WESTERN EUROPE?Jonathan Hillman needed a miracle. God sent him a porta-potty truck.
The 25-year-old from First Baptist Church in Guymon, Okla., watched as police tried to ease the congestion of cars bottlenecked at the mouth of one of Europe’s busiest seaports.
Hillman was among a team of Southern Baptist volunteers handing out packets of gospel materials to cars passing through the port’s gates. Most of the drivers were North African Muslims headed for countries across the Mediterranean. Traffic backups like this were an answer to prayer because they bought volunteers time to offer the packets to every car.
Unfortunately for Hillman, the police were making headway. Traffic had started moving again, and cars were close to speeding past volunteers. He knew it might be the only chance for some to ever hear about Jesus.
From nowhere, a porta-potty truck lumbered into the circle that funneled cars through the port’s gates and came to an abrupt stop. Horns blared. Within minutes, the truck undid more than an hour of diligent traffic direction by the police. Packets in hand, volunteers went back to work.
Hillman is one of hundreds of Southern Baptists who’ve taken part in Project Northern Lights to spread the Word of God across North African nations where sharing the gospel is a criminal offense.
“Very often we take for granted the availability of God’s Word in the free world,” said Dave Webber,* the Southern Baptist worker who runs Project Northern Lights. “The Muslim world has a very high wall around it.”
The 39-year-old former pastor from Florida has spent several years serving in Northern Africa and the Middle East with his family. Home to the world’s second-largest desert, the Sahara, North Africa also ranks among the planet’s most spiritually barren places.
“Governments across North Africa absolutely prohibit the distribution of the Bible,” Webber explained. “It is not illegal to own one, but it is illegal to give someone else one. The sentence for a first offense is five years in prison and over $300,000 in fines.”
It’s no surprise, Webber added, that such threats make the Bible and other gospel materials virtually impossible to find in these countries.
Instead of risking life and limb to distribute God’s Word inside North Africa, volunteers focus on the more than 18 million North Africans living and working in Europe. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of these immigrants flow through southern Europe’s ports?most returning to North Africa to visit family. Ferries carry the travelers, their cars and hopefully, the gospel, across the Mediterranean.
But the project’s strategy hasn’t gone unnoticed, partly due to the sheer volume of material it distributes. More than 20,000 gospel packets are given away at the ports every summer. Each includes a green, pocket-sized, French-Arabic New Testament, as well as a JESUS film DVD and other evangelical literature. Distribution totals over the project’s 11-year history top 200,000 packets, making it the single largest source of New Testaments in North Africa.
“This project makes the front page of newspapers in several North African countries,” Webber said. “There is often instruction for people not to receive the packet.”
He added with a grin, “That usually makes them want it all the more.”
Receptivity at the port ranges from 20 percent to 60 percent day to day, a difference Webber credits to spiritual warfare rather than the stereotype that Muslims are hostile to the gospel.
“Typically the response at the port is far more favorable than people would imagine…. Even if they disagree with what we’re doing, they’re usually very polite.”
Several years ago, a North African man passed through the ports and was offered a gospel packet by a Northern Lights volunteer. He took it home where he studied the New Testament and watched the JESUS film.
The man was considered a hajj, a title given to those fulfilling one of Islam’s five pillars by completing a pilgrimage to Mecca. He had not only traveled to Mecca once as required by the Quran, but four times?even bringing his wife along for the journey?a mark of esteem among Muslims.
LONDON?On a crisp October day in London’s Trafalgar Square, the solemn marble monuments of Great Britain’s former empire gaze upon a curious scene:
It’s “Simcha on the Square,” a celebration of 350 years of Jewish life in London. Thousands gather?and not just English Jews and gentiles eager to enjoy some kosher food and traditional music. The crowd includes people of nearly every conceivable appearance and background: turban-wearing Sikhs, Indians, Chinese, Africans, Rastafarians, hipsters, bikers. They dance or tap their toes to the beat of performances by “the Jewish Elvis” and “K-Groove,” a Klezmer-reggae-jazz band.
Multicultural bliss, at least for an afternoon.
Welcome to the new London. Bowler-hat London no longer exists. Nor does the London of Shakespeare, of Charles Dickens or even the 20th-century London of the Beatles. Sure, millions of tourists still visit the great sites of the old city. They still ride the double-decker red buses and flock to watch the queen and the changing of the guard.
