Tuesday, October 21, 2008


A few months ago I went to Infusion (our ministry to Somalian refugees in apartments in Clarkston) with our missions pastor, Mark. When we arrived at the apartments there were about 30 kids waiting for us to show up and they were excited to see us. As we walked up, they surrounded us and walked with us to the area where we meet and play with them. One of the kids, Muhammad, made his way through the crowd and began talking to us...then, to our dismay, Muhammad began hitting Mark in the crotch. Okay, we were officially freaked out! My first thought was that someone had sexually abused him at some time because when I was 10 I would have died before doing that to a grown stranger...or anyone else for that matter! Bennet, our liaison in the apartment complex quickly explained that this was a tribal behavior and how to address it. It worked, but I was really uncomfortable with what had happened and immediately had some doubts that I was "called" to this particular people group. It's interesting how we can sometimes use the term "calling" as an out from situations that make us uncomfortable or into situations that we are comfortable with.

When I was asked to consider leading Infusion in Clarkston, my first and only reservation was Muhammad. It sounds silly now as I write that. Anyway, three weeks ago we showed up for Infusion and Muhammad was there. He was disruptive, rude, annoying and loud. He continually hit other smaller children, splashed water on our workers, he took one of our worker's glasses and threw them across the play area...it was a nightmare. As we tried to get everyone settled for some teaching time, our friend Muhammad was a constant disruption. Finally, I pulled him aside and told him that I really wanted him to be there, (lie) but that if he continued to have problems that I would have to ask him to leave. He looked me in the eye and said, "I won't leave!" so I got right in his face and firmly said, "Yeah, you WILL!"...to my amazement, he walked over and sat down and listened to the rest of our lesson...I was shocked. Right after that we served them some snacks and I called Muhammad over to help. I gave him an empty box and told him that if he could pick up all the trash I'd give him 5 bags of Cheez Its. Again, to my amazement, Muhammad did an excellent job cleaning up and he received his reward. As we packed to leave he gave me a high five and headed home.

Last night, he was glued to me. I found out last week that both his mother and father physically abuse him, they yell at him rather than speaking to him and his father is very distant...when he's not hitting him. He was like a completely different kid last night. He did have some moments, but he sat right down beside me and actually listened to the lesson. As we sat there, he put both of his arms around my right arm and his head on my shoulder as he listened to the story of Joseph. Again, my comfort zone was BLOWN WIDE OPEN! In our culture, guys don't do that with men they don't really know...or with guys they DO know. (In Africa this is not unusual behavior for boys or men) But the Holy Spirit reminded me that this kid is SO hungry to get attention and that he needs to see how God loves him. So I sat there with him until we were through with the lesson. Honestly, it was amazing. This kid who was one of the main reasons I didn't want to do this is being knitted to me by God. It's very humbling because my attitude was, "I'll go, but I'm NOT going to deal with this Muhammad kid God, he's your problem to deal with!". I can see God smiling and saying, "Really?". Last night when it was time to go, I went to give him a high five and he asked for a hug. He also wanted to know when I was coming back. This is nothing less than an act of God. I'm excited about what He is doing and what He is going to do in and through us in Clarkston.

So that's the latest from Infusion, God is building relationships and connections in the least likely places. And my training in bridging the gap between Believers and Muslims has given me a new comfort level in interacting with the people of Clarkston.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Building Bridges

I signed up for a training course to learn how to reach Muslims. I really wasn't sure what to expect, I've studied apologetic and polemic arguments against Islam so I was thinking this might be a part of the strategy we would learn. What I learned required a paradigm shift in my thinking regarding who these people are and what they believe.

Instead of learning another technique to argue or convince someone into the kingdom, I learned about Muslims. How Islam became a religion, what the Qur'an says about Jesus, what the Qur'an says about the Bible, I learned about the Muslim culture and some of their mindsets that defy western reasoning. I also learned some things from the Bible that were very eye opening. What I learned about most of all was how to bridge the gap between Muslims and believers by focusing on the common ground we share in our faiths and unravelling the many false perceptions (on both sides) that keep us from sharing Jesus with them effectively.

I'm planning to use the next few posts to help me digest the volumes of information that I was exposed to this weekend.

I want to share some writings in the Qur'an that might pique some interest for you...it did for me.

