Follow Their Example: Christian Workers Share Jesus with Muslims in Russia

I was spending the day with my grandmother not too long ago when she caught me with my nose in a book. She asked if I was reading for work or for pleasure. This particular book didn’t really qualify for either so I told her that I was reading it for my personal edification. She didn’t seem surprised. She knew that just like her, I love to read and learn new things. That’s why I so enjoy editing Missions Traveler, the International Mission Study magazine for adults and students, each year.

The mission study presents an opportunity to delve deep and learn the facts about and culture of a country, city, or people group. It also provides inspiration to pray for the featured Christian workers and their people group, give to support their work, and follow their example in reaching the lost wherever you are.

The 2017 study focuses on Christian workers in Russia reaching Central Asian Muslims who have migrated to big cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg to find work. As you read these workers’ stories, we hope you will discover ideas for leading members of your church or missions group to intentionally share Jesus with Muslims in your community.

Fear Not

For some people, the idea of sharing the gospel with anyone is scary. It can be especially intimidating when we are talking about people whose beliefs are very different from ours. But God does not want us to live with a “spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7). His Word encourages us to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope that we have and cautions us to “do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).

A quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, and the Muslim population in the United States is growing. Instead of retreating into your Christian bubble, engage the Muslims you encounter and build relationships, remembering this advice from retired missionaries to Gaza and the West Bank:

  • Muslims are not your enemies.
  • It’s not your job to put down Islam. It’s your job to lift up Jesus.
  • Islam can defend itself against everything but God’s grace.

Find Common Ground

Good relationships are built on commonalities. And Christians and Muslims do share similarities:

  • We trace our faiths’ origin back to Abraham.
  • Our faiths are based on scripture.
  • We are monotheists, believing in only one God.
  • We believe that God sent messengers or prophets.
  • We believe in an afterlife and the resurrection of the dead.

Say Something Nice

You’ve probably heard the advice not to say anything at all if you don’t have something nice to say. As you discuss issues of faith, remember that you may win an argument about whether Christians or Muslims are right but it may cost you a relationship with someone who needs Jesus. And there are some good things Christians can say about Muhammad, the founder of Islam who is considered its greatest prophet.

Muhammad was an honest man who worked hard. He pointed people to one God (see Deut. 6:4). He warned about the coming judgment (see Rom. 14:10). He cared for widows and orphans (see James 1:27). He stopped the killing of female infants, which was common in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Most Muslims who come to faith do so because a Christian loved them and was kind to them. “You can’t talk a Muslim out of his faith, because his mind is so closed to it. It takes love and relationships to help them understand,” said Helena*, a Muslim background believer from Dagestan.

Don’t Assume

Yes, Islam began in Arabia in the seventh century, specifically in the city of Mecca, which is in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Yes, most Arabs are Muslim. But most Muslims are not Arab. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia, which is in Southeastern Asia. In fact, 50 countries have a Muslim-majority population. See how Islam and the four other major world religions spread to every part of the world in this video from the news website Business Insider.

About 3.45 million Muslims live in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s about 1.1% of the population. A 2017 Pew survey of American Muslims found that 58% are first-generation immigrants. They came to this country seeking opportunity or fleeing catastrophe much like many Americans’ European ancestors. Nine in 10 American Muslims say they are proud to be Americans, but only slightly more than half (55%) says Americans are generally friendly toward Muslim Americans. 

About 80% of Muslims in the US are citizens (42% are citizens by birth) and are happy with their lives here. A similar number (84%) say suicide bombing and other forms of violence can rarely/never be justified.

About 4 out of 10 American Muslims attend mosque at least once weekly, compared to 45% of American Christians who attend church at least once a week. Interestingly, about 20% of adult Muslims in the US were raised in a different faith or none at all.

Share Jesus

Follow these principles from those retired missionaries as you share Jesus with Muslims and really anyone else who does not know Him as Savior and Lord:

  1. Start with prayer. Pray for God to bring people who need Jesus into your life, opportunities to meet them, and the words to say.
  2. Share your life. Talk about your job, your family, and your faith. Be genuine. Recognize that these people are not a project but your friends. Demonstrate what Christians are like. Learn how to share your testimony without using “religious words.” Tell how your faith shapes your daily life. Tell stories from the Bible when you can make a logical connection to your conversation (“That reminds me of . . .”). Listen. Pray with them when they struggle. (Prayer is 1 of the 5 pillars of Islam and Muslims pray up to 5 times per day.)
  3. Build bridges, not walls. Find some common ground. Say something nice about Islam, Muhammad, or your Muslim friend’s life. Be mindful of how you dress. Show respect for your Muslim friend and err on the side of modesty.
  4. Treat them as individuals. Remember that Muslims are neither all good nor all bad. Don’t assume either extreme is correct. Interact with the individual Muslim in front of you.
  5. Walk the walk. Understand that Muslims need to see you practice your faith. According to the Muslim worldview, faith without works is dead. Do what you say you are going to do. Demonstrate your love for God through good deeds.
  6. Trust the Holy Spirit. Give people as much contact with Jesus as you can so that the Holy Spirit can use that to convict them of sin and draw them to Himself.
  7. Keep praying!

You don’t have to be an expert on Islam to reach out to a Muslim. You don’t even have to be an expert on Christianity. You do have to love Muslims and witness about the goodness of God in your life. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know” to questions you may be asked. Muslims respect that. The most important thing to know is there are answers to their questions, so if you don’t know the answers, then seek help. Most books on Christian outreach to Muslims address the topic of common misunderstandings and objections of Muslims.

If you are interested in learning what Muslims and followers of other religions believe, then check out Religions Among Us.

*Name changed.

Kathleen Penton is an assistant editor with WMU. She happily studied religion in culture, along with journalism, in college.

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