Stories to bring Muslims home

Bernie Power’s heart was stirred when he heard a speaker at a missions conference in Melbourne declare, “Muslims aren’t people who’ve rejected the gospel. They’re people who’ve never even heard it once.”

Since becoming a Christian at university in Sydney, Bernie had been witnessing to other students. But realising that anyone in Melbourne could easily find Jesus at a local church, he immediately responded to the call to take the gospel to the Muslim world.

“Under God’s guidance, I believe, I put my hand up, and that was what took us the Middle East for 21 years in four different countries,” he says.

Bernie and his wife Catherine, a medical doctor, and their two sons worked as Interserve partners in Pakistan, Jordan, Oman, and Yemen for over 20 years. They found that in every community they visited, many people were illiterate, so it was no good giving them a Bible.

“Secondly, it was like a hundred percent Muslim, so the kind of issues that they faced were different to the ones we face. So I then developed a whole series of stories to respond to the issues that they were bringing up.”

So they developed stories to draw their hearers into the drama, help them identify with the personalities, savour the tensions that arise, and hope for a good outcome. The humour, heroism and resolution of stories attracted them, whereas abstract theology often left them cold.

“I then developed a whole series of stories to respond to the issues that they were bringing up.”

Bernie has now woven his cache of stories into a bigger narrative about two missionaries, Tom and Hannah, going to Yemen to share the good news of Jesus. Storytellers: Bringing Muslims Home, published by Acorn Press, is modelled on Bernie and Catherine’s experiences during their two decades of engaging with Muslims overseas. Like Tom and Hannah, they also got into trouble with the authorities and were expelled, in their case from two countries – from Pakistan in 1990 (with 72 hours’ notice to leave) and Oman in 1997 (with a week’s notice to leave).

“All the things in it happened to us, not in quite the same way as I’ve written here – I’ve kind of joined things together,” he explains.

“I developed the stories myself over the 20 years, and then I thought, ‘Well, actually, I could write it as a story.’”

Now a lecturer in Islamic Studies and Quranic Arabic at Melbourne School of Theology (MST), Bernie continues to train people for mission to Muslims. His passion is to teach Christians about Islam and Muslims about Jesus.

Bernie Power

For me, the book eloquently illustrates how stories help overcome the significant barriers to Muslims accepting Christ and living as Christians. Bernie says it is aimed at encouraging and empowering people who plan to work among Muslims or have contact with Muslims.

“It works just as well here in Australia. We have an outreach every Saturday in Melbourne, and I’ll tell the stories there to the Muslims that we meet. So it’s a training manual,” he explains.

Apart from the many memorable stories that explain the Christian faith in symbolic terms, Tom and Hannah engage their Muslim friends with fascinating arguments that quote sections of the Quran that seem to undermine Islam and give strength to Christianity. These are based on Bernie’s close reading of Hadith, the early traditions about Muhammad, compared with biblical teaching and are very helpful for anyone less familiar with how its teachings can be used in Christian apologetics. For example, Muslims accept that Muhammad is dead and Jesus is still alive and that Muhammad never claimed to be without sin, whereas Jesus did.

“We can bring these ideas out into the open and show that, as Christians, we do have answers to all of the issues that Muslims are raising.”

I wondered if spiritual forces are preventing these truths from being heard by Muslim people.

“Oh, very much so. It works at a very practical level in terms of the whole attack on the Bible. They say there’s a hierarchy, that the Jews got the covenant with God first, and they corrupted it, then the Christians did the same. And so Islam is the final revelation. They talk about Old Testament, New Testament, and Final Testament. So there’s this kind of supersessionist idea [replacement theology]. So when you go into a discussion with a Muslim, they’re thinking, ‘Oh well, you haven’t got the whole truth, whereas we have.’ So there’s a sense in which you need to challenge that,” he says.

As well as teaching and speaking at conferences, Bernie engages in public debates with Islamic scholars in person and online – on his YouTube channel.

“So we can bring these ideas out into the open and show that, as Christians, we do have answers to all of the issues that Muslims are raising,” he says.

Bernie admits that, like Tom in his story, he tended in his early days to push things a bit too far with people and rub them up the wrong way.

“Talk to my wife – I did. I’m a bit of a go-ahead kind of person,” he confesses.

“We’re seeing just an amazing turnaround in the last two decades. It’s been amazing.”

While some Muslims did come to faith in Jesus during their overseas service, Bernie says, “it wasn’t nearly as many as we would’ve liked or hoped for, or even expected. But interestingly, since coming back to Australia, we’re seeing much more fruitfulness in that people are much more responsive once the confines of Islam are taken away from people, either the legal ones – you can’t change your religion – or the social ones where they’re free from their family.”

Bernie says more than 200 people attended a conference at MST a few years ago for Iranians who had come to Christ.

“I’d like people to feel stirred and empowered to get involved more in Muslim evangelism because often when we talk about Muslims, people just say, ‘Oh no, it’s too hard, too dangerous,'” he says. “And historically, they’ve been a very unresponsive group, but we’re seeing just an amazing turnaround in the last two decades. It’s been amazing.

“When I first got involved 45 years ago, it was rare to meet a Muslim who had come to Christ. Now, every month I hear in Melbourne of Muslims being baptised. So I really want to encourage people to get involved in that.”

Storytellers: Bringing Muslims Home by Bernie Power is available through Koorong here.