SOUTHEASTERN SBC HISTORICAL MISSIOLOGYORAL HISTORY PROGRAMORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWWITHDR. GEORGE W. BRASWELL, JR.NOVEMBER 28TH, 2005! "! # # $# %&(&)%*Sponsored By:Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’sLewis A. DrummondCenter for Great Commission StudiesP.O. Box 1889Wake Forest, NC 27588Ph: 919-761-2230 ext. 230Fx: 919-761-2232Email: email@example.com
Dr. George Braswell Jr.November 28th, 2005This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Dr. George Braswell Jr.in Wake Forest, NC by Michael Fry on the campus of SEBTS. No spoken words which wererecorded were omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by thetranscriber. This is a transcript of spoken English, which of course follows a different rhythmand rule than written English. In very few cases, words were too unclear to be distinguished. Inthese cases, [unclear] or [?] was inserted. Both interviewee and interviewer would interject ‘Uhhmm’ or ‘Uh huh’ frequently, but these were not transcribed unless they came at a definite breakin the conversation. In some sections of the tape, the microphone was apparently frequentlybumped and every occasion of this has not been noted.... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence ofthe speaker..... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.[ ] Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.This transcription was made by Michael Fry and was completed on .
INTERVIEW WITH DR. GEORGE W. BRASWELL, JR.NOVEMBER 28, 2005FRY This is an interview with Dr. George W. Braswell, Jr. The interviewer is MikeFry. And this interview is for the Oral History Project at Southeastern TheologicalSeminary, SEBTS. Dr. George Braswell, Jr. is the distinguished Professor ofMissions and World Religions at SEBTS, who is now retired. He and his wifeJoanne and their four children were SB missionaries from 1967 to 1974 workingamong Shiite Muslims in Iran. Their last child happened to be born over there inTehran, Iran. So we are conducting this interview in Dr. Braswell’s office in theJacumin-Simpson Building at SEBTS, and the day is November 28thof 2005. Therecording number is labeled 11.28.05-GB. Dr. Braswell it is a pleasure to be heretoday with you once again and I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.BRASWELL I did, I had half the family around the table.FRY Great, Great. Well I’ll begin this interview asking the first question, or just askingyou to summarize your background and what led you into teaching in the area ofmissions, not just that but primarily how did God lead you to Iran to be amissionary over there with your family?BRASWELL Well I grew up in a missionary church, it was Mainstream Baptist Church inEmporia, Virginia. Very mission minded Church not only in giving, and prayingbut also in inviting missionaries to come each year who were on furlough with theForeign Mission Board at that time, of the Southern Baptist Convention. So Iheard a lot of mission sermons, a lot of invitations, not only to pray formissionaries, but to let your heart be touched if God called you to be a missionaryto respond. So that was from early years growing up in the school system and thechurch in Virginia. I went to college and went to seminary and in those days youcould major in an area of seminary and I majored in Christian missions. So thatintroduced me to a lot of good missionary literature – mission history. So I had aninterest but not really a call to be a missionary over seas. Left seminary andbecame a pastor. Served for 5 years in a Baptist church in the western NorthCarolina Mountains. And they wanted someone to come – in fact I was the firstfull time pastor of a church on the campus at Western Carolina University. So in asense the church had been neglected with the senior citizens and youth program –were very weak in terms of not much attention being paid – in a part timeposition. So it was my calling and the churches calling to pay a lot of attention tothe young people. So during those five years I took young people to Ridgecresteach summer to Foreign Mission week. We would rent a cottage and a couple ofthe parents would go and bring vegetables out of their gardens – and we would goand I would pray and hope that some of the young people would be touched bythe sermons, by the missionaries who were there. And I think they were touchedbut no-one really volunteered for overseas missions. But I think that’s how Godcalled my wife Joanne and I. Because we ended up being the ones called – fromthat church and from those summer experiences. So we left the church after five
years and went to be SB’s first missionary couple appointed by the ForeignMission Board to the country of Iran in 1967. So I guess basically the shortanswer is that I grew up in a church that was mission minded. Exposed tomissionaries in sermons and in life. Had interest in missions to major in it atseminary – and then to lead the church in mission and young people. And throughthat kind of learning experience and making people available and myself availableand my wife and family we were called to missions! So that’s sort of thebackground.FRY OK – For number two I’d like you to consider missions of the past and present.What are the greatest things the greatest events and observations that you haveexperienced in your career as you have seen God move?BRASWELL Well you know when I came along as a missionary in the 60’s and 70’s the worldyou know was basically – a lot of immigration was going on – a lot of cultures,people of cultures and religions were beginning to move out of their own homecountries and really become missionaries in their own understanding – Hinduism,Buddhism, Islam. Back after WWII these old religions began to say we want toconvert the world to our religion. So that was beginning to be a change in the50’s, 60’s, and 70’s when you had Hindus, Buddhist, and Muslims going intoother countries where as Christian missionaries, for the most part, prior to WWIhad been the foremost missionary movement. So I think looking at the last 40-50years of my experience, I’ve seen dramatic changes in the rise of world religions.Not only in numbers but also in their outreach. Hindus