When Terrorists Recruit Our Children – And Why They’re Successful

I knew a young American Muslim boy.

He was twelve.

His mother had left his Muslim father to return to her Christian faith. Their marriage had taken unexpected turns. She attended a mid-week women’s Bible study so her son would have an opportunity to join the youth group that met at the same time. He refused to enter the room in which the youth gathered but she hoped he would become curious and wander in. After a couple of weeks, I asked him, “What do you think about joining in with the group?”

He shook his head. “It appears to be a weak religion, soft, not really about anything that matters and the young people have no direction. They do not seem to care or know much about what they believe.” The mother gave up going because her son berated her about her weakness in turning to this soft faith. I lost contact with them not long after that.

That boy missed his father. He responded the way his father had taught him. Who knows what God may have worked if the mother had persisted, if he’d sat in the hallway a few more weeks? I don’t know the youth in that youth group. Perhaps they were more serious than the boy knew, but perhaps, his observations were on the mark. I thought of that boy this week when I heard reports of young Americans, Brits, and Australians voluntarily signing on with ISIS. What possesses young adults to betray their homeland to join a group whose trademark is beheading?

The apostle Paul gave me the answer today.

In the opening of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul refers to the Christians there as “you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:6 ESV)

CALLED TO BELONG. The phrase flew like an arrow to a place of deep hunger in my soul. A place that throbbed with such agony in childhood and adolescence that I become a child again when it is stirred.

I remember being so eager to belong, to be included with others so badly I would have been (and was) tempted to many wrong paths to silence that aching need. The desire to BELONG is responsible for most of my earliest sins and I thank God often that I wasn’t recruited by a cult or embraced by a false religion during the height of that need.

The enemy knows we come hardwired with this hunger. In their recruitment propaganda, ISIS terrorists exploit the desperate craving to belong. They promise camaraderie, a strong and unflinching system of belief, and a higher purpose than personal fulfillment. They target young people who haven’t found their identity or their purpose in life in Christ and they pervert that empty soul-space to meet their own agenda

Paul understood this dynamic. He had once belonged to the Pharisees – a group with a clear and unflinching system of belief, a group that gave him an identity and into which he’d earned a place to belong but his encounter with Jesus broke his bondage to that system and freed him to find these needs met in Christ alone.

In the first six verses of Romans 1, we learn that Jesus gave Paul

1) an identity (a servant of Jesus, an apostle),

2) a purpose (set apart for the gospel),

3) a sense of being part of something historic (Jesus is the one the prophets proclaimed, the Son of God declared in power by His resurrection from the dead)

and 4) a mission: (who has graced us with the task of bringing about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all nations).

He concludes the passage by folding in the Roman Christians to all these same things by calling them those who are “CALLED TO BELONG.”

What Paul understood about himself and his calling is true of us today. We are also those who are “called to belong.” How powerful is that in a world where many feel so disenfranchised they will betray home and country just to belong?

Are we proclaiming this belonging in our churches? Are we telling the young people in our world that coming to Jesus is about more than personal life enhancement? We’re designed to want to belong, to live in community, to work for greater things than just ourselves. Are we speaking to this hardwiring when we outreach those who don’t know Jesus?

Are we praying for the twenty-something’s in our communities, in our country, who feel lost and who are filled with a desperate longing to belong? Are we asking Jesus to open our eyes to see them and open our mouths to invite them into the greatest adventure that exists? Are we living that adventure in front of them so they see evidence of that thing to which they are invited?

According to the scriptures, the closer we get to the end of the age, the more people who will choose darkness, evil, and the great delusion but we don’t have to make it easy for them. We can go down fighting; telling them the truth. We are the boots on the ground in this particular battle, loved ones.

Our Father God is not some distant commander-in-chief trying to direct the effort against our enemy from afar. He was so committed to this fight, He put His own boots on the ground when He came as one of us, lived among us in the flesh, and laid down His own life to purchase our BELONGING.

We are CALLED TO BELONG. Let that sink into that old wound you’ve carried, that bleeding place that falsely marked you as isolated, rejected, and alone. If you’ve come to Jesus, know He called you to BELONG. You are in the fellowship. You have an identity in Him, a greater calling, a purpose in life, and you belong with us.

Remember this. Then, tell someone else before they choose to take their need to belong to the enemy camp.

Are you ready to invite me over to speak with your women’s group or your teens? Don’t miss out as my speaking calendar fills up! Pop by to peruse my speaking topics and reach out to let me know you’re interested so I can reserve a date now! I can’t wait to meet you in person.

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    The Conversation

  1. A lot of young men, not just those who are predisposed to be terrorists, are not attracted to our church youth groups. They see a church that is populated largely by women, though the leadership might be men. They often see the meek and mild Jesus preached, when Jesus was a physically strong man. The apostles were not only physically strong but were rough and tumble. When these young men think of angels they think of fat baby cherubs with halos, not warrior angels. This simply doesn’t appeal to them.

  2. Maxine D says:

    “We are called to belong” – thank you for putting is so succinctly and adding balm to my soul.
    If I did not know God is in control ,I would be very very worried about the state of the world today, but that knowledge is a source of peace, and the current events a cause for prayer.

  3. Eduth says:

    This is exactly true. I was very shy as a young person and a loner. No one ever specifically invited me to belong, or made me feel I’d be welcomed. If one of those young persons had said to that young boy, “come in and join us,” I bet he’d have another story.