by H. M. Dard
I wondered and wept. How does Christ enter the Muslim world?
A few minutes ago my wife and I returned from standing at the grave of the 10-year-old son of our Muslim neighbors. This keen, alert boy, full of life and questions, was suddenly taken from this life 12 days ago when his school bus skidded into a wall. We stood with his mother, her sister, and her 14-year-old son as they wept and offered the customary prayers at the graveside. We grieved with them.
Ahmad had often been in our home, and his exploring mind left no stone unturned. He questioned everything in sight and offered his own opinion on many matters. Just a few weeks before, when I was away from home overnight, his mother had sent her two sons over to talk with my wife for an hour.
Ahmad wanted an explanation of the plaque hanging on Our wall. It reads, "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." He struggled through the words, but they didn’t make sense to him. In response to my wife’s saying that a person is supremely happy if he knows God is with him, he responded, "If I knew God were with me, I would be afraid!"
As we first took the weeping mother to the hospital and looked on as life ebbed from young Ahmad, as I walked with a large company of. men the one mile to a rugged hillside cemetery, as I stood on the fringe of the crowd in an open field during funeral prayers, while the Imam called out four times, "Allah he Akbar" (God is great), as I sat with the men during their long talks about the last events in the life of Ahmad and during their many prayers for his eternal welfare, as my wife spent hours every day sharing the grief of the mother and family, helping to entertain an endless stream of sympathizers from miles away and acting as "auntie" and "nani" to all the visiting nieces and nephews who needed diversion outside the home, I wondered, I wondered and inwardly wept, how does Christ enter the Muslim world?
How does his eternal message of grace and justice penetrate this maze of tradition, custom, and religion to meet men as they are, where they are? Why have I and my generation been so unsuccessful in seeing Muslims brought into life and hope? How long do we have to continue to stand at the graves of bright 10-year-olds and at the gravesides of their aged grandfathers? (Ahmad’s died six months earlier and we share that grief.) How long do we have to stand and listen to the stoic cry of "God is great" and watch men in silent grief lower loved ones into a grave, while an empty void possesses heart and mind?
During this time of hurting and reflection I picked up the Evangelical Missions Quarterly of July 1982, and eagerly read the debates about how to declare Christ and develop a believing community in the Muslim world. Is proclamation alone the great necessity, or do we need development projects? I read the articles with intense interest because having lived in this Muslim country for most of the past 27 years, I have wrestled with these issues and have tried to live next to the people.
But as I stood at the grave this morning and quietly said to the grieving mother, "We share this grief with you," it made contextualization, proclamation, community development, health care, and so on, seem like the morning mist in the cool valley below slowly dissipating under the warming sun. Is Christ going to penetrate the Muslim world through strategies cooked up in classrooms? Will the statistics about hundreds of "hidden people" in the Muslim world make our hearts bleed ? Will our books on methodology precipitate some great new movement to Christ?
Do we come as insiders and share the grief of Muslims, or do we preach as outsiders? Will our Friday "Christian" prayers and ablutions genuinely merge us into one with them? The apostle Paul wept and said, "I could wish myself cut off from Christ for the sake of "
The first appearance of the "Angel of the Lord" in recorded history is understood by many scholars to be a pre-incarnate appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. He drew near to a woman who had been treated as less than the scum of the earth. Hagar had become pregnant through two persons’ intense, but misdirected, desire to help God fulfill his promise to them. Having used her to achieve their own purposes, they thrust her out into the harsh, foreboding, lifeless Sinai peninsula. There, blinded by tears of agony, heartache, and hopelessness, she struggled through the burning heat and biting sand, hoping to regain her roots in Egypt. With Hagar in this desperate state, the pre-incarnate God-Man drew near to share her grief and give her a most remarkable promise for her unborn son (Gen. 16:7-14).
I believe that this pre-incarnate Christ will again draw near to the vast offspring of Hagar and Ishmael through his "reincarnation" (I use the term carefully and those with hearts to hear will understand) in men and women who become insiders and grief-sharers. He will do it through those who preach-and with their preaching weep; through those who heal and develop-and with their good deeds also grieve; through those who sit on the floor and worship-and with it feel what others really feel; and through those who retain their foreign ways and language-but learn to embrace others as one of their own.
Bevan Jones in his classic, People of the Mosque, observes that we (missions) have offered Muslims hospitals and schools (and now he could add development projects), but have failed to give them what they want more than anything else-our genuine friendship, and with that to bring them the knowledge of the greatest Friend.
Samuel Zwemer, the apostle to Islam, spoke movingly of the great prayer of the father of Ishmael, in which he pled with his great Friend to let his son live before him. This impassioned plea arose from the heart of the friend of God. His very being had become totally enmeshed in his 13-year-old son. Abraham’s Friend hushed his turbulent emotions with, "I will bless him, just as you have asked me to do."
Our dogmatic proclamation, our western methodology, and our development projects must be permeated with the incarnate Christ. Let us draw near to share their grief and speak to them. We are not Christians preaching to Muslims; we are not Westerners trying to communicate with Easterners; we are not the developed seeking to lift the undeveloped. We are fallen men embracing fallen men. We share their grief so they will share the joy of his presence.
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