Tuesday, July 12, 2016

EQUIP Shorts - Engaging with Muslims by John Klassen

What must it be like to be a Muslim living in Australia today? Ongoing conflict in Africa and the Middle East coupled with outbreaks of violence in the West continue to generate fear. What this book does is break through that to equip a Christian person to make friends with a Muslim person. Reading it reminded me of the joy of making a new friend and the good news of Jesus’ gospel that we have to share.
The book is split into two parts: Understanding Muslims and Engaging with Muslims. Each chapter contains helpful content and reflection questions, interspersed with true stories of how people of Muslim faith came to know Christ. Some of them are quite incredible. One story tells of a new arrival in the US, who wrote to a local church, “Just send me someone to tell me about Christianity. I will pay for them to come to me. I don’t need anything; just send me someone.” He became a Christian six months later.

Understanding Muslims
Our culture likes to paint Muslims as one thing. But the reality is more opaque. Just like you and I, all Muslims are different. The book helpfully points out differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. It explains a bit about the five pillars of Islam. And it reminds you that some Muslims will be culturally Muslim but not believe in God. The rubber hits the road though when Klassen states, “All Muslims are lost without Jesus.” And the Bible backs that up. In John’s gospel Jesus refers to himself as the gate, and later boldly proclaims: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Lest we be arrogant instead of heartbroken over our friends who don’t know Jesus, see Shwan’s story at the end of chapter three: ‘When my Kurdish friends asked me why I kept on going to Bible Studies and Church Services, I told them I felt like a beggar who had found food and now I wanted to tell everyone about where they could find it too.” Be humble. God will use you if He chooses to.
Get To Know Each Other
James Salter said, “Life is meals”. Sharing life and Jesus with Muslim people is on the one hand like sharing with anyone. On the other hand, without at least some basic cultural awareness, you could offend your new friend. Most chapters end with a short list of specific dos and don’ts to help you love your Muslim friend intentionally and avoid unnecessary pitfalls.
One of the differences which I found helpful to have pointed out was that for non-Westernized Muslims, presence is felt. “You need to be in their homes and they need to be in your home.” The fast pace of Western life often means we see people for short grabs of ‘quality’ time. You should expect to spend lots more time with a new Muslim friend than you might with your Western friends. Generally speaking, a small number of close friends are valued over maintaining a large number of shallower friendships.
Fruitful Engagement
I loved the chapter on the four keys to fruitful engagement. Really this is the essence of how to share the gospel with anyone!  It was a good reminder that people come to faith through one-on-one attention, care, prayer and sharing the good news of Jesus.The book contains a pyramid with four key words: Prayer; Presence; Proclamation and Persuasion. I liked that persuasion was the pointy end of the pyramid and that prayer was the bed underneath.
I’m a word person and not a visual person so if I had to transform the pyramid into a few sentences it would be: Pray for an opportunity, pray, pray, pray. This is the most important aspect of the pyramid. It’s God’s work, he’s in control. Second, spend loads of time with your friend - share meals, listen to their story. And thirdly, when you share your story, hitch it to a Bible story. You want to tell your story through God’s story. The book suggests you can condense the Bible story you want to use but stresses you don’t add anything to God’s word. Then fourthly, when you’re in a deep relationship keep praying like crazy for God’s word to attract and convict them of their need for Jesus and for your words to be gentle and persuasive.
Tell your story through God’s story
I’m going to zero in on the tricky bit of evangelism here: proclamation. I’m actually pretty good at making friends but less good at sharing God’s word with my friends who don’t know Jesus. Using the Bible’s own words to connect with your personal testimony is a really good idea! Frankly I wish I’d thought of this in the times I’ve had to share my testimony. After reading this book I will definitely share it differently when God gives me another opportunity.
The book encourages you to tell your story by attaching it to a Bible Story that speaks to you. I saw this wonderfully done at a women’s breakfast recently where the speaker gave her testimony by sharing a small passage of Scripture about God’s love from 1 John. “When I see this verse,” she said, “It’s meant so much to me, parts of my life flash before my eyes.” She connected this verse further by saying, “Love is the vital thread running through my life, and it all started with my parents who loved Jesus.” It was a very impactful way of giving a testimony because the words of God, a word that is living and active and sharper than any double edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), are front and centre. It’s a good reminder too, that it’s God’s word that will attract or repel your friend in the end, not you. You need to give them the chance to hear God’s words.
Final Thoughts
I felt this book encouraged me to be looking for ways to share my faith with my friends who don’t know Jesus by giving me a more practical framework for engagement. It also encouraged me to seek a greater variety of relationships and to look out for the new Muslim mother in the playground who may be looking for a friend, rather than stick to people I’m comfortable with.
It’s not naive about the very real dangers Muslims face converting to Christianity but there’s a lightness of tone that comes from a refreshing reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives by the grace of God. Klassen is honest about the messiness of life and the imperfect ways we get to know each other, but strong on exhorting us to get on and do it for the sake of the gospel.
As Klassen says, “Have fun; love your neighbour; see what God does through you to reach your friend with the gospel!” In my neck of the woods here in Sydney, God is bringing the nations to us. Books like this are enormously helpful for the task.

About this month’s contributor, Katie Stringer
Katie loves writing and has had work published in Womankind Magazine and the Guardian Weekly. She is working on a book about her brother. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church, All Souls Leichhardt and loves being part of the Leichhardt community. She is married to Andrew and they have two daughters and a son.

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