I’ve just finished speaking at a church planting Conference in Auckland. And it’s been a great chance to get to see what God is doing in those islands to the south of Australia.
As I was encouraging them in the work of the gospel in New Zealand, my friend in Mozambique sent me this encouraging story of what God is doing elsewhere through His Word, and I thought I’d share it here. It’s super encouraging. Have a read! (Oh, did I mention the word “encouraging?”
This year I have had the wonderful, humbling, and stretching experience of working through God’s story with a group of Muslim men at our city’s central market. It’s a surreal place to hold a bible study.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle of egg sellers and furniture salesmen, mattress sellers and groups of women selling fruits and vegetables, not to mention all the people coming in and out with their shopping, there we are, week in and week out, Thursdays at 1pm, out the front, near the entrance, sitting around a table full of egg trays reading the word of God.
We’ve been working through God’s story chronologically, beginning with God at creation, through the fall and expulsion of Adam and Even from the garden. The calling of Abraham. All the highlights and low lights from Israel’s kings, and prophets, their exile and return.
We’ve read about Jesus, Israel’s messiah; his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Finishing with the beginnings of the early Church. It’s a biblical panorama, which has been received so much better than my little faith could have dreamed possible. Remember all these men are Muslims, they have been from birth.
One day, as we finished reading the story of Jesus’ ascension and the coming down of God’s Holy Spirit the two leaders of the group declared:
“We believe that Jesus died, he rose again and now sits at God’s right hand.”
Talk about a wow moment. I had to ask them to repeat what they said just so I could make sure I heard it correctly.
Unfortunately in my doubts, I can at times struggle to believe in the power of the very thing I am coming to share. Each day as I arrive at the group I think that today is the day they will ask me to stop coming, that there will be something we read or that I say that is a bridge too far for them.
And so I have said on multiple occasions, if you don’t want me to come you just need to tell me, and I will stop. I don’t want to force anything upon you that you do not want. The last time I said it, it was an offence to them. They sternly rebuked me, saying, “Stop asking us if we want to continue, we’re here aren’t we?” And since that day I haven’t asked them again.
“Stop asking us if we want to continue, we’re here aren’t we?”
After a year of meeting together we’ve finally finished our overview/panorama of God’s story now and have come down to ground level to look in more detail at the story of Jesus. We began this last week with the Gospel according to Luke, partly for practicality’s sake; there’s very few books of the bible translated into the their language, and secondly it’s just a wonderfully rich account of Jesus’ life, which has resonated strongly with other groups in the region.
I brought along two of my expat friends (we’re in the same game) who were visiting me and my family; One from a town 90kms south of us and the other from a village close to the border, 60kms further south. Interestingly his particular village is where a lot of the men in the group either come from, or have family living. Suffice to say the group was swollen in numbers, more so than normal.
So there we were, all gathered around the empty table where the trays of eggs were meant to be. Apparently they sold out and more were coming up on truck the next day. It was hot and sunny, and very noisy. The hustle and bustle of traders and customers walking by seemed louder than normal. We pressed on, at times asking for a repetition of a particular verse or question.
We worked through the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and then also the angel Gabriel visiting Mary. Powerful, beautiful stories of God working through the insignificant, to achieve impossible things in his mission the redeem the world and bring about his kingdom.
Anyway part way through the questions and discussion at the end, one man, probably in his 50s comes over from another table and shouts out, “As-salāmu ʿalaykum” which means peace be upon you, an Arabic greeting which is very common in all Islamic regions around the world.
I have seen him before, but haven’t actually spoken to him. I could tell by his raised vice that something was up, no one raises their voice here, it’s a cultural no no. He, in an accusatory tone, asked the group what they were doing. Were they just reading for reading’s sake, teaching the visitors (us three expats) about Islam, or were they seeking to go into competition with Islam; a big accusation. That’s when things got interesting.
Rather than shy away from the confrontation they pushed back. Totally the opposite of what I would’ve done. Thankfully I didn’t have to do anything, this wasn’t my fight. The guys in the group fired back:
“How are we in competition with Islam? We have the Scriptures here, this is God’s word.”
As they held up the book of Luke. The man then went off ranting about how what these guys in the group were doing was against the teachings of Islam. He said, “What you are doing is wrong and dangerous and you need to stop.”
They came back at him:
“These things you’re saying you’ve only heard second hand in the mosque. But we’re here reading the scriptures and it’s telling us what is right and wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about, but we do because we are reading it for ourselves. It’s right here in our hands.”
They held up the book of Luke again. I just sat there quietly in awe of my friends. This was no joke. For them this was the real deal. They put their necks on the line for the Gospel that day. And the beautiful thing was, this Gospel wasn’t the foreigner’s Gospel this Gospel was their own. They owned it and were protective over it. It was a humbling, glorious moment.
It is only early days for this nascent group. But if the Word of God has captivated these men’s hearts in such a powerful way so early on, who knows what the future holds for them and their community. The word of God is alive and active in this place. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to witness it take root first hand.
Thank you Jesus!
“For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so my word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.””
(Is. 55:10–11 CSB)