person they had ministered to would want to know how to stay free, and they were told of the necessity of conversion and the Holy Spirit living inside them.
We are demonstrating our authority over the realm of the demonic. It’s huge.
A girl who was having serious difficulties with demons had invited ‘spirit guides’ into her life because she was told it would enhance her Reiki. ‘They started manifesting when she was out with my wife having coffee,’ says John. ‘The girl asked, “What’s going on?”’
The team told her that they thought the ‘spirit guides’ were actually demons, and that they could help. ‘She and my wife left Starbucks and came over to our house,’ says John. ‘She was delivered from two demons. It was dramatic. At the end of it she said, “I’m free, they’re gone.” My wife said, “How do you know they’re gone?’ The girl said, “Because they’re sitting right there, I can see them.” My wife cast them out of the house.’
Unfortunately that lady’s fledgling faith has not grown. Recently a young Muslim man did convert, however. He had seen two visions, including one of Jesus, and he was also healed of a sprained ankle.
New Christian believers are connected with other local people of the same culture and language. But it is not always easy for new converts, who often face opposition from friends and family.
John he says he’d never go back to the ‘powerless ministry’ he had before. ‘In some ways it was easier to live with no expectation of healing and miracles,’ he says. ‘We didn’t expect to see people healed, and therefore didn’t pray very often for healing and didn’t get disappointed. We basically got what we believed. When we began to see healing, we also had to begin to deal with the fact that some people don’t get healed. Our theology had to mature.’
John is now confident that if he hears a word of knowledge, a healing will almost certainly follow. However, he has to pray for healing differently from how he might do it in the West. Laying on hands isn’t wise as it attracts attention, and even saying ‘I’ll pray for you’ conjures up the idea of ritual worship to most Muslims. ‘Usually I pray the Lord’s Prayer and personalise it in Arabic. Then I say something along the lines of, “Let your will be done, Lord, in Abdullah’s shoulder, as it is in heaven”,’ says John. ‘I always close every prayer clearly in the name of Jesus.’
This won’t necessarily lead to a clear proclamation of the gospel. ‘We do a lot of sowing. Some evangelicals want to criticise, and ask us: “You pray for the sick but what happens afterwards?” That’s because they never see healing. I used to come from this background. [They think that] if you don’t get some kind of verbal proclamation of the gospel, then what does it matter?
In some ways it was easier to live with no expectation of healing and miracles
‘But the reality sometimes is that healing in Jesus’ name is one of the most powerful ways we can communicate the unconditional love of God, when you’re doing it with no strings attached. I don’t pray for the sick so I can then ram the gospel down their throats. I pray for the sick because Jesus commanded us to.’ John points to Paul on the island of Malta at the end of the book of Acts, where many were healed, but the text doesn’t say that Paul preached.
GROWING IN THE GIFTS
In the UK there can be scepticism about healings, even among charismatic Christians. John says that Muslims are less sceptical and much more willing to accept a supernatural healing – but he still encourages them to see medical professionals. ‘We’ll always have someone test it out then and there. If there’s still some pain we’ll pray again. I generally like to know how it is the next day and the next week. I’ve prayed for the sick enough that now I’m more interested in who is still healed after a week, rather than who felt better in the moment.’
The team doesn’t have a 100% success rate. For some conditions, such as migraines, John says that he sees most people healed. But although he has prayed for many deaf and blind people, he can count their healings on one hand. ‘Like anything in life, if someone is a surgeon, they grow in their giftedness as a surgeon. Whatever your profession, through experience, people get better and better and better. We grow in these things as well. We grow in the gifts of the Spirit and realms of faith.’
John thinks that all Christians should be able to exercise the gift of healing. ‘People say, “Well if I had a gift of healing like you do, then I’d see healing.” But that’s an excuse. I don’t think that we have a gift of healing. The language of the New Testament is of “gifts of healings”.’
John is optimistic that the future will bring more supernatural breakthroughs. ‘I believe we’re living in a time of increase. I believe that there’s something about the atmosphere in a group of people when there’s an expectation. There’s something about corporate faith in addition to individual faith. There’s a revival and outpouring on the horizon.’