Learning to Relate . . .

I’ve learned a few things over the last eight weeks about relating to folks who are different from me. I’ve been sitting in a Wednesday night class at a local church, listening to speakers from a local Islamic missionary training center share insights and strategies for understanding Islam and relating to Islamic peoples. It’s been helpful.

One of the most crucial changes the trainers recommend we implement, relationship-wise, is to stop trying to force Christianity down their throats. All the evidence suggests it effectively closes all doors to communication.

Muslims from Saudi Arabia to Saginaw, Michigan have had it with “Christians.” They’ve endured centuries of colonialism, forced conversions, threats, punishment, violence, war, death and destruction from “Christians” acting in the name of God.

They’ve watched, as “Christians” have behaved like infidels– routinely sexually immoral, unethical, cruel, violent, dirty (comparatively), immodest, dishonest, addicted to alcohol, drugs, and living self-consumed, licentious life styles, with little or no regard for the young, the elderly, relationships, or the strangers in their lands.

They’ve listened to us, repeatedly over time, preach love, peace, brotherhood, democracy, and freedom, then act in direct contradiction to our own values. The logical hurdle over that hypocrisy is too great. According to our trainers, “it ain’t gonna happen.”

So the solution is (surprise! surprise!) just give ’em Jesus. That’s right, Jesus. They know who He is. The Holy Qur’an speaks of Him as a prophet of God, Messiah, and Messenger. They accept Jesus. They may not know Him in an intimate relationship yet, but according to the trainers, “He’s your only point of religious credibility with your Islamic brothers and sisters.”

But therein lies the challenge. If you’re not all that close to Jesus yourself, you won’t have much of anything to share. The one thing Muslims will be open to receiving is the one thing Jesus really wants you to share with them–Himself. But if you’re not in an intimate relationship with Him yourself, that isn’t going to happen. You can’t share a relationship you don’t have. Think about *that* for awhile!

Another important strategy: Be willing to build lifelong mutually trusting, respectful, supportive relationships with Muslim neighbors, colleagues, workers, and business people. Muslims value relationships. They’re not individualists. They place great value on families, friends, and social networks. Find the strangers already in your own neighborhoods, cities, regions, and states, and befriend them!

A two-week jaunt into some far-off Islamic nation is not going to gain you much more than a few useless souvenirs, bragging rights around the water cooler, and the possible contempt of folks who see through your attempts to pat yourself on the back, “religion-wise.”

Learning to seek after and cherish solid friendships with people who are different at home will give us a solid foundation on which to build relationships with nations. Being an authentic friend at home will teach us how to “disciple nations.” Start small, do it right, and let those experiences teach us how to extend His Kingdom to the ends of the earth.

So here’s the bottom line: Before you do “discipling” you have to be His disciple yourself. Then you can teach the rest of His World. “Be. . .Do. . .Teach” in that order…

Now I have to go out and practice what I’ve learned… <sigh>

But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35)

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

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