Shortly after our son Paul graduated from high school this spring, we put him on a plane with seven other students for a two-week trip to France and Italy. Their trek, led by four adults, was a small piece of Wheaton Bible Church's (WBC) MOVE Initiative, a relatively nascent project defined by its mission and ministry to Muslims both in suburban Chicago and abroad. It's a little window into how missions have, for many churches, changed since September 11.
In southern Europe, a number of missionary families reach out to immigrants and refugees from North Africa, many of whom have fled unstable nations and are looking for peace. Partnering with Greater Europe Mission, which has ramped up its own outreach to Muslims in recent years, our church recently commissioned eight new missionaries for this work in France.
My son's group—one of about eight short-term teams from WBC's high school ministry—handed out evangelistic materials at an Italian port city through which many North Africans travel. Paul, one of the student leaders, says his team experienced both receptivity (he led one Muslim man to Christ) and rejection (including being cursed and spat at), but most encounters were quick and cordial. The team distributed 1,000 copies of the New Testament, learned much about the power of prayer, and came home inspired.
Locally, the MOVE Initiative reaches out to about 15 Iraqi families in a nearby apartment complex through a partnership with World Relief. Several staff and church members have moved into the complex to foster deeper relationships, which typically begin with relatively simple tasks when the refugees arrive: picking them up at the airport, stocking their fridges, running errands, and meeting other practical needs involved in resettlement.
"We're just meeting needs and building relationships," says local-impact pastor Chris McElwee. "They're not strangers to us. They know us and trust us, and they're interested in spiritual things." At least a couple of the Iraqi men have been visiting WBC in recent months, attending worship services (with their Arabic/English Bibles in hand) and taking part in a discussion group.
Our new MOVE missionaries, who recently arrived in France, will take essentially the same approach: helping refugees resettle, meeting needs, and building relationships. The hope is that as the friendships grow, so will opportunities to share the gospel.
WBC senior pastor Robert Bugh says the MOVE Initiative is a natural outgrowth of the church's longstanding "sensitivity to the plight of immigrants."
"We have a history of ministering to refugees coming from different places," says Bugh, referring to outreach to Hispanics. But, he says, "9/11 was a game changer for a lot of us. We asked, what does the gospel mean in terms of a Christian response? Are we going to hunker down in fear and hate people? Or are we going to understand that we're all sinful and separated from God, and that it's incumbent upon us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all sorts of people, including those who might be perceived to be our enemies?"
Greater Europe Mission president Henry Deneen says the relatively recent influx of Muslims to Europe has affected his ministry's overall strategy. It still reaches out to native Europeans, but "there's a window of time here, especially with all the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, that immigrants are flooding into Europe.
"Several European governments—particularly France, Germany, and the UK—are saying that the experiment of multiculturalism … has failed," he says. "So you have a perfect storm—immigrants flooding in, and governments saying it's not working. We're saying, what a great place for the Lord Jesus to be."
Thus, Wheaton Bible's efforts to reach out to Muslims in France. Says Bugh, "It's all part of a larger immigration engagement theology that's worked for us."
Mark Moring is senior associate editor at Christianity Today.
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This article is a sidebar to today's lead article, "Muslim Missions: Then & Now."
For more on Wheaton Bible Church's MOVE Initiative, visit WheatonBible.org.
Other Christianity Today articles on 9/11 include:
How Leaders Have Changed Since 9/11 | Christian leaders describe how that fateful day shaped how they see the world.
Wake-up Call | If September 11 was a divine warning, it's God's people who are being warned. (November 12, 2001)
Where Was God on 9/11? | Reflections from Ground Zero and beyond. (October 1, 2001)
Saving the Superheroes | Portland-based ministry Responder Life sees police officers, firefighters, and dispatchers as an unreached people group.
Loving Muslims One at a Time | The 'Vicar of Baghdad' says the key to Muslim-Christian relations is very personal.
Muslim Followers of Jesus | Believers from Muslim backgrounds are trying to forge new identities in Islamic cultures. The debate over their options has grown furious. (December 1, 2009)
CT also has more articles on other religions on our site.
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