I've never considered myself an actual MBB (Muslim Background Believer) for a few reasons. The main reason being that growing up, my father never taught me much about the Muslim faith. Periodically he expressed to me that I was Muslim...simply through inheritance. I accepted this fact partially...after all...how many other kids were able to say they were Muslim? Kind of a "cool" factor for a teen surrounded by Baptists in a Kansas City suburb. However, when asked, it was difficult to explain my beliefs. Because I was confused religiously...with a Muslim Father and a semi-practicing Catholic Mother, you can maybe imagine the religious identification dilemma that presented me. So what did I do? I made up my own faith...a hodgepodge of principles rooted in both faiths. My commandments were simple "Don't drink, Don't smoke, Don't do drugs, Don't kill anyone and of course...Don't cuss in public". These were the rules I was banking on as my way through the gates of heaven. That is until I met Jesus Christ as an 18 year old kid. Everything changed from that point on. I never looked back.
This past weekend I experienced something that is honestly quite difficult to explain. I was invited by my parents to participate in the annual Muslim Background Believers Conference located this year in PA. While my Dad is in Switzerland I went to "represent" the ministry of Hope For Ishmael, Seeds of Hope and OnceAnArafatMan.com. A very sobering responsibility for a "whitish" kid from the midwest. I was looking forward to once again being surrounded by the Arab culture...something I often was steeped in when my Dad's friends and relatives would come together for a large feast or celebration. This conference brought back many of those great memories.
Around the nation there are many ex-Muslims who are now a part of the Body of Christ. Many are quietly making their way through the American church trying hard to "fit" in and find their place in their local church. Unfortunately for many of them, it is a difficult thing to transition from one religion to another. Many have the initial impression and feeling that they are the only former Muslim who accepted Christ as their savior. Growing up they are told as Muslims that there are absolutley no Muslims who become Christians. They live with threats and lies about the Christian faith which cripple them in their initial walk with Christ into believing they are alone. Hence the reason this particular conference I attended began some 4 or five years ago.
The MBB Conference has become a place of encouragement and refuge for these former Muslims to share their stories, to comfort each other, to celebrate what Jesus has done in their lives and to pray for their dearest friends and relatives devoted to religion of Mohammed. I was truly touched by the love these people show each other during this weekend. I was honored to have been a part of this event.
During the weekend we heard from speakers providing some encouragement, exhortation and practical advice that hopefully will give these believers the tools they need to be a part of the local church in their communities. One of those speakers was Steve Johnson. His religious path is unique in that he was raised in a home with a Catholic father, Jewish mother then converted to Islam rising to a significant position within a large Isl@mic Society in North @meric@ then met Christ and is now a Christian who counsels former Muslims...wow. As he addressed the MBB's at the conference, he provided strong practical teachings that I found fascinating. Here are some of his thoughts:
- For a MBB, becoming a Christian frees you from a god that treats u like a child to one that treats you as an adult. Muslims deal with several rules such as "paying close attention to what foot you use to step out of a restroom" to "watching how you use your left hand". Imagine how freeing it can be to come to the realization that God does not want you to live that way...there is true liberty in the freeing power of the blood of Christ. It's just getting to that point that can be difficult for a former Muslim. Even after they've begun a relationship with Christ, the temptation is to adopt rules from their former faith that can lead them down a road of legalism.
- MBB's feel they have to become little Americans when they convert. The purpose of becoming a follower of Christ is NOT to make you a cultural American. While it's important to adapt to the culture you are in, it does not mean you negate who you are. The MBB must understand that Jesus Christ was NOT American nor does he think you have to be American. What many in the American church need to understand is this...YOU DON'T HAVE TO MAKE AN MBB CONFORM TO AMERICAN CULTURE. The church needs to help them adapt to society, but don't supress their culutral identity. You will choke them out of their walk with Christ eventually chasing them back to their former faith...it happens too frequently.
- MBB's need to stop renting space in their minds to Allah and Mohammed...Jesus should rule. Many MBB's get consumed with the false teachings of Islam that they completely disregard the teachings of Christ which should be transforming their minds. A natural reaction to discovering that the faith you once held so dear is a lie...is to want to uncover the truth immediately so much so that it stunts your spiritual growth with Christ.
- MBB's deal frequently with "trophy syndrome". Churches need to help former muslims grow beyond their testimony of conversion. Too frequently ministries want the world to see and hear the story of a former muslim that they often elevate them to the stage when the MBB is not ready. The church needs to do its responsibility in helping the MBB grow beyond their testimony of conversion. This attitude will destroy the growth of a MBB. They aren't trophies...they are real people dealing with real issues in a very real world...they need discipleship.
- MBB's struggle with inferior feelings to longtime Christians. What the MBB must remember is that God has given them a story. Their time as Muslim believers was not wasted, God wants them to use it. MBB's must realize they have the same Christ that older Christians have.
Excellent stuff that really any follower of Christ can apply in some way to their walk.
Later that night we worshipped together following a dinner banquet where we heard testimonies from various MBB's. Most of the MBB's in that room came to Christ after being in America, but some were led to Christ by "underground churches" within their countries. One MBB came to Christ in Saudi Arabia...one of the most stringent countries following Sharia law. It just shows that the light of Christ cannot be completely choked out of a nation no matter how hard it tries to eliminate Christ from its borders. Simply amazing.
I was enthralled with the worship time with my brothers and sisters in Christ from nations all around the world. There were people from Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria, Somalia, Lebannon, Uzbekastan, Malaysia, China and the U.S. The worship leader was awesome. I told Pastor SarKis Diarbi I'd share with my BabuLife readers his website. Please stop by his site and if you feel compelled, order a CD here. He is truly a talented man who loves the Lord. I was blown away by the joy these people were genuinely celebrating together...celebrating the freedom they have in Jesus Christ. In many of the nations they are from, they would be imprisoned for assembling in such a manner. This realization makes faith more real than what many Western believers dare to understand.
As I witnessed the dancing, the crying, the laughing, the shouting, the hugging and the praying...I asked God to deliver this level of joy to myself and to the people Grace Church. All too often we take our faith for granted. I prayed for a discomfort within myself and a feeling of angst that would drive me to a place of unceasing praise, worship and adoration of my God. I want God to ruin me in a way that keeps my faith from becoming a dead religion.
Thank you to my brothers and sisters in Christ who showed me the love of Christ and shared their incredible stories of faith.
To you BabuLife readers, I'd like to ask you to do something. Would you take a moment and pray for these people? Pray that they will find their place and Gods plan for their lives as they continue down their spiritual journey with Christ. These MBB's need a savior, a friend and a safe place to go when they've joined God's family...not to be our trophies...but to be a part of this beautiful thing called the church.
On a side note...I'd also like to ask for your prayers for my Dad's book coming over the next few weeks. As Once An Arafat man hits shelves, undoubtedly it will receive some negative "feedback" from the Isl@mic community. The struggle is real...and our God is just as real...and the souls of men and women are equally real. Pass the word along.