By Stephen Silas Gill
I am upset by some recent, highly visible statements to the effect that Christianity is losing ground in the face of the global population explosion. Really? We Christians started out as a tiny movement. Today, one out of every three people in the world is called a Christian. Obviously, between then and now, the number of Christians in the world has been increasing. Yes. Christians went from one in a thousand, to one in a hundred, to one in three. That’s expansion, not failure to keep up. Let’s not be too concerned about the global percentage of “Christians in general.” Frankly, piling up “nominal Christians” is not terribly important compared to counting on the number of Bible-believing, Bible-studying, or serious Christians, whatever you want to call them.
In Asia, revolutionary changes are occurring in the areas of political and economic affairs, social and cultural issues, and industrialization and technology. Any benefits known to other nations from global urbanization are far less significant in Asia, where it only seems to intensify the cities’ social dilemmas. In terms of religious issues, every major religion in the world originated in Asia, and all of them continue to flourish there. Evangelistic efforts face stiff and consistent opposition in the Islamic countries of West and South Asia. Often because of extremely low literacy levels, the practice of Shariah law, totalitarianism, controlled “democracy,” and the increasing influence of Islamic fundamentalism, Christians have been facing ever-increasing antagonism.
For several reasons, Christianity bears the stigma of being considered a “Western religion” and, therefore, a reminder of what was viewed to be an oppressive imperialist rule. The Church is plagued with false theologies, liberalism, disunity, rivalry, pressures from resurgent religions, a crisis of leadership, and government restrictions. Among the Hindu and Buddhist populations in Asia, there seems to be a subtle openness to the gospel. Still, the Church is not reported to be growing significantly among them.
Within small pocket areas, such as the nation of Nepal, there is an official religion that prohibits proselytizing, making open witnessing by Christians very difficult and dangerous. In India, we have seen that conflict primarily between Muslims and Hindus over the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya and the subsequent riots in Bombay and other places. Inevitably, the Christians have felt the backlash of these events from some undiscriminating Hindus who want to damage the Christian cause. In other countries, the conflict tends to be related to the courts. In Pakistan, the application of Shariah law is leading to grave injustice. The patience of many believers under suffering is wonderful to behold.
In Iraq, there is interest in the gospel among the Kurds and considerable spiritual hunger in Baghdad and other towns. In Iran, where the pressure against the Christians is steady and unrelenting, the news is that the few churches there are full and the people are faithful. From Saudi Arabia, there seems to be more news than before, but not always good news. There appear to be remarkable instances of Christ revealing himself to people through dreams, visions, and remarkable coincidences. In the remote regions of Central Asia, new, quiet work is going on under difficult circumstances. In Bangladesh and Indonesia, we still hear of people turning to Christ and remaining loyal to him against great odds. In Egypt, there are also legal battles and other forms of discrimination that put Christian believers at risk from fundamentalist Muslims, whom the courts tend to favor. Yet, in spite of this, there is news of a significant response to the gospel.
Sudan is the Calvary of the present, with unrelenting and brutal pressure on Christians in the south and no help in sight. Reports indicated that Iran was supplying the training to the units that seem bent on genocide where it is felt that this will achieve the purpose of the powers that be. In the fluctuating fortunes of Azerbaijan and Armenia, bitter and seemingly unending conflict is again the context. They are in an impossible situation with the oppression of the Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan, and yet we cringe when we hear reports of the fighting. It amazes us to learn that there is considerable spiritual hunger there, and Armenians are coming to the Lord.
In Nigeria, a disproportionate number of Christians have been summarily convicted of culpable homicide related to Muslim-Christian rioting. Still, there are many encouraging signs. One finds new life and energy among the laity in the Church. Women are coming forward to assume their rightful places in social leadership. A new generation of young, energetic, enthusiastic leaders is emerging. The rapid growth of Asia missions and Asians in great numbers going out as cross-cultural missionaries is most encouraging. There are ample resources, people and experience in Asia if only these could be pooled and shared. If Asia is to be reached, it has to be primarily by the united efforts of Asian Christians.
The challenges to spreading the gospel in Asia are enormous. An obvious aspect is the immensity of the size of its population. Two-thirds of the world’s population lives in one-third of the world’s land mass.
Asia has thousands of different ethnolinguistic groups and all the problems associated with them. It is here, in Asia, that the majority of the world’s people who have yet to be touched by the gospel dwell. Most of those who have never heard the gospel also happen to be the poorest. They struggle with intense economic disadvantage, social injustice, and the physical and emotional suffering related to unmet human needs. Although there is much wealth in Asia, its distribution is dramatically disproportionate.
Often, a sense of fatalism is fostered by people’s religious beliefs, aggravating the problem. Asia’s only hope is the gospel of Christ, lived and shared in boldness and obedience to the Holy Spirit. “The end is not yet! Judge nothing before the time when the Lord shall come! (Matthew 24:6, 1 Corinthians 4:5).” These are times of tribulation for the churches in Islamic lands. We believe that God’s purposes to call out a people for Himself from every person in the world will be fulfilled.
In the meantime, there are things we can do. We can keep in touch and pray for all those we know who are seeking to serve Christ in Muslim lands. The Church in Asia needs to be challenged to take the whole gospel to all of Asia. The gospel is more than an antidote for sin and its effects. Sin has penetrated and poisoned all aspects of people’s lives – structural, social, and personal – as well as all areas of each individual’s mind, body, and soul. So the gospel clears away darkness, penetrates, heals, and energizes all areas affected by sin. As sin is holistic in its work of destruction and death, the gospel is holistic in its work of reconciliation, development, and life. This is the gospel we believe, live out, and proclaim. And we hear again, “Before the end comes, the gospel must be preached to all people (nations) (Mark 13:10).” In Asia, this costs God’s people all they have obtained by His grace.
Stephen Silas Gill is an author, speaker, youth leader, social worker, and volunteer. He is serving God at Smyrna Church of Pakistan. He is encouraging those believers living in non-Christian states around the world. He is inspiring and uplifting the Christians who have suffered because of their religious convictions. His small church in Pakistan is dedicated to advancing the kingdom of God. He is working to expand his ministry and spread God’s kingdom. For more information about his work, contact him at [email protected].