In front of a mosque and next to a shrine of a Sufi Muslim saint, a Christian from the American Midwest and a Christian from South Asia shared how God created the world, how sin separated us from our Creator and how our relationship with Him can be restored.
Rosanne and Joseph Hanson* are students at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The couple traveled to South Asia on a short-term trip with their professor and classmates in March, before travel restrictions.
On their trip, the seminary students went into communities with local Christians to engage in gospel-centered conversations. The Hansons were partnered with a South Asian man named Vivash.
At the beginning of their evening of outreach, Vivash was hesitant to share his faith, but by the end of the evening, his courage and confidence soared.
The Hansons and Vivash started their evening in a Muslim market. They were invited into a stall of a prominent merchant. Vivash initially balked at translating the Hansons’ questions about the man’s faith.
Instead of translating the questions, Vivash answered them. He was afraid of offending the shopkeeper. He also hadn’t shared the gospel with Muslims before.
Vivash was accustomed to sharing with people he already knew. People interested in hearing about Jesus would approach him—not the other way around. What Joseph and Rosanne were asking him to do, share the gospel with strangers, was out of his comfort zone.
“There is an urgency for these people. No one here in this market is sharing the gospel,” the Hansons pleaded with Vivash. “This place is the place that really needs the gospel.”
After they left the market, they made their way to the local mosque.
Joseph struck up a conversation with a man in front of the mosque. A tour guide approached Rosanne and Vivash and led them to a dargah, a tomb of a saint in the Sufi branch of Islam.
At the dargah, an editor from a local newspaper approached them and said he’d been expecting them because a ‘Jesus guru’ told him to look for them. The editor made an announcement to everyone at the shrine: “She’s here to talk to you today. I want you to listen to everything she has to say.”
Vivash translated as Rosanne began sharing the gospel using a method that employs hand gestures.
A man tried to silence them, but the editor and an imam, a Muslim religious leader, from the adjacent mosque told the man to sit down because her message was important. The imam sat down in front of Rosanne and Vivash.
After the gospel presentation, Rosanne and Vivash made their way toward the front of the mosque where they were presented with another opportunity to share the gospel.
What started as selfie-taking, ended with Rosanne and Vivash standing back-to-back, sharing the gospel.
In exchange for a selfie, Rosanne told the women she wanted to tell them a story. Vivash translated for Rosanne, but after several repetitions of the presentation, they realized some people in the crowd were proficient in English. Rosanne and Vivash began sharing separately. They shared the gospel presentation with groups as small as three and as large as 50.
Rosanne and Vivash shared about how sin separated us from God and that people give alms and make sacrifices to restore their relationship with God.
“Every time I presented the gospel, the imam would speak up. ‘It is right to give alms and help the poor. It is good to gather and pray. These things are good and true.’ At this point, with a nod and smile, [the imams] would return to inside the mosque. Yet, my story was not over. Vivash’s story was not yet complete,” Rosanne said.
Rosanne and Vivash continued and described how Jesus was sent to atone for our sin, and His death and resurrection paid for our sins.
Many people left at this point in the presentation, but some stayed.
“I looked around where I was, encircled by 40 to 50 people, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word in a country not my own, in a place where women were taught to be silent,” Rosanne said. “I was scared and almost did not continue in the telling.”
What they were doing—proclaiming the gospel publicly—was illegal.
“Then, Acts 1:8 came to mind. ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)
“I was here out of obedience to God. … I was working not in my power, but that of the Holy Spirit. If He called me here, no matter what happened, I would allow Him to continue to work through me. I continued to tell the gospel drama,” Rosanne said.
One older woman stayed and listened to every re-telling of the gospel. She was now telling the story alongside Vivash.
Vivash asked, “Do you believe this?”
The woman responded, “Yes, yes! Jesus is Lord. Praise the Lord!”
“For a moment, there was glee. There was intense joy. It was as though we were surrounded in brightness. I reached out for her hand,” Rosanne said. “Suddenly, a man, followed by a few others rushed over.”
The men were irate. The group dissipated.
The imam and the men guided Vivash into the mosque for questioning. The imam told Rosanne she needed to accompany them.
“Oh no, my husband is not with me. You want me, a woman, to go with you, a man, inside the building?” Rosanne asked.
“No, no that would be haram (forbidden),” the imam said. “Where is your husband?”
Rosanne pointed to where Joseph was sitting. The imam walked right past him, even though Joseph was the only Westerner in the area.
Rosanne spent the next 20 minutes praying for Vivash. When Vivash emerged, he told Rosanne they treated him harshly, but didn’t harm him, and that they both were banned for life.
Rosanne thought Vivash would want to give up after his altercation at the mosque. However, the opposite was true.
“How can I do this forever?” he asked. “I thought that we shouldn’t be sharing with the Muslims because they already had Jesus … They had a distorted Jesus, but they had a little of Him. Then I realized they had none of Him because they didn’t have the real Jesus.”
Vivash told Rosanne he wanted to be discipled in how to do Muslim ministry.
“You would think that someone who was apprehensive to sharing the gospel in a Muslim marketplace would never want to engage in Muslim gospel ministry again,” Rosanne said.
“Yet, the Lord did something in his heart. The Lord graciously used him to lead a Muslim woman to trust Jesus as Savior, and in that moment, Vivash dedicated himself to the work of sharing the gospel among the Muslim people.”