have sent theirtranscendental mediators and Hare Krishna to be missionaries around the worldincluding America. Buddhist have sent their missionaries and Zen Buddhist in theNichiren Shoshu of America the most militant form of Buddhist missionary groupgrowing in the western world. Muslims of all the world religions in the last 40-50years have arisen to be the second largest religion in the world and growing – thefastest religion in the world growing. And especially now it’s coming to Europeand to America it’s the second largest religion behind Christianity. So in my viewand my experience I’ve lived through this. I think that we Baptists and otherprotestant denominations in particular, but we Baptists have certainly had our eyeand heart on missions to win the world to Christ. But it has only been in the lateryears, the last decade or two when we have really focused more on people groups,and especially Muslim people groups. When I was appointed a missionary we hada 100 adults and it seemed like 500 children in orientation that fall of 1967. Wewere the only couple out of 100 adult missionaries, 2 out of 100 going to aMuslim land as such – to the Middle East to Muslim peoples. Now we had peoplegoing to other countries but not focusing on Muslims. So you see if you look from1967 to 2005 we have been very slow in not only trying to understand the Muslimworld in particular, but to reach out to Muslims. It has only been the last 15 yearsor so that Southern Baptist have really acted on their heart in prayers to reach outto Muslim peoples. So what have I seen? I have seen a tremendous transition inreligious pluralism with other religions growing impinging on Christendom onChristians and churches. And I have also seen southern Baptist begin to awaken to
a new sort of methodology – people groups – that was not even a coined termwhen I came along. Church planting really was not a coined term – when I wentto seminary you did not have books on church planting, you did not have bookson church growth per say. We did church planting and we did church growth butis was not qualified that way and described that way. So things have changed andI think we are moving ahead and as we enter 21stcentury we have tremendouskinds of challenges before us as we always have to preach the gospel in somedifficult and challenging places.FRY You may have already answered this question but – How are Southern Baptistblending into the Modern Missions movement? And we may have answered thatin what you previously said.BRASWELL I think that Southern Baptist in the last 20-25 years have changed their strategies abit – have changed the way they viewed the world. Not that they haven’t alwaysviewed the world you know that those are lost people and we need tocommunicate Christ to them and win them to Christ – that has always been aconstant. But I think the way we view the changing world – and I think the waywe have changed the institutions and structures to do missions – and the way werelate to people. I came along in a time that you had the old mission of eachcountry so that even though Joanne and I were the only missionaries for the firstfour years in Iran – we were the mission. I was treasure and the president andJoanne was the secretary and we didn’t have other missionaries with us. But thatwas the old mission strategy of having a mission of missionaries – often theylived in compounds separate from the people to whom they went and they workedprobable much closer with nationals as the people came to Christ and they builtthe local church. I think today our strategy has changed more to people groups.We do don’t relate in the same way we did to nationals that have come to Christ.We certainly don’t have the same structures in the old mission concept that ismission-compound concept. So things have changed, but I have lived through allthat and I think, I certainly would hope that we can work as closely as possiblewith Christians who are evangelical Christians who are committed to the samekinds of ideals of mission strategy that we are and that includes both otherChristians who may be missionaries along side of us that are not Baptist but aredoing the witnessing for Christ as well as a national indigenous Christian. Sothere have been changes.FRY We have to find a way to work along side them for sure. OK – Let’s really focusnow in on Iran. How did you see God move among the Shiite Muslims in Iran?BRASWELL Well you know in Iran, the Shiite are the great majority of Muslims. Iran is about99% Muslim. Which means that you only have a few Jews, a few Christians, afew Zoroastrians, Baha’i. So it is overwhelmingly a Muslim nation. And of thatpopulation probably better than 90% are Shiite Muslims. You have some SunniMuslims in Iran, but more that 90% are Shiite Muslims. So when we went to Iranour Foreign Mission Board in 1967 did not know much about Islam, certainly
they did not know much about Shiite Muslims. In fact when Joanne and I got overto Tehran to study the language the Commission Magazine of the Foreign MissionBoard came out and said the Braswell’s are going to Iran to study the ArabicLanguage. Well Iranians do not speak Arabic, they speak Persian – they speakFarsi. So that shows you how much the Foreign Mission Board knew aboutcertain things in those days. Now that is a jab but I’m just illustrating the pointthat people didn’t know much about the Muslim world among Southern Baptist.And they could not even get it straight that I was going to study Farsi, and thatIran is not an Arab nation and don’t speak Arabic. That could have been a simplemistake in publication but I think it illustrates a point. We were the missionariesafter the first four years. We prayed, we cajoled, we sent letters – ‘please sendmissionaries, please send journeymen.’ The missionary journeymen program wasjust beginning. We had tremendous openings – we could have placed 30-50missionary journeymen teaching English as a second language. Iranian youngpeople in college were crying out to learn English. Joanne and I were helping thePresbyterians who had been there long before we Baptist had got there. I wasAssociate Director of the Armagon Institute, which taught Iranians English as asecond language. The Foreign Mission Board had no interest in that. And so forthe first for years we had no other Southern Baptist missionary come. Four yearsout there. So I say that not – I think it is a critical analysis that basically speakingin the 60’s we did not really have a heart for missions. God had a heart forMuslims. We did not have a heart for missions to Muslims in a real dramatic deepway. Now that has changed but it was not that way in 1967. So we went out –Shiite’s – and we can talk a little bit – but let me say something about how yougot into the country. We went out there on a visa for 90 days. In other words Iwent out there with three children and a wife – of course our fourth child wasborn later in Tehran. But we had 90 days, 3 months to get a residence permit, awork permit which the Iranian Government required or else we had to leave thecountry – just no ifs ands or buts. Our backup was going to be Beirut because Ihad gone there to do some student work. In those days you went out to docategories of missions and one easy way in the 1960’s was to go out and dostudent work because where ever you went around the world students wanted tolearn English and they wanted to know Americans and so it was an entrée. So wehad 90 days, Beirut was a backup. If we could not stay in Iran I’d take my familyto Beirut and we would become student missionaries to the American Universityof Beirut – beautiful place in the Mediterranean. Well, the Lord answered prayerand we got a teaching opportunity at the Muslim Seminary – its called Faculty ofIslamic Theology at the University of Tehran. It was a Muslim seminary, forexample they offered masters and PhDs to Muslim clergy types to come and studyand get masters and PhDs to go on to the chaplaincy of the armies of Iran – to beMuslim Chaplains or to go on to universities and teach Islamics or to becomeMuslim preacher, we call them Mullahs or to become high school teachers andteach Islamic in high school. So I got the opportunity through sometimes verymysterious ways to me. It’s a miracle in some ways that I got a residence permitfrom the Iranian government to teach – in this faculty of Islamic theology at theUniversity of Tehran – Comparative Religions. So they gave me the work permit
and they gave me the residence permit and we did not have to leave Iran. So Ireally cut my teeth on Shiite Muslims by teaching in a Shiite seminary as the onlyChristian, non-Iranian on the faculty. It’s a tremendous open door – we can talkabout some of the ramifications but… So we did not know much about Shiite’swhen we got to Iran. But once we got there that all you have basically is Shiite’s.FRY How do you see or how would you think today a modern strategy should bedeveloped to reach the Shiite’s in central Asia? Maybe looking even into the IraqiShiite’s – putting them into the picture what would be a good strategy to reachthem today? Would you use the same type of platforms or are those kinds ofplatforms available or completely a different picture now?BRASWELL Well the Shiite’s are a minority movement in Islam. They are probably maybe12% to 15% of all Muslim are Shiite’s. Most Muslims are Sunni. The Shiite’s arelocated for the most part in Iran – that’s the premiere Shiite Muslim country isIran. Then the second one is Iraq. About 60% of the population of Iraq today isShiite. Then you got Shiite’s thrown through other Gulf Sheikdoms and othercountries but very minority. So you are looking at Shiite populations, the hugepopulations are in Iraq and in Iran and you got some in central Asia.Who are the Shiite’s? The Shiite’s really are a group that split off of the orthodoxIslam when Mohammad the prophet of Muslims – whom they call the prophet –died. So it was a dissident movement, it was an antagonistic movement to otherMuslims because they wanted leadership. They felt like that leadership shouldreside in the prophet’s family. So one of the most famous names of Shiite’s is Ali.Now we cannot go in detail a whole lot about their theology but basicallyspeaking to answer your question Shiite’s are looked upon by us outsiders sort ofas a cult within Islam. It’s a folk movement within Islam. They say the sameprayers as Muslims – they have fasting they go to Mecca on their pilgrimage, verysimilar. But they have developed a whole tradition based on family members likeAli who was a son-in-law of the prophet. Ali had two children, Hassan andHussein. These figures are honored, revered, in fact we’d say venerated or evenprayed to by Muslims. Now this is anathema to Sunni Muslims that’s the reasonSunni Muslims look at Shiite’s as heretics. So Shiite’s have a differentunderstanding of the way their God, Allah, speaks to them. And if you look at itclosely Shiite’s believe that these people like Ali, Hassan, Hussein and others aresaints to whom they can pray. And they also believe that because the SunniMuslims treated their early leaders not only with hostility but also killed them off– the Shiite’s had developed this whole system of undergoing suffering. And theyare very emotional people. They tend to feel more expressive in their hearts theirreligion than some others among Muslims. They develop stories that their leaderslike Ali and Hussein have been persecuted and have died and have shed theirblood on the behalf of Shiite Muslims. So in a sense there is this suffering conceptand they cry out, ‘Oh god (Allah in their terms) help us’. Plus they pray throughthe saints like Ali and Hussein. They feel like there has been a vicarious sufferingon their part by the leaders. And if they pray to them and make them promises,then these Shiite’s can benefit not only in this life, but in the life to come. Now
