Q and A with a missionary who ministers to muslims
9 months ago Triangle 0
Written by: Nathan Kernell, Staff Writer
I interviewed a missionary whose primary focus is familiarizing Muslims with who Jesus Christ was and what he taught, and his job often takes him on travels spanning the globe. Not only does he preach himself, but he also trains others to effectively preach the Gospel to Muslims.
Editor’s Note: Per his request, we have withheld the name of the missionary.
Q: Are there particular platforms or methods you use to get personal with the people you are ministering to? How do you get to a point where someone will open up to you and listen to the Gospel you are trying to spread?
A: When I do outreach, I intentionally put myself where Muslims are. And I just try to go and make a friend. To go and make a friend, you have to be a friend, so I just try to go and meet people. And I don’t think I’m this crazy extrovert or anything, but I just try to meet people where I’m at. When I’m not talking to people, when I’m trying to find someone, I just pray. “[I pray according to Luke 10 and Matthew 10 where] Jesus said to look for a person of peace. Once I do that, I just try to get to know them. Because when they start talking, they can start telling me things without even realizing what God’s doing in their lives. I try to look for where God’s working in this person’s life. And maybe they’re just talking about school or something that’s not obvious, but as you get to know them they start telling you what’s on their heart, what their concerns are. I had a 30 minute conversation with some guys from Saudi Arabia about stupid iPhones. Finally, I was just like, “Lord, I don’t want this conversation to go nowhere. Because they have to leave soon and I have to leave soon.” And then all of a sudden, one guy just got real quiet and he goes, “Do you know anything about church?” “Yeah I know a little bit, what do you want to know?” And that was right into the spiritual conversation. Then he started asking about what we believe, and I said, “Well, can I just show you what I believe?” I had a simple Gospel presentation that I was ready to share at any given time, and so I shared it with him. And his response was “I’ve gotta read about that, do you know where I can get a Bible?” And so, just simple little things like that. Try to truly love someone, make a friend, and then look for receptivity. Once you find receptivity, spend time with that person and share the Gospel with them.
Q: So I saw you got your degree in missions from Moody Bible Institute. Was that something you’d always wanted to pursue or was there a turning point where you really saw that this [mission work] was what God wanted you to do?
A: Well, actually, I wanted to be a Green Beret for a long time. I think that’s maybe what a lot of guys wanna do. I love my dad and he was a military guy and I thought “I wanna do that.” But then as a teenager, I realized, even though I was raised as a Christian, I hadn’t really understood the Gospel in a refreshing way. And then my youth pastor took me on a missions trip to Jamaica. That really changed my life, because I was a junior in high school and I saw real, significant poverty for the first time. Like deep poverty. But I saw that a lot of these guys are really open to the Gospel. And in hindsight, sure, they could be trying to appease the people from America who came, but I think there was real genuine openness at the same time. So that just really blew my mind and I loved that so much. I was trying to think like “Do I wanna become an engineer; maybe I can use that for the kingdom somehow. Or maybe I can actually be a missionary.” And then at one point, I don’t know who told me to do this, but I wrote down “what is the best case scenario if I am an engineer” and “what is the best case scenario if I am a missionary”. When I compared and contrasted the two lists, they didn’t even compare with each other. And we need engineers actually, there are job openings for engineers in the Middle East and we can’t find enough engineers to go over and do those things. But to me, I had gotten entrapped in all the worldly things. I wanted a lot of money and nice stuff and I thought engineering was an interesting way of doing it. I found I got so much more joy out of seeing people come to faith. And that was just so incredible to be a part of. I thought, “This is just what I wanna do.”
Q: So are there any specific tactics or methods you use when teaching the Gospel for it to be easily understood?
