This summer, we are participating in 30 Days of Prayer for the nations. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing stories from men and women in our church family who have actively invested in making Jesus known across the nations.
EASTERN EUROPE: THE GOSPEL REACHES TO MACEDONIA
Two years ago, my wife Rachel and I crossed the Atlantic to spend time learning from and ministering to the people of Skopje, Macedonia. It was a different kind of mission trip than what you might think because we knew we wouldn’t come away having built houses or dug wells. Instead, we went into it praying and asking that God would allow us to build relationships with the people of Macedonia.
He answered our prayers.
During our second week in Macedonia, our team helped facilitate and teach English classes at a local university in Skopje. We engaged primarily with ethnic Albanians, a predominantly Muslim people-group. Several of the students were Muslim and preparing for the start of Ramadan. Ramadan is a yearly event for Muslims where they fast from morning to evening, pray, and rededicate themselves to their faith. The Lord opened an opportunity for us to talk about their stories and the role of faith in their lives. Literally, from the first day of meeting these students to the last, they were extremely eager to spend time with us. We spent up to seven hours with some of them each day! We would eat döner kebabs with them, drink chai and Turkish coffee, walk through the city, chat about life, learn about their culture, and even just watch local television with them. It was great! Through it all, I was struck by their kindness, their desire to get to know us, and their hospitality. They were willing to just listen to our stories and even discuss our beliefs and values. I struggled to understand this because I expected it to be difficult to develop relationships with them. Honestly, sometimes it was. At times, I wrestled internally because I wanted to simply fix their theology or set them straight in what I observed of their misunderstanding of who God is. I want to be clear because there are certainly core differences between the Christian and the Islamic understanding of God. This is crucial and should be discussed; but perhaps we often miss opportunities because we are afraid of engaging in relationships with people who are Muslim.
During our time in Macedonia, I observed that Muslims have a very serious view of Allah (their name for God). They see Him as transcendent and untouchable, an almighty God who is the creator and sustainer of all things. In their view, He is a God of power, completely holy and "other." Therefore, created beings should not be so presumptive to stand without fear before Him. Interestingly, this is very similar to our Christian view of God. He is transcendent and to be feared above all else. We understand that we cannot (on our own) stand justified before Him. Although this is only one aspect of who God is, I feel that so often in our Christian communities we forget it or minimize it. I know I do. I cannot help but realize that, in some ways, my Muslim friends have helped me in my understanding of God. They have sparked in me a fresh emphasis on certain aspects of God's character.
However, I cannot forget that this is only one part of God's multi-faceted character. Consider the immense beauty of Jesus. The fact that God made himself known and revealed His nature to us by becoming human. It’s the transforming beauty of the truth that he has atoned for and dealt with our sin, our impurity, and now grants us full access to holy God in Christ. This means that God isn't just transcendent; He is also quite immanent - He is near to us. This is foundational to our Christian faith but too often I approach God in a one dimensional way. I treat him as though He is merely "my bud,” as though He is on my level. I can be cavalier and casual in relationship with Him. I am so thankful that my time spent with Muslims, both overseas and here in Denver, has helped me to place a more faithful, beautiful balance between two realities of God's character — His transcendence (distance from us) and His immanence (nearness to us).
It is absolutely wonderful that we don't have to approach the throne of God in fear of His unavoidable judgment and condemnation. Although many Muslims continue to approach God in this way; I think our Muslim friends can help us realize the reality of God's holiness, his transcendence, and how utterly unique He is. We should have absolutely no right to stand before Him with our head held high, save the sanctified life and justifying cross of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God! It makes the reality of Jesus and His Gospel that much more brilliant!
Would you pray for Muslims around the world and in Macedonia? Here are three ways you can:
- In light of Ramadan and in light of a Muslim faith that does not acknowledge the God-man Jesus as the means of being made right with the fullness of the Godhead, please pray that Muslims will seek Jesus.
- Pray for our relationships with Muslims that we may develop strong and faithful friendships, and that we be not afraid to enter into relationship with them. We can learn a lot, even as we present the salvation that comes through the person and work of Jesus.
- Pray that instead of avoiding God's transcendence, making light of it, or minimizing it; let us marvel at the magnitude of God's mercy and pray for Muslims to see both His holiness and nearness through who Jesus is.
PT is on staff with The Summit as a pastoral resident focused on corporate worship and liturgy. PT and his wife Rachel live in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver with their son Banyan, foster son Baby J, and are expecting another baby boy this month.