Witnessing to the world: We value an
active and loving witness for Christ to all people.
The week was shrouded by drama: National conversations and passions had been aroused about the propriety of building an Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero and by a pastor in Florida who had threatened to burn copies of the Koran. Just the day before, Ramadan had concluded and the U.S. had observed the ninth anniversary of the 9–11 attacks. Nevertheless, on Sunday, September 12, 20 of us from Gateway Community Church made our way over to the local mosque in Chino, Calif.
This was a return visit, as several years before, a group from the mosque had come to our Sunday School class to talk about their faith with us. This time, after enjoying a meal together, I would be sharing about Jesus with them. As I prepared for the time, I found myself grappling with complex questions. What did our groups have in common? How would listeners respond to my message? How could I speak with love, while also speaking clearly about who Jesus is?
One of the Core Values of the Brethren in Christ Church is witnessing to the world. This value is anchored in the twin statements of Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Rather than commands, both of these phrases are statements of fact. We have received the power of the Holy Spirit, and we are witnesses to that power as we practice integrity, pursue holiness, cultivate the maturity to be selfless and thus able to serve others, and live with the intellectual confidence that love is the highest ethic in our communities. Strength from the Spirit fosters faith to interact with our neighbors winsomely. With that kind of power, of course we are witnesses!
Yet our outreach to the world is inhibited when we lose the moorings of the biblical message. Especially do we need to be alert for the fear-based theology that gets passed around calling us to be wary of Muslims, to fear them because they are going to take over the world if we do not keep them from doing so. Again, we must remember that Jesus is Lord!
And so, as our group prepared to visit the mosque that Sunday, I chose to take confidence in the Spirit’s power in us, looking to build bridges with my message. First, I determined to use the word Allah for God as a way to identify with others, including the millions of Christians who have used and do use this name for God. I also decided to read from the Koran, choosing a beautiful prayer from the first Surah and then referencing Surah 3:46, which talks about Jesus. Next, I emphasized our common history by mentioning the names shared by Muslims and Christians: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah, and Christ. In my closing, I blessed the group, using a blessing akin to the one Jacob gave Pharaoh in Genesis 47.
After the message, one Muslim man told me, “My esteem for you grows by the minute,” and many Gateway folks received warm words of friendship from our hosts. On that September evening, we experienced drama, but not the drama of hate or fear; rather, it was the drama of participating in the great enterprise of God calling all the families of the earth to Himself.