With Ramadan upon us – a month when Muslims around the world fast from dawn to dusk – it’s a good time to think about how to understand and engage with our Muslim neighbours and friends.
Storytellers: Bringing Muslims Home by Bernie Power
Adapted from an article by Anne Lim
Bernie Power’s heart was stirred when he heard a speaker at a missions conference in Melbourne declare, “Muslims aren’t people who’ve rejected the gospel. They’re people who’ve never even heard it once.”
Since becoming a Christian at university in Sydney, Bernie had been witnessing to other students. But realising that anyone in Melbourne could easily find Jesus at a local church, he immediately responded to the call to take the gospel to the Muslim world.
“Under God’s guidance, I believe, I put my hand up, and that was what took us the Middle East for 21 years in four different countries,” he says.
“I then developed a whole series of stories to respond to the issues that they were bringing up.” – Bernie Power
Bernie and his wife Catherine, a medical doctor, and their two sons worked as Interserve partners in Pakistan, Jordan, Oman, and Yemen for over 20 years. They found that in every community they visited, many people were illiterate, so it was no good giving them a Bible.
“Secondly, it was like a hundred percent Muslim, so the kind of issues that they faced were different to the ones we face. So I then developed a whole series of stories to respond to the issues that they were bringing up.”
So they developed stories to draw their hearers into the drama, help them identify with the personalities, savour the tensions that arise, and hope for a good outcome. The humour, heroism and resolution of stories attracted them, whereas abstract theology often left them cold.
Bernie has woven his cache of stories into a bigger narrative about two missionaries, Tom and Hannah, going to Yemen to share the good news of Jesus. Storytellers: Bringing Muslims Home, published by Acorn Press, is modelled on Bernie and Catherine’s experiences during their two decades of engaging with Muslims overseas. Like Tom and Hannah, they also got into trouble with the authorities and were expelled, in their case from two countries – from Pakistan in 1990 (with 72 hours’ notice to leave) and Oman in 1997 (with a week’s notice to leave).
It is aimed at encouraging and empowering people who plan to work among Muslims or have contact with Muslims.
Now a lecturer in Islamic Studies and Quranic Arabic at Melbourne School of Theology (MST), Bernie continues to train people for mission to Muslims. His passion is to teach Christians about Islam and Muslims about Jesus. As well as teaching and speaking at conferences, Bernie engages in public debates with Islamic scholars in person and online – on his YouTube channel.
For me, the book eloquently illustrates how stories help overcome the significant barriers to Muslims accepting Christ and living as Christians. Bernie says it is aimed at encouraging and empowering people who plan to work among Muslims or have contact with Muslims.
“It works just as well here in Australia. We have an outreach every Saturday in Melbourne, and I’ll tell the stories there to the Muslims that we meet. So it’s a training manual,” he explains.
Apart from the many memorable stories that explain the Christian faith in symbolic terms, Tom and Hannah engage their Muslim friends with fascinating arguments that quote sections of the Quran that seem to undermine Islam and give strength to Christianity. These are based on Bernie’s close reading of Hadith, the early traditions about Muhammad, compared with biblical teaching and are very helpful for anyone less familiar with how its teachings can be used in Christian apologetics. For example, Muslims accept that Muhammad is dead and Jesus is still alive and that Muhammad never claimed to be without sin, whereas Jesus did.
Where to Start with Islam by Samuel Green
Review by Gordon Cheng
Australian Christian and writer Samuel Green is a man well-placed to write a book about sharing Jesus with Muslim friends. He has spent most of his ministry life engaging directly with Muslim believers and debaters about their understandings of the Bible’s teaching. He does this as a convinced Christian who is himself involved in regular pastoral and teaching ministry, which means that his book is first and foremost pastoral rather than academic.
Green’s starting point is to address Christians first, by asking what the Christian response to Islam is, and where to begin. The other questions he asks in his first chapter are good for us to hear: ‘Do you love Muslims?’ ‘Do you love Christians?’ and ‘Do you believe the gospel?’
It will drive you back to the gospel itself for the most important answers and responses.
In this book you will certainly find some sections that are both complex and detailed – for one can’t write off-handed generalisations about a religion that is 14 centuries old and counts nearly 2 billion people as its followers. Yet the real beauty of Green’s book is that it will drive you back to the gospel itself for the most important answers and responses.
This, together with Tony Payne’s Islam in Our Backyard (also from Matthias Media) make a brilliant starting point for anyone who wants to share Jesus with our many Muslim neighbours.
Islam in Our Backyard by Tony Payne
In this unique book – part novel, part essay – author Tony Payne goes behind the media stereotypes to examine the beliefs and teachings of Islam, and the religious challenge it brings to our multicultural, multi-faith Western society.
The book (published by Matthias Media) won the 2003 Australian Christian Book of the Year Award. Judges commented that it “should be read by every politician, every church-going person, and all thinking Australians”.