Five Things You Can Do For Afghanistan Today

It’s hard not to just keep refreshing my Twitter feed right now, but what good does that really do? Maybe like me, you’re wondering what, if any, good you can do for the tough situation unfolding in Afghanistan.

As we mourn 13 (at present) fallen U.S. soldiers and five times as many dead Afghans, we cry. But after the tears are done?

I realize that “doing something” might not be what’s right for you. Understood. But if God is nudging you to take action, or the person he’s wired you up to be “needs to do something right now,” here are some options:

1. Send a small gift to a Muslim friend, an imam if you know one. I just did this: A Starbuck’s e-card to an Iraqi friend. Told him I just felt like extending a bit of kindness on such a tragic day.

2. Find the closest refugee resettlement agency near you and ask what they might need for an influx of Afghan refugees. You can check here or here. (Maybe give your couch and let the kids sit on the floor for awhile, but don’t tell them it was my idea!)

3. Want to make a difference for Afghans who are displaced within their country? Text this link to your church’s missions director or pastor. These are trusted friends of mine, trusted enough that I plan to ask my church to contribute here.

4. Sign up for a six week online course that will give you the information and practical tools to build real friendships with Muslims.

5. Forward this email to your pastor and a couple of friends. Let’s rise above partisan politics and partner with God to extend love to Afghans. He’s rather fond of them.

You can still download this half page prayer guide to pray through personally and distribute to your church and beyond.

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Afghan Angst

Deja fu: The eerie feeling that somewhere, sometime you’ve been kicked in the head like this before.

With the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban are feeling their oats and munching up territory. As they do, the human suffering, the fear and heartache multiply. I’d rather not think about it, preferring to chat with you about fun and hopeful things. But here we are.

Depending on how deep you want to dive, here are some resources to grow your heart and mind and inform your prayers. Also I’ll close with a hopeful story, because that’s who I am!

•  This poignant first person account unveils the situation for a young Afghan woman as the Taliban extends the sphere of their control.

•  Operation Allies Refuge will provide special immigrant visas for Afghans who served the US military during our time in their country. Anywhere from 2500 to 70,000 Afghans will be allowed to move to the US. Please check your closest World Relief office (or other resettlement agency) to see how you and your church can provide critical help in the resettlement process.

•  A friend of mine has lived in and around Afghanistan for a number of years. His letter to Afghans at this strategic time moved me.

•  A trustworthy group of believers are hosting a zoom prayer meeting for Afghanistan on Wednesday, August 18th. They’ve given me permission to invite you to join in. There’s so much we can’t do for Afghans, but we can join with sisters and brothers in prayer to the God who can do anything. Here’s the link, meeting ID: 864 4160 2533, and passcode: 925451.

• Finally, Nadia Nadim is a radiant example of the power and resilience of the Afghan heart. She was born in 1988. After losing her father to a Taliban execution, she fled with her mom and sister to become refugees in Denmark. She began to excel at soccer and now plays both for the Danish national team and for the Racing Louisville Football Club. She speaks nine languages. Oh, and one more thing, she’s one semester away from completing med school!

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“A Muslim Shot and Killed My Friend”

I wrote in a recent Muslim Connect, “If a Muslim shot someone you loved and that made you mad, I get it. Of course it did.”

My friend Kea sent a beautiful response to that comment. Excerpts of her story comprise most of today’s email.

“I’m in the very small percentage of your readers who would check the box ‘Have had a Muslim shoot someone I love,’ (a dear friend serving as a teacher in Iraq) and yes, it would be natural for that to have made me mad and for me to still be bitter nine years later. 

But. . .but Jesus.

. . .but Jesus has suffered on my behalf and as an example for me, teaching me what it looks like to love and pray for my enemies.

. . .but Jesus, knowing I would need a head start to respond graciously, prompted me several years before my friend was murdered to start pleading with Him to enable me to do the impossible task of forgiving whoever was responsible, if and when my friend was killed. When I was reeling from the news, the young murderer was the only one for whom I could pray. The Lord filled me with a deep love for him.

. . .but Jesus used the death of my friend to show me the battle is not between Muslims and Christians, but between Satan and Christ. This tragedy sparked a flame that still burns, prompting me to seek out deep relationships with Muslims around me.