But London is no longer really an English city; it is a world city. Set to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, it now proclaims itself the “capital of the world.”
‘A WORLD IN ONE CITY’
With a population of some 8.5 million people (estimates range as high as 14 million for the greater metro region), London vies with Paris as the largest city in Western Europe. Much of the world’s high-powered finance flows through its gleaming office towers and great investment houses.
Population numbers and dollars, however, don’t tell the true tale of London’s global reach.
As a coverage by The Guardian newspaper confirmed in 2005, London has become “a world in one city.” From Algerians in Finsbury Park to West Africans in Woolwich, the newspaper ranged through the alphabet, finding major and minor ethnic/language communities throughout the city: Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians, Iranians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Poles, Russians, Somalis, Sri Lankans, Turks, Vietnamese?to name only a few groups.
London “is uncharted territory,” Guardian reporter Leo Benedictus wrote. “Never have so many different kinds of people tried living together in the same place before. What some people see as the great experiment of multiculturalism will triumph or fail here….
“Altogether, more than 300 languages are spoken by the people of London, and the city has at least 50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000 or more. Virtually every race, nation, culture and religion in the world can claim at least a handful of Londoners.”
Since its earliest beginnings as Londinium, a Roman garrison town built in 43 A.D., this great metropolis of merchants and empire builders has attracted pilgrims, missionaries, immigrants, traders, colonial subjects and invaders. But the human waves that have washed over London in the last generation or two have brought the greatest cultural change since the Normans invaded in 1066.
A few glimpses:
?Emerge from the London Underground train station in Southall and you’ll think you’re in New Delhi. Temples, mosques, south Asian restaurants and markets dominate the area. On some streets there isn’t a white face in sight. Parts of Hackney feel like Ho Chi Minh City; parts of Wembley feel like Mogadishu. Other areas look and sound like Moscow (at least 250,000 Russians live in Britain) or Istanbul (more than 150,000 Turks and Kurds).
?The largest Sikh and Hindu temples outside India are in London. Hundreds of mosques, large and small, serve as many as 1.3 million Muslim Londoners.
?An estimated 600,000 Poles have flooded London over the last several years, the largest of successive waves of Russians, Albanians, Bulgarians and other Eastern Europeans streaming into the city.
Some of London’s ethnic communities are insulated, even isolated. Others freely mix and mingle with white Britons and other immigrants. Their children mingle even more, creating new cultural variations.
“When we first arrived in London, you’d see teens from many different nations walking home from school and hanging out?all calling themselves ‘Brits’?not English, but ‘Brits,'” said missionary Patrick Sims*, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s city strategist and team leader for London. “Now there’s been a move to forming gangs. Drugs and crime are on the rise. We can’t tackle that issue on a large scale, but we can come alongside teenagers and share the hope of Christ.”
WASHINGTON?Deep misunderstandings between the United States and Muslim communities around the world are causing serious problems and solving them will require constructing “bridges of understanding,” says the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Polls show there is a huge lack of understanding of Americans in the Muslim world. We need to broaden and deepen the understanding on both sides,” Richard Land said. “The U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project will galvanize every aspect of American society to engage the Muslim society.”
The U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project is a broad bipartisan coalition that recently completed 18 months of extensive research into the challenge of reversing extremism, increasing international security and improving relations with the Muslim community. The project’s 33-member leadership group included, among others, the ERLC’s Land, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Texas congressman Steve Bartlett, and former Minnesota
congressman Vin Webber.
The group, which had 11 Muslim-American members and was supported in its work by Search for Common Ground and the Consensus Building Institute, held a briefing Sept. 24 on its report?entitled “Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World”?at the Rayburn House Office Building and a press conference at the National Press Club.
“This initiative is a serious, comprehensive, bipartisan effort that seeks to address a critical problem: The world Muslim community misunderstands Americans and Americans misunderstand them,” Land said in a written endorsement. “This initiative lays out a detailed and comprehensive plan to vastly decrease that misunderstanding through a multi-faceted approach that will build constructive bridges of mutual understanding between Americans and Muslim world.”
The group’s plan calls for significant shifts in American foreign policy to create a safer U.S. and a better world and suggests a “new blueprint” on how to reconstruct America’s relationship with Muslims around the world, said Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Project leadership has called for the next president of the U.S. to recognize the importance of improving U.S.-Muslim relations in his inaugural speech.