having said all that, basically speaking Shiite’s have a view and a practice thatlend themselves, I think to what we in the gospel have very preciously. We have aChrist who died for us. We have a Christ who suffered on the Cross. We have aChrist who offers us forgiveness of our sins if we come to Him in faith. We havea Christ who was bruised for our transgressions – suffering, vicarious suffering.So these are concepts that a lot of times if you go to a Sunni Muslim they are noteven on the same wavelength. Not that the Holy Spirit can’t reach out the a SunniMuslim, but if we are looking at caveats or entry points that you couldcommunicate the gospel the Shiite’s have this possibility of understanding. Sothat if you go take the Christian gospel message to a Shiite, and build arelationship, and have enough time to be able to communicate in some veryvaluable ways – when you then can share this gospel, this own testimony youhave to a Shiite, often you can get this resounding kind of, ‘hey that is interesting,let me hear more (or I can identify) does that really happen in your life’ he says –‘Did this Christ die for you, and you are saying he died for me?’ So it opens up allkinds of numbers of possibilities. So I think historically and theologically theShiite’s have this openness that can be much more – we can be much moreapproachable to them with the message of Christ. Now you may ask me well whatdoes history teach us – what have missions done? Well, if you look in Iran forexample you would see that one of the great missionary movements among ShiiteMuslims was the Presbyterians. The Presbyterian Church sent out its missionariesin the late 1800’s. And all the way through until about the 1960’s they sent theirmissionaries to villages and towns and cites and they helped spread the gospelamong Shiite’s to where you had a several hundred thousand member Iranianevangelical community. And I met these Iranian Christians when I went there inthe 60’s. Most of them had come out of the Presbyterian missionary movement.Now the Presbyterian missionary movement then began to fall apart for all kindsof reasons in the 60’s and 70’s. But that is when Southern Baptists began to comeinto the country in 1960 through Joanne and me the first couple. We saw theIranian evangelical church made up of a lot, of course, Shiite Muslims who hadcome to Christ. So it can be done. Now of course we can talk about this later butyou asked the question – that was in the 1910’s, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, what aboutthe 21stcentury? And that raised a whole other question for us – Missions toShiite’s in the 21stcentury. (24:41)FRY Excellent, excellent. So that, I guess in taking that – even in going down to evennow – living possibly today – I do not know – when was the last time you havebeen in Iran?BRASWELL Well last time I was there was 78. The Foreign Mission Board asked me to go outjust for the revolution – Ayatollah Khomeini. And I went out and spent six weekswith our Baptist people there. By that time we had some other couples on theground. As I mentioned, the first four years we had no other Southern Baptistmissionaries. But we went back a second term we carried back – really three othercouples went with us on the second term. Their main mission was to work withEnglish speaking Southern Baptists in oil fields. And in the military we were
helping the Shaw develop his government his people. And out of that of coursethey had missionary opportunities. So 1978 was the last time I was in the country.FRY The verse that seems among the Muslim or the missionaries to the Muslim world– the verse that really challenges us is for instance, 1 Corinthians 9 verse 20through 23. Where Paul talks about ‘to the Jew I become a Jew so that I mightwin Jews’. In applying that to Muslims, what would that look like for applicationsake – ‘to the Muslims I become like a Muslim to reach the Muslim’. How wouldwe apply that, his concept there today? (26:20)BRASWELL Well you know I think the Apostle Paul had a lot to say about crossing overcultures and how we relate to people in terms of having then the opportunity toshare the good news of Jesus Christ. Acts 17 in Athens a tremendous narrative ofPaul going down to the market place in Athens and saying ‘I see that you are veryreligious’, and capturing their minds and hopefully later their hearts. He had theopportunity then because he was interested in them – he went to them on theirown home turf. He wasn’t supercilious. He had the opportunity later on once hebuilt some relationships to even go up to the Areopagus. Of all things theAreopagus in Athens was the key place that the leaders made decisions. He wastaken up to the Areopagus after awhile and had the opportunity to say once he hadsort of won their friendship – but not altogether friendship, but a hearing – hesaid, ‘I want to tell you about Jesus and the resurrection’. So Paul has a lot ofthings offering to us – how you cross cultures. How you make those relationshipsthat can ease the way to present the gospel message in another culture. When Icame along in seminary and as a young missionary we didn’t know the wordcontextualization. If you go back and look at the books of the 1950’s – I meanthat’s face it there was very little written. It was just beginning to emerge. We didmore with the history of Christian missions in textbooks and studies and all. As Imentioned to you earlier we didn’t have any bonafide literature on churchplanting, church growth, contextualization. I can give you some illustrations ofwhat I went through, and that is – I mean I had no map. Nobody was out there tohelp me, to tell me. There were some older Presbyterian missionaries when I gotthere. Baptist had not been in the country of Iran as missionaries. So I had nobodyto tutor me, I had no mentor. But I think that because God opened that particularavenue of teaching at a Muslim seminary – which is unheard of. When I called theForeign Mission Board – in those days you know you had the wires going downthe trans-Atlantic telephone, which was terrible compared to today you know.Sometimes you’d get through, and some times you can’t. And then there is alwaysthe delayed signal. But I remember calling Dr. Baker James Cauthen, who wasExecutive Director, the President as we know today of the Foreign MissionBoard. And I told him I said, ‘Dr. Cauthen I have gotten a job teaching at aMuslim seminary and they’ve given me a work permit’. He says, ‘What’! And Ican hear it right now, ‘What’! And of course then he said please, we thank theLord and hope you’ll be there for years to build those relationships with Muslimsand the Lord will honor that. Well that was a part of how – How did I identify?
