Tucked away on the windswept Siberian steppe is a church full of vibrant Russian Baptists. This small city was a place the Soviets sent exiles and criminals. Today it is the location of the world’s largest uranium dump. And no, I do not glow at night after visiting.
I spent a few days there enjoying the warmth of fellowship with these dear brothers and sisters. As the first American guest they could remember (I wonder why), there were lots of questions, about my family, about theology, even about my view of Russian politics.
But then, surprisingly, the conversation turned to Muslims. Even in such a remote place, there are Central Asians who come through as migrant workers, in the markets and construction projects. One story stood out in particular because it was funny, touching, and insightful all at the same time.
When they were building their church building a few years ago, some of the work was done by a crew of migrant workers from Central Asia. One day as they were working, a middle-aged Tajik man called out to the pastor, “hey, are you a ‘real’ Christian? A real follower of Jesus?”
This soon led to a conversation where the Tajik man explained that he had come to follow Jesus while living still in his homeland. But his father-in-law is one of the top Islamic clerics in Tajikistan, and he has sworn to kill any Christian that baptized his son-in-law. Therefore he had been unsuccessfully seeking baptism for several years.
With great joy the man was soon baptized in a church full of Russian Baptist brothers and sisters. Then, after the building project was completed, he resolutely returned home to an uncertain fate. The pastor said this surprise encounter has caused him to be more intentional about sharing his faith with the Muslims he encounters through his regular job.
It is such a thrill to see the way our great Shepherd searches for the lost sheep of the Muslim world. He even reaches into the frozen reaches of Siberia to show them his love.
In the last few years there has been lots of talk about “Business as Mission” as if it were a new idea. But Christian mission has long been connected to business. For example, mission and long-distance trade were so closely associated in the Church of the East that the word for merchant became a code word for missionary along the ancient Silk Road.
Although few of us today work in dusty bazaars or ride a camel to our job, we can still learn from the way the gospel flowed on the ancient trade routes. Perhaps the most important lesson is that best place to share our faith is the gritty, dusty real world, not the surreal environment of a church service. Anyone can look holy and pious for 45 minutes on Sunday, but someone who lives out their faith in the rough and tumble of the work world is a bright light shining in a dark place.
How does this relate to reaching unreached people groups? First, Christian entrepreneurs, executives and business leaders have the opportunity to live out their faith in an increasingly internationalized workplace. They can be living examples of faith in Christ before Hindu, Muslim and Chinese colleagues. Secondly, Christian businessmen can help provide training, coaching, and start-up resources for local Christians who live geographically near the unreached so they can develop viable businesses which will showcase the beauty of a redeemed life.
Real Christian men and women, engaging in real business, in the real marketplace, are a key piece of the puzzle for taking the gospel to unreached people groups. Personally modeling this, and helping our brothers and sisters in the majority world do the same, could be one of the most untapped resources in the Kingdom.
(this originally appeared as a posting on the ISSACHAR INITIATIVE
I want to make a quick plug for my blogging partner at Circumpolar, Warrick Farah. He just put up a post about the role of dreams and visions in ministry to Muslims – it is fantastic!
Here is the link to that post muslimministry.blogspot.co.il. Check it out when you have time, you will be glad you did.
My latest article just came out in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, “Saying the Shahada: Matters of Conscience, Creed, and Communication.” Normally EMQ articles are only available to paid subscribers, but they keeping this one open as a teaser for new subscribers. The link below will take you to the article.
I just came home from a mission consultation with over 150 people in attendance. These were field missionaries, sending agency people, as well as church and para-church leaders, coming from over 30 different countries.
Yes, you read that right. There were missionaries and other mission leaders from more than 30 home sending countries. This incredible diversity hints at the mosaic that is 21st Century missions.
Many North American Christians have slowly become aware of the global nature of the Church. But it is another step entirely to imagine that Christians around the world are, just like us, sending their own missionaries. Many places that only a generation ago were major mission receiving centers are now home to indigenous mission sending agencies.
For example, I had lunch one day during the conference with the director of a mission sending agency in West Africa. Next summer their agency is celebrating 40th years of sending their own Africans as missionaries to Muslims. They now have African missionaries working in 34 Muslim countries and he was actively looking for new places to engage the task.
Long gone are the days when taking the gospel to the world was the “white man’s burden.” (I’m not sure that was ever true). Today in the Muslim world we joyfully labor side-by-side with brothers and sisters from Korea, India, Nigeria, Lebanon, and a host of other places that most Americans think about as places to send missionaries.
What a beautiful thought, world mission as a mosaic of Christ’s redeeming love among the nations.
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It seems Islam is in the news more than ever, and unfortunately little of it is good news. War, kidnappings, and genocide may sell lots of news but does not warm the heart. Many Christians are deeply concerned as they read about great evil being done under the banner of the world’s second largest religion. Adding fuel to the fire are the many pundits, some knowledgeable and some not, who purport “explain” Islam.
A week does not go by without someone asking me about this. Often their question is something like, “Does Islam really teach Muslims to kill us?
