The Glory of the Impossible

It was during my first year at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA, that I was spending a quiet Saturday afternoon in its library and discovered a book that attracted my attention. It dealt with missions to Muslims. The author was Dr. Samuel Zwemer; the tide, The Cross Above the Crescent. I had heard a great deal about this missionary of the Reformed Church, his mastery of the Arabic language, his zeal for the Lord in Arabia, his encyclopedic knowledge about the world of Islam. And here was a book that stimulated my thoughts and encouraged me to press on in my quest to learn more about this faith and to formulate a thoroughly Biblical approach to its adherents.

As soon as I finished reading the book, I wrote Dr. Zwemer who was in his eighties and living at his daughter’s home in Alexandria, VA. He was very gracious in his response to my letter. That encouraged me to continue a correspondence with him which lasted until his death. In one of his letters, he sent me a clipping from an evangelical magazine published in Chicago. It was one of his articles which bore the title, “The Glory of the Impossible.” Yes, Islam was the most formidable enemy of Christianity. It presented insurmountable doctrinal, sociological and political obstacles to the Christian missionary. By human standards, the task was impossible. It was just too much to expect the conversion of a Muslim. Even if he or she should receive Christ as Savior and Lord, martyrdom would surely follow. Why then plan, pray and do mission work among Muslims? Was it not better to concentrate our human and material resources on other ethnic and religious groups? Zwemer’s article reminded me of the Biblical fact that what is impossible with man is possible with God. It is God who sends us to bring the good news to the followers of Islam. He will see to it that His saving Word never returns to Him void. It always accomplishes His purposes.




I have always treasured my correspondence with this apostle to Islam. His books have added a great deal to my formal theological education. After graduation and ordination in May 1953, I married Shirley Winnifred Dann of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, whom I had met in 1951. We set out for mission work in Latakia, a coastal city in northwest Syria. Due to the changing political situation which made Biblical missions impossible to pursue, we returned to Canada. First I served as interim pastor at the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg, and later on worked for the Manitoba Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society. On the first Sunday of 1957, our family joined the Winnipeg Christian Reformed Church.

While on the mission field, I was convinced that one of the best ways to reach the postwar generation was through Christian literature which had to be evangelistic and present a Biblical worldview. Between 1956 and 1958, I got acquainted with Dr. Loraine Boettner of Rock Port, MO. I translated his book, The Inspiration of the Holy Bible into Arabic, and printed 1,000 copies for distribution in the Arab world. The Lord used a copy of that translation to bring me in contact with ELWA, a Christian radio station in Monrovia, Liberia. They were looking for an Arabic-speaking person who would present the gospel to the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East.

It was providential that by that time, I was studying at Calvin Seminary and preparing myself to become eligible for a call in the Christian Reformed Church. I contacted Rev. Henry Evenhouse of the Board of Foreign Missions and asked for his advice. He put me in touch with Rev. Peter Eldersveld of the Back to God Hour. That was in the early months of 1958. At the May meeting of the Board of the Back to God Hour, I was appointed to my position as Arabic Broadcast Minister. The CRC Synod of 1958 authorized this first foreign language ministry of the Christian Reformed Church. I shall never forget that June day when several delegates of Synod asked me about the goals of this new radio missionary endeavor. I shared with them my vision:

1. To bring the gospel to the followers of Islam;

2. To work for the reformation of the Eastern churches;

3. To help the small evangelical churches of the Middle East.

One of the most important facts which I took into consideration as I began my radio, literature and correspondence ministry was its connection with the past. The new element was radio. But mission work among Muslims was rooted in history. The nineteenth century saw a tremendous movement to evangelize Muslims in their homelands. Men such as Henry Martyn, Karl Pfander and St. Clair Tisdall were some of the pioneers of Western missionaries to Islam. In the Middle East, Eli Smith and Cornelius van Dyck shared with their Lebanese helpers, the glory of an excellent translation of the Bible into Arabic. And straddling the latter part of the nineteenth century and on into the middle of our own, the personality of Samuel Zwemer (mentioned at the beginning of this article) was the guiding light for a global strategy to reach the Muslims with the gospel. He was a prodigious writer, an enthusiastic speaker, and manifested a great love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Beginning with radio station ELWA, the Lord opened the way to branch out into several other missionary and commercial radio stations, using both short wave and medium wave transmitters. Today we reach every part of the Arab world from Iraq to Morocco. I am not exaggerating when I say that thousands upon thousands of Arabic-speaking Muslims have heard the claims of Jesus the Messiah for the first time in their lives thanks to radio missions. Many have written to us confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Radio missions opened for us the opportunity to spread the faith through Christian literature. Over the years, Saatu’l Islab, the Arabic Broadcast of the Back to God Hour, has published more than 20 titles dealing with Biblical and doctrinal subjects. One of these books serves as a basic introduction to the Christian faith. It is entitled, The Teachings of the Holy Bible. It is based on the Heidelberg Catechism and the Geneva Catechism of John Calvin. Its Arab readers are thus introduced in a systematic way to the teachings of the Nicene Creed (which I substituted for the Apostles’ Creed), the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. It is not uncommon to find all of our publications in individual or church libraries throughout the Middle East.


