While engaging in my favorite research activity of late (The Memphis Dialogues), I came across an audio file of a segment of an interview with a Christian missionary who lives in Mosul, in the Ninevah Province of Northern Iraq. Here are questions asked and the answers given by Neil, the missionary.
Q: Two things you know living in Iraq. You know how ugly, how murderous, how horrific radical Islam is. You also know how the great majority of Muslims do not share those sentiments. From your perspective as a missionary in a Muslim world, was it a wise thing for James (White) to try to have civil discussions, to bring walls down, to un-demonize certain people, and therefore Christians and Muslims talk face to face, or is this just being a ‘useful idiot for Islam’, and now you basically desensitize people to the dangers of radical lslam. What was your take?
A: I love that James White did this. I think it was a beautiful example of who we are supposed to be. Of course we’re supposed to be wise, but we come with love. The demonstration of the Kingdom of God comes with humility and love, and if I’m debating or arguing it’s not going to sound like love to the person I’m arguing with. This is what we do all the time. We sit down with people who are on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of belief and faith, and we have a choice. I’m either going to argue with you about who Mohammad is and what the Quran is, how evil and vile it is, the expression of Islam and what it’s done in the Middle East, OR we can talk about Jesus. We can talk about the Kingdom of God and we can talk about what that looks like. And I can demonstrate that for you even in the way I interact with you as a human being – my tone of voice, the way I honor you and respect you as an individual created in God’s image.
The last thing we want to do is tear somebody down; what, so we can prove our theological point? That’s not going to convince somebody of anything. At best, it may convince their mind, but it’s not going to lead to a genuine conversion in the heart.
I applauded James White for doing that.
Q: Neil, have you yourself interacted with devout Muslims; you said that perhaps 75% are not devout in praying five times a day, and many of the younger people are more alienated from Islam because of ISIS, as you live there in Northern Iraq. Have you interacted though with very conservative Muslims as well?
A: I’ve sat down in the middle of Mosul and had lunch with Imams who I KNOW were leading prayers for ISIS in the Mosque. I’ve sat down with young men who lived their entire time through ISIS and are now studying to be Imams. And I can tell you that the best fruit we have ever seen is when we sit down and we discuss Jesus.
We don’t want to talk about the Quran. We don’t want to talk about Mohammad. Let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s talk about the truth, because they’ve never heard these things.
As for us, when we cross the boundary into deb ate and argument, it’s never going to end up good. But when we can introduce something to them that they’ve never heard before, there’s something inside of them that longs for the truth. And when we can give it to them, that’s when there entered into the Kingdom.
That was it. Two intelligent questions and with some ‘background’ to put them in context and a missionary’s answers.
Listening to that interview gave me flashbacks to my service in Special Forces and what we did to prepare to infiltrate behind enemy lines to conduct military operations of one sort or another. Whether those operations were short or long term, we performed detail country studies to learn all about a country, their customs, language, religion, etc.
Once on the ground it was necessary to establish good rapport with the indigenous population. Some of how we went about accomplishing that was described by the missionary in the interview!
I can only ask any reader who might stumble upon this little blog “If it’s necessary to earn the respect of indigenous peoples working with them for a common cause, how much more vital is it when you want to present a religion they inherently hate?”
The best thing about all this talking about James White is that it has afforded me the opportunity to improve my own thinking about touchy matters, and hopefully it helped me in the interpretation and exegesis of scripture.
May God bless you richly as you also travel along the way to the Celestial City.