Yay for the Vaccine!

No! Wait! Not that vaccine! Don’t unsubscribe!

Rather, I’m cheering for Mosquirix, the malaria vaccine the W.H.O. just yesterday gave a thumbs up to. It stands to make a huge difference as it rolls out across sub-saharan Africa. Hopes are high, even though its efficacy is pretty low.

If you’re like me and haven’t thought much about malaria the past week, it’s no surprise. There are only around 2000 cases each year in the US and most of those are in travelers who’ve returned from infected countries. (Maybe missionaries we love!)

According to the New York Times, “Malaria kills about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa — including 260,000 children under 5.” You can bet most moms and dads in that region of the world are thinking about it a lot! Even when it doesn’t result in death, the multiple episodes children often experience yearly limit their ability to thrive and make them susceptible to other disease.

Mosquirix is a milestone because it’s the first vaccine developed for a parasite. The science is above my pay grade, but apparently it’s far more difficult to prime the human immune system to fight a parasite than a bacteria or virus. (Can we pause for just a second to thank God for smart women and men who’ve worked long and hard to bring us to this point?) At a 33% efficacy rate, Mosquirix is no slam dunk. But it helps. And better vaccines are in early trials. One with an early effective rate of 77%!

As you would imagine, poor kids tend to take the hardest blows from malaria. When kids can’t go to a hospital, they far too often go to Heaven. And despite the common images of Saudi sheiks and terrorists with briefcases full of cash, in many countries Muslims are the poorest of the poor.

Is it too much to say this vaccine is a gift from God? 

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How to Start a Conversation with Your Muslim Uber Driver

Your phone pings: Uber is en route and your driver’s name is Farouk. You can react in one of three ways, I suppose. A. “Cool. Wonder where he’s from.” B. “Ah, geesh, another foreign Uber driver.” or C. “Sure hope Farouk keeps his car cleaner than that dope Doug who drove me to the airport last week!”

If you’re B, even a very tentative B, this is for you. 

As you slide into the car you think, “I want to talk to Farouk. I should. Jesus would.”

You evaluate the risk: On the imagined downside you bomb the convo, Farouk gets angry and the ride is awkward. He goes on to hate Christians, gets radicalized and leaves to fight pointless battles in far off lands.

On the upside, you learn a couple words of Arabic or Urdu, get invited to Farouk’s mom’s house for dinner and he spends a portion of the drive smiling the smile of someone who senses he’s being honored.

Here’s a script to get you going (Adapt as needed, but stick the landing!)

“How do you pronounce your name?” (Unless he told you!)

“Did you grow up here?”

“Where are you from?” (If the previous answer is negative!)

“I’ve never been there. Is it beautiful?” (Unless you have and it’s not!)

“Do you get to go back and visit?”

“How long have you been here?” (Anything less than 10 years gets a hearty “Welcome” from me!)

(No particular order on the next three.)

“How have you been treated?”

“Have you visited other places?”

“Got kids?”

“Do you have another job in addition to Uber?” (Doesn’t everyone?!?)

“I love to pray for people. I believe Jesus heals and helps people today. How can I pray for you?” (Do your best to get to this. If you can do so logistically and without fainting, pray for him right then out loud.)

Let me know when you give it a go and I’ll hit you with a virtual high five!

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“You’re Doing It Wrong!”

A quick shout out and welcome to new Muslim Connect readers, joining us from this Denison Forum article. Thank you for subscribing.

There’s a classic scene in the movie Mr. Mom in which the title character drops his kids off at school for the first time. (His first time, not theirs. Mom has been doing it up to now.) Looking for a shortcut, he bucks the flow of traffic. As horns honk and moms yell, his son announces, “You’re doing it wrong.” He argues, “Nah. We’re doing the Jack Butler method.” The boy’s insight is echoed by drivers all over and finally the patronizing traffic monitor confirms, “Yes, you’re doing it wrong.”

It’s this sentiment, isn’t it, behind much of our current trouble? The sense that other people are doing “it” wrong. Getting vaccinated or not. Having hope in the new administration or vilifying it. Doing church wrong, doing it right.

The mental pathology giving rise to this is called “Everyone Is Stupid But Me” syndrome and I absolutely have a bad case of it!

Muslims often do, as well. The conviction that other Muslims are not doing Islam right gives rise to much of the violence we see between Muslims. (Of course, Christians often share this conviction, but these days it’s acted out more in the form of stink eyes and social media posts, rather than guns and tanks!)

Realizing this adds nuance to our understanding of Muslims. The global community of Islam is every bit as diverse as the whole body of people who call themselves Christian. I contend that there’s not a single thing that is true of one Muslim that is not also untrue of another. As our nuanced understanding grows, so does our ability to make friends and offer hope.

Quick question: What would help your pastor or your church respond in godly, effective ways to the expected influx of nearly 100,000 Afghans to the U.S.? I want to be a part of the solution and want to help you be so as well. Please take a moment and let me know what you think. Thank you. 

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A Privilege and an Idea You Probably Haven’t Considered

I can’t seem to get past how amazing an opportunity, how grave a responsibility, this current influx of Afghans presents for us. Maybe you’re already up to your ears in efforts to serve these new comers. Good for you!

