LONG BEACH, Calif. – An evangelist from northern Ghana encouraged Christians in America over the weekend to reach out to the Muslim world by first getting to know Muslims near to them and not "sniping people with Bible verses."
In America, "we know Muslims as immigrants from other countries," noted Dr. John Azumah, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana.
"In my country, they're at worst a neighbor," added the former Muslim who says he still has friends who follow Islam.
He reminded hundreds of Christian leaders gathered for the recent Inside-Out Conference in Long Beach that Muslims are "not a nameless, faceless creature somewhere."
"A Muslim has a name, has a face," he said. But many Christians "don't know them."
"They're strangers to us," he confessed.
During the plenary session Saturday, Azumah shared four steps that Christians can take to reach out to followers of a religion which 24 percent of the world adheres to.
The first step, he said, is to know Muslims as people, as individuals, as neighbors.
"Show interest in knowing their beliefs, fears, and joys," he said.
Second, Christians need to engage with Muslims as "light" and "salt of the world," not as "flashlights" or "fires."
"Light and salt are only meaningful when they come in contact with food or darkness," he said.
But Azumah discouraged believers from being "flashlights," which he said some Christians tend to be, because pointing light directly into people's eyes will more likely make them cover their eyes or turn away.
"Do not go sniping people with Bible verses," he exhorted. "Engage them and show that you love them before you show verses.
"Stop the flashlight approach and become lanterns," he said, noting how lanterns provide light in a non-imposing way.
The third step for Christians to take is to be "Barnabases," according to Azumah, who pointed out how personal testimonies are more powerful when people know the one involved.
He used the story of the Samaritan woman that is recorded in John 4 as a case in point, noting that the Bible records how "many of the Samaritans from the town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman's testimony." (John 4:39)
Samaritans, Azumah said, were to Jews as Muslims are to Christians.
But Azumah noted that even as a believer gets to know a Muslim, reveals the love of God to them through their life, and testifies to them, ultimately the change takes place through the power of the Holy Spirit.
"Wait upon the Lord!" Azumah urged, citing from Ephesians 6.
"You might have the resources; you might have enthusiasm and all the knowledge, but wait for the Holy Spirit to come to you," he exhorted. "It's a spiritual business."
Before concluding his address, Azumah urged Christians to offer four prayers to God for the advancement of the Gospel in the Muslim world.
"First, pray for ourselves for a heart for Muslims. Second, pray for Christian minorities in the Islamic world. Third, pray that God may open up the Muslim world for the Gospel. Finally, pray for individual ordinary Muslims wherever they may be," he said, adding that he had prayed for his uncle for 15 years before laying hands on him and baptizing him three years ago.
"Many Muslims come to Jesus Christ through visions and dreams," Azumah pointed out. "God is doing it."
Though Muslim countries can deny missionaries from coming in, denying their visas, "the Holy Spirit does not need a visa," he said, drawing the applause of the crowd.
"He goes where he wants to go," he added. "If we pray with Muslims as our prayer topic, the Holy Spirit will go."
In closing, Azumah urged Christians to step up in response to the challenge of Muslim evangelism; step out of their comfort zones, even their churches and denominations; and step into Muslim neighborhoods, Muslim countries, and the Muslim world.
According to statistics highlighted by Azumah, over 80 percent of Muslims have never heard the Gospel and less than 1 percent of the Christian missionary force works among Muslims.
The recent Inside-Out Conference, presented Aug. 14-16 by the Presbyterian Global Fellowship, was the third annual conference held in response to the decline of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the controversies that have kept the denomination embroiled in internal battles over the year.
It was the hope of a group of leaders to begin to change the culture of the church by being "inwardly strong and outwardly focused."
According to Kelly Kannwisher, executive director of the Presbyterian Global Fellowship, the location of next year's conference will likely be determined within the next 30 days.