Friendship Evangelism among Westernised Muslims


1. The Example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Nothing gains the heart and confidence of a Muslim like true love put into practice. Among the many things that make up true friendship evangelism, none is more vital or important than selfless love from the heart. If we are to truly give Muslims a foretaste of the kingdom of God, we must act towards them charitably, unselfishly, and with a caring spirit. We have an excellent example of precisely what such a ministry of love and care entails in these words from a well-known prophetic text:

Right at the very beginning of his course Jesus Christ, given the opportunity to read from the scriptures one sabbath day, deliberately found the place where these words were written and, after reading the first few lines, declared "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4.21). He had come, anointed by the Spirit of God, to perform the very mercies spoken of in the heart-warming words he had just read. His purpose was not only to preach and teach, it was also to liberate and set free those who were in bondage to heal the sick, to comfort the downcast, to uplift the depressed, and to give hope of the coming day of redemption. "He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10.38) is a definition of his purpose and work that perfectly describes his course.

The Christian's first objective must be "to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3.19), and to share that love in practice so that others might be built up and delivered and be drawn to the source of their eternal salvation. Nowhere is this principle more relevant to Christian ministry than in personal evangelism among Muslims.

Charles Marsh was a missionary among Muslims in Algeria for many decades and his whole life was devoted to caring for the sick, helping the poor, lifting up the oppressed, and declaring God's grace in Jesus Christ. He speaks from rich personal experience when he says:

By that same experience he could also say of Muslims: "They respond to love, real unaffected love. They know at once those who are transparently sincere in their love for God and for them" (Marsh, Share your Faith with a Muslim, p. 80).

It has often been said that Satan can imitate anything in the Christian faith except heartfelt, selfless love. As the Christian alone can believe that all his sins are already forgiven and that no self-righteousness of his own can ever merit favour with God, he is free to selflessly give himself over to showing the love of Christ in his life by helping others wherever he can. He does not have to find approval with God - he has it from the day he first truly became a follower of Jesus - and so he alone can devote himself to a life of service to others with no other motive than expressing the greatest of all virtues - genuine love from the heart.

A brief perusal of a number of passages in Matthew's Gospel will show just how deeply this principle was worked out to the full in Jesus' own ministry. We begin with the following description of his service to mankind:

Jesus thus not only went about proclaiming the kingdom of God but also set about healing diseases. He complemented his preaching ministry with a sustained exercise of renewing love towards all that he met who suffered any kind of weakness or defect. It was thus a twofold ministry - "preaching the gospel" and "healing every disease and every infirmity". No form of Christian evangelism can therefore be truly comprehensive unless it includes both these services. The witness of the Gospel must be accompanied by dedicated, selfless acts of love towards those we seek to win to Jesus Christ. Just as he showed love towards all he met without distinction, so we must be willing to act in love towards all Muslims, rich or poor, pleasant or overbearing, friendly or arrogant, amenable or antagonistic. Such genuine love, when it shows itself in a kindly disposition in the Christian or in his willingness to help the Muslim whatever his need, can only make an impact.

Jesus himself gave a further typical summary of the character of his ministry when disciples of John the Baptist came to enquire whether he really was the Messiah. He said:

Once again he defined the two fundamental characteristics of his ministry - the preaching of the Gospel and a practical ministry aimed at building up those who were needy and meeting them directly in their needs. This is what true friendship evangelism among Muslims really means. We cannot hope to rely solely on the witness we give, we must back it up and endorse it through acts of love in caring for Muslim problems and needs. A very beautiful passage in the Gospel we are quoting from shows yet again just how deeply the practical ministry of Jesus in meeting people in their needs had the effect of bringing them to an acknowledgement of the divine origin of his ministry:

God was glorified when the people saw the gracious preaching of Jesus put into effect. He showed that he had come to bind up the brokenhearted, to preach good news to the poor, to recover the sight of the blind, and to heal all who were oppressed. His true followers must likewise follow in his steps and actively show love towards all that they meet. On the Day of Judgment Jesus said that he would say certain things to those who were truly his disciples by which the genuineness of their devotion to him would be recognised. He stated that he would know his own by this test:

He did not say he would identify any of his followers by any of the following means: "I taught in your streets, you cast out demons in my name, you prophesied in my name, you adhered to the Christian faith, you were regular in church attendance", etc. He said he would know his own by this one identifying characteristic alone - their acts of love and care towards the needy. This is why he said that the only way his disciples would be recognised was by their love for one another (John 13.35). Our brief study of these select passages from Matthew's Gospel shows quite clearly that the preaching and teaching ministry of Jesus was at all times undergirded and marked by his love and service towards those he met who were suffering or in need. He truly practiced what he preached and showed that regular attention and care towards those who were enduring any kind of privation is an essential part of true Christian evangelism. His whole ministry was one supreme act of devotion towards all who came to him who saw in him the answer to their problems.

Genuine friendship evangelism thus has two major foundations - the witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the manifestation of that grace in acts of love and charity. Let us examine some practical ways in which such love can be made effective among Muslims.

