Recently, Horizons International announced a new Cubs to Lions training taking place this October in Australia—a country that has never hosted this event. In light of this momentous occasion, I was honored to interview Linda Raymond, who serves as Director of North American Cubs to Lions at Horizons International. Our short but informative conversation about Cubs to Lions covered the training’s new global expansion, the importance of spiritual guidance for Christians from Muslim backgrounds (CMBs), the difficulties faced by Western churches who care for these believers, and more.
Noah: First, what exactly is Cubs to Lions?
Linda: Cubs to Lions is a five-day mentorship, fellowship, and discipleship training for both new and mature Christians from Muslim backgrounds, taught by Middle Eastern teachers who understand the challenges they face. It is designed to build a solid and lasting relationship with Jesus Christ, by teaching not only solid biblical theology, but also practical aspects of how to pray, worship, read the Bible, how to minister to unbelievers, and so on.
N: Interesting. As a Western Christian myself, I might have underestimated how difficult it might be for Muslims to understand even the very basics of practical Christian life.
L: Yes, that’s not uncommon actually. It is hard for Westerners to fully appreciate the spiritual, emotional, cultural, and practical challenges Muslims face when they leave Islam. It takes incredible fortitude, not to mention dedicated guidance and support, for CMBs to reach a place of solid, Christian faith.
N: Is that mostly because they are persecuted?
L: That is part of their struggle, yes… those who leave Islam are often disowned by their families and friends, and often they must leave their home country in order to escape active persecution, torture, or even death. But really, that is only the beginning! Even if they succeed in leaving their old life behind, once they come to the West and try to join churches here, many have trouble assimilating into Western Christian life. Because of the vast differences in the culture, many feel misunderstood, isolated and lonely, which often leads to their falling away from the church. This makes them very vulnerable to the enemy and to falling back into Islam. Because many have also been so indoctrinated into an Islamic mindset which is very spiritually damaging, many continue to experience demonic activity in their lives, which further undermines their walk with Christ. CMBs not only need support and encouragement from the church but training in discernment and hearing God’s voice in their lives.
N: That sounds like a difficult journey! It’s hard to relate to from a Western viewpoint.
L: Correct. One problem that Muslims have in Western culture is that it is not as relational… they come to churches, but they often have difficulty becoming involved with the congregations. Most report they are rarely befriended, or invited over to Christian homes. Most church attendees don’t understand their culture, know what Islam is, or what it teaches. As a result, they don’t understand the cost for a Muslim to leave their faith to follow Jesus, or the tremendous courage it takes to walk away from everything and everyone they love. Cubs to Lions seeks not just to encourage and nurture their faith, but to undo their Islamic mindset, so their Christian faith can flourish and mature. Teaching from the scriptures, Cubs to Lions not only disciples them through their spiritual struggles but also helps them identify areas in their lives that have not been fully given over to Christ.
N: I think that as Christians, we all need that!
L: I couldn’t agree more! At Horizons, part of our core mission is to equip churches to evangelize and disciple to Muslims, and Christians from Muslim backgrounds—which we do with programs like the Engage Course and Engaging Islam Institute. When Western Christians do not understand the struggles their Muslim-background brothers and sisters face, they tend to avoid the type of close relationship and discipleship that these believers need. And that all too often, leads CMBs to experience isolation, loneliness, and discouragement—even within their own church!
N: Interesting. So Engaging Islam Institute and the Engage Course are good ways for churches to come alongside their CMB brethren.
L: Yes, absolutely! These courses help Western believers understand the structural, cultural, theological, and practical tenets of Islam so that they can more fully understand the perspective of believers from Muslim backgrounds. However, one of the greatest gifts Western believers can give is sponsorship for a CMB to attend the Cubs to Lions program. Many churches and individuals over the years have sponsored CMBs, or even Muslims who are open to Christianity, to attend the training. And additionally, often our CMB sponsors will actually accompany their CMB for the week, to build relationships and understand their experience. The CMB fee is only $100, and Horizons raises support for the rest—which includes travel, lodging, food, speaker fees, and administration.
N: Wow, that is quite a service!
L: It is, but Cubs to Lions is only possible through generous donations from the body of Christ. Many who travel to Cubs to Lions have very low-paying jobs or are unemployed, so attending a transformative program like this would be out of reach without these donations. If our attendees are employed, they sacrifice a week of their pay to come, which for many is a significant hardship. Over the last few years, many attendees have been refugees facing many difficulties in the West. This means most attendees could not afford the full cost of their participation… it often costs over $1,000 per person!
N: I would imagine so… Western accommodations are not the cheapest.
L: No, they definitely aren’t. So we raise funds for the program, both from Horizons’ partners and from sponsors who send participants. Every donation to the Cubs to Lions program is directly spent on providing this spiritual discipleship and fellowship experience for attendees.
N: Got it. So where do these participants come from, mainly?
L: Most of our attendees are a mix of believers originating from Middle Eastern and North African countries.
N: So some participants come from their home countries for training in the US and Canada?
L: In some cases we have made exceptions for students living outside of North America as the need is so great. Cubs to Lions is one of Horizons’ most popular and in demand training. We have offered the course in Lebanon, Kosovo, and even Hong Kong. And we are planning on expanding that by hosting training in Australia, France, and Turkey! This fall we will be training leaders in the Australian Iranian church to teach the course to future generations of CMB’s. In the Spring of 2019, we have solidified plans for French training which will include many CMBs from Germany.
N: Impressive. How do you measure the success of Cubs to Lions?
L: One of the biggest joys for me is seeing how many lives are transformed through the Cubs to Lions program. Many of our Cubs have gone on to serve in ministry, been involved in church planting, and evangelism. Discipleship isn’t just about discipling a person, but building into the Kingdom by strengthening and making each of them fruitful in their lives. We are in effect “making disciples.”
N: Praise God for that! And I would imagine that even if they return to their home country, their mature relationship with Christ is a help to others there.
L: Absolutely, that cannot be overstated. Overseas, CTL equips people in their own countries to spread the gospel. Indigenous missionaries are very effective, and we have seen hundreds of believers reached by people who are trained and founded upon the Gospel truth. For every Muslim who receives Christ, a door is opened to hundreds more. There are many stories of CMB’s who have become leaders in ministry and leading others to Christ—on fire themselves, they desire to snatch others from the fiery pit. In this way, a single training can change a life that is capable of changing so many more.
N: True, the idea of indigenous missionaries is an important one. Many Western missionaries and evangelistic outreaches fail to reach Muslim populations.
L: The church in Muslim countries is difficult to preserve; even if it is not openly attacked, it can be a lonely and discouraging work. Additionally, many Christians in those countries lack the luxury of fellowship and solid gospel truth, so the danger of errant belief or teaching, as well as unfruitfulness that leads to discouragement and falling away, is very real. We nurture and mentor believers who are fully grounded and able to face new issues from a perspective free of error.
N: This is very eye-opening. If people are interested in Cubs to Lions, how can they get involved?
L: The most common type of involvement is financial giving, which usually looks like direct donations to the program or sponsorship of CMBs to attend. We also have a number of people who receive our prayer calendar and feel called to pray especially for Cubs to Lions. But the greatest service to our program, and to the church as a whole, is to send and support CMBs to be trained. We additionally see 4-6 people give their lives to Christ every training, and many others are encouraged and matured. It is a blessing to nurture and mature the faith of our attendees, because of the blessing they become to their churches and other believers once they return.