According to the New York Times, “As of Sept. 14, about 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan had arrived in the United States. . . .Nearly 49,000 are living on eight domestic military bases, waiting to be resettled in the US.”

This week I’d like to offer you two ideas that are quick to read about, but will take a bit of time to implement.

Invite an Afghan family to their first American Thanksgiving Dinner.
This November 25, some American families will enjoy the rare privilege of extending Thanksgiving hospitality to some who’ve only been in the U.S. for a couple of months.

The first issue is to find a family to invite. Check with a local refugee resettlement agency or start at welcome.us and drill down.

Secondly, assuming you’ve found a candidate family, you may honestly ask yourself, “What in the world do we do now?!?” Good question. Check this previous Muslim Connect and then reach out to me if you have further concerns.

Let AirBnB.org make your guest room available for Afghan refugees. 
No, really! This is a thing. As the tens of thousands of Afghans begin to move off Army bases, there is serious concern about where they’ll live. Maybe you’ve sold a house in recent months (or tried to buy one!): It’s a tough time to find housing for a city-sized group of people. Further, in the America cities Afghans already live, housing is particularly tight.

What about your house? What about your camper? This is a big step, with implications that must be considered. Even so, should God nudge you, go to airbnb.org and sign up. I did. It took five minutes. To be fair, I live in the middle of nowhere and am not likely to be asked to house a family. Maybe though! Please let me know if you do this.

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Sadness and Slow, but Certain Justice

This Saturday we’ll commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., arguably the most audacious, successful, dreadful acts of terror in history.

While that weighs heavy on our minds, justice seems to be creeping forward in a couple places. In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11 is taking a step forward following many delays. Pre-trail hearings are happening now and will again in November, with the actual trial beginning as early as next April.

In France, the trial has begun for twenty people accused of involvement in the 2015 night of terror in Paris that killed 130 and injured over 400 more. With hundreds of people given the opportunity to share the impact the event had on them, the trial is expected to take up to nine months.

Two things I hope we can keep in mind in these days:

  1. While specific Muslims are on trial for specific evil acts, Muslims in general are not. Most do not support these acts and in the sad calculus of Islamic terrorism, Muslims usually end up suffering the most.
  2. We rarely get the justice we hope for on the timetable we want. We could easily echo Habakkuk’s poignant questions to God about when, if ever, justice will come.

God’s justice and kingdom will come. First in our submitted hearts, then ultimately extending to the ends of the earth. May the grace of Jesus help us in the meantime to say with Habakkuk, “Though. . .the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”

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Friends When the World Melts Down

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” Marcus Aurelius

And sometimes bounces back way faster than that! 

A whip-smart and spiritual friend of mine has lately been up to her virtual ears helping Afghans get out of Dodge. Not just any Afghans who want to get out (bless their hearts and journeys), but her personal friends and their friends. Even though, like me and (probably) you, she’s never been to Afghanistan.

(Heads up, none of these names are actual.)

My friend Anna first met Fatima in 2011 when she was on an exchange in the U.S. for two weeks! She exhibited the classic signs of a person of peaceand Anna began to study the Bible with her over Facebook. Fatima introduced Kadija to Anna and she joined the study as well. Fatima came to love Jesus in late 2015. She posted Psalm 31 on her facebook page which led to another Muslim background believer reaching out and connecting with Anna! He went on to lead his wife to Jesus.

Anna met another set of Afghans she’s now helping when she attended a local Nowruz celebration, hoping to find some new Iranian friends. God spoke to her in reference to a nearby group of people, “There are the Afghans. Go to them.”

Two months before Kabul melted down, God gave Anna a word through a friend in a small group. God showed him a picture of Afghanistan and said Anna would have a significant role there. When the city fell, she began to feverishly work with Fatima and over two dozen others, including Kadija’s boss who asked for help.

Because Anna faithfully, intentionally sought to build friendships with Muslims in the U.S., when  “such a time as this” came, she was in a position to make a difference.

Of more relevance to us than Marcus Aurelius, the apostle Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

As of this writing, eight of Anna’s 33 friends have made it out to safety. The work continues.

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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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Grab This Free, Short, Sharable Afghan Prayer Guide

More people are thinking about Afghanistan right now than any time in history. Of course it won’t last. There is always more news around the corner.

While it does, can I ask you to flex your networker/influencer/reliable-dude muscles and invite a ton of people to pray?

Here are some ideas: 

  • Download this half sheet prayer guide and get it in your church’s bulletin this Sunday.
  • Don’t have a bulletin? Make it available on your church’s website or app. Alternatively, go old school and simply hand it out!
  • Copy and paste it on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TicTok or in a dozen texts and messages. I’m planning to do this.
  • Share this email with people who don’t have a big passion for Muslims, but who might pray and invite others to do so given the unfolding situation in Afghanistan.

Download the half page guide here. If you’d like a Word version you can adapt, find it here. (If you change more than a bit, feel free to take off the “shanebennett.com” at the bottom.)

May the Father hear and answer our prayers beyond our wildest dreams for the deliverance of many and the glory of God.

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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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