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy! Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, Master of the Day of Judgement. It is you we worship; it is You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path: the path of those You have blessed, those who incure no anger and who have not gone astray.

A devout Muslim will pray this 17 times per day. As believers, we know where the straight path is, and we are the blessed ones who incur no anger and have not gone astray. I'll expand on this in the next few posts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Several months ago I sat down with Mark, the Men's Minister at our church, to chat. I shared with him about some of my church experiences and some of the things God's been teaching me over the years. During our conversation I told him about our trip to The L.A. Dream Center a few years ago and how it had impacted my thoughts of outreach and the church's role in the community. Mark's eyes lit up and he began to tell me about Infusion.

Infusion is an outreach ministry that our church has been doing for several years. On Monday nights we send out two teams that are primarily made up of high school and middle school students, we take them to two local apartment complexes. When we get to the apartments there are usually children from the complex waiting for our arrival. It's great to see them running to greet us as we pull into the parking lot.

After Mark explained what Infusion was he asked me if I'd like to go to Infusion with him the next Monday night. That next Monday we met and I rode to Clarkston with Mark. As we rode along we talked in more depth about the people that we would encounter in Clarkston. The Clarkston area has one of the largest Mosques in Atlanta and the population is predominantly Muslim. The apartment complex where we serve is predominantly made up of Somalian refugees, but the cultural mix is amazing because you'll find families from all over the world...Liberia, Bosnia, Asia, Africa, South and Central America.

A typical night for Infusion begins with playing games with the children for 45 minutes or so. Then we have a lesson time for about 15-20 minutes, we have a topic related craft that we'll do with the students for 15 minutes and then we finish up with some snacks...when I first heard about it I was somewhat interested, but it really sounded way too churchy for my taste. I liked the idea of ministering to this culturally diverse area, but the description of what we would be doing sounded alot like Sunday School on the road. The mental image of that made me want to puke!

So what's different about Infusion? Our purpose is to love these children. There are no strings attached, we're not hitting them with a 5 step outline or asking them to make a profession of faith every week. We teach them from the Bible, but we teach them some of the same stories that they read and know from the Qur'an. But for the most part, we're there to love them, to build relationships with them and their parents.

This is not my comfort zone..although I'm coming around very quickly. My outreach experience in the past consisted of prospect cards and the F.A.I.T.H. outline or knocking on doors, visiting with someone for 3 minutes and then asking them to accept Christ. I think what I liked about that down deep inside was that it was efficient...it didn't get very messy because you never really got involved in people's lives, their hurts, their dreams, their past or their hearts.

This kind of ministry takes time, it's not about making converts, it's about building relationships and making disciples. We hope to eventually start a church in that area for all of the people we see come to faith in Christ. But it will take time. There have been MANY churches that have tried and failed to reach the people in this area. Even as recently as this summer, a local church came in to do back yard Bible studies. They were there 2 days before they got kicked out by the management for causing trouble. The problem was, they decided to come into a place they had never been before to show "these people" that the religion they had grown up with was a lie...in two days!!! It wasn't their message that was flawed, it was their strategy. A missionary in the area told this church that they needed to do what we're doing, they felt like it was too much time spent for the return they might see...I'm not kidding. So we continue to love the people in their back yard. I have mixed emotions about that. It's sad that some of these local churches won't take the time to love their community. But, if they did we might not have the privilege of getting to know these wonderful people.

Ironically, I was the interim youth pastor at one of these local churches. When we tried to start ministering to the local apartment complexes, the people in the church were okay with it...until some of the people we were ministering to actually started coming to "our" church! That was the end of that. Even when we started a church very close to this area, a few of us tried to get an apartment ministry going, but there was just no heart for it in our people. It's just interesting to me that God had to take us to a church located in the suburbs to do effective ministry in Clarkston.

Several weeks ago I was asked if I would be interested in leading Infusion in Clarkston. It was one of those times that you already know the answer before the question is asked. Interestingly enough, Kenny, the guy who was heading up Infusion in Clarkston, moved to California to finish college. That's also how I became the interim youth pastor of that first church in the same area several years ago. Jonathan, the youth pastor, left to finish up seminary and I was asked to step in. So it seems that things have come full circle in these 5 years of trying to get a ministry started in Clarkston. I'm really excited about the things that God is going to do in Clarkston.