Speaker 1: You’re listening to Evangelism with Johnny Hunt, a podcast from the North American Mission Board that equips you and your church to share the gospel. Now, here are your hosts.
Kevin Ezell: Well, thanks for listening to this episode of Evangelism with Johnny Hunt. I’m Kevin Ezell and here with me is my good friend Johnny Hunt. Brother Johnny, would you agree that we are living in a time where the command to go and make disciples of all nations is easier than ever in the sense that we don’t have to jump on a plane and go and do that?
Johnny Hunt: You’re exactly right, Kevin. We’ve got a great opportunity today because all we have to do is go into our communities and we’re able to meet people from all different nations and religious backgrounds, which is what we want to talk about today with our great friend Micah Fries who pastors Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Micah, thanks for being with us today, dear brother.
Micah Fries: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Johnny Hunt: Hey, Micah, we know you have a heart for reaching lost people with the gospel, but particularly when it comes to reaching Muslims in North America.
Micah Fries: Yeah. We are deeply concerned that the Muslim population in the world period, but particularly those who are in the US, have almost become sort of persona non grata particularly among evangelicals. We tend to reach out to people who are very similar to us. It’s true ethnically. It’s true racially. It’s true religiously. And so people who have, I’m not saying they’re always Christians, but they grew up in that sort of Christian background, a Christian environment, we find ourselves sort of a comfort level. If we’re going to reach out to anybody, it tends to be those folks. And so I worry that we are, first of all, we just aren’t treating those in the Muslim community as people created in the image of God, deeply loved by Him, beautiful, intended for His glory, but then let alone, just understanding how to have conversations and share with them about what you believe about Jesus, the love and truth about the gospel. And so I’m concerned about it and it’s been something that’s been on my heart for a number of years now.
Johnny Hunt: Why would you say reaching Muslims in North America has become something you’re so passionate about? What is it that drives you?
Micah Fries: It goes back 20 years. My wife and I were missionaries with the International Mission Board in a Muslim-majority nation. And that was sort of a big introduction for me to the Muslim world. And we didn’t predominantly work with Muslims there, but it was all around us. And then we came to the U.S. and I was pastoring in northwest Missouri and there was a mosque being built in our city. And I didn’t know much about Islam, and I didn’t know how to engage Muslims. And so I called a friend who had lots of Muslim friends and I said, “What should I do?” And he said, “Well, don’t go read a book by a white Christian guy about Muslims.” Of course, that’s what I just recently did. I read a book published a book by a white Christian guy.
He said, “Go get a Quran. Read for yourself what they believe, and then meet the locally imam, get to know him, go to dinner and start from there.” That’s what I did. And so everywhere I’ve lived since then—I’ve moved from northwest Missouri to Nashville and now here in Chattanooga—one of the things that I’ve tried to do is just get to know people in the Muslim community. And so your question, why is it something I’m passionate about? Because number one, I think the church does a poor job with this. Number two, they’re my friends. I have friends who are Muslims in every place I’ve lived and all over the world. And I love Jesus and I want them to know why I love Christ and what He’s done in my life. And because they’re my friends, I would hope that someday they would believe in Christ too. I think the relational reality and the statistical reality sort of drives my desire.
Johnny Hunt: Yeah. Kevin and I have been really doing some podcasts this morning talking about fears and all, and I think it fits right in here. But here’s the way I’d like to pose the question. What are some of the barriers that arise from American Christians when they attempt to share their faith with Muslims?
Micah Fries: Well, I think you said it, Pastor Johnny. Fear. You mentioned fear. I think that’s the number one barrier that keeps people from it. There is a fear because there’s some level of fear that all Muslims are terrorists, which isn’t true. The vast majority of Muslims are just like you and I. They want to live their life. They want to raise their kids, they want to be healthy contributors to society. But there’s a lot of fear that keeps us from that. There’s fear about not knowing what they believe and a lack of confidence in what we believe. And so we don’t even know how to begin a conversation with someone in the Muslim community. I think fear is a big driver.
I think not only fear, but particularly those who are in the Anglo evangelical community in North America, we’re accustomed to religion sort of being off limits in our conversations—that it’s not a topic of polite conversation. That is not true often among ethnic minorities in the U.S., and it’s certainly not true among people around the world, and particularly Muslims. And my experience has been, I’ve probably had hundreds of gospel conversations with Muslims, and I think probably 98%, 99% of the time they want to have a conversation about religious belief with me. But because we often come from a perspective, at least, from the Anglo Christian world I come from, that that’s not a topic of polite conversation, it serves as a barrier that keeps us from saying, “tell me what you believe.” And then I just think a lack of knowledge. How do I begin a conversation with someone who’s a Muslim? How do I begin to even get to the gospel with them? I think that keeps people from sharing.