Don’t get me wrong if what I wrote above makes it sound like healing was easy, but the Lord’s grace is so abundantly present if we’re willing to receive it!!”

Kea is willing to be a resource for anyone who may be struggling with fear, anger or bitterness because of wrong done to them or a friend by a Muslim.

Let me know if you’d like to take her up on that. I’ll connect you.

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Three Easy Ways to Warm Your Heart Toward Muslims

Please see the important note at the end of today’s email. 

You’ve got a life, right? Bills to pay, books to read, maybe a kid or two to raise. No one would blame you for not thinking about Muslims every hour of every day. Many Christians are reminded of Muslims only when someone shouting “Allah Akbar” does something nasty and splashy enough for the news to cover it.

Last week in Muslim Connect I imagined waving a wand and vaporizing apathy toward Muslims. If only three or four percent of Christians in the US got jazzed about praying for and connecting to Muslims, we’d approach a one to one ratio!

In an effort to lessen apathy and grow engagement, here are three low key ways to warm your heart (and maybe some friends’ hearts) toward Muslims.

  1. Watch American Eid
    This 20 minute masterpiece is currently streaming on Disney+. It is warm, winsome and witty. I’m totally smitten by it and assure you it’s worth the $8 it will take to sign up for one month of Disney’s streaming service. Chip away at apathy by watching it, then promoting it like crazy in your social media networks.
  2. Read The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf
    Grab this or any other novel in which the good guy is a Muslim. Bonus points if it’s written by a Muslim. This one is nostalgically set in the Indianapolis of my youth, but I learned a lot about what it’s like to grow up a minority in my own back yard. (If you have rec’s to add to one or two, I’d love to hear them!)
  3. Give thanks for a small good deed
    The first of the Afghan workers being evacuated to the US will arrive tonight, July 29th. In the book of global pain this is only one semi colon, but I’m very happy for it. We’ll give sanctuary to upwards of 20,000 workers and their families. May God connect each one with a family who loves Jesus and will love them.

A hearty thank you to those who’ve sent gifts these past three weeks to keep Muslim Connect going and growing. I’m deeply grateful to you. This is the last week of the drive. If you were considering sending a gift, now’s the time! Click here and choose me from the staff drop down. Thank you.

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That’s a Dang Good Trade

Please see the important note at the end of today’s email. 

Have you ever made a really good trade? Something you had that wasn’t serving you for something that made your life better or more effective? A classic worship song says, “I’m trading my sorrow. I’m trading my shame. I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.” That’s a sweet exchange.

If I could wave a wand over Christians in America and beyond to bring about a trade, it would be this: We’d trade our apathy, angst and anger toward Muslims for love and engagement.

Apathy
Most Christians don’t care about Muslims. Of course, God’s not asking everyone to care the way we do. (I write a weekly email about Muslims and you read it! How bizarre!) But what if 100 times as many began to care. There’s room for that multiple among those who follow Jesus.

Angst
A super-sized truckload of money and effort has recently gone into making the likes of us worry about the likes of them. Money and effort on the part of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims angling for a sweet political seat. Since God seems never to tire of telling believers not to fear, I think he’d extend that “have a peaceful, easy feeling” toward Muslims.

Anger
If a Muslim shot you, shot at you, shot or shot at someone you loved or took your job away and that made you mad, I get it. Of course it did. And I want us to empathize heartily with people in those situations. I suspect the anger, when present, is often more ethereal than that.

Of course there is no magic wand that trades these for love and engagement. But there is prayer and hard work. Let’s diligently pray Luke 10.2, asking God to raise up and send out laborers into this white harvest. And let’s work to dispel apathy, dampen angst and diffuse anger.

I plan to share more about each of these in upcoming Muslim Connects.
A hearty thank you to those who’ve sent gifts recently to keep Muslim Connect going and growing. I’m deeply grateful to you. I’ll soon stop asking, but if you were thinking about sending a gift, now would be a great time. Click here and choose me from the staff drop down. Thank you.

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Standing. Crying. Begging for Forgiveness

Please see the important note at the end of today’s email. 

Got plans for this Sunday? Well, on July 18th, some 60,000 Saudis do. They’ll be standing in 100º+ sunshine on a broad plain a few miles outside of Mecca, commemorating the Day of Arafat. This gathering is an essential part of the Hajj, the once in a lifetime pilgrimage required as one of the five pillars of Islam. In most years there would be upwards of two million, but COVID has caused Saudi officials to limit the number of pilgrims and exclude anyone from outside the Kingdom.

