Meet the Gateway People to the Muslim World

A few years ago at a conference, I held a large banner that read: “Azerbaijanis: God’s gateway people to the Muslim world.” One quizzical individual pondered a few minutes before asking me whether this was a real place.

Azerbaijanis get that a lot.

They are one of the few peoples that span numerous countries with different linguistic and cultural contexts. The Republic of Azerbaijan is home to 9 million Azerbaijanis, but its low profile on the world stage leads many to underestimate its significance. While the exact number of Azerbaijanis worldwide is unknown, it ranges from 30 million to 50 million. Their largest concentration is found in Iran, where estimates range from 18 million to 30 million.From the mountains of Ararat and the Azeri region of Naxchevan (named from the old Azeri words Nuh chixan, “where Noah came out,” based on Genesis 8:4), to the highest echelon of power in Iran (the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini, is an Azeri), Azerbaijanis are a people who shouldn’t be ignored.

Dispersed Among the Nations

Until the beginning of the 19th century, Azerbaijani homelands were part of the Persian Empire. Following war and treaties with Russia, the Persian Empire ceded to Russia what is now Azerbaijan and, along with it, significant Azerbaijani populations in the city of Derbent became Russian territory.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many Azerbaijanis fled and resettled in the eastern provinces of Turkey. Current estimates of Azerbaijanis in Turkey are between 500,000 and 600,000. In the country of Georgia, their numbers range from 240,000 to 500,000. In Russia and the former Soviet Union, 1 million Azerbaijani form a significant minority. And in northern Iraq, a people called the Turcoman, who speak Azerbaijani, are estimated to be 2.5 million. These Azerbaijani of the dispersion speak Azerbaijani, Farsi, Turkish, Russian, Arabic and many other local languages.

Although national boundaries present challenges to Western workers, they aren’t so problematic to Azerbaijani believers. Natives from Azerbaijan go to Iran and share the good news of Jesus. Pastors from Baku go to northern Iraq and are welcomed as brothers rather than foreigners. Azerbaijanis from Baku share their faith in Georgia, having freedom to do so without government intervention.In 2009, the translation of the Bible into modern-day Azerbaijani was finalized, at last making the whole of God’s Word accessible to believers in their mother tongue. Moreover, the first Azerbaijani study Bible was published last year. With God’s help, these resources will help Azerbaijani believers grow in the gospel and take it to the nations.

Least-Reached People Reaching Other Peoples

The Azerbaijanis are considered a least-reached people group. Estimates of the number of Azerbaijani believers worldwide range from 7,000 to 14,000. Yet a growing number have recently come to faith in Christ. Many understand the unique role they have in reaching their own and other peoples.

Brother Idris, for example, grew up into a life of violence and crime in Azerbaijan. As he was poised to commit a serious crime, Christ appeared to him in a dream, exposing his life and the consequences of his path. He informed the gang he’d changed his mind about committing the crime; they thought he was crazy and went ahead without him. All were arrested. Idris gave his life to God, and over the years God has used him to pastor a network of small churches reaching his own people as well as Azeris in Georgia, Iran, and Russia.Another brother, Feridoon, grew up as an atheist Marxist in Iran. He believed God was a crutch for the weak-minded. A believing classmate challenged Feridoon to read the New Testament and, not wanting to look scared, he did. The words of doubting Thomas struck him. That night Jesus appeared in his bedroom and showed him his nail-pierced wrists. Terrified, Feridoon fled to a well-known local believer’s house, where he was encouraged and counseled. Over the course of a few days, he began to realize Christ is indeed real, and he gave his life to him. Since then Feridoon has led many to the Lord in various nations. He has translated the Bible into several languages, and he speaks to thousands about Christ by radio and TV programs—all because a friendly student challenged him to read the New Testament.

God is at work among the Azerbaijani people.

New Challenges

Events of the past two years have brought new challenges and diminished the free flow of people and ideas in the region: renewed persecution in Iran, local fears and insecurities prompted by the growth of ISIS, unfavorable news reports about the unjust policies of Azerbaijani leaders, and the threat of renewed hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. An increasing focus on nationalism has led to legislation and business policies that have prompted some expatriate workers to leave.

Nevertheless, we continue to see growth and maturation in Azerbaijan’s church. In many ways, they really are God’s gateway people to the Muslim world.

How You Can Pray

Would you join in prayer for your Azerbaijani brothers and sisters?

  • Pray that God would embolden and empower Azerbaijani believers to reach others for Christ.
  • Pray for growing unity among the few Azerbaijani churches in Azerbaijan, and for local believers and leaders to be strong in faith and patient in trials.
  • Pray that believing workers who bring needed skills and professions to Azerbaijan would benefit the country and be given gospel opportunities.
  • Pray for missionaries and church planters to the Georgian Azeri minority, and for ministries mighty in prayer for spiritually dark places.
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Secret to Building a Soul-Winning Church

by Charles T. Crabtree, Pastor and soul-winner.

