– By Tarun George
The church in Canada just doesn’t get Muslims. We don’t really understand them, and if we’re honest, we’re not sure we want to try. Like many Christians in Canada, I am a relative newcomer to the struggles of Muslims here, especially first-generation immigrants. But in researching a recent article in Faith Today about their relationship to the church, I met a group of Canadian Christians and ‘Muslim-background believers’ (MBBs) who have been labouring for years to show the love of Jesus to Muslim communities. Their stories are not particularly glamorous, so we rarely hear about them. But in a country with over a million Muslims (StatCan National Household Survey 2011, a conservative estimate), the work they do is critical.
In Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28, He tells the apostles (and the church through the ages) to go and make disciples of all nations. Here’s something the Canadian church is slowly realizing: The nations are coming to us! Immigrants to Canada now account for 20.6% of the population ( “Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada,” Statistics Canada 2011), and a large percentage of these are from Islamic countries.
Stats like this terrify many Canadians. But for a small group of men and women who have a heart for Muslims, this is a God-given opportunity. They founded the Canadian Network of Ministries to Muslims (CNMM), to mobilize the Canadian church to reach Muslim communities all around us.
The fact is we need teaching. We need to be shown how. Before meeting the CNMM, I hadn’t the faintest idea how to share the gospel with someone from a Muslim background. I didn’t know the misunderstandings that most in the Islamic faith have about Christ. And I didn’t realize that our churches are, in many ways, not very welcoming to Muslims. We need to learn from those Christians on the frontlines, who do this every day.
We also need a bigger view of community. What I found interesting as I interviewed the CNMM missionaries (and I mean this in the best way possible), is that there’s nothing groundbreaking about what they do. They’re simply living in community with Muslims and former Muslims who have embraced Jesus. They have opened their homes and their dinner tables, their prayer meetings and their Bible studies, their schedules and their free time, to let skeptical Muslims see what following Christ really looks like. And many of them are coming to faith.
Muslims need to see that we love them before they will listen to our claims about a God who loves them. We must drop the usual model of preaching at them, while keeping them at arm’s length. Let’s invite them into our communities, and watch what God does with that.
Finally, we need prayer. And we need a lot of it. I can’t put it better than a recent prayer booklet published by the Neighbours and Newcomers Network:
“Prayer is often one of those gritty expenditures of time and energy. It is a currency of the kingdom of God. Loving Muslims requires this kind of investment. And this kind of investment, in loving prayer for Muslims to come into the kingdom, sees returns: Muslims coming to faith, new workers being raised up, sent and supported, the Body walking, talking, blessing and sharing with the Muslim nations who’ve made Canada home.
Such love has powerful benefits as well; joy, peace in our hearts, theirs, and society at large. This kind of love is salt and light.” (“Praying for Muslims in Canada 2014,” Neighbours and Newcomers Network, PAOC. )
To those skeptical about such a transformation, let me say to you, it really does happen. I wish I could share all the stories told me by the missionaries and church planters I interviewed for my Faith Today article. God is doing enormous things in Muslim communities across Canada, and He is using his church to accomplish them. We just have to ask and be willing.
Tarun George is a writer living in Toronto. He enjoys telling the stories of marginalized communities in Toronto’s inner city. He is an immigrant, and loves both Canada and India, his two homes.