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Engaging Muslims, refugees with ‘gospel love’ addressed

[SLIDESHOW=42337,42338] LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — In order to fulfill the Great Commission, the church must learn how to teach and make disciples of the 1.6 million Muslims around the world, doing away with cultural fear and embracing them with gospel love, said Southern Baptist leaders during the Great Commission Summit at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The three-day event, March 29-31, featured leading thinkers in the Southern Baptist Convention in engaging Islam and handling the refugee crisis, along with student-led prayer for Muslims around the world.

With millions of refugees fleeing their home countries, many of them from Muslim countries like Syria and Sudan, Christians should view the refugee crisis through the lens of God’s posture of mercy and compassion to the foreigner demonstrated in the story of Ruth, said David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, during a March 31 chapel message at Southern Seminary.

“Our God seeks, shelters, serves and showers the refugee with his grace,” Platt said, pointing out Boaz’s response to learning that Ruth, a Moabite woman, was working in his field. Boaz’s actions in the Old Testament book did not just demonstrate godly kindness, but also functioned as a critical moment in redemptive history, building a lineage that would “lead to the quintessential kinsman redeemer, Jesus the Christ.”

Platt said the world has never before faced such a significant refugee crisis, with 60 million refugees leaving war-torn and impoverished countries. The American church needs to look beyond its own country’s political troubles and see the needs of millions of destitute people worldwide, he said.

“I fear that most people in our churches and maybe even in this room are paying very little to no attention to this — or if we are paying attention to it, we are looking at it through political punditry and partisan debates regarding whether or not we should allow relatively few refugees into our land,” Platt said. “It is a sure sign of American self-centeredness that we would take the suffering of millions of people and turn it into an issue that is all about us.  

“Whatever response is seen [in our churches] often seems to come from a foundation of fear, not of faith, flowing from a view of the world that is far more American than it is biblical,” Platt noted, “and far more concerned with the preservation of our country than it is with the accomplishment of the Great Commission.”

Instead, believers should recognize the needs of people all over the world, he said, and commit to helping them with the love and compassion of the Christian Gospel.

“Our God has not left the outcast and oppressed alone in a world of sin and suffering, he’s come to us and he’s conquered for us,” Platt said. “Brothers and sisters, as followers of Christ, self is no longer our God, therefore safety is no longer our concern. We go and we preach the Gospel, knowing that others’ lives are dependent on it.”

In a series of short talks on March 31 sponsored by the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, Southern Seminary and Boyce College professors encouraged students to care for Muslim refugees by adopting families and understanding the complexities of Islamic culture.

“God wants something to happen in your heart so that it will appear outside,” said Ayman S. Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Seminary and senior fellow for the Jenkins Center. “Think of Muslims as a very diverse community. Muslims are in very deep need of something you have. I call it ‘the gospel of hope.’ … They have no hope.”

Ibrahim said the “vast majority” of Muslims are nominal and are in serious need of help because they are “victims of a very harsh system of worship.” Describing his experience growing up in Egypt and befriending Muslims in America, Ibrahim said Christians must not think of Islam as “one, simple body” but as diverse expressions of a religion comprising a “way of life.”

Muslim refugees simply come to America because “it is much better than their country” and they can find freedom — “no one will be watching over their shoulder,” Ibrahim said.

Unfortunately, the fear and suspicion many Americans show toward Muslim refugees results in them feeling isolated. Ibrahim said his wife Emily met a Muslim refugee while shopping, and the woman said it was the first time in the four years she lived in the country that an American had greeted her.

Instead of fear, Christians should respond with love, said John Klaassen, associate professor of global studies at Boyce College. Klaassen organizes local missions efforts at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, which includes refugee outreach.

“We forget that refugees aren’t people that necessarily want to be here, they have to be here,” Klaassen said, explaining how Muslim migrants often have legitimate fears of American culture. Southern Baptist churches must not only rid themselves of their own fear, Klaassen said, but identify with the plight of refugees.

“America was based and founded by a people who sought religious freedom — they were refugees,” Klaassen said. “We are a people of refugees.”

Klaassen, who recently wrote “Engaging with Muslims,” said churches can demonstrate love by partnering with refugee organizations and adopting families when they come to America. He noted how his ministry at Highview welcomes refugee families by providing food and clothing, English as a Second Language classes, job searches, and other assistance to help them adjust to a new culture.

“Most importantly, we teach them the Gospel,” Klaassen said, noting that they must first obey state contracts that prohibit them from proselytizing. “We teach them the Gospel by the things that we say and the things that we do.”

In addition to Ibrahim and Klaassen, the series of “GO Talks” also featured David Bosch, associate professor of business administration at Boyce College, who shared about his years of experience doing business as missions in the Middle East.

    About the Author

  • SBTS communications

    Compiled by Andrew J.W. Smith, who writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and S. Craig Sanders, who is manager of news and information at Southern Seminary.

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