By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National CorrespondentPIKESVILLE, Md.—It was an opportunity of a lifetime.
On Nov. 29, Joel Rainey, director of missions for the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association, presented the gospel freely in a room full of Muslims, secularists, state political leaders, educators—and some invited Christians, too.
Rainey was one of several interfaith speakers at the fifth annual dialogue dinner sponsored by the Maryland Turkish American Inhabitants (TheMARTI.org), one of a number of institutions inspired by Fetullah Gülen, a Turkish author/educator, Muslim scholar and founder of the Hizmet (or Gülen) movement. Of note, Gülen believes the Muslim community is obliged to conduct interfaith dialogue with “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians).
Previously, a Maryland state legislator who is a member of one of Mid-Maryland’s churches traveled to Turkey as part of an eventual “sister-state” agreement between Maryland and a Turkish province.
In the process, she learned many Muslims believed Christians hated them. Concerned, the legislator contacted Rainey and challenged him to help change this perception. Over time, Rainey met Murat Ozbas, an engineer who works just around the corner from his office in Eldersburg, Md. A student of the Hizmet Movement, Ozbas was equally desirous of countering wrong perceptions between the two faith groups.
“There’s a thousand-plus years of history between these two religions. We haven’t always been nice to each other,” Rainey admitted. “We just wanted to eliminate that, if we could.”
Rainey was all in, given one condition: that he would be able to express his faith freely. He explained, “We want to reach out to people. That is in our nature as evangelicals. We want the gospel to go forward. But how can you possibly share your faith if you don’t know them, and they don’t know you?”
The two men became fast friends, ultimately leading to an invitation for Rainey to join Ozbas in a Cultural-Touristic-Dialog-Education-Media tour of Turkey. Six pastors from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware also were invited to the tour, which covered four cities—including places of significance to Christians—as well as hospitality visits with Turkish professionals.Jim Edmonson, senior pastor of Elders Baptist Church in Sykesville, Md., went because he felt he was getting a slanted view of Islam.
“What we are hearing is not the full story,” he said. “I wanted to go and experience the Muslim culture and meet Muslim people because they are a growing influence in our nation, and Christians and Muslims, as well as other religions, are going to have to learn to get along and be able to dialogue together and discuss different viewpoints.”
Chris Grella, associate pastor at Westminster (Md.) Baptist Church, had just completed a “Finding Common Ground” training in his church. When he learned of the opportunity and heard about the number of Muslims living in Maryland, he felt challenged, “What do I really believe and how do I communicate it?”
For James Pope, senior pastor of North Arundel Church in Glen Burnie, Md., the appeal of the tour came down to peacemaking.
“In the Beatitudes, Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they’ll be called the sons of God’ (Matthew 5:9),” said Pope, who saw the role as peacemaker a repeated pattern in his life. He was thrilled to “be invited to the table of dialogue with Muslims, who in American culture and press have been sort of disenfranchised because of the radical element of their faith.”
[pullquote]“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)[/pullquote]John Gauger, senior pastor of Perryville (Md.) Baptist Church, had traveled to West Africa a number of occasions to minister among Muslims. He joined this group out of his growing love for the people whom he calls “incredibly hospitable and warm.”
Others who traveled included David Jackson, BCM/D church multiplication team strategist, and Paul Viswasam, senior pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Ellicott City, Md. All the men were blessed immensely to see places where the Apostle Paul traveled as well as other biblically historical sites.
Through the tour, Ozbas learned about Christianity; in particular, he never knew Christians knew about the story of Job (“Eyyub”) until the team visited a place in Turkey, “the Place of Patience,” where it is said Job suffered.
“There’s so much similarities between us,” Orbas said.
Rainey also stressed, “Obviously we have some very strong beliefs—on both sides—and we’re honest about those differences and have been since the beginning, but not to the exclusion of saying, ‘We can be friends, and we can walk together as leaders. Everything from poverty to pornography, we can battle together.’”
He added, “We have communicated clearly to our Muslim friends that our greatest desire would be for them to know Jesus Christ as we know Him. But we have also committed to not allow our mutual friendship to be affected, regardless of whether they decide to become Christian. After all, Murat isn’t my project. He is my friend.”
Rainey shares three dominant principles for loving people of other faiths:
Don’t compromise your faith.
“What I’ve found in this experience is that our Muslim friends have much more respect for you if you are simply honest about what you believe. Just be sure when that truth comes out that it is accompanied by the ‘gentleness and respect’ 1 Peter 3:15 demands,” Rainey said.
Seek to understand the real distinctions.
When it comes to people of other faiths, spend time with them. Live life with them. Assume you don’t understand where they are coming from, ask them questions, and LISTEN.
Commit to a friendship that is unconditional.
We are tied together by our common humanity. They are created in God’s own image and likeness, and we should love them unconditionally. That kind of love and acceptance is the ideal atmosphere in which genuine friendships can be developed, and our faith can be shared.
To learn more, contact Rainey at (410) 549-7156, email@example.com.
Want to learn more?
The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware provides several mission training videos, to be viewed individually or in groups, including IMBConnect: Connecting Your Church With Missions. and Kingdom Matrix: Kingdom Principles Reaching a Secular World at at http://bcmd.e-quip.net.