A: Yeah, I try to focus and do things as much as I can the way Jesus did them. And I’m not trying to sound hyper-spiritual, but often when you look at how I was even taught to share the Gospel, it looks really different than how Jesus did it. I was at one point told I have to yell at Muslims when they yell at me. “Scream back at them and then they’ll respect you,” was what I was told. And I was like “Yeah I just don’t see that with Jesus.” But what did Jesus do with the woman at the well? He hung out with her a little bit. What did he do with Zacchaeus? Well he said, “Zacchaeus I’m gonna go to your place.” And we saw the tax collector come to faith and bring all his friends home to have a dinner party with Jesus. So it can just be so much easier and so much more effective and so much more fun if we’re actually willing to sit down and spend time with people and get to know them. Also, the word Christianity, for Muslims, means corrupt Western culture. So if you ask them to become a Christian, what comes to mind is, “You want me to basically become a westerner.” Now that’s not at all what we’re talking about, but that is what they hear. But Jesus never once used the word “Christian” in the New Testament. Paul never once used the word ‘Christian”. Even Jesus said, “they will know you are Christians by your love,” but that’s not actually what it said. It says, “they will know that you are my disciples by your look.” Now, I am not against the word “Christian”, but it’s only used three times in the Bible, twice by non-believers. What is the terminology Jesus used? He used “come enter the kingdom of God and follow me.” So when we talk about the kingdom of God with Muslims, that’s a term they’re familiar with. But they don’t know much about it, which is actually very similar to a lot of Christians. So we try to love people, we try to talk about the kingdom, and we try to show them a way that they can enter the kingdom with us together.
Q: How do you go about training someone to do what you do?
A: Well, first I try to de-program them of a couple things. I say that there are some lies from Hell that they may believe. They are lies that Satan has, and there are basically two of them: That Muslims are hard, that they are not going to come to faith–which is a total lie–and that they [the missionaries] are not spiritual enough to be used, that only God’s superheroes are gonna lead a Muslim to the Lord. Both of those are complete lies. You don’t have to be Ravi Zacharias to lead a Muslim to the Lord. Let God work through you in the unique way he created you. I don’t want people thinking that God won’t use them. No; he can and, most likely if you go out, He will in a bigger way than you expected before. Then we talk about our three foundations and I already talked about them a little bit: that we truly love Muslims, we look for personal peace, and probably the most important, teaching you a method to try and share the Gospel. But don’t put your hope and trust in the method I share with you. Because then you’re putting me as an idol. The only method you should really put your hope and trust in is that God will speak to you through the Holy Spirit and speak through you in a powerful way. So from there, we teach how to talk about the kingdom. We also teach how to enter the kingdom through a series of stories that Muslims are familiar with, like Adam, Noah, Abraham. They know all those stories. So we teach how every one of those points to the Gospel, but from there, I like to take people to the mosque. We have to get out of the classroom at some point. And if someone’s really afraid, they are gonna leave the mosque not being afraid anymore. They are gonna see that they are just people. Plus it gives me a chance to model what I have been talking about with them. But we don’t go to preach, we don’t go to persuade. We just go to listen, but then we let the students watch how I do it. Not that I’m perfect, maybe you’ll watch me make some mistakes, but that will still be a learning experience for you. After, we try to do a debrief of “what did you see” and “what did you learn”. Now that they’ve seen these things, go make a friend and hang out at Starbucks with them. Just go hang out with them.
Q: So in the 20 plus years you have been working with OM, are there any experiences that stick out in your memory where you can really see God working in someone’s life?
A: Oh man. OM had this crazy idea a long time ago where you actually get a ship and you travel from port to port doing literature distribution of Evangelism from a ship. And I did that for about two and a half years. It was some of the best times of my life. I absolutely loved it. I was going to join the ship in India, and the ship had been traveling West and someone asked me, “ Well do you think the ship is going to go to the Middle East.” I said, “No way is that going to go to the Middle East.” Well, it did. In the Middle East I went to, um let’s see; I went to Oman, Qatar, three ports of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, and just around the corner to Djibouti, we went later on to Malaysia, Brunei. Brunei has a very strong Islamic government and so do the Maldive Islands. But I had multiple encounters with Muslims along there, especially in the gulf. But I found that these guys are different than what I thought. We saw a lot of things, like in the Philippines, some nights you would see 100 or so people come to faith. Uh, it’s slower with Muslims, but we’re starting to see the results that we saw there.
Q: So in the time you’ve been involved doing missionary work with Muslims, how have you seen your field grow or change over time?