Among my friends in Springfield is a rather wealthy businessman who claims to have visited Bass Pro Shops only once or twice because friends wanted to see it. He is not the least bit interested in fishing, so the new equipment he could buy stays on the store’s shelves. The sleek new bass boat he could purchase stays on the showroom floor. And the fish he could catch in nearby lakes continue to swim unmolested.

 

Another friend who also lives in Springfield is not nearly as well off as my other friend, but no fish is safe anywhere in the region. He is a dedicated fisherman who does not let the lack of new equipment stop him from catching fish. He goes to Bass Pro Shops on a regular basis to buy what he really needs and to drool over what he cannot afford.

Both of my friends live in proximity to a major supplier of fishing equipment and wonderful lakes full of fish. Both could be effective fishermen, but only one chooses to catch fish. Therein lies the secret to a soul-winning church.

It was not by coincidence Jesus began to build His Church initially by choosing a number of disciples out of the fishing industry. His call to these men included a promise which interested them: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” Matthew 4:19. He was saying to them, “Your motivation and skills in fishing are the dynamics I am looking for in a new kind of fishing industry.”

Every believer should follow the Master and become a soul winner. Since the Church consists of believers who are called to be witnesses, it is logical to expect every church to be a soul-winning church. Sadly, this is not the case. Far too many believers, including clergy and laity, are apathetic to the opportunity for soul winning. If Jesus promised to make His followers fishers of men, it raises a question whether those who choose not to win souls are closely following the Master.

SOUL-WINNING DESIRE

The soul-winning church begins with the want to before it can move to the how to. My friend who does not fish could be scolded over and over for not fishing, or he could be instructed against his will in how to fish and what equipment he needs for fishing; but it would do no good. The want to has to be born in his heart. Fishing has to become a desire. It must become a significant factor in his life.

How can I possibly make my disinterested friend become a fisherman? How can I motivate believers to become soul winners? How can leaders create a soul-winning church when there is no passion to reach the lost?

It all begins with the birth or renewal of desire. Somehow, soul winning must be seen as a joy, not a drudgery; a passion, not a duty; a thrill, not a downer.

SOUL-WINNING MOTIVATION

We would do well to remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength. This principle is at the heart of soul-winning motivation.

When Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men,” He was offering His followers a better way of life. Before Jesus came, they had been satisfied to catch a certain kind of fish. Their lives revolved around the fishing business so they could exist. Jesus came to them with a new basis for living so others could live.

No pastor or spiritual leader will ever motivate believers to become soul winners by making them feel guilty, pressured, or coerced. The only way believers will become soul winners is if they can experience the joy and fulfillment of leading someone to Christ.

Believers will only be motivated to become soul winners by soul winners. My disinterested friend will never get into fishing by himself. He is only going to get interested when somebody he cares for begins to testify about the thrill and satisfaction of catching fish. He will never head for the lake with fishing tackle if simply told he should by someone who does not fish. He will not get the urge to buy a boat if he hears horror stories about fishing—no nibbles for 8 hours, the one that got away, the boat that went aground, and everyone got motion sickness.

The main reasons we do not have enough soul winners are:

  1. We do not have enough soul-winning pastors and leaders. If soul winning is not a passion and joy in the life of leadership, it will certainly have no place in the lives of those who follow. People are not interested in theoretical truth.
  2. We drive people by guilt rather than leading them by an excited and effective role model. A lot of people are turned off by preachers and teachers who shout mandates, but leave out the promises.
  3. Soul winners talk too much of their failures and have no record of effectiveness. You can just imagine how motivated new believers will become when they hear about doors being slammed, testimonies being refused, and statistics showing how few who pray the sinner’s prayer really become true believers. It reminds me of the proverbial ineffective broom salesman who knocked on the door with the question: “You don’t want to buy a broom, do you?”

SOUL WINNING BY EXAMPLE

The soul-winning church begins with an excited, influential soul winner. No person in the church is more influential, than the pastor. Pastors can have soul-winning churches if they are soul winners themselves—in the pulpit and outside the pulpit.

Believers are weary of being told what to do. They want to be shown what to do. They must be shown how to be effective witnesses and soul winners in the marketplace. A revival of soul winning in the church will take place when spiritual leaders become fishers of men outside the pulpit and then share the joy and fulfillment of these new experiences from the pulpit.

The most effective motivation in creating soul winners is not preaching about soul winning but telling about it. I saw this over and over in my own ministry. When I was pastoring, I would often preach about soul winning, but I was most effective when I could tell the congregation about a soul I had led to the Lord that week. What a joy I felt when people I was baptizing turned to me and thanked me for leading them to Christ at their workplace or in their home. In those moments, my congregation was able to relate to me as a witness of Christ as well as a pastor. As an under-shepherd, I was able to say to them with authority, “Follow me as I follow the Lord, and I will help you become fishers of men.”

