You can learn a lot from people different than you. That shows up in the stories of my forthcoming book, and it’s especially vital in today’s cultural climate.
The United States seems more divided than it’s been in our lifetime. Recent political focus has turned to refugees, specifically immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East. Some reactionary, ill-informed Americans believe harsher, even more restrictive immigration policies are the answer. Thankfully, many people—including many Christians—are stepping up to advocate and act with fact-based reasoning and compassion toward Muslims and all our neighbors, both in America and around the globe.
This is a guest post by Marion Clifton about building relationships with Arabs in the U.S., and the surprising perspective he gained from his Muslim friends. Here’s Marion:
Let Love Change You First – What I Learned From My Muslim Neighbor
About a year ago, my wife and I moved to Dearborn, MI to start a ministry among the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Arab world. We have a desire to share the love of Jesus with all Arabs. And we don’t plan on stopping until every one hears.
But at times, I wonder if God wanted us to start this ministry, not to reach them, but to reach us.
One of my best friends is an Arab-Muslim and he recently asked me if I had it in mind to convert him. At first, I was a little caught off guard, and honestly wasn’t sure how to answer. I explained the Great Commission Jesus gave His followers; to make disciples of all ethnicities and cultures—including Arabs. I explained the Greatest Commandment; to love God and our neighbors—including our Arab neighbors. I let him know that our friendship is not dependent upon him converting to a new religion, but if we want to be friends, he’s probably going to hear a lot about Jesus. And that I fully expected to hear him share the Quran and the teachings of Mohammed with me.
You Can’t Change Them
Sharing what we believe shouldn’t be awkward or offensive, if we truly believe it—it’s who we are. Sharing your life with someone means sharing what Jesus has done for you too. It would be silly to not talk about the person that has completely changed your life. It would be like never telling someone where you’re from, or who your parents are, or what kind of music you like.
But I still hadn’t answered his question yet. I was partially avoiding it and partially trying to work the words out in my mind. I hadn’t been asked this question before. Was I trying to convert him? Was that my motivation of being his friend?
He explained to me that many of the Christian friends he had made just wanted to convert him. And they dropped him when he told them that he wasn’t interested in changing his religion. He said it felt like they never actually saw him or genuinely loved him.
Our conversation continued over a series of days. I began asking him how, as followers of Jesus, we could be more genuine about engaging our Arab-Muslim friends. He said something I’ll never forget:
“It’s not enough to just tell me that Jesus loves me. You need to learn to let that love change you first. Then you can show me that love, too.”
I don’t believe our goal should ever be making a convert. In fact, it’s impossible. You can’t change anyone—only Jesus can. We were called to make disciples, not converts. We tend to make it more about convincing someone to believe what we believe rather than living it out while sharing it. The Great Commission without the Great Commandment is vanity. It’s meaningless. We don’t feel God move and it often separates the non-believer from Jesus even further.
Make New Friends, Show Love, Share Jesus
We currently have an opportunity that no other generation in history has been given. Less than 6% of Arabs worldwide consider themselves followers of Jesus. It’s estimated that nearly 3.7 million Americans trace their roots to the Arab world. The largest concentration outside of the Arab world is right outside my front door. The likelihood that you know an Arab-American is very high. The world is no longer “over there;” it’s next door.
Our strategy is the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Don’t separate them. One fuels the other. Go and make friends with your Arab neighbors and all your other neighbors too. Don’t befriend them so you can convert them. In fact, stop trying to convert them entirely. Share the gospel and just love them. Befriend them because Jesus loves them and because that love has changed you.
Marion Clifton is a follower of Jesus, husband to Felicia, and the President of Arab World Outreach. Not having grown up in the Church, he is passionate and vocal about reaching the unreached. He lives in the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Arab world sharing the love of Jesus with the community through peace making, disciple making, and church planting. Find Marion on Twitter and follow Arab World Outreach on Facebook.
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