While most of my energies during the last 36 years have been devoted to my primary work as broadcast minister, I was constrained to face the challenge of a movement which came into the evangelical world in the mid-seventies under the banner of contextualization. It adopted a simplistic critique of traditional missions to Muslims claiming that they have been a failure. This charge was leveled without any adequate study of the history of Islam and with a complete disregard of the foundational work accomplished by the pioneers.

What has given impetus to new approaches to missions among Muslims bas been the influence of what I like to call “un-baptized” disciplines such as cultural anthropology and secularistic communications theories. I do not want to idealize traditional missions to Muslims; they were not faultless. Too much emphasis was placed on polemics. However, one cannot but admire the scholarly work of the pioneer missionaries and their total allegiance to the supreme and final authority of the Bible. They would be very disturbed to see how some of our contemporaries have become unduly fascinated with the various and often rapidly changing theories of cultural anthropology.

I have dealt at length with this subject in three articles which appeared in The Outlook under the general title of “Rethinking Missions Today.” (See the January, February and March 1986 issues of this periodical.) Here I will simply add that not only have the critics of traditional missions to Muslims been unfair, but their alternative prescriptions engender false hope. They claim that success is guaranteed if only we would follow the proper contextualization methods.

They should realize that the real difficulty resides in the very nature of Islam as a thoroughly anti-trinitarian and anti-redemptive system. Furthermore it is a well-known fact that the pioneer missionaries in the Middle East played a major role in the revival of classical Arabic. Several became masters of the language and some even composed Arabic hymns. It was a requirement that all new missionaries had to study Arabic for no less than five years before they embarked on their lifelong ministry! I am very thankful to say that some of the advocates of these novel missiological approaches have seen the fruitlessness of their prescriptions and have returned to a more historical and Biblical understanding of the nature of mission work among Muslims. Almost two thousand years of church history is a good teacher. No radical departure from Biblical teaching and methodology will ever issue in successful and lasting mission work.


One of my basic and fundamental beliefs throughout my entire ministry has been the conviction that missions belong to God. We are entrusted with the responsibility of proclaiming Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord. It is the Holy Spirit who causes the Word to bring forth fruit in the lives of the hearers. As we survey the Muslim world in the middle of the last decade of our century, we may point to certain indications on the global horizon which make us optimistic about the future of missions to Muslims.

1. Never in the history of Islam, have so many Muslims lived outside “Daru’l Islam” (i.e. the Household of Islam). Millions are to be found in Western Europe and the Americas. Christian churches and individuals have a tremendous opportunity to reach them with the authentic gospel.

2. The Household of Islam, from Indonesia to Morocco and from Central Asia to the southern tropics, no longer exists in isolation. Muslims are now influenced by Western secular culture. Our news media tend to concentrate on the violent reaction to Western secularism among radical Muslim groups. But seldom do we hear about those Muslim intellectuals who are tremendously burdened by the inability of Islam to cope with modernity. They prescribe many changes which, if implemented, will make Islam less authoritarian and more open to the rest of the world.

3. Christian radio, video and literature carry the Good News effectively to Muslims everywhere. I cannot but marvel and praise the Lord that converts to Christianity spontaneously share their faith with their friends and neighbors.

Is it then too much to say that God has a great future in store for this field? Samuel Zwemer used to call this work “The Glory of the Impossible.” Our great concern should be to bring all our missionary thinking and planning into complete subjection to the authority of the Word of God. As we strive to be faithful to the Biblical principles of missions, the Lord’s blessing on our labors will follow. Christian missions among Muslims have nor failed; their pace is accelerating and their future is bright.

When people say to me: “So, you’re retiring!” my answer is yes, but not from the ministry of the Word. It will be a different phase of my life in the Lord’s field. I would like to read, study, reflect, write and teach, D.V. Over the years, I have had a unique opportunity to open the Word of God, proclaim it to people who have never heard of its saving content, and to read their reactions. Much stress is made of polling people in the West in order to know their views about all kinds of subjects. In a sense, I have spent decades taking polls of Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, learning of their reaction to the proclamation of the Word of God according to the Reformed tradition. My faith in our heritage has been strengthened. I am convinced that our confused and fragmented world desperately needs to hear the claims of our sovereign Messiah. The victory has been achieved by His atoning death and glorious resurrection. Now He presides over the march of history. What a privilege it is to serve under His rule and guidance!

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58)

Rev. Bassam M. Madany will be retiring from his work as Minister of Arabic Broadcasting for the Back to God Hour of the Christian Reformed Church in Palos Heights, FL. Shirley W. Madany has been his faithful wife and assistant for many years.