Sharing Good News in a Mosque at Christmas?
December is a month when I’m focused on Christmas and the birth of Jesus. But last week I was invited to a seminar on the life of Muhammad. It was a reminder to me of the religious and cultural diversity of our city – and it impacts how we witness about Jesus. In the past with a Christian cultural majority, it was easy for Christians to ignore the beliefs of other people and simply share the Good News. Today, a subtler approach is needed. Let me explain how I responded to the Muslim invitation.
When I received the invitation to the conference hosted by a nearby mosque, I called the number on the invitation to set an appointment to visit with one of their leaders. When I visited we took some time talking about one another's families, his move from Pakistan to Canada, and the work of the mosque. I then asked about the invitation and what the conference was about. I told him that I couldn’t go to the conference but was interested in learning more about what he believed. I then told him the story of a friend of mine.
I know a good family whose parents were very hard-working, moral people. And they tried to teach their children right and wrong, taking them to church and reading the Bible from a young age. But when their son got into high school, he fell in with some bad friends and started stealing from nearby convenience stores and book stores. One day his mother found out what he had been doing and called her husband at work to explain what she knew.
At this point I asked what answers their religion held out for this teen. How would they respond to him? The first man responded that he needed admonishment. He needed to be admonished strictly so he would know right and wrong. The second man added that he must be taught to realize that we will be judged for our works and if our bad deeds outweigh the good ones we will face God’s judgment. With a measure of curiosity, I asked if someone could go too far. Could someone do so many bad things that it would be almost hopeless for them to catch up with enough good works to receive God’s grace? They affirmed that sometimes people do go too far and need to be jailed and punished. As they talked my goal was not to correct them or criticize them but to learn what they believed and if possible why.
Once they finished explaining how they would respond, I asked them if I could tell them what the father had decided to do. He decided not to admonish his son right away but instead gave him a pen and paper and asked him to write down all of the places he had stolen from and what he had taken. He then got in the car with his son and drove around to each of the shops and personally apologized to each of the shop keepers, handing them an envelope with cash more than covering the value of what his son had stolen. While he didn’t deal with all of his son’s this way, on this particular day he felt that this was what he should do.
I talked with the son years after this incident had taken place and he described the effect that his father’s action had on him. He said that day was the first time he really understood the message of the Bible that he had been taught since a child. He had grown up hearing for instance of how Abraham had gone up on Mt. Moriah with his son Isaac and been asked to sacrifice him there. By faith he trusted God but at the last minute God provided a ram as a substitute and Abraham called the place, “The LORD will provide.” Two thousand years later God provided a substitute for our sins near that same mountain. God became man in Jesus Christ and paid the penalty that we deserved for our sins so that we could receive forgiveness and the power to live a new life.
I shared that the young man had heard those things as a child, but in his father’s actions, he experienced firsthand the cost of sin, the pardon that a “redeemer” can purchase, and filled with gratefulness to God for His mercy in Jesus Christ, he gave his life to serving Him. I added that now the man is a pastor and has dedicated himself to serving people in love and sharing Jesus’ message of hope. He does that not to earn God’s approval, but out of a deep sense of gratitude for God’s forgiveness and love.
It wasn’t a perfect witnessing opportunity and there was a limit to what could be accomplished in a single visit, especially on the grounds of an Islamic mosque. But there are a number of points of application just the same:
- More and more I think we need to listen before we speak. I spent half an hour reading about this particular sect’s beliefs before I went and so deliberately chose a question and a story that would address the group’s salvation by works theology and respect for Abraham as a prophet.
- Once we have listened to a person, it’s natural to answer any question that we ask of them. So ask questions that you’d like to answer! This particular Islamic sect for example is unique in that their founder claimed to be the second coming of Christ. If that came up I was going to ask how they had come to believe that his claims were true. Again I’d ask this because it would help me to know more about why they believe what they do, and it gives me an opportunity to share why I have come to believe that Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah is true.
- Rather than arguing, it’s often more powerful to allow a person to share what they believe and passionately lay out your beliefs for them to compare. I know that sin blinds people to the truth, but I couldn’t help but think that there must have been some effect as they listened to the glory of what Jesus had done at the cross, and how much more profound this solution was compared to the “admonish him strictly” religion of works that they professed.
- Stories are powerful and often allow for a more natural transition to a spiritual conversation. We should look back not just at our salvation but at various ways that God has worked in our lives and use these stories to testify to others. Testimonies are powerful but many people fear that their testimony isn’t interesting enough or would be hard for a person from another faith to relate to. In this case I found using someone else’s testimony a natural way to relate the Gospel. If you don’t think that there is something in your own testimony that would relate to someone, use someone else’s testimony to point them to the Gospel.
For those of you who will be spending Christmas with non-Christian family or friends, I pray that you will find encouragement and words to point people to Jesus over the holidays.
One last thing I’d pass along as an encouragement in your celebration of Christmas this year is the Christmas story itself. The LumoProject has teamed up with YouBible to produce free on-line videos of the Christmas story with word-for-word narration of the Biblical text and high-quality movie production. Why not watch the videos as a family on Christmas morning? Check them out here: https://www.bible.com/videos/263/series
In awe of Him,