Where There Was No Church: Postcards from Followers of Jesus in the Muslim World

E J Martin

This is a great little book. The first half of the book, titled 'The Stories', gives you the 'postcards' or 'snapshots' of real life stories from the Muslim world. The strength of these short stories is that they put you right inside a situation. For example, you hear a young girl describe her hard life in an isolated Christian family, or you hear about Nabil and Sami, who delight in sharing their faith in Jesus with others in their native language, Arabic.

The second half of the book focuses on discussion and reflection. In particular, the editor asks you to focus on the 'Fruitful practices' that have been hinted at in the stories. The categories are listed on page 148 and include relating to: society, God, believers, team and leaders etc. This section has extensive insights for reflection and even if you do not agree with every point in detail (I did not), you will be encouraged to reflect deeply on how ministry can and/or should be done in this part of the world.

Before I finish, more on the stories: these have been written by people who have been ministering in the region, which seems mainly to be the Middle East (stated or implied, but possibly further afield), for some time. Two stories stand out in particular. Firstly, Abu Roo's story. He uses his English teaching to engage his students in discussion about faith issues. As he is so knowledgeable about the Qur'an and the Bible that this surprises his students and they often want to meet 'after hours'. This has lead to lively and fruitful discussions with many students.
The other story, the one I found the most inspiring, was about a mission team in a country that experienced some conversions but then lapsed into a ten year drought. However, during that time God was preparing them and all the believers in this country to respond to him in a powerful prayer initiative. The focus in this chapter was about praying against certain 'strongholds' in this society e.g. idolatry or oppression and injustice. Now they are seeing local believers have a totally transformed attitude to their Muslim neighbours and God is at work converting many in this land. Of course, there is a backlash but they remain strong in the Lord.

This book would be suitable for anyone who wants an inspiring read about what God is doing in His world. It would be particularly helpful to anyone who is considering working with Muslims or in Muslim lands, long or short term. I would also like to see it used in churches to promote reflection on mission and prayer. The discussion section, in the middle of the book, could be used well in house groups.
My only criticisms are the occasionally overly edited stories and the title. There is a church in many places in the Middle East, sometimes ancient and sometimes forgotten, but it is there. I concede in some parts it was not and it is now growing by God's grace. The chapter that included the local church did a lot to correct the misconception the title gives.

Go and get your copy and see what you like best and disagree with. Happy reading!

Reviewed by John

John (full name witheld for security reasons) has made several trips to the Middle East and is currently studying for a diploma in Applied Theology.