A: Well we are seeing more interest from people that wanna actually get involved. Right now I have like four or five churches asking to get involved. Which is great, and I hope they’re all gonna follow up and do it. We’re seeing more Muslims come to faith too. In the video we showed in the chapel here, it’s one guy that led 10 Muslims to the Lord. And at first, I didn’t really believe him, if I’m really honest. So I actually had a chance to sit down with him and ask him a lot of really specific questions. And he gave me specific names and specific stories and told me all these really specific details about how this happened. In the last few years, this group that we train in Kenya said that they’ve seen at least 100 Muslims come to faith. In fact, when I was there almost a year and a half ago now, they brought a guy who was a local Muslim leader, an Imam, to the training. And I said, “You want him to be in the training with us?” They said yeah. Well, that doesn’t seem like a very good idea. And they said, “well we’ve been sharing Christ with him, and he hasn’t come to faith yet, but we think he’s ready.” And it appears he came to faith that week. And at the end, he said, “I wanna take this message of the Gospel, this message of the kingdom, and share it with my community.” So I haven’t seen him since, but I really hope that he really did come to faith. I’m still trying to remember to pray for him, but I totally believe it’s because we’ve seen it in others coming to faith like that as well.
Q: People often get inspired to spread the Gospel, but they feel they have to go overseas, go to a different country to do it. So do you have a response to missioning here?
A: Yeah. Every year in the US, there are about 50,000 Saudis here just on student visas. You’ll have Saudis not far from here. I guarantee you’ll find someone in Chattanooga. And there are other students, maybe Palestinians, or Muslims from India, or other places; they’ll be here studying. We’ve got a free shop to go share with them and befriend them. Now it takes a lot of effort to try and bring a missionary or someone to a Muslim world, like Saudi Arabia or something like that. But we just have to go down the street to find them here. We need to send people overseas, in fact, I’d love to see a lot more people go, but we’re nowhere near reaching the potential we have to share with Muslims here. We’re just scratching the surface.
Q: In serving in the Middle East, there has got to be dangers associated with going over there. So what are some of those dangers?
A: My friend was shot and killed, and I had gunshots down the street from me a few years ago. The world is a dangerous place, so if we think it’s safer here in America, that may be true, but it also may not be. I think if we are really submitting our lives to the Lord, saying “Lord you can use me any way you want”, then we just have to trust in Him. Now we do have to make wise decisions and there are some places where it is not safe for missionaries to go, but at the same time, there are plenty of places we can go. So we do need wisdom, and actually, I was gonna say this at the end, but I completely forgot and I feel horrible about that, but my friend lost his wife. He said, “I wanna forgive whoever it was that shot my wife. Because Jesus Christ has forgiven me for all that I’ve ever done.” And he lived that out. That spread like wildfire. Nobody forgives, and he had no reason to. He should’ve said, “I’m gonna go kill these guys who have done this.” But he didn’t. He forgave. And then he went on multiple speaking tours where he would just share, and I was with him for those. The very first thing he would do when he gets up is he puts a Lebanese flag over the pulpit, and the first words out of his mouth are “I love the people of Lebanon.” Someone in Lebanon shot his dear wife, who was my dear friend. And he forgave. I’ve been with him, and he is not a bitter person; he has lived out the forgiveness that he talked about. So that’s a pretty amazing thing and yeah, it can be dangerous, but if it is, we’ve gotta leave the results to the Lord. God can use us even in bad circumstances.
Q: To wrap up, what’s next? Do you have anything, any journeys in the works or stuff you’re working on right now?
A: I actually just finished a book. I’m trying to get some guys to review it, and some here at Bryan are going to do that for me. I really want it out, for sure, like in the hands of people by the end of the year. Now that’s really hard because you keep thinking of different ways you can adjust it and you’re always in the research and development stage; you never put the product out. But that’s one thing, and this Spring we are going to be filming a series of training videos, so you can get probably five or six videos, about 45 minutes each, where people can learn how to actually put the stuff in action. We can’t go everywhere and train all these guys, but we can put a resource out where you can still get the training.
Nathan Kernell is a freshman majoring in Communications with a focus in Digital Media. He enjoys playing on the baseball team and also playing guitar. Nathan has always enjoyed writing, so it only seemed fitting to pursue that path in college. He can often be found making the short trip over to Chattanooga any time he has a free day or playing guitar in his dorm.