I have walked with Jesus since around 1978. During my journey, I have grown, (and fell down) in many ways. God has put many of his servants in my path, and at the age of 60, I tend to reflect on these people more and more.
The most recent example of God growing me is what has happened to me, along with my wife Patty, in the mission field.
Four years ago, I had a definite opinion of Muslim immigrants. I always wanted revenge for 9/11. I was “for” us doing something, anything, to lash back at the most deadly terrorist attack our country had ever known. I also read Mark Bowden’s “Blackhawk Down”, and was familiar with the movie “Captain Phillips”. Both of these stories involved the chaos in Somalia. In addition, we live near the largest mosque in Colorado and I interact with Muslims daily in my line of work.
I see what uncontrolled immigration is doing to Europe as a result of the Syrian Civil War. I see that our politicians want to have the same open door policies that will result in a vastly different America that I grew up in. In short, 4 years ago I was not only anti-immigration, but anti-Islamic as well.
Around 2010, I started listening to Joel Richardson on YouTube, and read his book “Islamic Antichrist”. Through his videos during his travels to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and pretty well everywhere else in the Middle East, Joel talked about the suffering these people were experiencing. Joe’s view was that the refugee crisis was an opportunity to win souls for Christ. He recounted stories, interviewed missionaries, and asked hard questions that started me on a path to question my heart towards the Muslim world. He pointedly avoided the political issues and focused on the human aspect of what was going on.
I had a friend at church who had returned from working in Iraq for 12 years. Jonathan is a Christian. He also has a son who converted to Islam. As a result, Jonathan studied the Koran to rescue his son from Islam. He also had frequent dialogues with Muslims about God. From Jonathan, I grew to understand how Muslims want to talk about God, and welcome dialog. Jonathan taught me a few Arabic phrases to greet Muslims, and I used them to garner smiles and nods from men and women who I normally wouldn’t talk to. My heart started to melt toward the people I used to resent. But God still wasn’t done.
I met Jeff at another church. He is 70. Seven years ago he started fixing kid’s bikes in a refugee apartment complex. This apartment complex had refugees and immigrants from all over Africa, South Asia, and the South Pacific. Jeff always says that God told him to love his neighbor, leading him to ask: “Who is my neighbor?” (Hint, Jesus answered this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which leads to an upside down answer.) In this apartment complex, Jeff still fixes bikes; but there now is a weekly Bible Study there. Christians have joined Jeff weekly to help refugees in whatever they need; cleaning apartments, moving furniture, fixing vacuums, and always playing/crafts/reading with the children. An international mission group have joined the regular team several times a year. They have initiated a Vacation Bible School two years running now, at the apartments. There are now quite a few Christian families, and at least one conversion to Christ.
About 2 years ago, I visited a new apartment complex where Jeff was breaking ground. He called it “hard ground” when I started. It was. There was fear and suspicion among the tenants. It was nothing like the original community. It is mostly Muslim. They don’t mix easily with “non-faithful” such as Christians and Pagans and vice versa. However, from the start I was sucked into a spiritual vortex of serving, and falling in love with these people. We are serving “our neighbor” as we do in the other site; fixing bicycles, moving furniture, hanging curtains, fixing appliances, pushing kids on swings, helping them on “monkey bars”, jump rope, helping them read, doing crafts, coloring, etc. After 3 months, my wife got roped in as well. She and another Christian are teaching English as a second language to Somali Muslim women. (It is a unique cultural situation—sometimes 4, sometimes 15 come to the class!) The Muslim women serve the English teachers African tea with lots of milk. The Americans bring cookies or cake. They sit on the floor and visit and have bonded together as women everywhere do. We all pray for openings to share the Love we know with our neighbors.
Together, my wife and I go to the apartments every Friday, and after 2 to 3 hours we come home giggling with stories, praising God, and thanking Him for the Joy we receive in loving these “neighbors”. (One of the advantages of serving mostly Muslims is most of the names for the boys is Muhammad, so we don’t have to learn as many names!) The children are hungry to be loved; and after a couple of years, the mothers stay nearby but trust us more each day. The men even come by and chat when they are off work (which isn’t often; they work hard).
In the last couple of months, we have had dialogues with adults and kids about Jesus and Muhammad. The door has opened ever so slightly. At the end of every Friday, our team prays in the middle of the court, surrounded by the apartments. Every once in a while a child will join our circle as we talk to God. One or two women usually hover around us discreetly while we pray. Some have asked us what we are doing, and what we are talking to God about.
None of us know what is going to happen here. There is a danger as there is in most mission fields. My prayer is that the apartment complex will be flooded with the Holy Spirit, and that we will witness a mass revival from these image bearers of God. I also ask that I will be present to see it happen. Maybe even Joel Richardson could stop by if he is in town and give us some pointers! Stay tuned!