Lessons from Little Mogadishu
The biblical imperative to go to every tribe, tongue and nation with the good news of the gospel is clear. Here are some ways in which Kensington Baptist Church in Bristol have attempted to reach out to Muslims in their neighbourhood.
We sometimes call the street where our church building stands ‘Little Mogadishu’.
Mogadishu, if you don’t know, is the capital of the war-torn culture of Somalia, about 20,000 of whose citizens have arrived in Bristol over the past 25 years. When we talk about unreached people now being ‘on our doorstep’, our church provides a very literal example. Often a group of Somalis are quite literally sitting right there on our doorstep.
We shouldn’t need convincing of the gospel imperative to reach out to people of “every nation, tribe, people and tongue,” but it’s good to have frequent reminders! For many of our churches, that will now mean crossing cultural barriers, even within our own communities – and Muslim-majority people groups will often feature prominently.
Ideas for engaging
Here are some ideas we at Kensington Baptist have tried for engaging with the Muslims around us.
Some lean more towards ‘serving’ and others more directly towards ‘outreach’ – there will usually be an overlap.
With reduced funding now available from official sources, the field is more open for voluntary groups like churches to provide English language tuition. You really need at least one qualified teacher (the CELTA course is excellent) with the support of other fluent English speakers.
Research the best times and think about whether you want to reach men, women or both – the answer won’t be the same everywhere – and whether you will offer basic English (which is harder to teach) or a more advanced conversation class (which gives more opportunity to talk in depth).
Around the class you can provide drinks, snacks and a place to chill-out for a while, and thus build on the relationships begun in class.
There is often a great need for support with school work and there are all kinds of possibilities. Some words of advice:
- make sure you are providing a service worth having. You need some teaching expertise and knowledge of the school curriculum;
- think of ways to engage with the family (or consider a home tutoring programme, with appropriate back-up and wise precautions);
- it can be very helpful to engage with your students’ mainstream schools.
Conversations in cafés and on the street
Many people groups have a strong public ‘eating and drinking’ culture featuring restaurants and cafes. It may take a little courage, but it’s a great experience to go and join in, start a conversation and get to know a few people.
Who knows what may happen? Once your face becomes known, the conversations will go deeper.
Meetings for Better Understanding (MBUs)
This describes a more formal style of meeting where groups of Christians and Muslims agree to meet to tackle a specific topic of belief or practice.
It’s not exactly a debate – a speaker from each side presents for 20 to 30 minutes and then each takes questions. It’s best followed by food and informal, friendly chat. These are challenging to be involved in but also highly rewarding. It works best if you can make direct contact with local mosque leaders, because then you can be sure of official ‘sign-on’ from the Muslim side.
Encouraging the church
We would like the whole church to believe that they are capable of reaching out to Muslims at work, on their street through hospitality, or wherever they may go. It’s not just a task for the select few, with special gifting or in-depth training.
A certain amount of training is needed, yes – to understand some of the basics of Islam and a little cultural nous – and so you will need to lay on some simple and widely accessible training. But the greatest need is confidence. Most of us find witnessing difficult in any context, but often the barriers to reaching Muslims seem the highest of all.
It’s good to encourage our congregations that this is not really the case. At least, the first steps of speaking to Muslims about what we believe are no harder than talking to a secular Brit, and may well be much easier.
Beyond that – only the Lord knows what can happen!
Mosaic pattern photo by Jörg Reuter (CC BY 2.0)