There once was a Christian teacher at an American University who had a class full of Middle Eastern, Muslim students. As the teacher planned for the semester and prepared to lead the first class session, she prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit. She felt a distinctive leading to begin the class with a sort of “devotional time.”
Although she had taught a few of the students in another class and built some positive rapport with them, this still seemed like a daring and uncertain thing to do. University policies in that context would not bar her from using class time in that way, but the bigger question was how the students would respond to such an idea.
Despite her doubts, the teacher could not escape this idea. So where was she to start? She decided to focus on an area of middle ground. What was it that she and her students had in common? She thought of the protection that she would need in this endeavor, as well as what it was she wanted her students to grasp from the opening routine. Her mind was flooded with scriptures such as Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Yes, that was it: the Name—or rather Names—of God. That was the common ground she would build on.
During the first couple of class sessions, she introduced the routine—one that became well accepted and consistent throughout the term. Before opening the textbook and beginning the lesson’s main content, the teacher would introduce one of the “99 Beautiful Names of God,” asking the students to teach her the Arabic pronunciation while she taught them the English equivalent. Teacher and students then took a moment to silently meditate on that name and its ramifications. Afterward, the teacher and/or students might share related imagery or thoughts that came to mind. She tried to be very intentional about the names she chose for a particular week, based on the calendar and circumstances students were facing.
As the term progressed, the teacher would stop every now and then to review all of the names they’d focused on to that point. Sometimes, she asked the students to rehash names that were most personally meaningful to them. Students agreed that “Most Glorious” as well as “Forgiver” and “Acceptor of Repentance” were extremely meaningful. They earnestly shared that the thought of a God who could “wipe my slate clean” was one of the most wonderful things they could imagine.
At term’s end, the teacher rejoiced to see that God had used that opening class routine to plant new and meaningful images and questions about Him in the minds of her students, just as He’d built stronger trust between her and many of the students, and she was hopeful those factors would provide more open doors for the Spirit to work in their hearts in the future. She also saw that she had a renewed appreciation for God’s names and His attributes reflected through those names. On the last day of class, she gave each student a gift—a lovely, hand-written rendering of that student’s favorite name of God for the student to hang in his/her home. The students were thrilled to receive their gifts.
[Note: The teacher told me that she drew inspiration from a couple of resources. The first was David Bentley’s The 99 Beautiful Names Of God: For All the People of the Book, and the second was the Caleb Project’s Encountering the World of Islam. In addition, after learning many of the names in English, her students were very appreciative of Walter C. Smith’s hymn, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”]
When compared to sharing with non-Muslims, both the process of sharing the gospel with a Muslim friend and his/her journey to finally accept Christ can seem very slow. However, as we reflect on the above example, there are a few things we can consider applying to our own lives/ministries.
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