The summer after my freshman year of college, I worked the same job I’d had for the last three years. With this level of experience at a gift shop, I was sometimes put in charge of training new employees. These would often be girls a few years younger than me, girls I went to high school with, or people I knew from 4-H. Because of this, there were several fellow employees I knew well. This is important context for the story I’m about to tell.
That summer, I was mad I returned to the job. You see, my plan had been to work at an all-girls sleepaway camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. But that is not at all what God had in mind. But God’s plans are always greater than our own.
On an excruciatingly slow day in the gift shop, I was working with a co-worker who I had trained. Even though I did not plan to return to this summer job, God brought me back to my hometown. The girl I had trained went to high school with me. It was common knowledge that she was a Muslim. She knew I was a Christian (it was especially obvious because I was dating a pastor’s son). We got along great. Our Sunday evening shifts together were a highlight. On this particular night, she prompted a conversation about faith. While I trusted the work of the Holy Spirit, I was thoroughly unprepared.
The Need to Prepare
Although I knew it was a possibility that we would discuss faith, I never thought to prepare. I wish that before we had spoken about faith, Jesus, and other issues, I had taken some time to understand her Muslim faith better. I only recently found out that the Quran is not the only text that makes up the sunna in Islam. I honestly wasn’t even aware of the connections between our New Testament and their religious texts. I didn’t know until that night that Jesus was an important figure in her faith. If I had understood that, we could have had a much different conversation. When she asked me “So what is it that you believe about Jesus?” I could have better understood her perception and been able to address our differences in a better manner.
Focusing on Similarities
We live in an age where many of our peers think trying to convert someone to your religion is morally wrong. This is a challenge for us Christians. We want others to know the love and hope found in our Savior. It is of eternal importance. But this idea that evangelism is immoral makes it especially difficult to try and evangelize to someone who already has membership in a different organized religion. This is why we must understand and approach interfaith dialogue in a different way.
When I had this conversation with my co-worker, I was treating it like I would with my friends who did not have faith in any deity or organized system of beliefs. This was the wrong way to approach the conversation. Eventually, we started a better conversation by discussing where we had similar experiences. We talked about how many of our peers treated us differently because we both, respective to our religions, believe in God and Allah. This put us in a place where we both felt like the other respected our beliefs. By basic respect, I don’t mean we ignored the fact that we both viewed the other side as completely and dangerously wrong. Instead, we understood that to the other, religion is a deep and important part of the other person’s identity.
Discussing the Differences
When you prepare for an interfaith conversation, you are better able to address the differences. As I said before, I was clueless about how Islam diverted from Christianity. Part of trusting the Holy Spirit in this process is using wisdom to decide how to tell the Gospel story. When my friend asked about who I believed Jesus was, I said that I believe He paid the price for our sins.
Looking back, if I had known more about what Islamic beliefs on Jesus are, I would have focused more on how His resurrection reflects that there is nothing more we need to do to earn salvation. The story of the Gospel is powerful and life-changing. Focusing on how truly firm that foundation of Christ is presents a great way to discuss your theological differences. These conversations should never turn into a judgment session where you put down the other’s beliefs. These discussions should focus on the goodness of our God. Knowing the differences can make it easier to understand what exactly Jesus does immeasurably more than their perception of Him.
With all of this in mind, the other thing we can do is pray that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of those who do not yet know the power of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We are called to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18), and this is a big thing to pray about and for. It is never our job to do the converting, but the Holy Spirit can work through us to teach about Christ. If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it’s that preparation can make a world of difference.
Becoming knowledgeable about how the Gospel can shine a light into the lives of those with different religions can make interfaith conversations easier for you. I continue to pray for my Muslim friend and her family. I know that God brought me back to my hometown that summer for a purpose. And I trust that God worked through our conversation on that slow summer day.
Discover more ways to share the Gospel with Muslim neighbors by reading Shining the Gospel Light on the Quran by Dr. Abjar Bahkou.