“We hope this work will be taken seriously in the presidential campaign,” Heintz said. “We look forward to working with the next administration, because this is going to take a significant presidential leadership and ongoing leadership from the Congress of the U.S.”
The report suggests a “four pillar approach” for U.S.-Muslim engagement: 1) diplomacy as the “primary tool for resolving conflicts involving Muslim countries,” 2) efforts “to improve governance and promote civic participation in Muslim countries, and advocate for principles rather than parties in their internal political contests,” 3) an emphasis on “job-creating growth in Muslim countries,” and 4) a focus on improving “respect and understanding between Americans and Muslims around the world.”
“The leadership group believes that we must elevate diplomacy for conflict resolution,” said Land, who is also a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “The leadership group, the U.S. military and the U.S. public all recognize the limits of military force and the need for a more comprehensive set of tools to resolve conflicts with and within Muslim countries. Military force may be necessary but is not sufficient alone to defeat extremists in Muslim countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan or prevent attacks elsewhere,” he continued.
“As the late, the great Winston Churchill once said, ‘To jaw-jaw is … better than war-war,'” Land said.
Land said U.S. military leaders are not averse to diplomatic, political and economic initiatives to aid in the isolation and defeat of Islamic extremists.
“By changing our approach, we will also help reverse the widespread perception of Muslims around the world that the U.S. is engaged in a ‘war on Islam,'” Land said.
Contrary to popular belief, most Muslims are not supportive of extremists and terrorists, said Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America. Like most Americans, they desire to experience democracy and freedom in their countries and communities.
Both Mattson and Land noted Islamic terrorists have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims.
“At best, only five percent of the worldwide Muslim community supports terrorists,” Land said. “In effect what you have in these terrorists groups is a ‘death cult’ that is taken root within Islam.
“For instance, in Iraq 12 uniformed Iraqi police and military have been killed by terrorists for every one American uniformed service person who has been killed. These Iraqis have been killed because they refused to knuckle under to this death cult’s radical and twisted interpretation of Islam,” he said. “Americans need to understand this is a gross distortion of Islam as a whole,” Land stres
LONDON?Patrick and Sarah Sims*, International Mission Board team leaders for London, believe in practicing what they preach.
“Our job is to engage the unengaged,” Sims said. “We can’t ask our team members to do something we’re not modeling ourselves.”
The question, during their transition to a new strategy, was this: “In the mind-boggling ethnic kaleidoscope of London, which unengaged community should we approach?”
They had been working to reach south Asians in a Sikh-dominated area of west London. Sarah was teaching English as a Second Language when she was asked to take over a class for Somali women. More than 150,000 Somalis have streamed into London as refugees and asylum seekers since civil war began tearing apart their homeland in the early 1990s. Proud, clan-oriented, wary of outsiders, strongly Muslim, they have a reputation as one of the most self-contained groups in the city.
“I was a little afraid, because I came into this class and there were all these black women, covered head to toe” in all-enveloping burqas (an outer garment worn by some Islamic women to conceal their body), Sarah recounted. “But once I got to know them, they were sweet and outgoing. They are very devout Muslims, but they are open to being friends. After about six months, everywhere I looked I saw Somali women. I really felt like God was saying to me personally, ‘This is where your focus needs to be.'”
That doesn’t mean it was easy. Despite their openness, the Somali women were initially suspicious of Sarah’s intentions. But she persisted. In England, she was a struggling foreigner like them?common ground for building relationships. She began to be invited into Somali homes for tea, to learn about their lives and struggles.
Patrick, meanwhile, tried seeking out Somali men. “It was like running into a brick wall,” he admitted. You don’t just “make friends” with Somalis who have no reason to know you?much less trust you.
One day he was drinking coffee with a co-worker in a cafe when four distinguished-looking Somali men walked in. “I said, ‘Let’s pray and ask God that I can meet those guys,'” Patrick recounted. As they finished praying, the men were leaving the cafe.
Four months later, he spotted a new Somali community center around the corner. “After going in there and introducing myself three times, I met Farah*. Sure enough, he was one of those guys we had prayed for,” Patrick said. “Now he is my best friend. He is basically the elder Somali in this part of town. Everybody respects him; everybody meets with him.”
Somalis in London face enormous challenges: educating their children, finding jobs, healing broken families, recovering from the trauma of fleeing their homeland, countering the radical Islamic groups that try to recruit Somali youths. Patrick now works with Farah and other Somali leaders to help in practical ways?including efforts to bring positive change to Somalia itself.