The place is important as it is believed to be where Adam and Eve reunited after being cast out of Heaven, and where Muhammad delivered his final sermon.

Muslims believe the day is important because, finishing his divine revelation, God said, “This day I have Perfected your religion for you, Completed My Favor upon you And have chosen for you Islam as your religion” (Quran 5.3)

The Day of Arafat is focused on forgiveness. Pilgrims spend the day standing, crying in repentance for their sin and begging God to forgive them. Muslim who are not on the Hajj, basically the whole rest of the ummah, are encouraged to fast and seek forgiveness. Muhammad is reported to have said that those who fast on this day atone for their sins of the previous and coming year.

I have a hunch that God wants to say yes to many, even most, of the prayers prayed this Sunday at Arafat and beyond. God’s desire, his very nature, is to lavish forgiveness on his creation.

Will you join me in asking God to move in such a way that many, even numbers beyond counting, find the abundant life Jesus said he came to bring. The thief has stolen, killed and destroyed for long enough.
Once a year I ask all the readers of Muslim Connect to donate some hard earned capital to keep these brief emails going and growing. Muslim Connect is free and always will be, but for the past 35 years, I’ve paid the bills (more or less!) with the kind gifts of friends, family and churches. If you’ve found value in Muslim Connect, please consider sending a gift today. Thank you. Click hereand choose me from the staff drop down. Thank you.

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A Muslim is a Muslim is (not) a Muslim

Please see the important note at the end of today’s email. 

Todd Johnson is the co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and a faithful Muslim Connect reader.(Clearly equally impressive credentials!) Mustafa Akyol is a Turk who writes extensively about “the intersection of public policy, Islam, and modernity.” (Sadly, it would appear he doesn’t even know about Muslim Connect!)

In a recent Christianity Today article, Dr. Johnson interviewed Akyol about his latest book, “Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.”

Akyol asks this key question: Can Muslims be Muslims and participate in the modern world without abandoning who we are?

Notice this question is asked by an insider. Akyol describes himself as “a ‘born-again’ Muslim, [having rediscovered my faith] in my college years.” He’s asking his tribe, but we can listen in and wonder.

You may have heard someone say, “If a Muslim isn’t committed to the dominance of Islam even to the point of killing those who won’t follow, they’re not a real Muslim.” This conviction is espoused in different parts of the Muslim world and in varying quarters in the US.

Toward answering his question, Akyol goes back to the early days, scholars and approaches to Islam to see if that is really true; if it is indeed the only way. Read the article or the book to get a brief or fuller answer, but as you’d guess, he thinks there are options.

Smart people are always thinking and writing about God. (Unless God is you or a trinket in your garage, how can you not? He’s God!) That said, I lack the context to understand the degree to which Mustafa speaks the heart language of other Muslims. Clearly he doesn’t speak for all. But I’m glad he’s speaking out. . .to his tribe and to us.

 

Once a year, in the height of summer, I ask all the readers of Muslim Connect to donate some hard earned capital to keep these brief emails going and growing. Muslim Connect is free and always will be, but for the past 35 years, I’ve paid the bills (more or less!) with the kind gifts of friends, family and churches. If you’ve found value in Muslim Connect, please consider sending a gift today. Thank you. Click here and choose me from the staff drop down. Thank you.

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The Nerdiest Thing You’ll Read Today

You have to be a pretty big nerd to get jazzed about a publication called, “THE AMERICAN MOSQUE 2020: GROWING AND EVOLVING, Report 1 of the US Mosque Survey 2020: Basic Characteristics of the American Mosque.” Trust me, if you make it past the title, it’s pretty interesting.

(For the slightly less nerdy, check out the Key Findings, an abridgment of the full report.)

As you may have guessed, I read the whole thing! (But to be fair, there were several pictures, graphs and what not!) Three issues seemed particularly worth sharing with you.

