Sometimes I Wish I Could Do More

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“How’d you get to be so old and not know nothing.” This favorite line from a forgotten movie or book used to be funny. The older I get the more I think it describes me! I wish I knew more. I wish I could do more of what I know needs done.

Some friends and I chatted with Jabi this past week in Sicily. I’d met him there in November, heard some of his journey from Gambia and talked to him a little bit about Jesus. His situation has deteriorated since: He’s living on the street now, has no work, doesn’t go to school and hustles just to eat.

And honestly, he’s a little tired of Christians telling him they care, that God cares, but then not making things different.

What does the “care of God” look like in real life? The Psalms ping pong between “God, why are you killing us?” and “Thank you for giving us no end of good stuff!” Philip Yancey sums up Jesus’s beatitudes with “Lucky are the unlucky!” I snarkily scoff at the “prosperity gospel,” all the while not worrying a bit about where my next meal is coming from, nor the one after that.

What do I know of Jabi’s life? What does God want for him? What can I really do for him? And then there’s this: Jabi represents a few hundred thousand guys in Sicily, who themselves are just a small percentage of the 65 million people, mostly Muslim, currently displaced from their homes.

If this all makes you want to grab a beer and watch a baseball game, I can relate. But somehow, let’s don’t give up. Let’s do what God puts in front of us, extend grace to those who cross our path. Finally this: if you know someone who can train a thousand lay people to do PTSD counseling or help start a thousand small businesses, let me know.

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“Iftar” Means “Oh My Goodness, That’s Yummy!”

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(It doesn’t really mean that!)

It’s hard to have good thoughts toward people you’ve only heard bad things about. Rocket science, right? But that’s our situation sometimes with Muslims. Most of what non-Muslims hear and read about them is unpleasant and negative.

Without judging the validity of any particular negative thing written or said about Muslims, I’d like to make the smallest of efforts to tip the scale in the slightest positive manner.

Here’s my assertion:
Muslims eat some killer great food! I’m serious. Some Muslim meals are the culinary equivalent of riding a roller coaster with your best friend through the Grand Canyon wearing a brand new Apple watch while winning a solo game of Fortnite! It will make you want to live forever just so you can eat. (Tweet this.)

If you read last week’s Muslim Connect, you’re aware that Ramadan starts soon. One of the high lights of the month of fasting is the daily breaking of the fast called iftar.

A billion and a half Muslims inhabit thousands of cultures with countless cuisines. Most, though, will break the fast each evening by first eating dates. If you’ve never had dates, buy the smallest package you can and try them. You may thank me. If you hate them, send them to me and I’ll thank you.

Depending on where they’re set, iftar tables will also be laden with biryani, grilled beef and chicken, falafel, naan, noodles, curries beyond counting and garlic sauce that will reach up and smack you in the face! I wouldn’t advise converting in order to enjoy iftar feasts, but I wouldn’t blame you for considering it!

Here’s some good news, you might be able to join an iftar meal this Ramadan. My bud Jeff is helping coordinate a national registry of meals that are open to guests. If you find nothing near you, take a little risk, call your nearest mosque and say, “I was just wondering. . . .”
You still have time to grab some copies of 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World to help you and your friends pray for Muslims during Ramadan. There’s even a kids’ version!

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Today is a Good Day to Pray!

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You know what I have in common with White House staff? This: I have no way to control what President Trump will or will not say in his upcoming meeting with Kim Jung Un, the leader of North Korea! On the other hand, I do know the one who thought up the idea of Korea and the Bible is clear that he’s fond of listening to what I have to say. And to you too!

I mention this because I have long prayed and hoped that I would live to see re-unification of the Korean peninsula, see 35,000 North Korean Christians released from prison, watch as tens of thousands of South Koreans head north with hope and help. Will you join me in prayer as Kim Jung Un and Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, are meeting right now? And pray that a productive meeting would actually happen between President Trump and Kim Jung Un in May or June.

This emphasis on prayer today washes over into the Muslim world. Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, starts in a couple of weeks. Given the spiritual intensity of Ramadan, including the honest seeking of God on the part of many Muslims, I want to invite you to join a gazillion Christians all over the world who will focus dedicated prayer for Muslims between May 15 and June 14. (Tweet this)

The best thing I know to help you do that is 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World. The print version, which is beautiful, will set you back $3, the pdf is $2.50. Of course, setting an alarm on your phone to pray each day is free! But if you’re like me, it’s helpful to have some daily content and prayer guidance. 30 Days is the best for that.

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Can’t I Just Stay Home?

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I’d put it off as long as I could. I had to go. This couldn’t wait another day. If I didn’t make it to the grocery this morning, the kids would have nothing but pancakes for dinner. Literally. No eggs, no fruit. Simply pancakes.

The store is only one bus stop away, but it was all I could do to get out of the house. I had looked futilely for excuses: The weather was fine. The house picked up. We have money for food. Thankfully that’s not a worry.

But the grocery is huge, the language still puzzling. And this hijab. This honorable head covering. This damn scarf. I honestly want wear it. For God, for my husband, for the ummah. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t resent the stares, the averted looks, the odd treatment. I’m a Muslim woman for Heaven’s sake. There are nearly a billion of us. Just let me be.

I’d made it through produce. Happily, carrots are pretty much carrots both where we come from and where we now find ourselves. Bread was ok: Get what’s soft. Cereal was fine: Get the kids something colorful.

Now I’m at the meat counter and I’m lost. I have an undergrad in computer science. I speak four languages, have born two children. I am not dumb. . . or weak. Yet it’s all I can do, standing here, waiting my turn, not to cry and run away. What meat is what? What, if anything, is halal? What can I do to not hold up the line and bring more stares?

“Hello,” her voice says softly. “Can I help you with this?” I turn. She is white as snow. Kind as the first day of spring.