KEYS TO A SOUL-WINNING CHURCH

  1. The soul-winning church has soul-winning leaders. They create a hunger in others to become effective witnesses.
  2. The soul-winning church makes room for those who win souls to share their joy and testimony with the congregation. Pastors would do well to have a witness box or a soul-winning window—time set-aside in the service—to give opportunity for others to share the joy of fishing for men.
  3. A soul-winning pastor will give opportunity for souls to come to Christ service after service. Altar calls are a priority in a Pentecostal church. If no one comes, it is still a victory because the opening of the altars reminds people why the church exists. Of course, when someone responds, the joy on earth becomes the joy of heaven.
  4. The soul-winning church has effective altar workers. The training of altar workers creates soul winners. If people learn how to lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ at an altar, they will be able to do the same in a car, in a cafeteria, and in the corner of an office.

Some time ago, I was preaching in a soul-winning church that had a wonderful choir. I learned that a person wanting to join the choir had to attend one musical tryout and three training sessions for altar ministry before they could take their place in the choir. When I gave the altar call, choir members streamed out of the choir loft to meet those coming to Christ. It is no wonder this particular church is flourishing.

 

used by permission

Unity, Great article by Ron Allen

The Arch of Constantine
Under Constantine’s rule, the church began to get lax in its faith. (Pixabay/lorenzogallo)

On Feb. 27 in A.D. 380, Roman Emperor Theodosius made Christianity into the official state religion. It was one of the most catastrophic events in church history.

Up until the time Constantine legalized the Church in A.D. 313, the great strength of the church was the fact that the kingdom of God resided within the believers. Under Constantine, the church became “respectable” and began to attract the ambitious and worldly who would make a show of outward piety without an inward transformation. After A.D. 380, the church was swamped with unconverted pagans, and the outward rituals replaced the inner power for most church members.

The first to clothe themselves in the new mantle of the state religion were the emperors themselves. The bishop of Rome was eventually forced to trade church recognition for military protection in Western Europe, beginning with Frankish King Clovis, in order to remain independent of the Eastern Roman Emperor. When the European church split between Protestants and Catholics, the local kings and rulers forced their own views to be followed in their realms, and millions of Christians were martyred. The marriage between church and state meant that religious questions would be solved with the sword instead of the Spirit.

The religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries left much devastation and little change, and the idea of religious toleration, espoused by Paul in the 14th chapter of Romans, began to take hold. The idea that Christians with different doctrines could be united in their diversity appeared in the 18th century with the First and Second Great Awakenings and the interdenominational missionary societies. The United States, itself a patchwork of states with Catholic, Anglican, Quaker, Methodist and Congregational backgrounds, became a symbol of unity in diversity and its religious freedom is still a light to the world. The sword, which brought division, had begun to give way to the spirit which brings unity.

The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements which swept the world in the 20th century brought a Holy Spirit awakening in much of the church. However, the Spirit movements also cried out that “The broken body of Christ” would be healed. Now, in our time, a historic video sent by Pope Francis to Evangelist Kenneth Copeland has opened the door for spiritual unity in the body of Christ in answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17.

We believe that 2017 is a strategic year for church and nation. It is the 500th anniversary of the reformation, and God is calling His church to reconcile in answer to the prayer of Jesus. We invite you to pray with us for unity at the unitedinchrist.comand Teshuvah2017.com websites.

Let us pray for reconciliation of the church and focus on expanding the whole Kingdom of God. Pray that the world will know us not by our swords, but by our love and unity in the Spirit.

Ron Allen is a Christian businessman, CPA and author who serves in local, national and international ministries spreading a message of reconciliation to God, to men and between believers. He is founder of the International Star Bible Society, telling how the heavens declare the glory of God, and the Emancipation Network, which helps people escape from financial bondage, and co-founder with his wife Pat of Corporate Prayer Resources, dedicated to helping intercessors.

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Averaging 3,000 souls a week!

But needing to average 87,000 to obtain our goal. And so we continue!

I may be repeating this, but it Blesses me and I wanted to make sure this story was included.——-

Have you heard the one about the Chinese Christians who go to difficult places? Two couples at a time go and open a shop or restaurant and then one of the men goes on a street corner and starts preaching the Gospel. “Don’t you know that you will be arrested?”, and with a smile comes the startling answer, “Yes, that is the idea!”. So, in jail, they can teach and preach and evangelize the other prisoners, who will in turn tell their family members and so on. The other couple is a support to the wife and children who are now alone. and to the guy in jail, because many of these places will not feed a prisoner, they must rely on these friends and family.
Who, besides Jesus, does this?     Amazing!