Secret Believers by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen is such a sobering book to read. In its pages, Brother Andrew writes a novel based on true persons and places in order to describe the persecuted church in the Middle East, while still protecting the actual persons and events. I have read numerous books on persecution, including those that contain actual testimonies from Christians around the world and they are all excellent; however, this book was different. Below, I have posted a book review of Secret Believers for this week's Inspiring Story. The main bulk of the review is the basic story line, but near the end is where you can find my impressions on the book (and yes, it really did make me cry; these people risk their lives for Christ, facing immense persecution -- now that's total surrender). I will add that this book is AMAZING -- you will never look at the persecuted church the same way again!
The book Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ, written by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen, shows what life is like for Muslims who turn to Christ and what Christians in the West can do to combat Islam. The book outlines in great detail the lives of several Muslims-turned-Christian. The book uses several characters to get the message across. Two of the main characters are Ahmed and Butros – one a former Muslim having second thoughts about Islam which eventually lead him to Christ, and the other a native of the Middle East called to reach his fellow man with the Gospel. The challenges faced by these men are representative of millions of Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) in Islamic countries. Both the struggles and triumphs of Muslim converts to Christianity are represented in the pages of this fascinating book.
The opening pages of the book focus on Ahmed, a Muslim and a central character of the book; he is experiencing doubts about Islam. His nightmares about “dying in the way of Allah” lead him to a local church where the priest does not let him inside for fear that he will cause trouble for the believers. A friend had challenged him to compare Jesus to the prophet Mohammad. “Get a copy of the Injil [Bible],” he said. Later, Ahmed obtained a Bible from this friend. Although Ahmed could not get away from the nightmares, the Bible only seemed to make his problem worse: the Bible was so different from the teaching of Islam. One day, when the Muslim call to prayer came, Ahmed went to the Mosque as usual. This time, however, he sensed a change in his heart, as he began to feel drawn to Jesus. All through the rituals, he kept thinking about Jesus and how great He is. When the prayers had ended, Ahmed turned to his fellow Muslims and said, “Is there no one greater than the Prophet Isa [Jesus]? I look at Him and see perfection. I look at Him and see God” (page 27). But his fellow Muslims did not share his feelings; they beat him and sent him
home to his family where he sustained more blows. Ahmed fled to the local priest’s home – the same man who had turned him away three years earlier. This priest washed Ahmed’s wounds and sent him to a friend who could help him in his new journey out of Islam and into Christianity.
That man was Butros, a native of the Middle East. Two years earlier he was completing his education in England. There, on a subway, he heard God’s call to return home to strengthen the church. He had wrestled with this idea; there would be many challenges to overcome, and he didn’t think he could do it. However, after talking with Brother Andrew, he went obediently. Now, he was in the country ministering to the pastors, equipping them to keep their churches strong in the face of persecution. Many of the issues faced by these churches were causing them to just barely survive. One of the many problems was that the Christians would not let Muslim background believers into their church buildings; they had had enough problems with Muslims who pretended to be Christians only to hurt the church later. Butros worked with the pastors and encouraged them to support the MBBs. One of the ways in which this was accomplished was by allowing the MBBs to meet in a separate room in the church for meetings during the week. Ahmed was a member of those meetings. In addition, Butros found a place for Ahmed to stay until he was able to find employment. But Butros had his own dreams, and as more and more MBBs continued to seek refuge from the harassments of Muslims, he was getting discouraged. Money was tight. How could he support them – and his family – and do his own work at the same time? Despite this seeming setback, Butros pressed on with the Lord’s help. He founded an organization to help MBBs learn to read and write so that they could educate others; this made it possible for each to read the Bible that he would receive upon graduation. By working there, Ahmed and his friends were able to support themselves and reach out to Muslims simultaneously. Butros also trained leaders for the MBB fellowships. His ministry continued to expand as he persisted in helping those Muslims who were turning to Christ in his native country.
But life was not always easy for Butros, Ahmed, and other Muslim background believers; they were persecuted for their faith. Once, Ahmed and a small handful of others had been secretly baptized late in the night. They were promptly arrested by the police, tortured severely, and kept in custody for approximately four months. Butros was upset with the actions of the police; the men didn’t even get a trial, and the police would not give him any information. Brother Andrew had helped baptized these Christians, and he immediately started a campaign in the US to have the men released. Through his efforts and the prayers of Christians around the globe, the men were given a trial in which the judge released them. But the worst blow of all was yet to come when some Muslim extremists captured two of Ahmed’s closest friends who worked with Butros. One of them was a former high-ranking Muslim; he would pay for his “crime.” The extremists did not spare; they brutally murdered the two Christians. They threatened Butros and his family, and made it clear that they would kill Ahmed, as well. This caused Butros to question whether he had really done the right thing in following God’s call; was this how it had to end? But the work did not die that day. Ahmed continued to reach out to Muslims while in hiding, and Butros was greatly encouraged by Brother Andrew. His understanding and gentle probing caused Butros to press on; the work must continue with the help of the Holy Spirit, regardless of the persecution that was meant to preclude their efforts.
Overall, Secret Believers was a riveting account of Muslims who come to Christ, risking all – even their lives if necessary – to spread the Gospel of Christ. The book was very intense as it describes in detail the persecutions suffered by these Christians, but this level of intensity is what makes it an excellent thought-provoker. The book’s message challenges believers to examine and prepare their own hearts. In addition, when one thinks about the state in which these precious brothers and sisters in Christ courageously persevere, he feels compelled to pray for them. Brother Andrew concludes the book with four helpful solutions to the threats posed by Islam, which are equally challenging. He explained, “…it would be tragic if all we do is respond with fear and retreat. …. I want to suggest what the persecuted church in the Islamic world is saying to Christians in the West. …. [T]he story …. presents us with four challenges: to love all Muslims by giving them the Good News, to forgive when we’re attacked, to live lives totally committed to Jesus Christ, and to engage in the real war – the spiritual war” (page 222). The most valuable gem – indeed the crux of the whole book, as demonstrated by these courageous men and woman – was this statement by Brother Andrew: “…unless Christ returns first, we can be certain that we will die physically. If each of us will die, is it too much to ask God that He be glorified in our death? What is holding us back? If we are convinced that Jesus paid the price for our sins and that when we leave this life we enter into His presence, we should not be afraid to die. I call this the third mile. The first mile is yielding to Christ. The second mile means sharing the love of Jesus with Muslims. The third mile means I love Muslims so much that I’m willing even to die for them. Remember the Muslim wants to die for his own salvation. How can we convince him that Jesus already died for him? By showing him that we are more committed to living for Jesus than he is to dying in jihad” (page 252). In the Bible, the Apostle Paul risked his life for the Gospel. He stated in Philippians 1:20-21, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This provides Christians today with a challenge: are we willing to risk our all for Christ, just as Ahmed, Butros, and others who have gone before us have? Can we honestly say, “Christ, be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death?” That is the challenge that these believers have set before us; it is our choice. Will we give our lives for Christ?
To read Brother Andrew's testimony, click here.