A Kansas gas station owner has expressed his gratitude to local church members for their business after they rallied together for weeks to provide him with much needed customers after finding out about his financial woes. The Muslim-born business owner testified that he had "never seen this type of love before" as he reflected on the church's efforts to support him.
For the past five months, construction work in the vicinity of Snack Snack Phillip 66 has kept the station's business eerily quiet, severely cutting into what was a consistent source of revenue for owner Mukhtar Raja and his employees.
Over the period that the construction work was going on for, it is estimated that the business lost close to $100,000 and Raja said that he was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy.
"The point came it was hard to pay the bills. It was really hard to pay the bills," Raja told KCTV5.
But things changed drastically after an elder at local Cross Points Church read about Raja's dwindling funds in the local paper. He took it upon himself to tell his church about the local businessman's plight, and even connected the man's story to a book the church members were reading about prayer, and suggested that the church try and help him.
The church's leadership team embraced the idea that the church should unite to help the man, rather than try and support him individually.
"We came up with the idea that, hey, we can do more together than we can by ourselves," Cross Points Church pastor, David Jones told The Christian Post.
On Sunday, Sept. 8, Jones challenged his church congregants to each purchase at least one tank of gas from Snack Snack Phillip 66.
Church members were inspired, and many immediately met Jones' challenge.
"The first time they did, apparently they must have announced it right in church too, because church got out about 11:30 a.m. I never have a rush on Sunday, but I had people out here waiting in line to get gas," employee Edgar Kempf told KCTV5.
Several days later, Raja visited the church to personally thank Jones for his congregation's actions. Last week, he also told Jones that he wanted to come to church on Sunday.
Jones confirmed that he did not put any pressure on the man to attend, and that the gas station owner came to church of his own accord.
"He came up on the platform and expressed his thanks. The church gave to him a standing ovation and he said in 54 years he's never experienced this kind of love before," said Jones.
Raja's story has inspired the church, which is launching a new vision for itself with a series called "Connect, Commit, Create" which looks at how the church can better reach out to its local community.
"They're really coming to grips with this understanding that we can do more together than we can individually by ourselves," said Jones. "I asked them on Sunday, with Mukhtar on the platform, and I said 'How many of you have purchased a tank of gas?' Ninety percent of the hands went up. They are participating now, they aren't just spectating."
"They are thinking outside the walls of the church, which obviously as followers of Jesus, we want to be about them, having our eyes of the city and how can we be a blessing to those around us regardless of whether they are believers or not," he added.
Jones said Raja, a Pakistani immigrant who has distanced himself from his Muslim background, and his wife, who is Catholic and a Ukrainian immigrant, have no family in the city and the actions of the church has had a profound impact on him.
"I'm very thankful to them. They basically woke me up ... that good people exist out there. They don't care what race you are ... what religion you are, and that is unforgettable," Raja said.
Jones said that the story was an excellent example of God being able to take small actions undertaken by a local church, and use them to bring about large effects.
"Don't underestimate the small things that you can do as a local church that can have large ramifications for the body of Christ. Who would have thought that individuals in the church buying a tank of gas would have put a good name for the church of Christ?" Jones reflected.