Editor’s note: Time magazine editors are working on a major cover piece on the mostly covert efforts by evangelicals to preach the gospel to the Muslim world. Below is a copy of the memo, obtained by World magazine.
“We are planning a major piece on the flood of Christian missionaries, most of them evangelical, to Muslim countries. The trend began in earnest about a decade ago at the urging of an evangelist named Luis Bush, but has seen a major bump since the Gulf War, and an even greater surge is expected as a result of 9/11.
“At the very instant when American relations with Muslim states is most sensitive, a group of Americans with a rather different set of goals has been flocking to the region, engaging Christian evangelization, which many Muslim-majority states have ruled illegal.
“We will touch on all kinds of missionary work in Muslim countries, including what for decades was the preferred method of Catholic and liberal churches: providing aid and evangelizing only by example. But we will eventually narrow our focus to a more radical crew of proselytizers: those who proclaim the Gospel of Christ, even if that means risking deportation, imprisonment or death. (At least four missionaries have been killed in the last two years in Lebanon, Yemen and the Philippines.)
“Often, to avoid detection by authorities, this new breed employs a tactic called ‘tentmaking’ or ‘tunneling.’ Essentially, this means doing some kind of other work as a cover or pretext, when you real goal is preaching. A healthy handful of schools in the U.S. actually teach such techniques.
“We will be presenting an in-depth look at such people: both the details of their m.o. and their thoughts on the various issues that their work raises, reported both from the U.S. and overseas.
“We will need your help in two overlapping parts of the act. For the main story, we will need nominees, and in one or two cases, in depth on-site reporting on gung-ho Evangelical missionaries preaching the gospel in Muslim-majority countries in your area.
“For six boxes, we will need on-site profiling of six missionaries over the entire Christian spectrum: that is, not just the hard-core Evangelicals, but representative of all the Christian groups at work in Muslim lands, from the least invasive (many Catholic and liberal Protestant charities, for instance, don’t evangelize at all, but merely provide aid) to the most.
“Part I: We would like to get a sense of the way American missionaries are regard in the Muslim-majority countries in your area. We get the impression that tensions are rising. Why? (Palestine/Israel? 9/11? Most Islamism and sharia law?) We would like you to nominate one or more Evangelical (conservative Protestant) missionaries in Muslim countries in your locale, preferably working in politically unstable or sensitive areas. We will probably ask you to do some phone interviewing on most of them, but select one or two cases for more in-depth, on-site reporting. For this part of the article, the most evangelistically gung-ho your subjects are, the better: best of all would be admitted tentmakers (see intro), who work in some kind of ‘cover’ capacity in order to do their real work as evangelists.
“We recognize that this can be very dangerous work and in at least one instance will be willing to accept assumed names or whatever else is necessary to protect our subjects. However, we will need photographs to make the act work, so we will need to have at least one stance where people are willing to have their pictures taken.
“We will need nominees as soon as possible in order to assign the more in-depth reporting. To help them quickly, we urge bureaus to get in touch with [REPORTER’S NAME AND PHONE NUMBER DELETED]. She will be calling missionary organizations in the States and trying to identify field operations you can cover.
“For a little background on the topic, you might take a look at the following Wall Street Journal article from 11/26/2001, by Robert Tomsho: A Difficult Mission: Some Christian Try to Convert Muslims – How-to Books, Islam Classes Prepare the Proselytizers.
“Here are a few thoughts of our own on it, rephrased as questions that might be put to the hard-core Evangelical crowd:
****** How exactly do they get away with preaching in such a hostile climate. (We are fascinated by this secret-agent aspect and would like to hear about it in great detail.)
****** Why do they see it as so essential to preach the gospel to Muslims at this particular point in time?
****** What special techniques have they found necessary to evangelize in areas where the government is, at a minimum, hostile to Christianity and may have made evangelizing illegal? Please include a detailed description and anecdotes.
****** What have their great successes/failures been thus far?
****** Do they regard Islam as diabolical or do they just see Muslims as one more group living in ignorance of God’s word?
****** Has the work in Muslim countries become more dangerous in the last years? What is their response to the murders of several missionaries in Muslim countries over the last two years? To war tensions? To Sept 11? Have they considered the possibility that they might be martyred?
****** There appears to be a split among missionaries in Muslim countries. Some more moderate Christian groups have struck deals with Muslim governments whereby they may provide goods and services under a Christian banner and may evangelize to non-Muslim minorities, but agree not to proselytize Muslims. Such groups have often criticized the more hard-core Christians who insist on preaching to Muslims, on grounds that they create hostility toward all Christian enterprises. We’d like to know what the hard-core mission folks make of this criticism.
****** Another critique leveled against those who actively try to convert Muslims is that Muslims who convert to Christianity are often persecuted and (according to sharia law) can be executed. The missionaries can get out when things get hot, but they leave the converts behind to face the music. Fair?
****** Do the missionaries feel that their goals are consistent with those of the U.S. The State department must occasionally bail out missionaries. During the Gulf War, Gen. Schwarzkopf was furious with Christians who tried to smuggle Bibles into Saudi Arabia. Things are tenses then ever since 9/11 and because of Iraq. Is it appropriate for Christian to be further complicating the issue?
“Part II: Similarly we would like to ask you to nominate, with Amanda’s help from New York, profiles for additional boxes on American mission work in Islamic countries. We will choose six: Two hard-core (actually, these can be culled from the nominees above), two who provide serious aid but also evangelize, and two who do only aid but are Christian organizations.
“We’d like to give a sense of geographic and ideological spread. The six will need to be reported on-side and photographed. We’ll need to be able to describe what they are up to and quote their opinions on the whole questions of mission to Muslims.
“How do the missionaries who are /not/ preaching the gospel feel they are fulfilling their Christian obligation? Do they feel that charity is enough?
“What do they make of their more vehement coreligionists?
“MIDDLE EAST: One additional request: MIDDLE EAST: Some of the most biting criticisms of tentmakers have been leveled by works with religious charities that provide goods and services in Islamic lands but do not explicitly evangelize. Can you contact the Catholic archdiocese that includes Sidon, Lebanon?
“What American missionary Bonnie Penner Witherall was killed be a gunman at a prenatal clinic in Sidon, Lebanon, where she worked, acting Catholic Archbishop George Kwaiter was quoted complaining that Witherall had tried to convert local children to Christianity while giving them toys and was typical of over-aggressive attempts at conversion. Can you get him or someone else from the archdiocese to expand on that?
“FYI: Four missionary mishaps have made headlines in the couple of years. They are:
– the arrest of Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer in Afghanistan(2001)
– the killing of Bonnie Witherall, a missionary with Operation Mobilization in Lebanon (Nov. 2002)
– the kidnap/murder of Martin Burnhamin the Philippines (June 2002)
– the killings of three Southern Baptist missionaries in Yemen (Dec. 2002)”