By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It took a two-week trip to Lebanon last spring for Sarah Logan to understand what she was getting into. Among the bullet-ridden buildings in the northern city of Tripoli, the 46-year-old Dallas accountant heard her Baptist missionary hosts describe armed attacks on Christian churches by a faction of Islamic fundamentalists operating out of Syria.
She looked in on a German couple living among the locals in a stark, concrete apartment house on a trash-strewn street. "They were very sharp, very dedicated, very godly," Logan says. "They poured their hearts into their mission work."
The neighbors called them "good Muslims" because of their kindness and generosity, she says. Although the couple's mission was to lead Muslims to Jesus, they were careful not to give any outward signs of their intentions. "They just blended in," Logan remembers. "He was running the apartment complex, which seemed to be his job. Did he go out and say, 'I'm a missionary'? No, even though that is legal in Lebanon. You have to realize that this is one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East in terms of religious freedom, and even there, you would not just go on the street corner and start preaching."
Then there was the success rate, or rather, the failure rate of Western missionaries she met. In the capital city of Beirut, she was struck by how few Muslim children at the Baptist Bible School--an English-language grade school with about 500 students located in the Muslim quarter--actually take up the Christian teachings in the compulsory chapel. "The reason Muslim children go there is because of the quality of the education," she says. "They areMuslim. Their parents constantly ask that they be allowed not to attend chapel."
As for the German pair, who have lived and worked in the Middle East for 20 years, "they've led very few people to the Lord," she says. "They say Lebanon is 75 percent Muslim. To me, it looked more like 95."
Remarkably, Logan returned to Texas more certain than ever that she wanted to join this quiet Christian crusade. She has bid adieu to her six-figure salary, sold her house and toted up her savings. She expects to be abroad with a Baptist mission team by next summer as a sort of undercover agent for the cause. Because countries in North Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia issue few missionary visas, Logan will go as an accountant, her "platform," as she calls it. (She agreed to talk about all of this under the condition that she be identified by a pseudonym.)
When she is not helping about 20 other missionary families with money matters, she will be living among Muslims, meeting them and endeavoring to get close enough "to share Christ." In that work, which some call "friendship evangelism," she says she is prepared to break the anti-proselytizing laws that are common in many Islamic countries, risk her life and endanger the lives of those she might convert in order to bring the gospel to the unreached.
"There is a chance that if you lead someone to Christ, you are leading them to death, and when I think about that, my heart aches," she says. "You wouldn't be human not to struggle with that. But if the choice is dying in Christ or dying in sin, then, well, the ends justifies the means."
As a missionary student taking Islamic studies courses at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Logan has joined a small but vigorous movement among evangelical Christians to spread their faith to the Muslim world. Under the conservative leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, the seminary last fall became the third evangelical school in the United States offering a program for those who see Islam's 1.2 billion adherents as their spiritual frontier.
Right now, school officials say about 20 students are enrolled as Islamic studies majors, a program involving courses such as "Christian Inquiry Into Islamic Faith and Practice" and "Missionary Approaches to World Religions," as well as field trips and practical lectures on cross-cultural materials and methods.
"We are a seminary, not a university," says Samuel Shahid, a Palestinian-born Christian who heads the program. As such, he says, students are expected to take what they learn and put it into practice saving souls, either among Muslims living in the United States or in the Muslim world.
That aim understandably has its critics. Some question the ethics behind the methods used in the field. Others worry that the urgent need to preach complicates relief efforts in places such as the Sudan, where religious violence is constant. Yet others worry that it breeds mistrust at a time when Christians and Muslims should be working toward acceptance and mutual understanding.
A more appropriate response, though, might just be a big shrug. Evangelicals have long had a dream for missions among Muslims, and despite anecdotal accounts to the contrary, academics and internal church reports suggest they have merely spun their wheels in the desert sand.
"The history is a long experience of failure in terms of conversions," says Kenneth Cracknell, a Cambridge-educated professor who teaches Islamic studies from a more liberal, "compare and contrast" perspective at Texas Christian University's Brite Divinity School. "It's surprising how difficult it is. Really, Christians haven't made much of a dent on the Islamic world, and that is true for some very good reasons."