RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Susan* and Meredith* noticed a family smiling at them at the mall, just the opening the college students had been looking for to strike up a conversation. The connection was instantaneous, and the family invited them to dinner a few nights later.
The students were part of a team that spent the summer sharing the story of Christ with Saudi Arabs vacationing and studying in a city outside their country. Access to Saudi Arabia for Westerners is limited except for established business and tourism activities.
At dinner with the family, Susan and Meredith tried to bridge the language barrier with the family’s four teenage daughters – while their 22-year-old brother, Mohammed*, kept interrupting with questions about Christianity. Keeping Muslim gender roles in mind, Susan and Meredith knew they needed to introduce their male team members to Mohammed to talk with him further.
When the students brought Max* and Alex* to their next dinner with the family, the duo hit it off right away with Mohammed. After hanging out a few times, Mohammed told them, “You are my best friends.” As they walked down the street, Mohammed tossed his arms across their shoulders in a sign of friendship.
The best English speaker in his family, Mohammed translated as the students shared the Gospel with the rest of his family. He explained, “They believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised to life so we can follow Him and be forgiven.”
Mohammed took Max and Alex to a pool hall to introduce them to his Arab friends, announcing, “These are my American friends. They are Christians, but not like other Christians. They are followers of Jesus.” To the astonishment and elation of Max and Alex, he then explained the Gospel to the roomful of young men.
However, the step between understanding and accepting Christ is a huge one for Mohammed.
Mohammed told Max, “I know you are right because of your passion. But I know I am right too.”
A MATTER OF THE HEART
For many, Islam is a way of life rather than a matter of the heart. Saudi men dress in white from head to foot and perform ritual cleansings, reflecting a lifestyle of purity.
When Alex asked some Saudi men, “What about keeping your heart clean?” they shrugged and responded, “You just need to have more good than bad [to reach Islamic paradise].”
During the summer, the students went to shopping centers, coffee shops and street gatherings in the evenings to engage people in conversation using basic Arabic.
Sometimes an interest in clothes or nationality served as the icebreaker. Other times, the connection points were speaking English, soccer or food.
When spirituality or religion was introduced into the conversations, the collegians offered an injil, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in Arabic. Some people accepted the book, while others called it corrupt.
One of the main frustrations the team encountered was the inability to follow-up with those they met, since many of them were vacationers.
“We’re just trying to get as many seeds scattered as possible,” reflected Billy*, a team member, “and we’ll invest our time in those that are receptive. The hardest thing is realizing it’s really all out of our hands,”
“I love the Saudis. They’re just fun, cool people,” said Jake*, a team leader. “They’re generous and hospitable, and they’re not afraid to talk about faith.”
Each night the team looked for opportunities to share their faith. Four stayed behind to pray for specific requests.
“Prayer is all we have here. It’s all we have anywhere,” Susan said. “The fruit is ripening, but it’s not a harvest yet. We’re just getting the word out.”
*Names changed for security reasons. Tracy Woods is an intern for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.