In the fall of 2012, during the worship service at our church, my wife and I listened to a Christian young woman talk about her Turkish Muslim friends. “In Turkey,” she said, “I live among the people you call terrorists: anti-American, anti Christian, Muslim. I call them family.” Three weeks previously, her father had been diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. In response, this young woman said, “People all across the country [i.e., Turkey] have been taking to their mosques to pray for us, and this past Friday the imam of our local mosque led his entire congregation for my father.” Poignantly, she asked, “These are your terrorists?” No, she concluded; “These are God’s beloved, His chosen, His children…and my family.”
The young woman’s name is Elle. Dying Out Loud is the story of her parents, Stan and Ann, their call to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to people in Turkey, and how they make sense of that call when cancer puts a death sentence on Stan. It is engrossing reading, not only because of the human drama of living with (and dying from) cancer, but also because of the evident love and affection that the family has for the Turkish people.
What animates the entire story, however, is Stan and Ann’s desire to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with Muslim people. This desire leads them to abandon a normal, middle class life for missionary work in Turkey. It motivates them to travel the ancient Silk Road through parts of Turkey that are dangerous for Turks, let alone for Westerners. And it allows them to interpret Stan’s illness as an open door for the gospel, an opportunity to show people who fear death how they can face it with peace and an assurance of salvation. As Stan puts it, “Sometimes works of sorrow, loss, and sacrifice speak louder than works of signs, wonders, and miracles.”
In our pluralistic age, many consider missionary work a provocation, especially in Muslim countries. The family shows both how to be true to your own Christian faith, even as you give and receive hospitality from people of another faith. Without compromising their Christian convictions and mission, the family makes friends of Muslims, receive their hospitality and prayers for health, and participate in the life of their community in Instanbul. When a local imam invites Stan to Friday prayers at the mosque, and suggests he can even pray to Jesus there, Stan takes him up on the opportunity, joining the men of his neighborhood weekly for prayer. Admittedly, this is not standard missiological practice, and I expect it will be the most controversial element of the book. As the Muslims all around him confess their faith in Allah and the prophet Muhammad, Stan prays to Jesus that he will open his neighbor’s hearts to the gospel.
The love of Jesus Christ for all people, especially Muslim people, pervades this book. In contrast to some American evangelicals, who demonize Muslims as inveterate jihadists, Dying Out Loud personalizes them. It shows that Muslims have the same hopes and fears as other people, and that they can be generous, hospitable friends. Most importantly, it shows that if Christians want to reach Muslims with the gospel, they must set aside negative stereotypes, embrace them, and live—and die—in plain view among them.
As of this writing, Stan is approaching death. When he dies, he will be prepared for burial by his Muslim friends and laid to rest along the Silk Road. May God use his life and death to spread the gospel of peace that only Jesus Christ can bring: peace with God, and peace with one another!
Full Disclosure: My wife and I are friends with the Stewards, especially their daughter Elle. I also work for the Assemblies of God, which is the parent company of Influence Resources. I do not work for Influence Resources, however.