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“Muslim-Christian encounters do not consist primarily of discussions regarding doctrines. Instead, Muslims are first encountered as neighbors. Religion should not be the only marker of their identity that motivates us to reach out to them (or avoid their presence). Christians meet Muslims first and foremost because they have felt the joy of God radiating toward themselves and now feel the same joy leading them towards others.” — Evelyne A. Reisacher “Joyful Witness in the Muslim World, Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Encounters” Baker Academic, p 157
One of the most frequent observations that I hear when facilitating exchanges with Outreach Foundation partners in other countries is how joyous they are despite the often difficult circumstances that they face. I often hear, “Can some of that bliss be brought back home?” There is no doubt that the adventurous thrill of an international visit combined with the naturally hospitable disposition of so many cultures creates the conditions for delightfully memorable interactions. However, when the excitement of the trip fades to make room for the routine and struggles of our lives as individuals and churches, the relationships that are built give us a sense of fulfillment that outlasts our visits. As we share our lives with other parts of the body of Christ, we get to experience even more of both the enduring and contagious nature of joy. Could it be that as we receive together such a distinctive element within the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) we are also enabled to present a more appealing witness in the world?
In her recent book “Joyful Witness in the Muslim World,” Dr. Evelyne A. Reisacher (Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Intercultural Relations at Fuller Theological Seminary) offers a cogent presentation of the often neglected role that joy plays as we share Christ’s love. Starting with a phenomenal overview of the subject paying attention to both Scripture and aspects of what has been known as the modern missionary movement, she goes on to trace some fascinating parallels between the recent psychological insights of attachment theory and the building of meaningful relationships that are conducive to mutually transformative evangelism. By exploring a variety of realms of interaction and witness such as the internet, the arts, humanitarian aid, creation care and the urban life, she widens the scope of the type of conversations that we can engage in.
I personally found much value in how Dr. Reisacher includes the voices of several people in the global church who share their lives in witness to Muslims, some of whom we have the privilege to be in collaboration with at The Outreach Foundation. Other elements in the book that I highly appreciated were the recognition of the broad diversity that exits among followers of Islam, the acknowledgment of hostility and suffering in our relationships as well as of some of the contributions from the Latin American holistic approach to mission (misión integral).
A recipient of the 2017 Christianity Today award, the book would be a very helpful introduction to those looking for resources for learning about how to faithfully relate to people of the Muslim faith but are not sure where to begin. It also provides an opportunity for those of us that have sought to engage with the core Islamic beliefs with little regard to building relationships in our common spheres of daily life. While she focuses on sharing the Gospel with Muslims, her observation that joy is a neglected and important aspect of God’s mission holds true for most contexts in which Christians are bearing witness to Jesus.
Dr. Reisacher will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Connecting Mission Leaders Conference to be held in October 26-28 at the First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio, TX . I hope that you will make plans to join her, other mission leaders and a group of us from Frontier Fellowship, The Antioch Partners and The Outreach Foundation during our time together in San Antonio.
Lastly, please consider joining Dr. John Azumah, (Professor of World Christianity and Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary and another widely recognized authority on Christian-Muslim relations) and me on an Outreach trip to Ghana in July. We will walk alongside Presbyterians in Ghana and learn how they are going about respectfully sharing the gospel with joy among their neighbors, whether Muslim or belonging to other faith traditions. Click HERE for more information about the Ghana trip.