(Photo: Facebook/SBC Cooperative Program)
HOUSTON – Pastors and church leaders attending the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting are being challenged to fulfill Jesus' Great Commission by sharing the Gospel with the growing Muslim populations in the United States and abroad.
John Brady, vice president of global strategies for the International Mission Board, and Nik Ripken, a 28-year mission veteran and author of the book, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected, emphasized the urgent need for Christians to drop their complacency and misconceptions about Muslims and to start sharing the life-saving message of Jesus Christ, during a panel discussion on Tuesday, titled "An unexpected harvest: God's work among Muslims."
"One of the things that's got to be clear is that the Lord really doesn't give us a choice, because He's said we're to go to all people. He exempted none," Brady said. "One of the other things that must be understood when you speak about Muslims is that Muslims are a wide variety of people around the world, and some of the most hospitable. So when you paint the whole religion with the actions of a few, then you really miss the context in which the Great Commission has come to us."
He continued: "The Great Commission doesn't say, 'if you think about it, or if you're comfortable, or if it's a choice you want to make. No, the Lord has given us a pretty clear instruction: we must go. When we do that the world will change. What we have is more powerful than a cruise missile, it's the power of life."
Citing Egypt as a country that has a diverse Muslim population, Brady noted that almost 48 percent of that country's population is more secular in their view of Islam and are "Western-leaning" in that they're focused on the same concerns as most American families, such as jobs, housing and financial stability.
"We need to look beyond the radical Muslims, and look at the others," Brady added. "They're caught in a deeper trap than us, because the radical Muslims are as opposed to them as they are opposed to anything else."
In Ripken's opinion, part of radicalization of followers of Islam can be attributed to Christians' failure to witness to the unreached Muslim populations.
"Even if Muslims are radicalized, even if they were all looking for the demise of the Western world, how can you expect people to act differently if they've never had access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" Ripken asked. "How can we criticize people for our disobedience?"
Ripken and Brady believe it's imperative for Christians to engage the Muslim world by serving as missionaries overseas, or by walking across the street to invite their Muslim neighbors into their homes for meals and to worship.
"Share meals together and share Bible stories – one will lead into another and then you pray," Brady said. "Pray for Muslims by name. Pray for them to be healed. Reaching out with a cup of tea in Jesus' name is not brain surgery, it's something we can all do. Jesus has the word of life. We have to fall in love with the story of the Gospel."
Although a significant number of Muslims have converted to Christianity since the mid-1990s, according to the two experts, "the places where Muslims are not coming to faith are places were Christians are not going," Ripken said. "You need a heart to cross the street as a family, and a heart to cross the globe. The only thing you need is a heart, you don't need a lot of seminary training."
Ripken shared that he and his wife often ask three questions of Muslims who've lived in the U.S., 10, 20 or 30 years, and those questions involve their perception of Americans and their interactions with Christians.
"We ask them the following questions: 'Have you ever met a Christian? Has anybody ever talked to you about Jesus Christ? And what's your chief feeling about the U.S.?' After 30 years of them living in the Bible belt, we're told that no one has spoken to them about Jesus, and they describe the U.S. as the 'loneliest place,' because no one will talk to them, go to their homes, or have tea with them."
For Christians who are apprehensive or unsure about how to start their witness, Brady recommends seeking God's wisdom and direction through prayer. "The number one power of the witness comes when the Holy Spirit illuminates His word, and the heart and life of people. We must take the Gospel to bring life to those who are dead."
"The cost of not going is much higher than the cost of going," said Ripken.