But with almost as many interpretations of the Qur’an as there are Muslims, that is a very difficult question to answer. The nightly news seems to give the most time to the extremists who read the war passages of the Qur’an dead literal, whereas there are also some very significant Islamic leaders who say the exact opposite. Thankfully none of this really matters in my ministry because I never talk to a religion.
Think about it, religions are fairly abstract things. They are in one sense real, but they don’t live and breathe. They seldom move-in next door.
On the other hand, Christian ministry is about the concrete biological things we call people, or in our case, Muslims. So, while I don’t feel qualified to say whether or not Islam is a “religion of peace,” I can say that the vast majority of the Muslims I have met were peaceable people.
I have lived with Muslims, worked with Muslims, ate with Muslims, even argued with one in a Mosque (although not something I would recommend). But in all those interactions I have never had one threaten me. These Muslims who have not threatened me are not the ones shown on television because such peaceful people don’t sell news like a bearded guy with a Kalashnikov does.
Sure, I realize there are Muslims out there that would do a Christian harm just because he is a Christian. But the chance of you ever meeting one of those is quite slim. In fact, I would be willing to wager that you have a much higher chance of being killed by a driver who is texting than by a Muslim who hates Christians.
So, is Islam a religion of peace? Let Muslim scholars fight amongst themselves about that one. As for me, I will just keep trying to show Muslims the love of God in Christ and not worry about it.
Whenever I travel and speak to a group of Christians, one of the first questions that comes up is something like this:
“How do I talk to Muslims, since they are so against the gospel?”
Aside from the fact that most Muslims have never heard the gospel, so they can hardly be against it, I always answer with two easy to remember points:
1) be an openly religious person. Secular society here in the West has beat us down with the idea that religion is supposed to be a private thing kept to yourself. That is a lie. I am a deeply religious person, and my faith impacts many of the things I say and do.
If you are the same, then be up front about that with your Muslim friends. As it fits the conversation, talk about how you raise your kids and spend your money differently from many in America because of your faith. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking religious=hypocrite, your Muslim friends don’t think that way.
2) pray at the drop of a hat. If we are people who believe God is actually listening, then we probably pray about all kinds of things; sickness, financial problems, our worries, etc. The Muslims you meet have many of the same problems. When they express them to you, simply offer to pray in a very low keyed way. Something like this usually works great, “You know Akhmed, Jesus told his followers to pray in his name. So whenever one of my kids is sick I pray and ask God to heal them. Can I do the same for your little boy?”
You will be quite surprised to find that the vast majority of Muslims will be happy for you to pray for them, right on the spot. What could be better than inviting the living God to intervene in their situation, through the name of Jesus?
You may not be an expert in Islamic culture or be able to explain the nuances of theology. But if you will consistently do the two simple things above, you will surely and gently nudge your Muslim friends toward the gospel. And you can trust the Holy Spirit to handle the rest.
You cannot get very far into ministry with Muslims before you run face-first into the question of Muhammad. He is one of the most revered figures of human history, he is honored, at times even idolized, by one-fifth of the world’s population. Sooner or later you are likely to hear one of your friends ask, “What do you think of our prophet Muhammad, pbuh?”*
So, what should a committed Christian think about Muhammad? Well, I will not even try to answer that question, although I do think we should be as generous as possible since John 3:16 probably applies to him too.
I think the better and more pressing question to ask might be, “What should a committed Christian say about Muhammad to their Muslim friends?”
I realize wadding into this argument is akin to diving into tepid, muddy water, but I think it worthwhile to at least splash around its edges a bit.
This reminds me, just a little bit, about an incident in the life of another extremely influential figure of world history. If I remember correctly he was being questioned by the national religious authorities about his stand on taxation, and he replied something like, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
There are two points in this we should not miss:
1. Jesus did not directly answer their question, and there are times that neither should we.
But most importantly,
2. Jesus talked about God, not Caesar.
Have you ever noticed that if you meet a physician in some social setting they often end up talking the practice of medicine. Same thing with politicians, they tend to talk politics. In other words we talk about what we are about. Jesus spent his time talking about God because that is who he came to reveal.
So, if Jesus is what I am about, then I should be talking about him – not Oprah – in my social engagements. While I do agree that Christians should be well-rounded, knowledgeable people, I still assert that our conversations expose what is in our hearts. But now I digress, back to Muhammad.
Certainly there are times when we need to have something to say about a major world figure such as Muhammad. But for the most part our Muslim friends will feel quite honored if we know anything about their prophet other than the caricatures presented in the nightly news. Some of us may even know quite a bit about his life, but I don’t think we need to say very much.
Or I love the way the I heard another missionary put it. When describing a conversation with some Muslim scholars he said, “I am not an expert on Mohammad. If you want to learn about him go talk to the Imam. But I am an expert on the person of Jesus, I can tell you about him.”
And that sounds about right to me.
*PBUH means “peace be upon him,” spoken by many devout Muslims in reverence whenever mentioning Muhammad’s name.