I nod mutely. She takes my hand. Really, takes my hand, smiles and asks, “What do you need to get?”
If you’re female and wondering how someone like you can befriend Muslim women, may I heartily recommend “Without Borders,” a women’s conference that supports and equips Christians in building new friendships with Muslim women. It happens May 4-5. Find more info here

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Wait? What? It’s Not All Rainbows and Unicorns?

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Confession time: (Don’t get excited. It’s nothing juicy!) I have a tendency toward exaggerated optimism. Or maybe the ouchier and more honest way to say it is that I avoid and minimize problems and hard stuff. Reading Muslim Connect you might be led to think, “Wow, connecting with Muslims is easy as eating donuts and comfortable as a hot shower.

I’m quick to share great stories, like Hannah’s, but don’t spend as much time on the challenges.

A dear friend recently relayed some of the struggles she faces as she diligently welcomes Syrian refugees into her community.

“I had my friend over for tea to celebrate passing her driver’s license. She didn’t like my tea, ‘Is it Lipton’s? Syrians don’t like this kind of tea, just Jordanians, Egyptians, Turkish people, but not Syrians.’ Then she had a couple bites of my coffee cake and pushed it aside, saying, ‘Sorry, not going to eat.’ Then she also didn’t want any oranges that I offered her right off my tree. I smiled and will persevere, but its not always as easy as it seems it might be.”

She went on to say how her Syrian friend “schools” her in hospitality, an activity to which I can personally attest she is gifted!

Caring, connecting, across cultures is challenging. Maybe easy at the start, but tougher as you go deeper. People are so different from one another and, honestly, some of us are first class dopes! (tweet this)

If you’re building friendships across cultures and have thrown your hands up and said, “I’m done,” can I ask you to maybe give it another go? You have so much to offer. It can be crazy hard, but it is worth it. (tweet this)

You can read more that I recently wrote about the importance of grit here.

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Punish a Muslim Day?

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The NCAA basketball championship was big news in the U.S. this past week. But in the UK, and even in major US cities, police were on increased alert against violence toward Muslims. In March, flyers appeared in England calling for April 3rd to be Punish a Muslim Day. The viral letter, which also spread on social media, vilely assigned points based on various kinds of violence: 25 points for pulling off a headscarf, 500 for butchering a Muslim, 1000 for burning or bombing a mosque.

Even if Muslims were our enemies, and most clearly are not, Jesus’s command is clear: Love them. Certainly not throw acid in their face, for which the flyer awarded 50 points.

Instead of engendering violence, Punish a Muslim Day happily resulted in a backlash of love and concern. People looked out for Muslims, people prayed and the #loveamuslim hashtag trended.

This seems to me to be a good way to respond to violence both planned against, and perpetrated by, Muslims.

Last week Muslim parents in San Antonio were arrested and charged with abusing their daughter who refused to marry the man chosen for her. Police allege they beat her with broomsticks and threw hot cooking oil on her, contributing to her running away. Of course this kind of violence should not happen in the U.S. or any other country for that matter.

What feelings does this bring up for you? What can we do about this situation? Maybe not much. But perhaps we can look out for Muslims in similar situations, both kids running from parents and parents struggling to raise kids in foreign situations. We can certainly pray. And we can love, even when it’s hard. Even when it seems irrational.

Please join me in praying against violence toward Muslims both from outside the community and within families. And maybe make a special effort today to reach out to a Muslim with words of kindness and welcome.

Last week’s Muslim Connect talked about a recent book by my friend, James Wright. Please go to Amazon and get a copy of James’s book. (The Kindle version is a steal at $.99!) It will help you connect with Muslims. Plus, your buying a copy will facilitate books being given to Muslims who lack the resources to get their own. Contact James for more information and bulk discounts.

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The Quran Says What?

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In this week’s Muslim Connect I chat with long-time friend, James Wright, an author, academic and cross-cultural practitioner, who’s lived most of the past 30 years among Muslims in various countries. He’s smart, edgy and a little prophetic. His latest book is “A Christian Reads The Quran.”

Tell me about your background professionally and academically.
When Germans smashed the Berlin Wall in 1989, they also sparked radical change in my life. Collapsing Communist regimes opened access to many Muslim peoples. Our young family moved to Kazakhstan to plant churches. Circumstances made us relocate, first to Cyprus then 16 years in Turkey. Over the years I finished a missiology PhD at Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne. This is my sixth book.

Why did you feel it was important to for there to be another book about the Quran written by a Christian?
I’ve never seen a book about the Qur’an speaking mainly to Muslims. Sprinkling in fresh dialogue and stories, I write to Muslims primarily. I simply read and respond to the Qur’an from Surah 1-114, letting the Qur’an guide our discussion.  I ask honest questions without attacking.

How will it help Christians relate to Muslims?
It made me more compassionate and patient when I realized, “My Muslim friends aren’t just being stubborn or difficult. This stuff is all they know. It’s deep in their bones.” My book shows how to introduce Muslims to Jesus through Bible characters they already know from the Qur’an.

How does it help Muslims understand Christians?
Muslims seem particularly misinformed about the nature of Jesus. In addition to correcting caricatures of our faith, I’m hoping that Muslims can sense God’s love and ours as we take time to respectfully read their book and listen to their questions.

What have you heard from Muslims about the book so far?
A North African Arab artist wrote, “I like the conclusions especially the ultimate one in chapter 55. I would say, ‘Yes it’s perfect for the audience…’” 

Please go to Amazon and get a copy of James’s book. (The Kindle version is a steal at $.99!) It will enlighten and encourage you and help you connect with Muslims. Plus, your buying a copy will facilitate books being given to Muslims who lack the resources to get their own. Contact James for more information and bulk discounts.

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