Johnny Hunt: Yeah. It’s amazing, regardless of who we’re sharing with, it seems to be some of the same barriers, same fears. Let’s talk a minute, real practical-like. I’m sitting here thinking, okay, here’s one of my dear friends. Has written a book. He’s got years of serving and witnessing, so I’d think, gosh, you’d be a great person to come to Woodstock and help educate us. How might a local church go about reaching out to Muslims in the community? And what have you been able to do at your church to be effective in this area?
Micah Fries: Yeah, those are good questions, Pastor Johnny. I’ll tell you a few things we’re doing at our church, and then I’ll give you some simple basics of things that I think every church can do. We do a number of things. We started an English as a second language program years ago. It’s expanded now. We call it ICC—International Christian Concern. We have about 125 to 150 mostly Muslim immigrants and refugees who are on our campus every Sunday night. We’re teaching them job skills, English, how to write a resume. Some of them now live in homes of our church members, and we have seen a few of them come to faith, and we baptize them at Brainerd, and we’re thankful for that. And so, just creating opportunities like that is such an easy entryway, particularly if you have refugees and immigrants in your area.
They need to learn English. They’re trying to assimilate into the culture. You can help them do that. And in the context of a relationship, it gives you great opportunities to tell them about Christ and the love of Christ. There’s that. We also have an Arabic language service that meets on our church property every Sunday. Actually, it’s one of our church services that we offer. And we have about 40 to 50 folks who come to the Arabic service. And I think right now about 75% of them are non-believing Muslims who are coming every week to study the Bible. They just want to know what does the Bible say? And so we actually offer it in English, Arabic and Kurdish in that same service because we’ve got folks from all three backgrounds, and so you’ve got to have someone who’s got the ability to translate. So if that’s a possibility we do that as well.
I’ll tell you something we did a couple weeks ago that has been incredibly interesting and really well received. We did something we call the Global Collective. I had a Jewish rabbi friend and an imam friend of mine and I brought them, and we did it on an evening in our gym, and I brought them on the platform and I said, “I’m going to ask each of you guys to take 10 minutes and share with us about your faith and then I’m going to take 10 minutes and I’m going to share with you about my faith.” The rabbi told us a little bit about Judaism and the imam told us a little bit about Islam and then I got to share with them the gospel and I didn’t draw on the board, but I used the three circles to show them what the follower of Jesus believes.
And so I just went through, from God’s design to sin and brokenness in the world and repentance and how that leads to restoration, and walked through all of that. And then we sat down, they’re all friends of mine, and we sat down and we let the audience text message questions into us. We had 165 questions texted into us. The place was packed. We didn’t advertise it. It was just unbelievably packed. I invited them to “Ask every hard question.” I was asked, “Do you believe the guys on the platform are going to go to hell when they die?” And I said, “Look, I’m a follower of Jesus. I believe in the exclusivity of Jesus. I believe that means anybody who doesn’t trust in Jesus, whether you are Muslim or Jewish or you’re sitting here in the audience and you’re a part of our church, but you’ve never trusted in Jesus, there’s judgment for those.”
And so they were asked, “What do you believe about the atonement?” And it was interesting because we showed respect to those who disagree with us. We gave them a platform to communicate what they believe, but we were able to clearly share the gospel. And it just gave us an opportunity, and it was risky. I get that. It was a little scary. I get that too. But man, we got an opportunity. We had about 150 Jewish and Muslim folks in the audience that listened and got to hear the gospel and then afterwards we did a little reception with them with kosher and halal food. Our people sat around tables sharing with them about their faith and what they believe in Jesus. Those are some things we’ve been doing recently that have been helpful.
I would say if I was at church just wanting to start this though, I would begin first by just teaching about Islam. What do Muslims believe? What do they think about the Trinity? What do they think about Jesus? I think most people in Christian circles would be shocked to find that Muslims love Jesus. They disagree with us about some elements about Jesus, but Jesus is a great starting point for conversations with Muslims because most Muslims think that Jesus was a prophet and they have a high level of respect for Him. Beginning with Jesus, helping them understand that is a great place. Teaching your people to open up their doors and invite people in their home for dinner. The most effective tool I know to build relationships with those in the Muslim community and have an opportunity to share with them the love of Jesus is to invite them to a meal, either at a restaurant or in your own home.