Number one is – what you call today, what’s known today as a platform we didn’thave, you know we didn’t have a formal platform in those days. My platform wasto be a professor in a Muslim seminary of all things. That’s something you knowyou got to think about and say, how do you cut your teeth on that one because youdon’t have many examples to go by – right, on that one. What did I learn rightaway? Once the Iranians gave me the work permit to teach, they wanted me toteach comparative religions. That meant I could teach Christianity. Now theywanted me to do the history of Christianity. They didn’t expect me to come thereand be an evangelist on the faculty. I would last maybe what, two minutes? ThenI’m out the door right? And that’s understandable. So I was there to be a professorof comparative religions. They knew that I was a Christian. They knew that achurch agency had sent me, but they were willing to take the risk.I learned for example to live in a Muslim part of the city. Now a lot ofinternationals – Americans and British and French and Italians, who were helpingthe Shaw of Iran in those years to develop his country with oil and military mightand telecommunications – they all lived up north of the city of Tehran. Joanneand I said we are going to live downtown among the Muslims. So we’reidentified. Our kids went on the streets with them. They played soccer in thestreets with Iranian kids, not with American kids up next to the big hotels. That’sone way you know is you live among the people. Now you can always do thateven today, you can choose where you’re going to live. Try to live among thenative population. (31:22)Number two is – The students who were Muslim Mullahs they wore the turbanand robes. They would tell me – drinking tea, hot tea during their breaks betweenclasses – they sort of gave me the word that it would be nice if I had a beard. Theysaid, ‘A beard is a sign of wisdom and maturity among Muslim Shiite’s’. Well, Ithough people could be wise and mature without a beard – in the western world.But I began to grow a beard, and they appreciated that. I covered my pale whiteAnglo face a little but, and I grew a beard. Now my wife didn’t like that so much.But it was a way to identify to ease relationships and communication. Not that if Ihadn’t grown it I couldn’t have done it, but I did raised a beard. As you know theForeign Mission Board in those days, as I think is true now, provided us anautomobile. We bought the little Paycon, the national car, a little small car. Andthe first couple times I drove it from my house to the Faculty of Islamic Theologywhere I was teaching. But most of my students, 99.9% caught the double-deckerbusses. They didn’t have money to buy a car. After a while I said, ‘why are youdriving your car, ride the double-decker busses and you’ll be able to meet Iranianson the way’. It took maybe 45 minutes to get from my house to the Faculty ofTheology – and meet people. And when you get over there, get out like they do onthe bus and go on to the classrooms. That way you’re not this, in theirterminology – wealthy American who drives in with a little Paycon car – wholords it over in terms of economy. Now you know you can say, well this is awhole issue that missionaries have to deal with – economics and lifestyle. Therewere little ways that I said we live in a Muslim culture – we live where they are –our house is along side of other Muslims. In fact I don’t know within blocks andblocks and blocks that there was another – as we say kharigia – foreigner. We
were it. So we met Muslim, we visited Muslims, played in the streets withMuslims – our kids. So there are ways I think you work at. Not every way worksin every situation among every peoples group. But there are ways that you candiscover that then lend themselves to open up good relationships oftrustworthiness where after a while you have a chance to speak the word ofChrist. Now that sometimes comes fast and sometimes comes slower. We can sithere and talk about the theology developing out of a certain contextualizationliterature. Whereas you go into a mosque and you pray with the Muslims, but youpray in the name of Jesus. You have an Esau Mosque, a Mashed-e Esau, a JesusMosque – that you adopt their clothing and you completely wear the sameclothing absolutely that – either a Muslim woman or Muslim man would wear – alot of things like that. Now I never got into that. I’m not at this point passingjudgment on that. I’m just saying my method, simple as it was, in the 1960’s andearly 70’s was sort of this way. (34:46)FRY That’s great – you had a great opportunity to be exactly who you were. I’velearned over time in my own time overseas in the Middle East, that poetry andwisdom sayings are highly respected in the Arab and Persian world. What to youthink about a Christian who went over there as a poet or maybe studying Iranianliterature? Do you think that would be a good possibility or feasible?BRASWELL Well, you know in Iran the Sufi movement has been very popular for centuriesand centuries. In fact one summer when I went out to study the Persian languagecalled Farsi, we went out to Mashed, which is probably the most conservativeShiite city in Iran. Its next to the Afghanistan Boarder, as far east as you can go inIran. And we went out and spent a summer to study Farsi. My Iranian teachertook me one evening to a Sufi meeting. And I went in and found 15 or 20 Sufidressed in their turbans and robes and long beards and they all wanted to goaround room and they hugged me and buzzed my cheek – kiss me on each cheek.That was the tradition of Sufi’s. And they would play on their little sitar, theirlittle musical instruments, reciting poetry. Not just Islamic poetry, well of coursethere is not much Islamic poetry. But certain things out of the Koran you probablycould recite in a sing-song way. But they were going back and doing the oldPersian poetry of Hafez and many others. So I would say in Iran in particularthere is a tremendous tradition – and these are Shiite Muslims who are Sufi’s inpractice. They belong to Sufi brotherhoods and still are Shiite Muslims. There is akinship there on poetry. I said earlier that Shiite Muslims tend to be moreexpressive in their hearts of yearning for something that they are not getting in thetraditional mosque or the traditional Muslim sermon. From just those five prays aday – that’s just not enough for the Shiite’s. And so they have developed sort ofthis parallel religious experience that we talked about. The Sufi’s add anotherdimension to that. The Sufi’s are light hearted, they love to sing and recite poetry,they can sort of be responsive to other traditions. They told me for example thatnight – when I sat there for two or three hours with the Sufi’s in their meeting.They told me, they said, ‘ah you bring the light of Christ to us’. You bring theNuri Issa. That is Nur, Nur is light, Nur-i in Persian, Nuri Issa – the light of Christ
