Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Curious Journey of a Christian in a Muslim Land, part II

An interview with the author of Someone has to Die

Jim Baton lives in the country with the greatest Muslim population in the world. As a Christian, he works with people from both communities to end hate and distrust, and to live out the Gospel with unconditional love. Part one of this interview can be found scrolling down to Monday, February 2.

Jim, how often do you see a Muslim convert? Are there Christians who convert? What are the reasons for conversion to either side? (Other than the call of God in the life of a Muslim to follow Christ.) Do people convert to marry, to feel safe, for financial gain? Other reasons?

In Indonesia every religion is protected by the government, but it is illegal to try and convert someone from one religion to another. Though it is rare, sometimes people do “officially” convert (meaning they try to change their ID Card) from Islam to Christianity or from Christianity to Islam. The most common reason is to marry, since it’s also illegal to marry someone of another faith—one of the partners has to give up their religion in order to marry. Other reasons could be for financial benefits (such as victims of the tsunami disaster in Aceh, or the Chinese “Christian” businessman who feels he’d get better deals from his majority Muslim customers if he became a Muslim). And sometimes people will convert because they receive a sign from God like a dream, vision, miracle, etc., or come to believe the other religion or its community has more to offer their spirit. Often if someone converts, they are rejected and ostracized by their previous community, and in certain people groups like the Banjar, a Muslim converting to Christianity is likely to be killed by their own family to save the family’s honor (also addressed in the sequel).

How do Christian attitudes and understanding of the Muslim people where you live differ from those of American Christians?

In Indonesia and across the Muslim world, Christians are a minority, and frequently a persecuted minority. Their fear is real. When Jesus calls them to love their enemies, they have actual faces come to their minds, and showing love to those individuals might come with great risk. At the same time, many Christians have entered into deep friendships with Muslims and are more easily able to distinguish between those who cloak hatred and violence in the guise of religion and those who are sincere, God-fearing Muslims who they can count on to help them in time of trouble. Many Christians in America have never sat in a Muslim home drinking tea and getting to know them as people. Because of this, Americans are more inclined to assumptions and stereotyping.

I remember taking a pastor with me to visit the mosque near the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City. We enjoyed a wonderful two-hour visit with a lovely Palestinian American woman who coordinated events at the mosque. At the end I gave her a copy of my book and prayed God’s blessing over her. Later I heard that the pastor was offended that I “blessed a Muslim”. We Americans still have a long way to go in welcoming Ishmael back into the Father’s house.

Is it a fair assessment to call Islam a religion of terrorism?

No, not at all. Every religion has its violent factions. Christians in Ireland, Serbia, Rwanda, South Africa, the American Ku Klux Klan and many other examples remind us that our own religion has been co-opted to support horrible atrocities as well. Islam at its core means “submission to God,” and was born to call Ishmael’s children (the Arabs) back from polytheism to return to the monotheistic God of Abraham. There is nothing evil about that. However, the deep wound between the Arab lineage of Ishmael and the Judeo-Christian lineage of Isaac are fertile ground for resentment, jealousy, anger and hatred to grow, which often results in violence. Just as God can bring deep healing and freedom to a person trapped in such things, we need to see God bring deep healing and freedom to the Arab peoples and the religion of Islam. We can come alongside them and seek this healing together, recognizing we, too, may need God to work on our pride, self-righteousness, judgmentalness, and lack of mercy and compassion.

Dreams are an important part of your story. Do you think God uses dreams in some cultures more than others? I’ve heard that some Muslims have dreamed about Jesus. Have you known of people who experienced this? Does it often result in salvation?

Some of the dreams in this book are actual dreams we’ve received. God has often spoken to my wife and I through dreams, and we know several other Americans who also experience this. It’s in the Bible, and we’re so grateful for God to speak to us this way. But in general, I’d say that many other nations are more connected to what’s going on in the spirit realm than we are in America. We know personally many Indonesians, both Christians and Muslims, who receive dreams from God. Jesus has appeared in dreams across the earth to countless Muslims (this will also show up in the sequel). Often it results in them seeing Jesus in a new way, wanting to know more about him, and eventually embracing him as their Messiah and Savior.

How often in your country is there a terrorist plot like the one in the story? Are these attacks done primarily by young people? Is there recruitment of young people by terrorist factions?

It’s impossible for me to keep up with how many terrorist attacks there have been in Indonesia since we first arrived over 20 years ago. The responsible groups, tactics and targets change, but I have no doubt that somewhere in Indonesia there is an attack being planned right now. If it is a suicide bombing (a less common tactic these days), the pattern has been to recruit young people to carry it out. Recruitment continues today on the streets, in the prisons, in the radical Islamic boarding schools and mosques, and especially on the internet. That’s why our peace work with the young generation is so important for the destiny of this nation.

The way of life in this story is so different from the reality of the Western world. By reading your book, do you feel American Christians can get a real taste of what life is like for their brothers and sisters living in your country?

I really believe that readers will not only understand better the realities our fellow Christians face in Muslim countries, but that they will feel God’s heartbeat of love for Muslims—not just His love for the victims, but His love for the perpetrators too. This book will rock their paradigms of how God sees Muslims and what He wants us to do about it.

Jim, thank you for sharing your insight and your heart. May we all realize how narrow our view of these issues can be, and how wide the love of God for His children.

For more information on Jim’s novel, Someone Has to Die, please visit  

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