In harm’s way: the eye of the spiritual storm
By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ
Leaving a Berber village in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in April 2013. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
ews travels fast in the global village: At 2:49 p.m. EDT on April 15, 2013, a bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Twelve seconds later another bomb exploded. Thirty-one minutes later a news alert reached me in the room I’d just settled in to go to sleep in Marrakech, Morocco.
“I had just gone to my room and you came and knocked on the door and said, ‘The Boston Marathon just got bombed,’” C4C Canada coordinator Brandy Fisher recalls. “I was freaking out about Pastor Al.”
Pastor Al Robinson, an officer on C4C Canada’s Board of Directors, was running in the 2013 Boston Marathon.
“I finished 8 minutes before the first bomb went off and was walking with my group three blocks east of the finish line,” Al remembers, vividly. “We heard the first bomb go off and turned back to look. Someone said, ‘It might be a generator.’ We were all looking (in that direction) when the second one blew, and immediately knew they were bombs.
“(His wife) Kari-Anne had been standing for 7 hours at the exact place the first bomb blew at the finish line. She waited 5 minutes after I finished and proceeded with a friend to head north to go and meet with me. The bomb blew just 2 minutes after she was gone. They also thought one of the large trucks at the finish line had tipped over or equipment malfunctioned. They didn’t see anything as they were over a block away.
“About a half-hour later we actually ran into each other on a street amidst 2,000 people or more. We were directed by law enforcement to evacuate the area as quick as possible. About a half-hour later, as we were heading out of Boston, we began to hear the reports of what had happened.”
These thoughts – and many others – were brought to mind as my wife Elaine and I watched the North America-wide premiere of Patriots Day
on Jan. 12. The movie, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, tells the story of the deadly Boston Marathon bombing.
Only a few hours before watching the movie, I was reviewing notes on persecution for another story on the 2017 World Watch List
. I read about how the landscape has changed (Marxism was the old foe of the church; currently it’s radical Islam, according to International Christian Concern president Jeff King) as we looked into the mind of terror at The Bridge: Conference on the Persecuted Church in July 2016 in Silver Spring, MD. Allow me to share some thoughts as we recall not only the hideous terrorism delivered to the Boston Marathon, but that which was repeated again and again and again in Kenya, Pakistan, Nigeria, France, Turkey, and the U.S.
“Each time there is talk about terrorism, it quickly brings back memories,” says Pastor Al, who hopes to return to run in another Boston Marathon in the next few years. “We are so blessed to have been out of harm’s way.”
The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”
Since the fall of Lucifer (Ezekiel 28
and Isaiah 14
) the evil one has sought to deceive as many of us as possible. Currently, more than 5 of the 7.38 billion people in the world are living in darkness, including 1.7 billion Muslims.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion.
Brother Rachid, speaking at The Bridge: Conference on the Persecuted Church. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
Brother Rachid, a Muslim background believer from Morocco, remembers hearing the Gospel on the radio when he was 12 years old. He was incensed. The son of an Imam, he immediately wrote to the radio station, refuting the lies he thought he was hearing.
For four years, he traded letters with the Christian radio program. Then he came to Christ. He was disowned by his family, lived homeless for two years, and eventually fled Morocco.
“We hated the West. We hated Christians. We hated Jews,” he was saying at The Bridge conference about his youth. “We were brainwashed.”
Now, he says, “I hate Islam. We have the right to hate false doctrines. We love people. We should distinguish between doctrine and people. Jesus loved sinners, he didn’t love sin.”
In 2006, Brother Rachid started hosting a TV show called Daring Questions
. He has helped an estimated 150,000 lost souls come to Christ.
“The Quran,” he will tell you, “is a violent book. The life of Muhammad was very violent. He led 85 raids in the last 10 years of his life – that’s one raid every 41 days. You cannot call that a peaceful man. If you’re going to follow his example you’ll end up being like ISIS.
“If more Muslims understood Quran would they leave faith? Yes,” Brother Rachid says. “It contradicts every common sense and value.” He says when he translated it from Arabic into the Moroccan dialect people could not believe what they had been reading – “they didn’t understand.”
They had been deceived.
That deception is much bigger than the Islamic State – or any other terrorist group. Jeff King of the ICC says two of the three factors leading to the spread of radical Islam stem from Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism:
1. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent by Saudis since the Gulf began realizing unprecedented wealth in the 1970s from oil, King says.
2. Islamic boarding schools have been built worldwide by the Saudis. “Jihad factories,” King calls them, pointing to a 12th-grade textbook that teaches “he who changes religion, kill him.” Education is “molding minds” for radicalism.
(For the record, King’s third factor for the spread of radical Islam included laws banning the building of churches, ID cards forcing public declarations of faith, and blasphemy laws. As part of The Bridge conference we visited Congressional offices lobbying for support of global religious freedom.)
King quotes a Middle East pastor, who said, “ISIS is the great evangelist; I’m just the baptizer.”
ISIS may be driving some from Islam, but unless they hear the truth they remain lost. There is a population of Muslim background atheists called “the black ducks,” Brother Rachid says, adding “the harvest is great but the workers are so few.”
Jesus died for those 1.7 billion Muslims. More workers are needed to share this Good News.
“Islam is a system,” says King. “It’s a trap. Anyone who comes in with the truth is killed. (But) the Muslim is the one we are called to (rescue).”
Brother Rachid points out some of the challenges to this assignment:
- Family, which leads to manipulation, rejection, abuse, and honor killing.
- Society, which leads to rejection, violence, and being labeled “kafir” (or unbeliever) against whom violence is encouraged.
- Government, which leads to harassment, interrogations, false accusations, arrests, imprisonment, torture, and execution.
- Law, which includes the death penalty for leaving Islam (“Morocco is the most moderate Muslim country and still we have the death penalty,” Brother Rachid says). If a Muslim is born to a Muslim parent that child is considered a Muslim because it is regarded as “the better religion.” Christians have no official recognition in countries such as Morocco. Bibles are not allowed in Arabic. Public Bible studies also are forbidden (19 police officers raided a women’s study, where they were praying for the country; “it’s like we’re terrorists,” Rachid says). And, of course, blasphemy laws are used to intimidate and also for retaliation against someone who is not liked.
ISIS has been called “the face of evil.” It is the face, but it is not the heart. The heart is darkness. Darkness lurks behind all of those despicable acts of terrorism, including the Boston Marathon bombing.
“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil”
Watching TV the night of April 19, 2013, in Morocco as Boston was under a “shelter-in-place” advisory during a manhunt for the marathon bombers. (Photo by Michael Heitland)
Four days after the bombing, news again reached us in Morocco. This time we were in the Atlas Mountains, hosted by a Berber Muslim who proudly showed us his satellite television. On this TV we were able to see that Boston was locked down amidst a manhunt for one of the two bombers. The other bomber already was dead. The bombers, brothers, were radicalized Islamists.
There was some irony, sitting in a country that is 99.6 percent Muslim watching such horrific news from our home country. Shortly after seeing this news, we began to share the Gospel with our host.