2. Practical Ways of Showing Love Towards Muslims.

We have been surveying the prospects of an effective form of evangelism among Muslims in the West and have suggested that friendship evangelism is the ideal method. The key element in this type of ministry is the scope we have to identify with Muslim needs and to meet these in whatever way we can. We need to be constantly on the lookout for ways and means of helping Muslims with their social and personal problems and should pray that God will create opportunities to discover Muslim needs and give us all the resources we shall require to meet them.

This is surely the heart of true Christian witness to all men, but especially to Muslims. They need to experience the love of Christ, they need to see his grace at work in our lives, and they need to be encouraged by our example to turn to the source of our love for them. As another writer says, "As Christians we should be in the forefront of all activities aimed at meeting the personal and social needs of men and women" (Goldsmith, Islam and Christian Witness, p. 105).

Some years ago one of my close friends and I were visiting a Muslim home in our own town where two brothers were always willing to engage in discussion and debate with us. As these get-togethers went on the atmosphere became increasingly tense and one evening we spent some hours warding off many arguments one of them was levelling at Christianity. Instead of being caused to reflect by the defences we raised, he became increasingly aggressive until we left for home, persuaded that any further visits to this family would prove fruitless. I did not expect to see the young man or hear from him again. Only three weeks later, however, my receptionist told me that he wished to see me. He was in a very different frame of mind and was quite subdued and friendly.

He showed me an assessment the local Receiver of Revenue had sent him (the South African name for the taxman), demanding payment of over R400,00 in taxes. He assured me he had been unemployed for some time and I offered to pay the Revenue office a visit to see if I could resolve the issue. One of the staff there told me that they had no proof he had been unemployed, so they summarily assessed him for taxes on the strength of his previous income. We soon managed to get the necessary proof and I took it back to the Revenue office and was told a new assessment would be sent to him.

On my next visit he joyfully told me he had first received a letter advising him to ignore the original assessment, and thereafter received a new assessment together with a refund cheque for over R350,00! I am sure you can imagine the change that came over his attitude towards us. From that day onward his home was wide open and we were welcomed every time we called. We found we had new opportunities and could present the Gospel more positively, and were met with a willing ear in place of the former aggressiveness.

I am convinced that if we will only take time to identify the needs of Muslims and uninhibitedly endeavour to help them, our witness will become far more effective. The scope and potential is profound. Nurses in hospitals can go just that little bit further than the normal call of duty to personally identify with the needs of their patients) those who Work with Muslims can go out of their way to genuinely befriend them; those who have Muslim neighbours can make an effort to get to know them and assist them with their problems These are but a short selection of the possibilities that are before us. When Christians make it their aim to not only share the good news of the Gospel with Muslims but also to serve them in love and compassion, the beauty of Jesus will become the more apparent before their eyes.

This is how all Christians should view their contacts with Muslims - as opportunities to manifest the Spirit of Jesus Christ in active forms of love and service. Christians should also seek wherever possible to pray with Muslims for their needs - it is our experience that most Muslims will welcome such prayers and, when these are answered, the impact of the Gospel always increases.

Let me conclude by repeating for the sake of emphasis m earlier appeal for a willingness to love for love's sake alone, to help Muslims in their needs with no other motive but to reveal the love of Christ for the world. Let the Spirit of Christ make his own impact on the Muslims we care for, and where this impact is resisted or rejected, let us not hold back or be grudging in our ministry.

Hass Hirji Walji, in his book Escape from Islam, speaks of this very kind of single-hearted expression of love in his description of one of his first experiences on arriving in the United States of America as a refugee from Idi Amin's government in Uganda some fifteen years ago. The Lutheran Church in New York had decided to do whatever it could to enable the Ugandan refugees to feel immediately at home in America and the young man was astounded, upon arrival, to find that a whole apartment had been arranged for him and that it had been fully furnished to help him settle down as comfortably as possible. He could not understand how such people who were hitherto unknown to him could show such kindness when they could expect no payment or outward expression of gratitude in return.

Hass had heard all sorts of negative things about Americans and was told they were only allowing refugees into the United States so that they could immediately send them as conscripts to Vietnam! He was amazed to find exactly the opposite - that instead of exploiting him they sought only to assist him to find his feet in his new home. There was no other motive in the hearts of those Christians. Their generosity sprang from nothing more than a heartfelt desire to help others just as Jesus, their Lord, had helped others, seeking nothing in return.

Hass was not converted through this demonstration of love, nor was it the intention of his benefactors that he should be. But his first impressions of Christian love in America, in stark contrast to the rough-handed treatment he had experienced from the new Muslim ruler of Uganda, were never lost on him and were one of many experiences that led him to eventually desire to become a true Christian himself.

God grant that we may be inspired to act charitably towards Muslims so that they may know that there is a degree of compassion and care in true Christians that can be found in no other people on earth, simply because they are born of the Spirit of Jesus who loves all men with an everlasting love and who considered no sacrifice too great to manifest that love to needy men everywhere.

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