Muslims Love Me

Last Updated Aug 12, 2017 4:02 AM EDT

On a rainy Wednesday night in Pakistan, thousands are transfixed by a woman named Marilyn Hickey. The crowd sways, prays and cheers as she exclaims "Jesus loves you, repent of your sins!" and "God Bless you, Pakistan!"

Hickey is an 86-year-old evangelical Christian with a worldwide television ministry based in Denver.  Over the last 40 years, she has traveled to 136 countries to spread the gospel. Her special mission has been to build bridges in Muslim countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Sudan.

"These people are very open and very hungry. And I think I laid a basis for this years ago and I began to say, 'I love Muslims and Muslims love me'," Hickey says.

She invited "CBSN: On Assignment" to join her on her eighth visit to Pakistan in July. Correspondent James Brown traveled with Hickey on the 20-hour trip that began in New York, stopped briefly in Dubai and landed in Lahore at 3:30 a.m. local time, two days later.  

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Marilyn Hickey visits the world-famous, 344-year-old, Badshahi Mosque – a Persian architectural wonder.

CBS News

Brown asked Hickey why she's been so accepted in Muslim countries. Hickey responded, "I think it's a God thing. Years ago, I started praying over every country in the world, every day. And when I would hit the Muslim countries — I had such a warm feeling for them."

When she arrives in Lahore, she is greeted like a matriarch by members of a local Christian church. The parishioners give her flowers, hug her and call her "mom."

Despite the greeting, Hickey says she likes to keep things a little bit low key. "I don't want to draw attention. I want to look very simple, very harmless. Here's some lady, you know, she's stupid, she's a woman, she's old, what can she do? And you get to do everything. I don't want to look big, but I do advertise big. When I get in the country, I do big time advertisement."

Pastor Anwar Fazal is hosting Hickey's visit. He's like the Billy Graham of Pakistan, and leads its largest evangelical church of 30,000 members. Fazal says he owes his success to Marilyn Hickey because she impacted him so deeply during her first visit in 1995. He became a Christian and followed in Marilyn Hickey's footsteps in 2006 when he started an international TV ministry which today reaches over 200 countries.

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Marilyn Hickey's evangelism draws huge crowds in Pakistan, a mostly Muslim nation.

Hickey marvels at her legacy. "I mean, that began in '95. Now you're seeing it today manifested. But you know people just thought I was insane."

People thought she was insane because of the potential danger. Many Americans still consider Pakistan to be a dangerous place. It is where Osama bin Laden was found in 2011 and the U.S. State Department still has a travel advisory warning against all non-essential travel.

As we travel around with Hickey in Lahore, we are protected by an armed, ten-person security team provided by the local government military police.

Hickey has had close calls before. In 2005, during a visit to Islamabad, Hickey says 31 suicide bombers took an oath to kill her. "I was afraid they were gonna show up at the meeting and shoot me. You know? So I just had to trust God."

Hickey has become an unofficial ambassador to Muslim countries and she has found a kindred spirit in the Grand Imam of Lahore – one of the most powerful spiritual leaders in Pakistan. He welcomed her for tea at his home and then to his mosque – the world-famous 344-year-old Badshahi Mosque – a Persian architectural wonder.

James Brown asked the Grand Imam about Hickey's impact. "She brings love for the people of Pakistan. So I understand and I'm convinced as a religious leader that her love and her visit is more effective than other people.", the Grand Imam says.

Hickey is very clear that she does not try to convert Muslims. "I think convert is a dangerous word. I don't come into convert. I come in and believe for transformation. Because when they receive Jesus, they're transformed on the inside. That's His business. My business is to give the truth."

The truth is that Christians still face threats in the country, which is 98 percent Muslim. Last year, on Easter Sunday, 70 Christians were killed in a suicide bombing in Lahore. A faction of the Taliban claimed responsibility.

Despite incidents like the this, Pakistan's constitution protects the rights of all religious minorities -- including an estimated two million Christians. That freedom of religion has allowed Marilyn Hickey to spread her message of healing. Muslims believe Jesus was a major prophet with healing power and Hickey draws tens of thousands because many are looking to be healed.

Brown asked Hickey why people should believe that healing is truly taking place. Hickey is unwavering in her belief. "I know a lot of people were healed. A lot of people received Jesus as their personal savior. There were people that we didn't see anything happen, but that doesn't always mean they are not healed. I have found, if you go back and check, there are a lot more healings and miracles that occur and are kind of process healings."

The crowning event of Hickey's visit was an inter-faith peace conference sponsored by the Grand Imam. As special guest, Hickey is given a peace award. She addressed 400 imams and reminded them of her special connection with the Muslim world. "Pakistan is in my heart and every day, I will pray for your peace," she said. The audience applauded.

Earlier in the day, Hickey summed up the special favor she believes she has: "I love Muslims, Muslims love me. And I think that's a God thing."