Preaching the Death of Death in the Middle East

by Derrick G. Jeter

The Middle East continues to cause Americans more heartburn than any other issue outside of our shores. This seems especially so every September since 2001. Many suffer indigestion over questions like: Will Israel negotiate peace for land? Can the Palestinians live in harmony with themselves and with Israel? What is the future of America’s presence in Iraq? Will Iran develop nuclear weapons? Will terrorist strike the United States again?

Bright and capable people in the United States government are trying to answer these and similar questions—all in an effort to bring peace to the region and make our lives here safer. But for all their dedication, governmental and military action can never achieve enduring peace. What is fundamental for peace is a change in the human heart—away from petty self-interest toward the largeness of self-sacrifice. Governments have never been any good at this, nor have most religions.

Christianity is the exception. It is the one power that has and can bring lasting peace because in accepting Christ by faith something old dies and something new lives, as this article published in Insight for Living’s newsletter illustrates.

“I’m an incarnational evangelist.”

This is how Charlie Costa, Insight for Living’s field pastor in the Middle East, describes himself.

Charlie’s approach to ministry is nothing new. It dates at least as far back as Joseph, the young Hebrew who became the powerful leader of Egypt. Thoroughly Egyptian except in his dedication to God, Joseph lived out his faith winsomely. This is what Charlie does, he “incarnates” or embodies what it means to follow Christ in a culture antithetical to his faith.

Recently I sat down with Charlie to discuss this incarnational method of reaching the Arabic-speaking world and, particularly, Muslims.

Derrick: You speak of being incarnational—demonstrating Christ’s love to woo Muslims to Christ. What, specifically, does that look like?

Charlie: When you think incarnationally, you think practically. For example, when the war broke out in Beirut in the summer of 2006, we started visiting families who needed food, medicine, and clothing. We put packages together and told them, “There’s a New Testament in this package because we want to share God’s Word.” We didn’t “evangelize” or preach. Instead, we encouraged them to read the Word, and we showed the love of Christ.

Later, when the war was over and people began to return to their villages, we visited them. We used the good things the Quran says about Jesus as a way to talk with them about Christ’s sinless life and that He came to save sinners.

Derrick: How were you received?

Charlie: The reception was wonderful. But we have to be realistic . . . only a few will become Christians. That’s the business of the Holy Spirit. My job is to show them the love of Jesus and share the gospel without attacking Islam or its prophet. The rest is in the Lord’s hands.

Derrick: What other opportunities have you had to do “incarnational evangelism”?

Charlie: About fifteen months ago I spoke at an Islamic center in southern Beirut. I was to speak at 7:00, but the meeting began at 6:30 with a recitation of the Quran. I
sat respectfully through the recitations that was received well by everyone there, and they returned the favor by listening intently to what I had to say about Christ.

After an extended time of Q&A, one gentleman said, “Then we understand that in the death of Christ, that was the death of death.” I said, “You couldn’t have put it better.” “‘Death is swallowed up in victory,’ I told them, ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55).

Look, Muslims are like everyone else—they need someone to love them with Jesus’s love, and they need to know that the death and resurrection of Christ is the death of death and the promise of life for those who believe. That’s what I’m trying to do.

Taken from Derrick G. Jeter, “Preaching the Death of Death in the Middle East,” Insights (September 2007): 3. Copyright © 2007 by Insight for Living. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.