When Rhiannon and I used to live in Senegal, distributing gospel literature was one of the primary aspects of our ministry. Every week, we would go to the University and distribute gospel tracts, cassettes, and New Testaments. Today I felt like I was back on the mission field again. A friend of ours from church called us the other day and invited us to distribute the Jesus Video at a local mosque.
In honor of Good Friday, and because I thought it would be a productive way to spend an afternoon (after all, I am still a missionary/evangelist), I decided to join the fun by going to the local mosque and handing out the Jesus Video to the people as they left the parking lot.
First of all, let me say that it was cold. I can not remember a time in April where it has been this cold. The thought kept reocurring to me that this is the least I can do considering the amount of suffering that Jesus went through on my behalf.
After a few minutes, the mosque leaders came up and talked to us and asked why we didn't just go in and talk to them and have a dialogue. Since I wasn't the leader, I pretty much played dumb. Our leader was a fiesty Egyptian woman who converted to Christianity in Egypt, but then basicallyl had to flee for her life before escaping to the U.S. I was awestruck at the woman's resilience. First of all, we had the right to be there. We were not trespassing on their property. We were on the sidewalk and we had permission from the police. For a while, the mosque leaders stood out in the parking lot telling the people not to take our literature and videos. All the while we stayed...shivering.
The funny thing is that the mosque leaders eventually left and we were able to distribute the rest of our videos. The people were more eager to take what we had than they were to listen to those who urged them not to take it. My Egyptian Christian friend said that we gained their respect when we stood our ground, especially out there in the cold. Placing myself in her shoes, I could tell that for her, the gospel was a form of liberation for her. And by liberation, I mean it in the same sense that many feminists use it, liberation from male oppression. I could sense the same thing from a few of the women who took the videos from her.
One of the things I thought to myself was: "I wonder if it would be more effective if we just had a dialogue with these leaders?" I actually thought for a moment about what we looked like out there and wondered if we were making things worse by evangelizing in such a bold way. And then I remembered the simple fact that because of what we were doing, hundreds of Muslims would see and hear an authentic presentation of the gospel for the first time. I remembered that, although we may have looked crazy and irrational out there in the cold trying to proselytize a people of another faith, it is a genuine fruit of the gospel that we live in a society that allows the freedom that we have to propogate our faith. And, yes, it works both ways. Muslims are evangelizing here in the U.S. with much vigor and tenacity and, as long as I am alive, I will defend their right to do so. I remembered that those living in Muslim countries around the world do not have the freedom to make an authentic choice about their religion without fear of death or imprisonment.
I realize that there is a time for dialogue. I strongly believe that in the age that we are living in, Christian leaders and Muslims leaders need to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect. Much of my speech in the upcoming film "Hoy Wars" is about how we in America and the Western world need to remove the speck from our own eyes so that we can understand how millions of Muslims around the world view us. I believe this is especially true when it comes to political realities that are not quite as black and white as we would like to believe. Having said that, I believe there is a time to dialogue and a time to preach. I'm glad that I can boldy say with the Apostle Paul, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to all who believe."
For our Egyptian friend today, the gospel meant freedom and liberation. Let us pray that we as a nation will never lose our liberty to shiver for Jesus.