Farah is the key. One day while driving with Patrick, Farah unexpectedly began reflecting on his own beliefs. “You know, I believe in Jesus,” he said. “I believe in God. But I struggle with this idea that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three in one”?a common stumbling block for Muslim seekers.
Patrick: “I just drove and listened; I didn’t say a word. We got back to his office and he said, ‘Hey, do you want to go and have a coffee?’ So guess where we ended up? Back at the very coffee shop where we had prayed I would meet these guys. I shared the gospel and Farah listened to all of it.”
Farah hasn’t embraced it?yet?but the discussion goes on. Farah believes all Somalis should have the right to understand and freely choose their own religious beliefs. Perhaps 300 of the 13 million or more Somalis scattered worldwide are followers of Jesus.
“This is a man of influence, a man of peace, a man who desires to see better days for his people,” Patrick said. “He has introduced me into the community, and it was all through prayer that our relationship grew.
“Prayer is a lot more powerful than we really believe.”
As SBTC Mission Service Corps missionaries, a husband-and-wife team named Carl and Kerry (last names withheld for security reasons) recall their initial fear of working with Muslims in North Texas.
“When we first came to Dallas, we were scared of them,” Carl, a former music minister, recalled. However, the fear of working with an unknown culture soon dissipated.
“Our view of Muslims has changed tremendously,” Carl said. “We find them the most delightful, hospitable people you’ll ever meet. They’re some of our very best friends.”
These newfound Muslim friends are international refugees?individuals and families who flee their country because of conflicts such as war, persecution and ethnic cleansing. Displaced from their homeland and often aided by the State Department, refugees to America arrive with little or no personal possessions.
They must transition to a new way of life quickly, forced to learn a new language and secure a job within months of their arrival. They must learn how to use public transportation and shop for groceries as well as adapt to cultural differences.
“A lot of our ministry is in meeting those needs,” Kerry said. “And while we meet those needs, we develop relationships with them. They’re very open to it because somebody’s there to help them and love them.”
The couple teaches English classes, provide transportation and aid refugees in finding employment.
As friendships develop, Carl and Kerry turn conversations to spiritual matters.
“The key is not coming in trying to tell them what they need to hear but asking questions about what they believe and just being friends,” Carl said.
“Through asking questions, many of them become open. They want to talk about their faith, and some of them ask questions about our faith. We’ve found that they are very open to discuss it.”
Carl and Kerry evangelize through chronological Bible storying, Bible study groups in apartment complexes and “Jesus Film” viewings for groups in their native languages.
“When they see Jesus and who he was and what he did, it really impacts them,” Kerry said.
While most Muslim refugees are open to learning about Jesus, social and cultural persecution from within the Muslim community often dissuades them from making a commitment to Christ.
Some pray to receive Christ but refuse the public testimony of baptism for fear of harassment from their Muslim family and friends.
Sharing the gospel with Muslims does not generally produce immediate results, but this does not discourage the couple. “It takes a lot of time,” Kerry said. “But the more we work with Muslims, the more I realize that it’s all about God and the Holy Spirit at work. We’re just messengers, and the spiritual work is done by God.”
Carl and Kerry also speak to churches and groups about how they can minister to refugees. They encourage churches to adopt refugee families and train Christians how to teach English language classes.
For those concerned about their ability to teach English, Kerry offers reassurance.
“It’s not about English. It’s about relationships. We use English to build a bridge into their hearts so that through those relationships, we can share Jesus with them.”
The couple believes every Christian can minister to Muslims, be they neighbors, co-workers or international refugees. Along with prayer, they recommend developing friendships, asking genuine questions, and pointing them to Jesus.
Carl expects Christians will experience the same transition from fear to friendship when they begin to minister to Muslims.
“People just need to realize that all you have to do is be a friend, ask a lot of questions, show a lot of love, and you can have a ministry to a Muslim family.”
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” ?Ephesians 1:13-14
EULESS?”Empowered: The Holy Spirit in You,” based on Ephesians 1:13-14, is the theme for the 2009 Empower Evangelism Conference, scheduled Feb. 16-18 at First Baptist Church of Euless. The annual SBTC event will feature notable preachers such as John Bisagno and Jonathan Falwell as well as renowned country/bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs and popular author and Christian apologist Lee Strobel.
