KILLEEN, Texas (BP)–Jerry Jewell had visited there before, conveying a heartfelt message: “Jesus Christ loves you and He desires to save you, and that is why I am here.” Most of the Muslims at the Islamic Community Center of Killeen had been friendly, even eager, for dialogue, said Jewell, pastor of Living Hope: The Church in the Field in the nearby town of Copperas Cove.
It had been a year since Jewell last visited the mosque, but he said he felt the Holy Spirit nudge him last Friday, “You should go visit.”
Then a phone call — from a Christian friend who had accompanied the Southern Baptist pastor to the mosque to engage his Muslim neighbors — confirmed it. “You might want to check in to see how they are doing,” the friend told Jewell in an unsolicited call.
News reports said alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan had visited the mosque the morning of the attack. “I figure the best way to keep someone from going out and doing other people harm is to bring them to Christ,” Jewell said. “If we hate them, then we are denying Christ.”
So a day after Hasan allegedly gunned down 12 of his fellow American soldiers and a civilian, caused the death of an unborn baby and wounded 29 others, Jewell said he somewhat reluctantly drove to the Muslim mosque housed in a red one-story building in Killeen. Once there, he saw that news reporters had filled the lawn and a police officer was screening those wishing to enter the building.
“Are you a member?” the policeman inquired as Jewell approached the mosque entrance. “No,” Jewell answered. “I am a Baptist pastor. But I visit with these guys and wanted to come in and see how they are doing.”
The policeman opened the door and Jewell discovered even more press inside. Shoe-shod journalists, male and female, apparently unfamiliar with Muslim worship practices, roamed freely inside, with some of the women in areas reserved for men.
Jewell said he gave his regards to several mosque members he had previously talked with.
“I met one young man who was new there and he asked as we were talking if I was a member of the mosque. I told him, ‘I am not a Muslim; I am a Baptist pastor.’ He asked for my card and said, ‘I want to come and visit your church.'”
Jewell said the man called on Saturday and told him he wouldn’t be able to attend church services that weekend but said he still planned to come. “It will be interesting to see if he shows up.”
Jewell said he witnessed a mosque official reading a press statement condemning the shootings at Fort Hood while the imam spoke about “how God likes people who do right, not people who do evil.”
Even though most of the people he has met there have been polite and even charitable, Jewell said he knows such bold outreach has some risk. Yet many more people die in traffic accidents than are killed by Muslim terrorists, he noted.
“None of them has shown up at Living Hope thus far,” the pastor said. “My major concern is not whether they show up at Living Hope, but whether they show up in heaven.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.