to us. I was such a neophyte then I didn’t know what they meant. What do theyknow about Christ? Why are they talking to me about Jesus? Then I had a chanceyou see, later on that meeting cause he said, ‘Oh tell us about your, what’s yourreligious experience’. And I said you know, ‘yes Jesus said, Issa said, He is thelight of the world. So I played into that you see. So yes I think we haven’t paidenough attention to these kinds of literature, poetry, music, in these variouscultures of Islamic peoples that we might be able to – of course you got to bespecialized now. You just don’t want to go into a country and say here I am.You’ve got to study the literature, you’ve got to study the poetry, you’ve got tohave the gift and talent and calling if you’re a musician or if you’re a poet. But Isee tremendous interfacing. Now the platform, you know I think can take variousshapes and forms. It could be a platform with – depends on the country – if youdeveloped somewhat of not only a reputation, that you might be able as anitinerant go around to different places and do your specialty as a Christian. I thinkuniversities still are a great opening. And there still may be more in the future.When I came out as a missionary it was the university context that missionariesgot in. Teach English as a second language, or if you’re offered a specialty in theclassroom just like – they wanted me as a Christian to teach comparativereligions. They really wanted me to teach the Muslim preachers at the Muslimseminary there Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity – Judaism and Christianity.They didn’t want me to teach them Islam. You can understand that can’t you?Why would they want to hear from an American foreigner about Islam when youhad the great leading Ayatollahs on the faculty? They were my colleagues. Butthey wanted a westerner to teach them about Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, andChristianity in particular. Well, there still may be posts like that out there we canlook for. So yes I think that your question about poetry, literature, and music –there’re places that we ought to really examine theses out there. And especiallymusic and poetry tend to be universal expressions in languages that reach theheart of people of other religions. So I say go for it!FRY Speaking of things of the heart, naturally prayer, the prayers of the people – eventhough a lot of them are recited, ritual prayers – there is a type of prayer that isfrom the heart. I know from Sunni Muslims in the Arab world, I think the term isDua’ – it means the heartfelt prayer. And so, you mentioned in your book To Ridea Magic Carpet that one of the Shiite prayers is to be liberated from oppression.Are there some other prayers that the Shiite’s mentioned to you that they wouldask in the Mosque or just express to you personally? What is on the hearts ofthese Shiite’s over there?BRASWELL You know the Shiite’s, the Shiite Muslims, whether they are Iraqis or Iranians –who know their history, who know their history within Islam, who know thedivisions from the Sunni’s – they feel oppressed. They feel like they got a rawdeal in the 7thcentury when Muhammad died. So they had to forfeit theirleadership and they got the raw deal. So for 1400 years the Shiite’s havedeveloped their theology, their practices in which they don’t like the Sunni’sreally. Persians don’t like Arabs. Now the Shiite’s in Iraq are Arab mostly, the
Persian Shiite’s are Persian – Iranians, so they’re different. Traditionally speakingPersians have never liked Arabs, and Shiite’s have never liked Sunni’s for theirhistory and theologically. So, I think that Shiite’s themselves – well, for examplethe men, the male Shiite’s have this sense of oppression knowing the history ofthe Sunni denial of their leaders and killing of their leaders. They go out and beattheir chest and cry. Sometimes they beat their chest with chains and draw blood.And they wear white sheets so that everybody can see the red blood and howfaithful and obedient they are to call in the name of Ali or Hussein and put downthe Sunni’s that kill their leaders. This is a tradition, every year they go throughthis. So they felt suppressed and oppressed. By the way that is one of thedynamics you got to look at Iraq and present day history and politics and anythingin the future for missions. It is the Shiite’s have never liked the Sunni’s in Iraq.Although they’re the majority, the Shiite’s are the majority. Now so the men feeloppressed and they have this rituals where they actually come out and say thesethings and they dramatize it and they draw blood from their own bodies to showthat they’re willing to die for their belief in honor of Ali and Hussein – against theSunni’s who killed off their leaders. Now the women have also prayers – you callthese Dua’, I say Doa in Persian – Doa prayers. But I have been to women’sprayer meetings when didn’t know I was there. I was sort of in hiding in a homehidden up behind Persian carpets hanging on the walls and so forth. And I couldsee the women praying about 40-50 of them in their veils, their Chadors. Nowwhat do they pray for? When they were by themselves, away from their husbands,away from their family members in an all women’s group – what did they prayfor? They are Shiite women. They prayed for – ‘please get my son out of prison’.Now they we not praying to Allah, they were praying to Ali. They said, some ofthe younger women there said – ‘help my first born child to be a boy’. Because intraditional Islamic cultures they want a boy first right? A male is important. Sothey were praying to Hussein, one of their saints, again to help me have a boy. Iheard a woman pray to Ali, ‘please keep my husband from beating me’. And yousee if you look at these, just these three examples of their heart prayer – theydon’t pray these prayers in the mosque because they got to memorize enoughArabic right! And they are all formal memorized prayers, whether you’re inIndonesia, or Iran, or Saudi Arabia it makes no difference you say the same prayerright! But in these Shiite, Persian lands, this is where they are hurting. Prison –‘get him out of prison’, ‘keep my husband from oppressing me, beating me’, ‘helpme to have a boy’. Now what does that say to us in Christian missions? It says alot to us doesn’t it? It says if we can get the entrée – If our wives or womenmissionaries can meet women, Shiite women, and understand what these womenare going through – in most lands it’s a universal thing. They are hurt. Build thatrelationship where they’ll share that with you. And that’s entirely different fromorthodox Islam. So the Shiite’s I think still are a whole fertile field for missions. Ifwe can get to them, if we understand their background, and we can get thatrelationship, I believe the Lord will honor that in evangelism and missions andbuilding His church among Shiite’s who would come to Christ. (46:30)
