From a friend in the Netherlands
Almost 15 years ago a young man named Jason* came to the Netherlands to build a better life. He worked hard at various places and obtained Dutch citizenship after several years. Shortly there after he returned to his homeland in the Middle East but Jason couldn’t settle down. He decided to move to a town in England where many people from his own country lived. There he worked hard and started his own business. Sadly, his partner cheated him, and Jason lost everything. He tried his luck back in the Netherlands, but again, he was deeply disappointed by his Arab friends. Though Jason was raised a Muslim, he became disillusioned with his religion.
One day Jason met a Christian from his country who boldly shared with him about Jesus. Jason was deeply touched and decided to embrace Christianity. His old friends didn’t like that at all and began to threaten him. Jason could no longer live with them and became homeless. His Christian friend took him in, but it was only a temporary solution.
“Can you help Jason?” his Christian friend asked me. In the Middle East my wife and I regularly had men stay with us. But our house in that country was designed in such a way that this didn’t cause problems for my family. Here in the Netherlands, however, we didn’t feel comfortable offering this unknown man a room in our house, so we offered to look for another solution. When I first met Jason we experienced an immediate bond and a beautiful friendship developed.
Eventually Jason moved to the town in the Netherlands where he lived previously, which is about an hour away from where we reside. In the Middle East friends visit each other at least once a week, but under the circumstances here, that’s impossible for us.
“Don’t you have a Dutch friend?” I asked him one day.
“An elderly lady cares for me like a mother,” he replied.
“But don’t you have any Dutch friends?” I repeated.
He shook his head, “You’re the only one.” I felt sad.
Jason continued to receive help from his Christian friend until the friend was threatened by some of Jason’s Muslim friends. When I visited Jason several months ago I noticed he had fallen back into some bad habits. His interest in Christianity had faded. Would this have happened if a Dutch Christian in his city had befriended him?
In May I participated in an international conference for European leaders. There I interacted with a number of colleagues from various groups that focus on making Jesus known to Muslim immigrants. During introductions we shared our dreams and obstacles. Nearly everyone pointed out how they’re unable to reach Muslims by themselves. They would love to see all the Christians in Europe engaged in loving their Muslim neighbors. One of the leaders expressed his dream in the following way: “Every Muslim in Europe needs one Christian friend.”
On the Website godlovesishmael.com is a list of small and easy steps to begin loving Muslims who are within the reach of everyone. Wouldn’t it be great if every follower of Jesus would apply these steps? In the Bible we can find the answer to the problem of integrating Muslims in the West, where governments have no lasting solutions. It comes down to one sentence, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I’m thankful for the ways in which I’m able to show God’s love to Muslims in the Netherlands. In January I began to coach a young man from Central Asia who lives in a community house where he’s learning to live independently. I assist him in finding new housing, finishing school and other challenges. Fifteen years ago he came to the Netherlands as an eight-year-old boy and attended Dutch schools. I was curious to find out how many Dutch friends he had. “None,” he said, “well, except for one person in this house.” As I thought about the many opportunities Christians in his town must have had to show God’s love to this vulnerable immigrant, I was saddened.
This brings me to the question: What can be done? One of the participants at the conference I attended developed a course to help people overcome their fear of Muslims. Another person leads a prayer network to mobilize and help Christians to pray for the Muslim world. Yet another gained a lot of experience by setting up a community center to reach out to Muslims. We discovered that we all had something to offer the body of Christ. And we all agreed that we “experts” cannot do it by ourselves. Is it perhaps God’s desire that those with years of experience train churches how to love their Muslim neighbors? (Similar to the role of specialists “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry” Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV) Could that be why God has called my wife and I, and others, back to Europe?
*Not his real name