One of the hardest people group to reach in the world are those who are affected by the religion of Islam. Indonesia is one of the largest muslim countries in the world, and we need Christians who would boldly proclaim the Gospel here as elsewhere.
We ask, therefore, an evangelist to the Muslims, to share his thoughts for us regarding ministry to muslims, his experience of being a missionary in Indonesia, and the relationship between Reformed theology to Islamic ministry.
We cannot, however, disclose his name or identity for the purpose of protecting his work. Thus no picture of him will be posted with the interview, and we will simply refer to him as “Matt Kirkas.” Pastor Kirkas is one of the leading, pioneering church planters and evangelist to the Muslims in Indonesia today.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do…
I left my career as an engineer in the US to go to Indonesia more than 20 years ago. When I arrived, I really had little clue as to what I was supposed to do. I only knew that God had called me to bring the gospel to Muslims in Indonesia. Over the past 20 plus years, God has been faithful in opening doors for the gospel to go forward. My role is to mobilize, equip and send Indonesians to do pioneer church planting among the unreached Muslim groups in the country.
What motivated you to first come to Indonesia?
Finding one’s calling in life is extremely important. I believe that in most cases God reveals His calling to us through a process. We get involved in our local church, do ministry with others and make ourselves available to God. And through this, He leads us. That has been the experience in my life. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I will go to Indonesia to serve the Lord.” Instead I first got involved in ministry on my college campus. That lead me to go to Latin America one summer to minister. I went there because I spoke Spanish and could use my language ability. During that summer, I was exposed to the needs of the world and the opportunity to serve the Lord overseas. Yet it seemed that the church was able to reach their own country. So the following summer I wanted to go somewhere where the gospel was not easily accessible to people. I tried to convince my parents to let me go to the Soviet Union for the summer. I did everything possible to get them to agree but alas they would not give their consent. However they told me that I could go to the Middle East instead. They said, “You can’t go to a communist country. It’s dangerous. But you can go to the Middle East. It is safe there.” Our perceptions sure have changed over the years.
While in the Middle East, I became exposed to the spiritual needs of Muslims. I knew the Lord wanted me to give my life to bringing the gospel to them. I did not believe that I would last very long as an undercover missionary in a Muslim country. At the same time I felt an affinity towards Asia. God uses both objective and subjective means to lead us in His way. On my college campus I led a Bible Study for international students. One of the students was from Indonesia. He and I visited Indonesia. As we drove through West Java I was amazed to see how densely populated the countryside was. But I did not see many visible signs of Christianity. My heart broke knowing that there was little gospel witness among these people. It was at that point I decided to return to Indonesia to serve the Lord. I returned to the US, quit my job as an engineer, bought a one-way ticket to Indonesia and the rest is history.
What do you think is the greatest challenge that a Christian might have in ministering to Muslims?
The greatest challenge in ministering to Muslims does not come from the Muslims but comes from within our hearts. Why is it that we are so slow to understand God’s purpose for the nations – that people from every tribe and tongue will worship Him (Rev 5:9)? We either don’t understand it or don’t want to do it. There is really no other explanation. Our focus is on ourselves rather than on seeing God worshipped by all peoples. Even much of our church ministry can be self-centered. We want to protect our church’s doctrine. We want to live in God’s grace. We want to build a Christian community. But our vision for these important and crucial activities fall far short of God’s vision. God ordains these means to achieve the end result of Rev 5:9. So if that is the case, why aren’t are seminaries integrating faith and evangelism? Why do we produce pastors and theologians who are not involved in evangelism to unreached peoples?
But the problem is not just in our vision. The problem is also our character. From a human perspective, my research has shown that the number one factor as to why a Muslim comes to faith in Christ is because they have experienced love from another Christian. Love is a powerful thing. Do we love one another? Many of our churches are filled with coldness and cliques rather than a warm and caring community. This is reflective of our pride and self-centeredness. But we also have developed few relationships with Muslims. If Muslims come to faith because they experience love from us, why haven’t we made an effort to impart our lives into theirs. Instead with hang out with other Christians rather than giving time to evangelistic relationships. Christians have a great potential to impact the Muslim world for Christ. But it starts with humbling ourselves before God, correcting our character and embracing God’s vision for the world.
Is there anything specific about Muslims in Indonesia that make ministry there particularly unique or challenging?
Islam in Indonesia has many unique characteristics. But one of the most significant is that Indonesia as a whole has not produced many Muslims scholars of import. Instead Indonesia has been more of an implementer of Islamic trends imported from other parts of the world. Of course, the same could also be said for Christianity. Islam has melded itself with local culture and has become a contextualized strain of Islam. For instance, Javanese culture is evident in the architecture of the Masjid Agung Sang Cipta Rasa was built in 1480 by Sunan Gunung Jati.
Indonesia as a whole has not been greatly influenced by the Wahhabi/Salafist movements of the Middle East. But these movements are increasingly influencing Indonesia. Money from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are spreading this hardline brand of Islam throughout SE Asia. For instance, the rise of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia is gaining in influence. Although its membership pales in comparison to Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, its members are disproportionately young. We should consider this as we project the future of Islam in the country. If the youth are becoming more hardline and adhereing to Wahhabi/Salafist doctrine, the pluralism that we have enjoyed in Indonesia will come under threat.
You are also self-professedly Reformed in your thinking. Many people would have a preconception that Reformed theology diminishes a need for evangelism. What is the connection between the two, for you? How has Reformed theology helped you in your ministry to Muslims, if at all?
I don’t know why we make evangelism a theological issue when it is a question of obedience. Christ commands us to preach this gospel to all people (ethne). This gospel is to be proclaimed to each people group on the face of the earth. That is a command and we are to obey it. There really isn’t much more that needs to be said. You are either an obedient or a disobedient Christian. Don’t hide behind your theology. God has chosen to use us as instruments of bringing people into a relationship with Himself. That is the plan which He sovereignly established. He gave us all the resources that we need to do evangelism (ie. the Holy Spirit). My theology tells me that we should share as much as possible with whomever we meet. The results are a work of the God. But we should evaluate each of ourselves as to how often and to whom we share the gospel message.
But the theological framework does speak into the issue of evangelism. Islam is the world’s only post-Christian world religion. It is intentionally designed to keep people from becoming Christians. Therefore when a Muslim hears the gospel and believes in Christ, it is the work of God since their entire religious system is structured to keep them from Christ. I say that the more I work with Muslims, the more of a Calvinist I become. What I mean is that if God does not reach down and touch the heart of the Muslim, there is no way they will come to faith. The doctrine of predestination is on display in our work of evangelism with Muslims.
How do you think young Christians, especially those of us from Indonesia, should contribute to Islamic ministry?
A great opportunity is before us for reaching Indonesia for Christ. But to do this, we need to give ourselves fully to the work of the gospel. Why can’t Indonesia become a Christian nation? Why can’t the gospel penetrate the Muslim people from Sabang to Merauke? Each generation will be held accountable for what they did with the time, talents and opportunities that the Lord gave them. I pray another generation doesn’t pass without the gospel being preached to every person in Indonesia. Giving ourselves fully to the work of the gospel means to have no higher priority in our lives than the glory of God. If each Indonesia would share the Good News with 19 other people, the whole of Indonesia would have at least heard of Christ. This is not something impossible to do. But it does involve making life impacting decisions based on what is in God’s best interest. Young Christians must be sober in their consideration of these things. God does not disappoint. Serving Him wherever He places us is a privilege that cannot be ignored.