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That is true, says one of the board's top Middle East mission trainers, but that does not mean the organization's people are not offering Christian testimonials to Muslims in subtler ways.

Mike Edens, who spent 17 years in Egypt doing mission work, says he went there in 1980 under a missionary visa that restricted his activities to work with local Christians. Once he began approaching Muslims, he obtained a new visa to work as a business consultant in order to remain aboveboard. His business status put him under no specific restrictions, and he was technically free to operate. Anti-proselytizing laws in Egypt, he says, forbid missionaries to preach while at the same time offering something of material value. He simply preached.

"I believe every Christian is to be a witness for Christ," he says. As for penalties against converts, which under Islamic law could be as severe as a death sentence, he says: "It is very odd that in bearing witness you put people at risk of their government's displeasure. I look at it a different way. I see people as being at risk in not having information enough about Christ."

Edens, who carried on an interview in short spurts between lectures to Baptist missionaries, says Western-style street preaching and literature handouts are out of sync with Islamic culture and ineffective given the low literacy rates in many regions. "That isn't how the society works," he says. "To some extent or another you must build relationships. There are some missionaries who will build a long, deep relationship before they will witness and share Christ. Others will be bolder, but to some extent, you must have a relationship. If you think you're going to make someone adopt this as their worldview in 30 minutes, you're going to be severely disappointed," he says.

Under "cross-cultural" methods currently in fashion, Muslims are encouraged to say Christian prayers in the traditional Muslim prostrate position and with the same frequency as they did when they prayed to Allah. At times, the Bible is also elevated on a pedestal, as is the Koran.

These may be ways of easing Muslims into another religion--and sheltering them to some extent from religious persecution--but Islamic critics deride them as false and deceptive. "If you read their materials, you will see they try to seek out the weak and the vulnerable. In this society it's lonely students. In Muslim countries, it's areas that are vulnerable for lack of food or housing or medical care," says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic-rights organization. "They have step-by-step plans on how to suck people into their web. They say they are helping, but what they really want from you is your faith. When you go with a Bible in one hand and food in another, you're taking advantage of your economic and political power to force your way. That isn't Christian charity."

Hooper is much less critical of relief workers and missionaries from nonevangelical churches, such as Catholics. They have less soul-saving zeal and are so low-key they belie the traditional image of the missionary.

Sister Rosanne Rustemeyer, executive director of the U.S. Catholic Mission Association in Washington and a former missionary in Sierra Leone, says Catholic missionaries are not as focused on tallying up baptisms as they were 50 years ago. "We don't see it the same way as the evangelicals. They go about it with a different fervor," she says. "We trust that if we do our work and act in our faith, then God can work in many ways."

She says she is concerned that missionaries of all faiths will be mistrusted, that governments will give them less access, if local laws and customs are not respected.

Although Hooper and others decry the cross-cultural methods and the secrecy evangelical missionaries say they are forced to use, these critics have trouble defending the Islamic world's lack of religious freedom. "There are human-rights violations everywhere, even here in the United States against Muslims," Hooper says, all but evading the point.

In a review of international religious freedom that was updated this month, the U.S. State Department found legal restrictions on religious freedom in every Muslim-dominated country it reviewed. Afghanistan was the only place where improving conditions were noted last year, following the military ouster of the ultra-radical Taliban.

Shahid and the seminary also have plans to evangelize Muslim immigrants in the United States, and their home-front headquarters is located alongside rows of insurance and law offices in a well-tended office park in Arlington. Good News for the Crescent World, a nonprofit Shahid founded in the early 1990s, has been recently invigorated with an infusion of donations from local Bible believers.
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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec