By J.C. with SEND International — As leaders, politicians, and media debate how to respond to the increasing number of Muslims living in Western countries, followers of Jesus are asking the same question. How should we, as the body of Christ, respond to growing Muslim populations? Many Jesus followers today feel hesitant to interact with their Muslim neighbors because of an innate fear or feeling that they do not know enough about Islamic religion or culture to effectively share the hope and light of Christ. According to the Word of God, the antidote to all fear is genuine love; 1 John 4:18 states that “perfect love expels all fear.” How can you, as a member of the body of Christ, cultivate the kind of divine love that crosses over walls of fear and misunderstanding to build bridges of trust?
1. Ask God to give you a Muslim friend
It may sound simple, but the obvious first step toward cultivating Jesus’ love for Muslims is to know a Muslim. When I first moved to Kansas, I had no idea if there were Muslim people in Kansas, or any people for that matter. I inaccurately imagined our new home would be mostly farmland, cows, and tornadoes. Because we have felt God calling us to Muslim ministry overseas, my husband and I started asking him to give us just one international Muslim friend in our new city. If you have been wondering how to engage with your Muslim neighbors, pray first. Ask your Father for a Muslim friend. “For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8)
2. Actively seek a friend out
When we pray, we act in cooperation with the Spirit. As we pray, we move. After six months in our new neighborhood, my husband and I discovered a ministry that would match us with an international student to welcome into our lives. We requested a match with a Muslim couple or brother/sister, and were certain this was how God would answer our prayers. When, on match-up day, we were paired with a Hindu student from India, we wondered what God was doing. At church the next morning, three rows in front of us, was a young woman with a head covering seated next to a young man. After the service, we hurried over to introduce ourselves. They were brother and sister, from Saudi Arabia, and were brand new to Kansas. They had attended church that Sunday for a one-time cultural experience.
Do your part to look for a Muslim friend, but do not surprised if God answers your prayer in ways you do not expect.
Our answer had not come as we had imagined it would, but it had come in the way God intended. Do your part to look for a Muslim friend, but do not surprised if God answers your prayer in ways you do not expect. “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”- John 10:16 (ESV)
3. Invite them into your life
Deep friendships do not happen overnight. Trust is sewn together over time, through shared experiences. My husband and I first showed Athilah* and her brother Mubashir* around the city. Then we had them over for dinner. As time passed, I began inviting Athilah to join in my mundane, day-to-day life — afternoon errands or Target runs. When my husband was working an overnight shift at the hospital, she often kept me company. Some of our best conversations have happened over ice cream or walks through the park.
God is an expert at sowing his seeds of truth through countless situations and conversations that occur in the context of “ordinary life.” Develop a mindset of invitation. Allow your friends to enter in to your life, and not just when your house is clean. Let them see how you succeed and how you fail. Include them in your family’s sorrows and in your joys. Give them opportunities to observe how your faith interacts with your daily life. It takes practice to develop a mindset of invitation, but in time, you will reap benefits. “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”-Romans 15:7 (ESV)
4. Pray with your friend in Jesus’ name
Pray often with your Muslim friend in the name of Jesus. The first time I prayed with Athilah was the first time I visited her apartment. We were drinking tea and talking about the conflicts in Syria and other countries. Both of us desired peace and an end to the suffering, so I suggested we pray in the name of Jesus. Right then and there, I began asking for God’s peace and blessing in the Middle East. When I finished praying, Athilah had tears in her eyes and was visibly moved by the presence of Jesus.
Praying with your Muslim friends in Jesus’ name is crucial because it demonstrates the power of Jesus as they witness him working in response to your prayers.
Praying is important because it sets you apart in your friend’s mind as a person of conviction and high moral standards. It earns respect and transforms inaccurate views your friend may have of Christians. Praying with your Muslim friends in Jesus’ name is crucial because it demonstrates the power of Jesus as they witness him working in response to your prayers. This magnifies and sets apart the name of Jesus in their minds and hearts. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”-Colossians 4:2 (ESV)
5. Meet practical needs
When Athilah and her brother were still new to the country, they had no car and they did not know where to buy certain things. This created an easy way for my husband and I to come alongside them. We helped them learn what medications they needed when they got sick. We drove them to the bank, showed them how to get library cards, and lent them boxes when they moved. When there was a misunderstanding between Athilah’s scholarship program and the local university about her enrollment, we contacted the international student representative. I told Athilah that we were asking Jesus to make a way for her to stay at this college, and when he did, she noticed.
Meeting practical needs shows your friends that their friendship with you is not a means to an end. The goal is not simply to “win them over to Christ.” Meeting practical, tangible needs shows our Muslim friends that we love and care about them the way Jesus does — unconditionally. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”- Proverbs 3:27 (ESV)
6. Learn from them
True friendships are never one-sided. There is a subtle notion that can creep into believers’ minds — that our role is to be teacher, provider, and mentor to those who do not yet know Jesus. While this belief may start from good intentions, it is destructive to friendships. Do not only give time, money, advice, encouragement — be willing to receive the same from your Muslim friends in humility. This will broaden your view and communicate to your friends that you desire and value their friendship and input. We have Ultimate Truth to offer our friends. However, our Muslim neighbors also have precious life truths and perspectives to share. Ask your friends about their families, their homes, their culture, and their beliefs. Dare to enter their world, and be willing to listen, receive, and learn from them. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”-Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
7. Introduce them to Jesus
As your friendships go deeper, prayerfully look for ways to turn conversations toward Jesus. Just this week, Athilah and I were contrasting the way marriages come together in our cultures. She asked me if I thought it was possible to find love as it is portrayed in movies. That question gave me freedom to share about a love much deeper than any romantic movie could ever portray.
Allow God’s Word to speak for itself. Talk about how you can apply the stories to your lives, and encourage your friends to share the stories with another friend.
Most international Muslims come from oral cultures where stories are used to communicate truth. Therefore, tell your friend applicable stories from God’s Word. Discuss them together, and allow God’s Word to speak for itself. Talk about how you can apply the stories to your lives, and encourage your friends to share the stories with another friend. When a friend responds positively, invite him or her to study who Jesus is in the Bible with you and two or three of their friends. You could start with the creation account and work your way through the Old Testament prophets, or you could do a series of stories on the ultimate power of Jesus over nature, spirits, sickness, death, and sin. These are only suggestions; pray about what stories God would have you study with your own group! “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”-Colossians 4:5-6 (ESV)
One of the Arabic prayers recited by Muslims all over the world asks God to guide them to “the straight path” (The Quran, 1:6) According to John 14, Jesus is that Straight Way. Without him, we are all lost — no matter what religion we claim or what country we live in. Do not waste time and energy arguing with your Muslim friends about every differing doctrine and belief. Instead, invite them on a journey to discover the Straight Path in Jesus through God’s Word and through the evidence of him working in your life. Then trust the Holy Spirit to do his work of speaking through his Word as it falls on the soil of your friends’ hearts.
More on connecting with internationals
SEND Hope & Light: SEND offers a rich collection of books, seminars and internships to equip Jesus followers to reach out to Muslim friends.
Reaching international students: Nine compelling reasons local churches should reach out to the international students in their communities — plus four practical ways to start building bridges without leaving home.
Diaspora & Mid-Term Missions: If on one end of the spectrum offering ESL and citizenship classes is too limited, but engaging in contextualized diaspora missions is beyond the capacity of most typical North American churches, what options are left?
* Not their real names.