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Pastor & imam debate, agree to seek truth

MUMBAI, India (BP) — It was hot, stuffy and crowded in the one-room shack, deep in a labyrinth of slums of Mumbai, India, when the door burst open. Angry Muslim men ordered everyone to get out — except for one.

“You stay!” they told the pastor of one of Louisiana’s largest churches who was holding a Bible study with about a dozen Bangladeshi men.

As part of its international missions outreach, the church — unnamed for security reasons — adopted Bangladeshi Muslims, an unengaged, unreached people group who migrated to India by the millions and are despised “illegal immigrants” in the predominantly Hindu nation.

This was the second trip for the Louisiana church to meet with house church planters who were evangelizing the vast slums of Mumbai.

“The first minute or two my blood pressure rose because I knew they were angry — and I was alone — except for the Lord,” the senior pastor recounted. “But I felt courage rise. Jesus said, ‘Don’t worry before you go in to testify before kings and authorities, I will give you words in that moment,’ and in that moment the Lord was granting me wisdom to respond to what they were saying.”

The last time the senior pastor was in Mumbai, he and the church’s minister of local and global outreach met with some other believers in another slum in a dark alley lit only by cooking fires. They were confronted then by angry young Muslim men and an elderly imam who warned them to leave.

That same imam strode into the room, but the pastor was alone this time because his associate minister had been unable to obtain a visa from Indian officials in time.

“They said, ‘We know you!’ and I said, ‘I know y’all too,'” the senior pastor said with a smile. “It’s the oddest thing; I really didn’t get scared. The Lord gave me a peace in the moment.”

Although the young men were angry, the imam, who spoke English, told the pastor they wouldn’t hurt him. The pastor was a foreigner in a culture that requires respecting visitors.

“In a way I was almost glad to see them again; it showed them we are not going to be intimidated,” the pastor said. For an hour the Christian pastor and the Muslim iman with his friends debated beliefs.

“More than once, the imam said, ‘Judgment day is coming; we are all going to stand before the Lord. You [Christians] are in trouble because you are only halfway there; you say you believe in one God but you don’t believe Muhammad is his prophet,'” the pastor recalled. “I replied, ‘You’re right; we believe Jesus is the way and Jesus isn’t just a prophet.’

“The old man said, ‘We are together until we come to Jesus and at Jesus we divide,’ and I said, ‘Yes, that’s right,” the pastor continued.

Finally the imam told everyone to go home to pray and ask God to show them the truth.

“And I said, ‘That is exactly what we all need to do: Go home and pray that God will show each of us what is the truth,'” the pastor said. “I believe God will show the true way to those men.”

While the Muslim men never harmed the pastor, all the Christian men he met with had been persecuted and beaten — one so badly that he was hospitalized.

But in the last year, the house church leaders also have baptized at least 80 people, the pastor said, and the church baptized three while he was there.

“The darkness is oppressive; it’s heartbreaking,” the pastor said. “Many people would accept Christ willingly but they’re never even getting the opportunity. We need to pray for the Muslims.”
Mark H. Hunter wrote this story in cooperation with the International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Mark H. Hunter