DALLAS (BP)–I’m running out of magnets to keep my collection of Southern Baptist missionary cards posted on the refrigerator. Years spent in several different states and varied denominational work provided opportunities to watch young adults and not-so-young adults prepare to serve around the world.
I’ve learned to listen to news broadcasts with thoughts of their whereabouts. Whether it’s the heat wave in Paris, the president’s visit to Nairobi, the overthrow of another president in Argentina, flooding in Mozambique, an earthquake in Istanbul or the proliferation of AIDS in Johannesburg, each event reminds me of the faces of my friends who daily risk their lives to share the Gospel.
When my television showed images of planes crashing into twin towers, it wasn’t long before the link to Muslim extremists turned my attention to a friend in the Middle East. We had kept in contact by e-mail, reassuring each other of God’s sovereignty, but this time it was she who worried about friends in America, particularly a missionary working amidst the United Nations community.
“Eyes glued to the TV, but thoughts a million miles away,” she wrote, “sickened with the idea that what I see is real. The call to prayer begins coming through our window, the sound of the Koran. My friends, my neighbors, the people I pass every day on the way to school, to the store, and to the post office are lost — they are going to hell. The pictures in front of me and the sounds of the Koran echoing around me drive me to a sustained time of prayer and searching God’s Word for strength and hope — for answers, but most of all for comfort.”
In the midst of “the evil that seems to press down like a dense mist that clings to you,” she found Muslim acquaintances inquiring about her family’s safety. “They expressed their great sadness over what has happened in the U.S. The matter of blame was left unmentioned — as it should have been,” because the thought that she could be pulled out of the country at a moment’s notice remained in the back of her mind.
Over the coming months I provided her with a sense of how her homeland had changed. Although spiritual renewal had occurred in many hearts, a distrust of Muslims had emerged. In the midst of those electronic chats, she made some suggestions. “When you come across a Muslim woman in the traditional veil, smile,” she said. She assumed correctly that Muslims in America were sensing the hostility and blame that many people conveyed. That simple act will start to open doors, she said. It was the least I could do.
A year ago I sat at a table enjoying conversation with an International Mission Board leader who had served in a Muslim country. We talked about the impact of security concerns in Muslim countries where he’d served and others where my friends were ministering. “Did you see this coming?” I asked, wondering whether he had been aware of the influence of Islamic militants during his years overseas. His answer admitted an ineffective strategy in earlier years. Missionaries did not attempt to engage a Muslim culture, he said. Instead, they looked for open doors among responsive people groups. Only recently have we been more creative in finding ways to open the closed doors.
Too often we focus on the outward appearance, failing to see the person behind the religious garb.
Susie Hawkins, as one of the contributors to a new book, “Voices Behind the Veil,” says Christians will do well to recognize the virtue that lies behind veiling. “Because Western culture is characterized overseas by television programs that depict a low view of morality, Western Christians can see why Muslims sometimes come to consider Western society as the epitome of evil.”
Hawkins admitted a slight resentment toward veiled women prior to researching the matter, and wondered why they insisted on continuing to dress in that manner when they lived in the United States. “Now I admire their commitment and desire to identify their faith,” she writes. “I feel drawn to them now, and I fervently pray that this book will do that for all who read it!” she writes, praying that God will provide the grace and opportunities to speak His truth with unveiled love.
Fourteen years ago God directed Debbie Brunson to pray for Muslim women. She’s seen God call families from each of the churches her husband has pastored to serve in the Middle East. Recently, it became even more personal as her daughter began serving as a journeyman in the Middle East. “There are a number of missiologists who believe that the way to reach the Muslim world is by reaching the Muslim woman,” she shares. “For this very reason, I feel the urgency for our churches to covenant together to pray for Muslim women and to seek God’s guidance in reaching them for His Kingdom.”
As my church kicks off its evangelistic outreach program this fall, I’ll tag along on a visitation team that needs a woman in order to appear less threatening when men show up on doorsteps of prospects. I don’t find that offensive; it’s just smart. After reading Voices Behind the Veil, I’m praying there will be some Middle Eastern names on our list. Just being a Christian woman can open doors to sharing the Gospel.