Kevin: I invited Jonathan Durstenfeld to contribute to this blog because he serves with an organization that seeks to bring the Gospel to the Muslim world. In addition, he is involved with a refugee community in Pittsburgh. He feels a call to love and serve Muslims. While not all of us may be called to move to a Muslim country for mission work (as Jonathan plans to), this call to care for our Muslim neighbors is for all of us.
From a young age, I felt called to serve overseas in places where there is no Gospel witness. I grew up reading biographies of missionaries, and met many workers my church supported. As I grew in my faith, I learned that God made and loves all people. Scripture from beginning to end shows God’s heart for all nations, desiring that people from every people group would come to know Him and worship Him. God’s intent has always been for His people to be a city on a hill, a light shining in the darkness. He told Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. The Psalms and Prophets are full of passages showing God’s love for the nations. Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Revelation shows beautiful imagery of the throne of God surrounded by people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. As I looked at the places that seemed to have the greatest need, I was drawn toward Muslim areas. Millions of Muslims live and die having never met a Christian or hearing the Good News. Through college, God grew in me an interest in the Middle East, and following a trip to Jordan, I felt this confirmed.
I work for a Christian organization (I can't reveal the name for security purposes) that seeks to help Muslims follow Jesus. Its vision is to see the Gospel take root, grow, and multiply in Muslim communities, by coming alongside Muslims to share the Gospel, serve them in practical ways, and disciple them to follow Jesus.
I am part of a team working to launch environmental businesses in places with little or no access to the Gospel and jobs, beginning in North Africa. With a holistic view of mission, we are seeking to live out the Biblical mandates given to us as followers of Jesus. Having a mandate to care for and be stewards of the earth, we believe that we all have a responsibility and a role to play. From the beginning of the Biblical narrative in Genesis all the way through to Jesus’ teachings, we see a clear theme of stewardship. The gifts God has given us are never for ourselves, but are always intended to flow outwards in blessing to others. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. Further, we see in Scripture that we are created to work. Our work has been subjected to the curse, and thus we experience frustration and futility, though work is good nonetheless. Being able to provide jobs for those without opportunities allows us to love and bless our Muslim neighbors and help restore dignity. Business also provides a natural way to enter countries and contexts in which Christians might not otherwise have access genuinely and without pretense. Once we have entered those contexts, we can start building relationships.
We’re currently in the research phase of our project, and are looking to take an initial trip to the place we will be serving in early 2018, then launch our project and actually move overseas later that year.
Concurrently, we continue our mission to our Muslim neighbors here in Pittsburgh, as we work with the Somali Bantu, coming alongside them as we seek to love them unconditionally and serve them practically. In the context of deep, authentic friendships that we have formed with them, we work closely with the leadership of their community to identify their real and felt needs, and assist them in meeting those needs. This plays out in a variety of ways, including assisting in the development of a non-profit community organization, connecting them with practical resources such as beds, furniture, and clothing, teaching conversational English in their homes, and helping them create a for-profit urban farming venture. They’ve come to trust us at a level that often can take years, and we’ve seen God open doors, provide, and answer our prayers.
Muslims in the US & beyond
In their journeys to Pittsburgh, my Somali Bantu friends have experienced deep hardship and pain beyond what I can imagine, and yet they maintain joy and show a resiliency that is an inspiration to me. In Pittsburgh, they still face bullying, misunderstanding, and persecution. Their kids have been bullied downtown on their way to school. I had a friend tell me about a man who verbally attacked her at a bus stop while she waited with her kids. After a member of their community was targeted and killed, one friend’s children begged her to take them back to Somalia, a country they have never known.
My Muslim friends will tell you that terrorists are not real Muslims, often pointing to a verse in the Quran saying that killing one person is like killing all of humanity. We should not forget that today, all across the world, we see people of all creeds (both religious and secular) commit terrible acts in the name of their “beliefs”. We should also not forget that the vast majority of the victims of terrorist bombings are Muslims.
While extremism exists in the Muslim community, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people. They’re our neighbors, classmates, coworkers, and friends. They’re trying to practice their faith and build a life for themselves and their families. Their faith looks different than Christian faith, and the women may have their heads covered, but we are more similar than you might imagine.
For those in the US, they find themselves in a context where they often feel unwanted and unwelcome. For my Somali Bantu friends, the refugees trying to enter the US are people like them, and in many cases are their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Having had the opportunity to interact and befriend Muslims in different places throughout the years, I’ve found that Muslims tend to be some of the kindest and most hospitable people I’ve met, while being people like you and me with hopes and dreams for the future and their families. Just as most Christians have never met a Muslim, most Muslims have never met a Christian.