It’s been one week since the end of Ramadan. Missionaries have had many spiritual conversations with their Muslim friends over the last month, and that work will continue as their Muslim friends return to their daily lives. Two such missionaries, Brent and Dani Whittaker*, who are working in Europe, recently visited Houston to share about their work.
Missionaries to Muslims
The Whittakers have been involved with ministry to Muslims for nineteen years, eleven of which they have spent in their current city. It began when they took a course on Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Through this course, they were encouraged to see God's glory known throughout the earth and starting praying for God to show them how they could be involved. God led them to change careers and eventually move overseas to a city with a large Muslim population. As they sought to serve God by reaching Muslims, they also had to work out how to share their faith in ways that reflected his greatness while fiting their personalities and gifts.
Their church, located in a city where approximately 25% of the population is Muslim, meets in a predominately Muslim neighborhood. This allowed them to maintain a persistent gospel witness among their neighbors. In the past year, nine Muslims have come to faith and been baptized. Several have joined in the work of proclaiming Jesus wherever they go.
Understanding the Mission
The Whittakers have found a few strategies most effective. Of course, prayer is at the very top of that list. They've also worked to develop a natural, constant witness: growing to become spiritual people who live the good news of God’s kingdom in their hearts and relationships; who let that good news come out of their mouths wherever they go. They show grace to people of other ethnicities and religions. They avoid arguing or trying to persuade the skeptic but notice who is open and hungry for God's word.
It is important for churches to be educated on Islam and ministry to Muslims as they are commonly misunderstood. The Muslim world is far more diverse than most of us know. They are as diverse as Christians around the word—both ethnically and in the different expressions and practice of their religion. When we think of the average Muslim, we picture an Arab man or a fully veiled woman. But only 25% of the Muslim world is Arab. In fact, 33% of the Muslim world is from South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh) and the vast majority of Muslims in the Houston area are from Pakistan, a very different place than the Middle East.
Ministering to Real People
Many young Muslims are torn between the spiritual aspirations of their faith, the materialism, selfishness, and immorality of their hearts, and the millennial hopes of the future. During their zenith, ISIS had slick propaganda on social media, and Muslim parents were afraid that their sons and daughters would be taken in by the message that says, “take your meaningless pursuits and sense of powerlessness and trade it in for a life where you can play a powerful part in bringing God's purposes about.” This message referred to the Muslim equivalent of Armageddon.
A number of Muslim parents feared they would wake up one morning to find their 22-year-old son or daughter gone to Syria or Iraq. Though the common assumption is that ISIS targeted Christians and other groups for persecution or execution, in fact, ISIS largely targeted moderate Muslims, and the group lost far more people than Christians or others.
Join the Mission in Houston
There is a great opportunity for churches to be involved in ministry to Muslims—even in Houston. There are 100,000 Pakistani Muslims in Houston. Chances are you rub shoulders with them at work, at the gym, at Starbucks, or in the grocery store. Here are a few ways you can join in the mission:
First, it is important to avoid treating Muslims as enemies. Muslims need to hear the truth of the gospel, and you have the opportunity in humility to reveal the nature of God and His Ways to them.
Pray consistently. Commit to praying for Muslims 15 minutes per quarter, or 30 minutes per month, or an hour per week. Whatever you do, recognize that prayer is vital to your ministry and God says he responds to persistent prayers of faith. Pray prayers of expectation—not of fear or resignation.
Ask them questions about their culture and religion. Muslims are not offended by religious dialogue, and this gives you a chance to share your faith with them, as well. Instead of arguing, be considerate of their religious practices, and take opportunities to share the grace God has given you.
Invite Muslims into your home and accept invitations from them to visit their homes. Muslims are very hospitable! This is a great way to build relationships and open doors to gospel proclamation.
Will they find in you a Jesus who welcomes and loves them or something else? Pray for opportunities to share the truth and love of Jesus with them.
*Names have been changed for security reasons.