Alabama laymen build bridges with Muslims
By The Alabama Baptist Staff
VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist)—When Rob Bensinger was at the North American Mission Board’s SEND Conference three years ago God struck him with a realization.
He didn’t know any Muslims.
That realization came after Bensinger, a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, heard two things at the conference that changed the trajectory of his thoughts.
“One is that God has brought the nations to us—you don’t have to go on an international trip to find them,” Bensinger said.
The second was that if you’re waiting on your ministry to start when you go overseas, there’s nothing magical about a plane ride—intentional gospel sharing starts right here where we are.
So, with that in mind he and fellow church member Jase Vann did some Google searches and found that an Islamic society was really close to where they lived. They reached out through a contact form on the website.
“I wrote that it seems we have some common moral beliefs, maybe we can build on that to unite the communities,” Bensinger said.
The imam wrote them back soon after saying he loved the idea.
In the time since Bensinger and Vann, who both have day jobs in finance, have formed strong relationships with the men at the Islamic center. They invite each other into their homes. And every quarter they do a “lunch and learn” where they get together and talk about some shared moral value or belief from each other’s perspective.
For example, if the topic is “service to others” or “sacrifice,” the leaders at the Islamic center will share why Muslims believe those things are important, then Bensinger or Vann will share why Christians do.
“It’s meant to get the two groups to talk to each other and let us share truth,” Bensinger said. “But it’s also meant to allow Christians to get to know their Muslim neighbors. When you walk away it’s like a guard has been let down.”
You get to hear what they believe and get to know them better, he said. And you get to see how God is working in Christians’ hearts toward Muslims.
Vann said his ultimate desire is for Muslims to know Christ, but their friendship doesn’t hinge on that. The whole point is to build relationships—that’s why they call what they do 5:9 Ministries. It’s based off Matthew 5:9—”Blessed are the peacemakers.”
“We can’t share at all if our cultures are so separate that we never see each other or touch each other,” Vann said.
Vann said another thing it has done is to put an urgency in him that wasn’t there before.
“People are no longer groups of people to me—they are individuals with souls who are going to spend eternity either in heaven or hell,” he said.
Bensinger agreed. “It’s created a love in my heart for people who weren’t on my radar three years ago.”
He said it is kind of like how a guy who is shopping for a red convertible suddenly notices all the red convertibles on the road—now Bensinger frequently notices the Muslims around him.
“It’s brought a new awareness to me. I’m always looking and wanting to see who else can I meet, who else can I befriend,” he said. “I have a desire to see and be aware of the nations here around me.”
Through 5:9 Ministries, Bensinger and Vann are also training churches on how they can better build bridges with Muslims and talk to them about Jesus. He and Vann have a tool they use to help church members find the Muslim community around them.
“We can train your church, equip them and assign you a territory to go out and share the Gospel very strategically with Muslims in your area,” Bensinger said.
Vann said their heart is to get as many churches trained as possible.
“We want to partner with churches across the state in order to connect with the community around them and track the progress of the Gospel,” he said.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), news-journal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. The article also appeared here on Baptist Press.