FRY I want to respect your time, are you… OK we’ll keep going. There are just a brief– few more questions. The Shiite Mullahs express their obedience to the teachingsof Islam verbally and challenge you to be obedient. Either you mentioned that tome in a previous conversation or in your book. But how do you recommend afollower of Christ, of Jesus Christ to respond to such a challenge in the eyes ofMuslims?BRASWELL Well, you know Muslims in general see their religion, Islam, as a superior system.When you talk to Muslims in general and you read their literature, you studyIslam – you’ll see that basically it’s highly ritualistic, ceremonial, legalistic, andthe Koran itself says that Islam is a superior system. Now they mean by that, thattheir religion is a sort of, its a theocracy. It combines religion, culture, politics,often government, family matters, sex, hygiene, gender roles – the whole shebang.They look at that as a superior system. Now we in the Christian, biblical traditionlook at – I believe we do – we look at our system, we look at our religion as arelationship to a personal God who sends His Son, Christ, to be the Word becomeflesh – Emanuel, with us. And who dies on the cross for us, raised from the tomb,for the heart to have faith and to believe and to be obedient to that. Now that is arelationship. Islam doesn’t have that. So my answer to Muslims is – I understandyour system, it is a system. If I am talking to a Sunni I’d love to be able to get tosome point and say you know my Shiite friend went to the Mosque last Fridayand he said his five prayers – he said his daily prayers and heard the sermon andhe fasted on Ramadan. But you know my Shiite friend goes out to a Saint’s tomb– to Ali, or Hassan Hussein. And my Shiite friend opens up his or her heart andjust lays it on the line to a personal being, he thinks or she thinks. And that is notAllah. And that’s interesting isn’t it? But I think that’s what happens. Soobedience to us is a relationship in faith through grace in Jesus Christ who isGod’s Son. It’s not through a system – it’s through a relationship. The gospel isgood news because it breaks through every system. It becomes personal. Sotherefore, I have written several books on Islam in recent years, and I have beenon the radio a lot with interviews and there would be call-ins. And a lot ofMuslims would call in and say that professor doesn’t know a – who is thatprofessor you’re interviewing? He doesn’t know a thing about this. Then theinterviewer will put me back on the line and say, Dr. Braswell how do yourespond to this caller? Often I’ll do this – I wont say to the Muslim you have asuperior system in your mind, we have a relationship. I’ll say, well you speak ofthe Prophet Issa, the Prophet Jesus. And I said do you know when Jesus was inthe garden and the soldiers came and one of His disciples picked up a sword andcut off the ear of one of the soldiers, a centurion? Did Jesus say cut off the otherear? No he said put up your sword, we don’t do things that way. Now that is amessage to the Muslims. And I give another one. I’d say Jesus came intoJerusalem on His last day – your prophet Issa came into Jerusalem on His last daybefore His death. And I said, He came riding on the back of a donkey – a sign andsymbol of humility. Now don’t say, your prophet Muhammad rode a camel with asword in his hand and had all those battles. I don’t say that. I say he came on adonkey. I hope that it registers. I’m not trying to put them down, right. The last
thing I say, you know, is that Jesus dies on the cross – well I know they don’tbelieve that. I say the last words that Jesus had as He was on the cross – He hadhis mother at the foot of the cross, He had His followers, some of the discipleswere around the cross, soldiers – so did He say Father, kill them all who don’tagree with Me? No Jesus said what, ‘forgive them for they know not what theydo’. And that is my answer you see. Which is all very relational. It is not to asystem, it’s relational. So yes we are called to be obedient to the Christian faith. Itis faith through grace, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God. (52:11)FRY Before your closing comments, you can give closing comments if you have anyafter this question. What do you see the big picture of missions looking like in thecontours of the face of Southern Baptist missions say in 2015 or even 2010?BRASWELL That’s a decade. You know I sometimes think that if you look at decades – whathappened between 1950 to 1960, a ten-year period. But keep on 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, even 90 to 2000. That ten-year period had tremendous changes. Soviet Unionfell between 90 and what 2000 right? Soviet Union fell, dissipated into all thesedifferent independent republics. Berlin Wall crumbled. Many things happen,grand scales you see. So what in the world will I say about the next ten years,about 2015? I think – of course I’m just beginning to learn how to use a computer.That is changing all of the world. From the time we use to the way wecommunicate. From young generations – I mean kids now four, five, and six yearsold around the world are using computers. They can get in there and get all kindsof pictures, and information, and you can use it for all kinds of ways. And it willcertainly be changing the next ten years. I’ve got several things I would say forthe next ten years for missions in particular. Were seeing in a sense because of aswe say the old terms of globalization and of inter-global communication. That’sone thing – instantaneous communication. So how can we use that to further thegospel? We’re doing it but that just blows my mind because it’s all out there. Wehaven’t even scratched the surface of using this as a tool to spread the gospel. Sowhat’ll happen the next ten years? I don’t know but certainly it’s got to besomething I think of tremendous value if were