Islam is, at its root, like most Middle Eastern cultures and Middle Eastern faiths, is a hospitality-based culture, and when we open our doors—I don’t know how many times I’ve had Muslims in my home just in the last three weeks. I had an imam and his family in my home for dinner. And when I have them in my home for dinner and I begin by saying, “Tell me what you believe.” It invariably turns around to them asking me, “Now, tell me a little bit more about your faith.” And I get an opportunity to walk through the gospel, usually at their invitation, by simply extending hospitality and showing the posture of a student who wants to learn more about their faith. And it has to be genuine. I’m not doing this just to work an angle. I’m genuinely interested in them. I genuinely want to learn more, but when I show that desire, they generally turn around and reciprocate.
Johnny Hunt: Yeah, that, that’s incredible. Boy, some great opportunities. And ESL, oh gosh. So many of our churches are doing it. If we become just even more gospel centered with it. Woodstock chose to register with the United States government, and we are officially an Iranian refugee church. It’s incredible. But there’s so many privileges and opportunities for us to know and to be able to love and to care. Boy, we’re grateful to God for your influence and the way you’re helping us as Southern Baptists. Hey, let me ask you this last question, Micah. Where can pastors get more information about having gospel conversations with Muslims? And what pastors or resources would you recommend? We have a lot of people following us right now on this podcast, and we’re hoping some are making notes now to say, “I’m going to begin to read,” because they want to learn how they can teach their people what Muslims believe.
Micah Fries: Sure. Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I would love for folks to read the book that Dr. Keith Whitfield and I put out last November with BNH Academic out of Lifeway. it’s called, Islam and North America. Keith and I edited the book. We each contributed a chapter, but it has a number of chapters that address everything from the deeply theological, like what does a Muslim believe about the Trinity, to imminently practical. How can I practically share my faith with someone? How can I show and share the love of Jesus with some of the Muslim community? It’s got great contributors. About 40% of the contributors are non-Anglo, former Muslims who’ve come to faith in Christ. And so it’s birthed out of a lot of practice and education and experience. And so I would love to encourage folks to start there. We just recently hosted an Islam in North America event there with you all there at the North American Mission Board and some of the speakers who were there are great resources.
Bob Roberts, who’s a pastor in Texas, is doing great work in this area. Kambiz, I’m going to say his name incorrectly. He laughed at me when I tried to say his name. He’s from Iran, his last name is Saghaey, and he’s the director of the Persian studies program at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, and they’ve actually worked to take almost all the theological education that Southeastern does online and translate it into Farsi for the Persian world so that they can help educate Farsi speakers theologically around the world. He’s got great resources as well. So those are a few that I would start with as good places to begin.
Johnny Hunt: It’s so exciting to hear you say that. It brings back great memories. I work among the Iranian church in Turkey’s largest Iranian churches in the world in Denizli, Turkey. And I was recently there. And one thing that really blessed me, I found one of the persons there that actually is taking Danny Akin’s book, Theology for the Church, and translating it into Farsi, and Woodstock paid most of the money for that to happen. It was so thrilling to get a picture of her in my phone and to be able to come back and show it to our church. Also, when we couldn’t find anyone that would do all four years of seminary training for the Muslim world without them coming to the campus, which is an impossibility to get out of Iran to come to Southeast Seminary, it was there that Danny Akin made the decision, at our request, to say we will offer all four years on a private website.
And so we just rejoice. And now here you are bringing all this back to my memory. Hey listen, Micah, thank you for being with us on the podcast today. We’re grateful for your heart to reach people the gospel. Boy, your book on Islam in North America, we really hope pastors will hear us loud and clear. Pick that up, learn how to share, invite you or others you’ve just mentioned to their church and so we can begin to engage every tongue, every nation, every tribe that God is sending to our neighborhoods. Thank you dear brother.
Micah Fries: Well it’s my pleasure. Thank you all for being interested and giving us an opportunity to talk through it.
Kevin Ezell: Micah, man, you’re a blessing to pastors and to the Southern Baptist Convention. We’re so grateful for you. And pastors, thank you for joining us in this episode of Evangelism with Johnny Hunt. If you have any questions about Evangelism, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will answer them in a future podcast. Also, if you would like Micah’s book, Islam and North America, you just email us email@example.com and we would love to send you a free copy of that book at our expense. Now, Pastor, do not put the lean on brother Johnny to send you cases of books. We’ll send you one. So, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to send you a free copy of Micah’s book. Micah, thank you, brother. Appreciate you being here.
Micah Fries: Thank you Kevin. Thank you Pastor Johnny.