When I first met Fern,* her blunt and snide retorts toward Christians caught me off guard. As far as I could tell, she had only good experiences with followers of Jesus. Perhaps she was coached in her strict Muslim home to be wary of us. Yet there she was, twenty years after her first exposure to the gospel, attending a mother’s group in a renovated church planted in a neighborhood that’s 40 percent Muslim.
Her being there didn’t make sense to me. She was often rude to us as we served tea or cookies, and she never said thank you. She hated our ideas for arts and crafts, was critical during conversation, and never seemed sincere. Yet somehow she became the unspoken leader and reason why fifteen or so Muslim women and their kids come to this old church for fellowship.
I’ve since learned that in her Turkish culture, one is taught to be suspicious of foreigners and to trust no one, especially people of different faiths. That’s interesting, considering Fern is also the foreigner.
Muslims, You’re Welcome Here
When I first walked along the streets and canals of this Western European city, I quickly learned that this blue-collar port is home to nearly eighty thousand Turkish Muslims. The burgeoning Muslim community moves comfortably among the shops, streets, and markets. The women wear head coverings and long jackets with dresses. The men walk along the sidewalks, holding their prayer beads as they count recitations to Allah. In some ways, their expression or practice of Islam is no different here than what I saw while living in a country that’s 99.9 percent Muslim.
There’s also an influx of Muslims coming into the country because of war or poor conditions in their country of origin. Most locals are generally compassionate and helpful to outsiders because they themselves were forced to rebuild their lives after World War II. The evangelical church has reached out and shown incredible love to them.
Yet we know it’s not just a welcome mat they need. As Christians, we desire to share Christ with others even if they have little to no desire to know more about him. And so, our group for moms has become an opportunity to show genuine care for these ladies and their children as we seek to share the gospel.
“We know it’s not just a welcome mat they need. As Christians, we desire to share Christ with others even if they have little to no desire to know more about him.”
Ironically, we started this group for local, typically atheistic women and their kids, but the people who consistently come are Muslims seeking love, support, conversation, and connection. And that includes Fern, even though she fronts like she doesn’t want any of that from us.
An Unexpected Exit
Fern’s obstinate attitude was difficult for me to endure, but I committed to pray for God to transform her heart. Over time we pushed through her suspicions and preconceived ideas of us. We watched her heart soften and her demeanor change. Fern began to confide in us about her marital and parenting struggles. She allowed us to pray with and for her. She began to comment on how difficult it is to follow all of the rules of Islam and sort of quit trying. It was clear God was chipping away at the heart of stone and impacting her with his powerful love.
I wish I could say I saw her full journey to faith. But just as foreigners and refugees flow into European cities, they also ebb away. When Fern told me she was moving back to her home country, I was heartbroken. I had spent two years pouring into her and showing her the unconditional love of Christ. We had come so far in our friendship despite her distrust toward me and my own weariness of her.
“God continues to move Muslims to Europe because he wants to change lives for his glory and his kingdom.”
I have no idea how God is going to redeem her, especially as she returns to a Muslim country with little to no diversity in faith. But I have confidence that our work was not in vain and that God’s Word will not return void. I continue to pray that Christ will transform her heart, mind, and soul. Until then, I won’t forget how vital it is to bring the gospel to this land. God continues to move Muslims to Europe because he wants to change lives for his glory and his kingdom.
What I Learned from Tough Love
Although Fern has gone, I still have the opportunity to genuinely love and serve Muslim ladies in Europe with wisdom only God could have given me for the task:
- I have learned to be kind and loving, as Christ would be toward these women. The majority of them are looked down upon and beaten by their husbands. They lack confidence to do things well or to be pushed to be more than the culture expects of them. Our display of unconditional love demonstrates the value they have in God’s eyes.
- I have learned that perseverance pays off. Through God’s grace, I see that his unconditional love being poured out through me reaps a harvest. I would have given up on Fern a long time ago, but thankfully I had Christian women encourage me to remain steadfast in my love for her.
- Ministry among Muslim women is not easy due to stereotypes of Westerners or Christians. They often see us as “loose” morally or culturally. I have to prove to them that I also am a woman who desires to be moral.
- Friendship is so important in demonstrating the gospel to these ladies, and part of that is caring for them even if I get nothing in return.