by Melanie Froese
Melanie worked for Pioneers, Canada and previously was a message bearer in the Muslim world.
It was in college that God placed the desire in me to serve the Church in the Muslim world and to see Muslim people brought into His family.
While wading through the wealth of resources on ministry to Muslims I found myself asking “Lord, what is most important?” In my own journey, I have recognized reoccurring themes which thread themselves through my experience.
God has impressed upon me the importance of absolute dependence on Christ, the necessity of choosing the way of love, and the need to embrace suffering.
I wasn’t on the field long before I was convinced of my inability to do anything of significance for God. All of my efforts ended in frustration. I could have echoed Paul:
“We do not want you to be uninformed brothers of the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” (2 Cor 1:8,9)
He then wrote, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”
God used the added pressures of life in the Muslim world to bring me to the realization that apart from Him I can do nothing.
I would have said, “I know this,” but I didn’t KNOW it. I used to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” and then attempt to do that, asking God for help when I was desperate. Then I realized that not only could I not save myself, I was incapable of living the Christian life.
The good news was God never expected me to. Yes, Christ died for my sins but I also died with Him that He might live the Christian life through me.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20)
This is GOOD news for my Muslim friends. This is release from the religious treadmill that they know all too well.
To the crowds worn out by religious burdens the Pharisees had placed on them, Jesus said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28,29)
Anything short of this is not good news.
How have I helped my Muslim brother or sister who comes to faith if all I do is give them new laws to keep under the label of “Christianity?” This will not see them through the fires of persecution; only Jesus can.
The last thing the Muslim world needs is more of me. Lilias Trotter, pioneer missionary to Algeria wrote:
“the highest aim of ministry is to bring His immediate presence into contact with others – so to bring Him and them face to face that He can act on them directly, while we stand aside, like John the Baptist, rejoicing greatly.”
Love – The Most Excellent Way
It is possible to “love” a people group as a distant concept or idea. We can be burdened for their spiritual situation and even understanding toward their collective faults. Loving the Muslim world does not require much of me but loving Suhair or Abdullah… well that’s another story.
After months of being harassed by men in the street, followed and propositioned by strangers I found my love was running cold. My female friends were overwhelmingly needy and often resorted to manipulation to get what they wanted from our relationship.
When speaking with Christians in the West I sought to persuade them that they should care about Muslims by pointing to the fact that most of them are peace-loving individuals, not terrorists. One day someone asked me “What difference does it make? What if they were all terrorists?”
And I realized that all my effort to make them worthy of love was not in keeping with the truth that
“while we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.”(Rom 5:10).
God is love – and as the source of love, He loves people just because they exist. But I’m not God!
I cannot love unconditionally. I found myself wishing there was some other way to reach the people. Mike Mason writes: “Many Christians are eager and willing to do all kinds of ‘work for the Lord,’ but somehow the fundamental work of learning how to love gets overlooked.
” There is no other way. When someone tells me about love I must have some experience of love as a reference point. This is why Jesus came to earth. This is why He still seeks to love others through us today.
The common Muslim understanding of God is that His approval must be earned. The love of God is a foreign concept. In knowing me can they say:
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1John 4:16)?
Although we cannot love unconditionally in and of ourselves, there is no shortage of His agape love available to us. Romans 5:5 says:
“God has poured out His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
This love is ours for the taking but not without some difficult choices on our part. Love is an act of the will. We can use our will to take hold of our rights or we can use it to lay them down for the sake of love. Our feelings will eventually follow.
Apart from God’s grace we could not do this, but God’s grace is always present. It is in believing this that I receive. By faith I get out the basin and the towel and stoop down trusting that God will supply the water.
Suffering – The Way of the Cross
Recently while visiting workers on a Muslim field I had the opportunity to participate in an English discussion group with several female Muslim university students. At one point one of the girls asked me, “What was your major in school?”
A bit reluctantly I told her that I had studied theology. One after another they asked me: “Are you a Christian?” “How can you believe that Jesus is God?” “Do you believe in three gods?” As I tried to explain, I could tell that I was quickly losing credibility in their eyes.
Finally I said “You know I cannot explain these things in a way that you will understand. In fact, I do not completely understand them myself. They are a mystery. But I have found that when I choose to believe what God says in His Word something happens and in my heart I become certain.”
Then I shared what Christ means to me personally. One girl interrupted and said, “I think you like psychology.” I had no idea what she meant but she continued on: “I have been having psychological problems and I have prayed to God that He will give me answers to my problems.
What do you do when you are very sad?” As I shared I felt their scepticism melting away. Finally this same girl responded by saying “I think what you are talking about is the answer that I am searching for.” I remember leaving that evening marvelling at the drastic turn the evening had taken.
Time and again while relating to Muslims I have found that even if I confound them with my theological arguments in favour of the Deity of Christ they are brought no closer to embracing Him.
However, when I share something real from my life, something that I have experienced of that same Christ in the midst of suffering, they are eager to know more.
In my first year on the field I met a woman who was hiding from her father and brothers who had vowed to kill her for converting to Christianity. She had come to faith after having a vision of Christ.
I don’t know what I expected to find when I visited her for the first time but it was evident that she was very afraid and in need of something real to hang on to. Death threats, rejection by family, and loss of employment are some of the trials faced by Muslim background believers.
As we hear accounts of dramatic conversions, we can forget that they are real people in need of real comfort. Paul says that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” He goes onto say:
“if we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort…” (2 Cor 1:3-6)
One thing I have learned is that the greatest service I can do for my Muslim friends is to face life as it really is in all of its ugliness. As I stay in the pain, I let God meet me there. Only then am I able to come back with the report that God is enough. Then I can say with confidence,
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:39)
In my own short life and limited experience I only know the edges of these things. Yet as I anticipate further service among Muslim peoples I long for these realities to penetrate my life in an even deeper way.
As we recognize our dependence on Christ, choose the way of unconditional love, and embrace our suffering as gifts from His hand, Jesus will live and minister through us as only He can do.