I was genuinely surprised by a recent encouraging experience in personal evangelism. Surprised because it was with Sydneysiders of Muslim background during the month of Ramadan!
Some followers of Jesus from across Sydney, including a number working with Evangelism and New Churches, organised a “Peace Tent” in Lakemba. Each night a couple of pop-up cabanas were set up, decked out beautifully with cushions and low seating, as a coffee/chai lounge complete with low lighting, turkish delight and sweet dates.
There is a carnival atmosphere in Lakemba after sunset
After sunset during Ramadan, Lakemba’s main street swells with thousands of people of all ages, mostly from Muslim majority countries, coming to break their fast, catch up with family and friends and generally enjoy the evening. It is a carnival atmosphere – a Middle Eastern “Royal Easter Show”, minus the showbags and with appreciably better food!
Thousands of revellers passed by the Peace Tent and hundreds came in to sit, have a cup of chai tea and a conversation about spiritual matters, faith, life and whatever was on their hearts.
There was expressly no politics, no arguments, no proving a point. Just listening, polite conversation, gentle enquiry and questions. The feedback was almost universally positive from those who came in, with many saying, “It was great to talk, thank you for welcoming me” and “We should do more of this” and one commenting “This is the true spirit of Ramadan”.
"This is the true spirit of Ramadan"
These were some of the easiest, most rewarding conversations about faith I have ever been part of. There is a place for robust conversation, for debating matters of eternal significance, for persuading people of the truth of salvation through Jesus, but rarely in the first conversation.
"These were some of the easiest, most rewarding conversations about faith I have ever been part of"
This was about prayerful trust that God might bring people who are spiritually open into the Peace Tent to have a warm peaceful conversation about belief, about Jesus the Prince of Peace and how he brings peace – between us and God, between people transformed by his word of grace and into our own hearts in the midst of the broken world we all inhabit.
Many visitors to the Peace Tent came from war-torn countries or places where hostility, violence and oppression are all too common. Many were very open to talking further, to being welcomed into someone’s home, having a trusted follower of Jesus come to visit their home, or taking away reading material about the claims of Jesus.
Join us in pray for the people who engaged with the Peace Tent
Pray for these myriad of seeds sown and relationships started! Pray that many take the next step towards faith and life and find peace through Jesus.
There were many lessons learned from the Peace Tent. First, that the world is not secular, it is religious! There are thousands of people in our city who are very open to spiritual conversations and to a “Jesus” conversation. In all probability they will not have a Western/white face or cultural background. Stop believing the secular lie about the world and the dismissal of religion from the public square and everyday life.
Also, God answers our prayers. It should be no surprise that when we pray for God to draw interested and open people into our path, that he will answer that prayer, often in surprising ways. Especially when we couple that prayer with a well thought through, culturally appropriate, engaging event or space like the Peace Tent. Pray hard, plan well and then try something.
"God answers prayers"
Be assured, you don't have to be an expert in other religions or cross-cultural communications to talk to people from other backgrounds about Jesus. One leader at the Peace Tent wisely said that, “The only Muslim you have to understand is the Muslim sitting opposite you”. That is true not just in cross-cultural experiences of sharing Jesus but in any personal evangelism!
Remember that each person has a unique history, experience and understanding. They are a human being, not a box or a theoretical category. Listen, ask questions, seek to explore and then, in time, respectfully bring the good news of Jesus and peace through him into the conversation. Share your story after hearing theirs. Most people want to be heard before being talked to.
Finally, relax. When you consciously remove the fear of getting into an argument, or getting out of your depth in some complex apologetic discussion and not knowing what to say, it is amazing how relaxed you can be in having a conversation about faith and Jesus.
When you know that this is not the time and place to “win” an argument or deliver that knockdown irrefutable answer, but rather to ask questions and to gently explore and probe, it is not that hard to have a meaningful conversation. You don't need a theological degree or an apologetics course. You don’t have to have “all the answers”.
Look for ways to extend a conversation and direct the person you are speaking with towards reading a gospel for themselves – ideally with you.
The Rev Phil Wheeler is the director of Evangelism and New Churches.
Photo by Deddy Yoga Pratama on Unsplash