The Islamic Center is located directly across the street from the library I frequent. So for two full years I had prayed for the people there and had felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to pull into the parking lot and talk to someone. And for two full years I didn’t. Which is fairly troublesome for a pastor who claims to support and encourage missions.
The Holy Spirit had also convicted me to reach out to Muslims in my area, but I had no idea how to start. I had met dozens of our EPC missionaries who had traveled to faraway places in order to share their faith with people who were indifferent at best, and governments who did not want them there. Yet how many Muslims had moved right into my backyard – people who were much more accessible (in every sense of the word) than those in foreign countries.
Enter Mark. Mark had introduced the concept of reaching Muslims to our presbytery (Great Plains) and moreover, to me, personally. Mark and I had been forming a good friendship over the years because of our mutual desire to see God reach the unreached.
For at least the last year Mark and I had tried several times to go to the Islamic Center so that I could take that first step and meet some Muslims there. Finally the day had come and we walked in together to a midday prayer time (Salat al-zhur). Mark was his usual calm, yet gregarious self; I was beyond nervous, yet thrilled to finally initiate this first step, and so we began to converse with several men after they had finished their prayer time. They were quite gracious and receptive to our presence and interest.
Although at times it was somewhat awkward – as you might expect – Mark paved the way toward good relations by simply sharing personal information, asking questions and appreciating their faith in various ways: Mark: “That’s a beautiful prayer rug. Did that come from overseas or from here in the US?” Reply: “Yes, this came from Turkey!” Mark: “How many different countries are represented at your mosque?” Reply: “Somewhere between 30-35 countries. Therefore, we have to conduct our services in English.” And on it went.
After 20 minutes or so we were actually exchanging phone numbers and email addresses – which, I must admit, freaked me out more than a little! And yet, there again was the Lord’s peace, joy and purpose – that feeling of being stretched far out of my comfort zone and right where God wants to take me; and not just for me, but so that I could eventually invite others to this engaging process, this clarion call to honor and obey him. Which I am now beginning to do.
Over the course of time following our initial encounter, I then pursued a relationship with the imam of that mosque. We now meet weekly to continue our friendship and learn from one another about the commonalities and differences of our respective religions. Over the last three years I have learned as much about my own faith as I have about his faith. My favorite encounter was the time he told me that our Christian religion is unfair. He explained that, as a Muslim, he will stand alone before God to be judged; but that we believed that Jesus would stand with us to pay for our sins. After I thought for a moment, I replied, “You know, you’re right. That’s not fair…that’s what we call grace.”
Mark’s example and leadership, including walking with me into the mosque, has stretched me in my faith, and also emboldened me to lead my friends, family and congregation in the same way. Our church has now completed our first Bridges Course with a good degree of success. And I believe that the Lord will continue to not only make us more aware of Muslims around us, but He will move us to initiate bridges of friendship with many in order to win some.
By an EPC Pastor