  1. Younger Imams
    Although not exactly a Muslim version of a pastor, imams usually oversee the spiritual life of a mosque. The report says the average age of an imam in the US is 48, compared to the average age of a Christian pastor at 54. Perhaps more telling, nearly 40% of imams are 40 or younger, compared to 15% of Christian pastors! This younger age might contribute to the reality that though mosques are also losing Millennials and Generation Z, they’re doing so at a slower rate than churches.
  2. More Mosques in the Suburbs
    This is good news for the many of us who don’t live in the inner city: Muslims are moving into our suburban neighborhoods. Seems many are following the well worn pattern of immigrating to the U.S., landing in the city, making some money then moving out for the sake of kids, costs and crime.
  3. Increasing Resistance to New Mosques
    However, trouble often awaits when they relocate. The report states, “. . .35% of mosques encountered significant resistance from their neighborhood or city when they tried to obtain permission to move, expand, or build.” I imagine this coming from areas with pretentious names like “The Preserve at Hawk Creek Garden” or “The Estates at Shadow Lake Pointe.”Even so I wonder if I’d take the trouble to attend a planning meeting and stand in favor of Muslims. I don’t know. Would you?

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FORKS Open Lives

Summer’s most explosive holiday is just around the corner! For Americans, Independence Day is a big deal: A chance to thank God for the great privilege of living in this country, to gather with friends and family and to blow stuff up!

It is also prime calendar real estate in which to invite over Muslim friends, or those you’d like to become your friends. (I still owe a fireworks related debt to an Afghan family in England who years ago graciously invited my family to join their Bonfire Night celebration.)

Imagine that you invited a Muslim family to your 4th of July BBQ and they showed up! Happily, you’re grilling halal chicken instead of some tasty, but haram pork product and it’s Pepsi not PBR in the cooler.

Having nailed the food, a fresh panic arises in your mind, “What do we talk about?!” Blake Glosson’s article, “The Neglected Ministry of Asking Questions”gives us a memorable and super helpful rubric: FORKS. Ask your guests about their:

Family: Most people feel comfortable talking about kids and siblings. If you venture deeper to share about a deceased parent, some real bonds form.

Occupation: It’s the classic, “What do you do?” Shallow? Maybe. But imminently answerable and pregnant with follow up question possibilities.

Recreation: What do you and your family/friends do for fun?

Knowledge: Everyone is at least a little bit of an expert on something. “Can you tell me about that?” “Can you show me?” Or the best, “Can you teach us about that?” Tons of honor rolls across the table with these questions.

Spirituality: If you’re going to talk, you might as well talk for real. If you’re at all like me, spiritual conversations might be a little scary, but worth it.

The next time you have a chance, pick up the FORKS and take a stab at this. I’d love to hear how it goes.

As you probably already considered, this rubric works great on most people, from Hindus to father-in-laws.

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Not the Sort of Muslim Who Usually Comes to Mind

In an act of bold defiance, Huda Sha’arawi stood in front of the Cairo train station and pulled off her veil. . . in 1923! And she encouraged other Muslim women to do the same!

Born into a wealthy Egyptian family in 1873, Huda’s 142nd birthday is next Wednesday. At thirteen years old, she was married against her will. Feisty, even at that age, she insisted on a monogamy clause in her marriage contract. When her husband, 40 years her senior, continued to consort with his first wife, Huda walked. Their seven year separation gave her opportunity to feed her appetite for education while growing an appetite for independence.

Huda began her work by organizing the first secular, female led philanthropy organization in Egypt. They helped poor women and children with medicine and education.

Bowing to family pressure, she rejoined her husband in 1900. Together they spent two decades advocating for Britain to leave Egypt. Shortly after winning independence, he died and Huda began to focus on women’s rights.

She established the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923. Serving as its president until her death from cholera in 1947, Huda advocated for women’s suffrage, a minimum marriage age of 16 and education for women and girls.

She and her colleagues made solid strides for women, but much of their progress has been rolled back in recent decades.

Three quick observations on Huda Sha’arawi’s life:

It often helps to be born into prosperity. (Like most of the Muslim Connect tribe, if we’re honest.)

Too few Muslim women today enjoy the freedom Huda worked for. Many, perhaps most, live in oppressed domestic, political and spiritual situations.

At the same time, I welcome the helpful reminder that Muslims are not “all poor and powerless.” There are Sha’arawi-esque rock stars in the mix!

Read more about Huda at insidearabia.com and wikipedia.org. Watch a short and sweet BBC video. There’s even a pretty fun rock song about her!

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