going to give attention to it. I thinkthat the resurgence of Islam has got to be looked at. The last ten years Islam hasbecome a revival and resurgence to the extent that it is now impinging on most ofthe world’s parts in many ways. Because of the oil and wealth that came on thelast 30 years in Iran and in Saudi Arabia and other countries, they have used thatmoney, these Muslim countries have used billions of dollars to spread Islam –their own brand. If it is Saudi Arabia it’s the Wahabi sect – the most radical, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish form of Islam you can find. And that spread through centralAsia, and Africa, the Middle East, Europe and America. Iran has spread theirsthrough Ayatollah Khomeinis uprising revolution. And now they support, theyreally founded Hezbollah and Hamas organizations that have battled Israel andothers, as many consider them terrorist groups. So I think the challenge of Islam istremendous and the church has just begun to scratch the surface in their interest init, and really praying about Muslim peoples, and asking the question, ‘how are wegoing to engage Muslim peoples’? Not only over there now, but here. See what
we have seen Michael, in my last 15-20 years of teaching has been the advance ofIslam. Now you see if you look at Europe, where the old Christianity, RomanCatholicism in particular, pretty well stayed and stymied. Protestantism in Europeno revival yet – we’ve prayed there will be, an Evangelical revival. Muslims havebeen growing under their noses to where now you’ve got France, and England,and Belgium, and Holland, and Italy is beginning to be concerned. Muslimpopulations are just seething. We’ve just seen recent things in France you know,all the turmoil. Some people say France has probably got 12-15% Muslimpopulation. America now if you’d given this interview to me 5 years ago I wouldhave said that Judaism was the second largest religion in America. Now it’s Islamwe think. Islam is the second largest religion in America. And it is rearing its headwith influence, with numbers, with political significance in American society etc.So the church has got to pay attention, not only to this religion, but also to Muslimpeoples. I’m sensing that were sending missionaries overseas to Muslim peoplegroups. I’m not sensing a whole lot going on in the United States among Muslimpeoples. We got to watch our home base. When we step out of our front door ofour house, outside the rock walls of the seminary you enter a tremendous,competitive age of pluralism – in our own country. You’ve got not only theMuslims, but the Hindis and the Buddhist – you’ve got, Mormonism is rightbehind Islam and growing. In my book I wrote in 1991 I said, some people projectthat Mormonism, Mormons, Mormon people, it’s a cult – that if they continue togrow the way they are growing that by the year 2040 there will be 90 millionMormons. You see, so Muslims and Mormons just alone if they continue theirdemographic growth patterns, unless the Lord comes before, or we get moremissionized and evangelized towards these peoples at least demographicallyspeaking – we got a challenge. So then the question comes to our missionagencies, all right then how do we view this kind of world toward 2015 and whatare we going to do about it? Go back to the question I raised a while ago – Iprayed, pled, sent letters, made some telephone calls from 1968-69 to 71-72,‘send us young people, missionary journeymen to Iran.’ We can put 25 or 30 rightoff the bat, get them work permits, put them into English language teaching to allthese university college students. At that time there were 600 coming to thePresbyterian student center across the street from the University of Tehran. ThePresbyterians had asked me to be the associate director, a Southern Baptistmissionary, and I was. Six hundred young minds who wanted to learn English.We were teaching them English from the Bible and Tehran, Iran. Now somehow Igot to believe in the next ten years there are all kinds of openings out there. If wehave the view, if we are wise in looking at the ways, if we can put the call outthere, if God opens a heart – and God will open the heart of people to respond. SoI’m optimistic, every age has had to act differently. So the next decade, the nextten years, I think the challenges are enormous. I can’t end this without sayingsomething about terrorism. Because the terrorists from Islamic communities arejust the surface of the deep down radical Islam that is expressed all across theglobe. So it is just not those handfuls of terrorist that do the dramatic things incountries – suicide bombers and explosions and so forth. You’ve got to deal withthe whole radical Islamic structure that has tentacles all the way through these
Islamic societies and is ready to burst wide open at a moments notice. So we’vegot to be as wise as serpents, Jesus taught us that did He not? To be as wise asserpents, and as gentle as doves. Now that’s hard to pull off, that’s hard to pull offin missiology. But we got to be wise, we got to know, we got to understand. Andthen once we understand the Holy Spirit will be given to us, I believe if we’regenuine, to be gentle in our approaches to get into the minds and hearts of peoplewith the gospel.FRY I think your right, gentle is hard but with His help is possible. Well, we defiantlyappreciate your time here today and pouring out your heart. So I just wanted tomention a few other books that Dr. Braswell has written – Islam: It’s Prophet,Peoples, Politics, and Power in 1996. Then, What You Need to Know About Islamand Muslims in 2000. Are there any other books you would like to…BRASWELL The latest one came out in September called, Islam in America: Answers to the 31Most Asked Questions. So that’s just two months old.FRY Very good, I’ll have to go buy that one. Do you have any closing comments Dr.Braswell?BRASWELL I think not, I don’t want to be repetitious. I think we’ve covered a lot of material. Ithink of course each generation faces changing circumstances with a constantgospel. We know where we stand with the gospel. It’s a matter of us trying tounderstand the world in which we live. It’s becoming more challenging andsometimes difficult to get into places as Christians, especially in internationalsettings. But every age of Christian missions has had to deal with these challengesand they are fresh and they are often inspirational to us. And with prayer and withthe Holy Spirit and with a measured kind of understanding, I am optimistic aboutthe future.FRY Amen. Well, thank you so much Dr. Braswell.