In 1989, newly married, my wife, Nelly, and I lived above a chocolate shop on Rue St. Jean in Canada’s la belle ville, Quebec City. We attended a small French- speaking church, Eglise St. Marc, and became friends with the many missionaries studying French to minister in exotic regions in French- speaking West Africa. Although we had no intentions of becoming cross-cultural missionaries, we were young, idealistic and eager to serve. That winter, in God’s own mysterious way, we were led more and more to consider missions as a future career. A few years later, God led us to Mali, West Africa, where we served with a small band of hardy Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) and World Renew missionaries living and working among the predominantly Fulani people.
I vividly remember the morning call to prayer, “Allahu Akabar,” jarring me awake at 4:30 in the morning on one of our first days in Mali. The call resonated across the city of Bamako, prayer callers in each minaret calling Muslims to prayer. This was my introduction to the sounds of a faith of which I did not have a lot of knowledge or experience. And so, in addition to learning West African history, cross-cultural missiology and a new language, I began to learn about a new faith.
Living among a Muslim people meant learning what it meant to worship Allah and to follow his prophet Muhammad. Part of our strategy for reaching the Fulani people with the gospel of Jesus was to live among them as Jesus would – rubbing shoulders, appreciating their culture, and appreciating their religion. If possible, we wanted to be seen as religious people, as Jesus marabouts or teachers. We wanted to be an influence for God’s kingdom where we lived. We sought to interact with the influential people in their society – with the village chiefs and the Imams (Mosque Leaders). It was a hard road to walk, but a small committed band of Jesus followers now exists among the Fulani.
Now some twenty years after I heard my first early morning prayer call, God has given me a new challenge – to help the Christian Reformed Church of North America love Muslims. Why now? Because more and more we are recognizing that Muslims, even some Fulani, are moving into our neighborhoods, and in our apartment blocks. Some of us have doctors, lawyers, and bus drivers who are Muslim. We are asking ourselves, much like I did in the dusty city of Bamako so long ago, what do I really know about Islam? And how do I share my faith in Jesus with someone who follows the prophet Muhammad, and who sees Jesus as merely a prophet?
The events of 9/11 were tragic. But they did produce something good – a renewed interest in Muslims – the largest unreached people group in the world. For too long the church has ignored this group of people, citing their direct opposition to the Christian church, and their fierce resistance to evangelism. But since 9/11, and with their increasing presence in North America, we recognize that we cannot ignore this group of people any longer.
The goal of Salaam Project, a multi-agency initiative of the CRCNA, is to help people love their Muslim neighbor, understand the Islamic faith better, and have some tools to share the hope we have in Jesus, the Messiah. Opportunities for doing so will only arise as we put fear and mistrust behind us, seeking to journey together as neighbors, sharing a cup of coffee and talking about our faith. We are spiritual descendants of Abraham, brothers and sisters. It is time we got to know each other better.