When you hear the terms ‘Muslim refugees’ or ‘Muslim immigrants,’ what comes to mind? What emotions do you feel? Does your mind immediately run to the political bickering between the U.S. president and congress? Do you fear that Muslims are quietly infiltrating Europe and the U.S. to carry out terror attacks or someday impose Sharia law?
Is it possible that some refugees and immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East have evil intentions? Yes. For the American church, should politics and personal security govern our thoughts and feelings about these people groups? No. As followers of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures alone command authority over our thoughts and feelings.
Regarding immigration and refugees, are these incredibly complex issues? Absolutely. Should the U.S. government exercise wisdom and discretion in protecting their citizens? Of course, they are called by God’s common grace to do so.
But once these refugees and immigrants from Muslim nations live in our communities, Jesus left us no loopholes, no wiggle-room, in loving and doing good to them, even those who may harbor hostile intentions. He commanded us to love our enemies and do good to those that hate us (LK. 6:27-28).
Actually, many Muslims immigrate to the U.S. simply for better economic opportunity or to escape the devastation of war in their homeland. Jesus spoke to that as well, commanding us to love our neighbor, and then told a parable of cultures antagonistic to one another to illustrate what He meant by ‘neighbor’ (LK. 10:25-37). There is no greater act of love than giving the Gospel to a perishing sinner. So, with the Apostle Paul, we ought to feel constrained, compelled, controlled by the Gospel to plead with our new Muslim neighbors to be reconciled to God (2 COR. 5:11-21).
That is exactly what a church in the Detroit community of Hamtramck is doing. Last month I had the unique privilege of visiting Grace Baptist Church in order to see their Gospel work among Yemeni refugees. After only a couple of days in Hamtramck, I must admit that I never felt so disoriented in my own country. On every street walked men in traditional Middle Eastern robes and women covered in black from head to foot. The shop signs were in English and Arabic. At sundown, the call to prayer rang out from the mosque. More than once, I had to remind myself that I was in Michigan, not the Middle East.
Several years ago, Pastor Jay attended seminary in Detroit. During his time there, his heart was stirred for the African-American community in Hamtramck. Grace Baptist Church was eventually birthed in his home. As refugees from the war-torn Arab nation of Yemen continued flooding into the community, Jay saw the urgent need to engage them with the Gospel. In His good time, God sent Sam.
Sam’s heart was heavily burdened to reach Muslim immigrants in the U.S. with the Gospel. He had come on a short trip to Detroit with an organization doing mostly humanitarian projects. One day Sam was in a park in Hamtramck evangelizing when he met Pastor Jay. Their hearts were quickly united and as their relationship grew, God’s calling and direction became clear. Sam and his family moved to Hamtramck to help Grace Baptist evangelize Muslim immigrants.
In time, it became obvious that Sam’s efforts would be greatly enhanced if he spoke Arabic. His family spent the next 13 months in Alexandria, Egypt as Sam devoted himself to learning Arabic, and he continues to dedicate hours each day to improving his language skills. Sam now serves as an elder in Grace Baptist Church, and their evangelistic zeal, mingled with sincere fellowship, is beautiful to behold. Several young adults have actually moved into Hamtramck and joined the church with the specific intent to reach Muslim immigrants with the Gospel.
The church is out in their community 2 or 3 nights every week, weather permitting, proclaiming the Gospel. Pastor Jay and others lead outreach to African-Americans, and the Sunday morning congregation was beautifully diverse. Sam heads up evangelistic outreach to primarily Yemeni refugees. A group from the church goes to a local park where Yemenis socialize every evening. Some of them interest the children in an activity while a few men and women fan out to engage Yemenis in discussion. On the Sunday night of my visit, the church actually met in the park to sing and preach a short Gospel message in Arabic.
It is no surprise that the work has gone very slowly. Most of the men willing to talk only offer the usual objections to Christianity. The local imams love to argue. Very few have shown sincere interest, though one teen joined us at Pastor Jay’s for pizza and a birthday celebration. That young man has heard the Gospel many times now.
Open resistance to the church’s efforts has recently been growing. A couple of men consistently argue with Sam or harass those that Sam tries to speak with. And, yes, there have been veiled threats. Sam has been told, in essence, ‘Back in our country, we know how to deal with people like you.’ As you can imagine, it is not easy for Grace Baptist to go on, week after week, year after year, witnessing the Gospel in a cultural context that is unfamiliar and sometimes hostile with no visible fruit.
They long to see an indigenous Yemeni church someday in Hamtramck, and it all starts with one coming to faith in Christ. I am reminded of the words of one of HeartCry’s Romanian pastors regarding the refugee crisis in Europe. He said, ‘For centuries, Christ has been telling us to go to them, but we were afraid and did not go. So now He has brought them to us!’ Please pray for Sam and his family, Pastor Jay, and Grace Baptist Church as they seek to be faithful Gospel witnesses to the unreached people group that God has placed in their own backyard.
Before his current role at HeartCry, Robert served several years in pastoral ministry, and a few years in Zambia, Africa as a missionary. He is also a veteran of the Marine Corps. Robert and his wife have been blessed with 3 children and 4 grandchildren. They live near Christiansburg, VA in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, where he enjoys deer hunting and fly-fishing for trout.More By Robert Shepherd