“The Empower Evangelism Conference is designed with the prayerful intent that God would revive our love and zeal for our Savior and for the people for whom Jesus came to seek and save,” explained SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass. “The theme, ‘The Holy Spirit in You,’ based on Ephesians 1:13-14, reminds us of our identity and the guarantee because of the Holy Spirit in us, of our redemption and inheritance promised through Jesus Christ.
“It is my prayer that God will use this conference to begin the awakening so many of us have been praying for. If you miss a single session you may miss experiencing God’s explosion of power and a special word from him just for you. I urge you to be present for every session.”
The women’s session will begin at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, and will include speakers Rhonda Kelley, wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley; Mary Jo Sharp, a NAMB certified apologetics instructor; Jan Silvious, a popular women’s speaker and former co-host with Kay Arthur of the “Precepts Live” radio program; and musician and speaker Dawn Smith-Jordan.
In addition to Bisagno, Falwell and Strobel, conference preachers will be Sammy Gilbreath; Will Graham; Don Harms; Robert Jeffress; Fred Luter; Jimmy Pritchard; Ed Stetzer; Jerry Spencer; and Jerry Vines (see bios on next page). In addition to Skaggs, other musicians include Charles Billingsley, The Booth Brothers; Curtis Brewer; Philip Griffin; and John McKay. Dramatist Clyde Annandale will also bring Bible characters to life through his award-winning acting. Annandale played King David for Benjamin Netanyauh at the 50th anniversary of the statehood of Israel.
For more information on the Empower Evangelism Conference, visit the website sbtexas.com/evangelism or call the SBTC’s evangelism department at 817-552-2500 or toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC).
COMO?Pastor Randy Boyte has a tender spot in his heart for retired ministers who spend their golden years without much to live on. He saw his father, a pastor, struggle through a lean retirement.
“If it had not been for the Southern Baptist Annuity Board (now GuideStone Financial Resources), my mother would have been in dire straits,” said Boyte, who is using his experience with his parents to help other retired Southern Baptists?pastors and laymen alike?have a secure place to live.
Through a generous and innovative grant program from the Reno, Nev.-based Elder LifeCare Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2002 to improve quality of life for seniors, Elm Ridge Church in Como will oversee the construction of up to 90 homes for retired Southern Baptist couples over age 70 at no cost to them?except for utilities?for the rest of their lives. Utility costs will be minimal, he said, because the homes will use solar energy.
Boyte said Elder LifeCare Director Steve Patterson, whom he has known for 20 years, contacted him about the project, also jointly sponsored by Coleman & Co. of Branson, Mo. Elder LifeCare has similar ventures in Australia, Canada and Europe.
If nursing care is ever needed, in-home, 24-hour care will be provided as long as residents live, he said, and plans call for a 3,500-square-foot medical facility on the property.
The homes will be built on 90 acres the church purchased 18 months ago adjacent to its worship facilities, and Boyte said he has 10 couples qualified for the 2,000-square-foot homes so far. Boyte and Associate Pastor Vern Hawkins are seeking another 80 qualified couples. The program does not require a couple be impoverished, he noted.
Qualifying Southern Baptist couples must share biblical values. The intent is to build a
community of like-minded believers, Boyte said.
“The church hopes to bless any retired Southern Baptist pastors or retired Southern Baptist laymen couples who are interested in quality living in a gated community and also avail themselves to some added health benefits not normally covered,” Boyte said. “The qualifying couples can of course come from Hopkins County, but could qualify to be a resident in the development regardless of where they may live at the present time.”
The first group of residents will get to choose their floor plans and interior colors, he added.
Phase 1 will include the construction of 30 homes, with two additional phases planned on its land off State Highway 11 near Como, about 80 miles east of Dallas, Boyte explained.
Elder LifeCare Foundation will provide the housing as an insurable interest benefit, with residents granting the foundation the right to purchase a life insurance policy on them with the foundation as the beneficiary.
“They will never have to sign over any bank accounts or other properties they own,” Boyte explained. “This a God-send because this was the land we bought with a vision to bless retired Southern Baptist retirees.
“The benefit for retirees is free housing, solar-paneled energy, and all they have to pay are utilities on this house. But I believe the most awesome part of this is these couples will never, ever have to think about going into the nursing home because of 24-hour, in-home nursing care.”
For more information on the project, contact Boyte or Hawkins at 903-488-3706.