A few years ago, a friend of ours invited us for an evening meal with their family. It was no ordinary dinner party, the clue was that we were going to be eating far later in the evening than I would normally. We were being invited to an Ifkar which is the meal Muslims eat together in the evening after sunset during Ramadan during the day. Like any meal together with friends it was a good time of chatting and sharing news. We were also able to talk a little about what we believed. In fact, that was crucial for them. They were keen for us to see how they observed Ramadan, they showed us little video on YouTube, they wanted us to see them pray.
My first observation about this is that often we talk about evangelism in terms of doing things for others, being hospitable, providing for overt and felt needs as the context in which to open a conversation about their deepest needs. However, in cross cultural mission we may well often find ourselves building relationships with those who are not so much looking to have overt needs met as themselves wanting to love others, to welcome to show hospitality. Indeed, there are a number of cultures that we sometimes refer to as warm cultures, South American, African and Asian cultures. This leads to a desire, a need even, to give hospitality by opening your home and welcoming people in for a meal.
Unsurprisingly then, when we look at the New Testament, we find that Jesus often seeks to enjoy the hospitality of others whether it’s a meal with a tax-collector, dinner at the home of a former leper, insisting that he is going to visit the house of Zacchaeus or asking a woman at the village well for a cup of water. It’s in the context of being welcomed and receiving hospitality that Jesus is able to bring good news and hope to those people. So, perhaps as well as thinking about how we welcome and care for others there is a Gospel opportunity in allowing people to welcome, care for and show hospitality to us.
My other thought was prompted by Steve Kneale talking about why his church make a big deal of Christmas despite being in a Muslim area and finding that Muslims are unlikely to attend things like carol services.
Similarly my experience in Smethwick was that Muslims were unlikely to turn up for carol services. After all such things are essentially church services and nor would I normally expect a Muslim to turn up for a normal Sunday morning or evening. However, that didn’t mean that they were uninterested in Christmas, not just the tinsel and Santa Claus stuff but in Jesus, the person they honour as a prophet and so there was a strong interest in how we Christians honour him and celebrate his birth. We saw this for example in their willingness to come and join in other events such as an end of term party for the After-School club or the December messy church (Messy Church in fact proved a great opportunity to engage Muslim families generally). We saw it in the way that those coming to our ESOL classes enjoyed their Christmas party, loved bringing food for it, even brought presents for their teachers. They loved the part of the afternoon when one of the team would retell the Christmas story or they watched a film version together.
And this got me thinking that there are opportunities for witness at Christmas. What if we were to invite Muslim friends and neighbours to come and join in with us in other aspects of our time together at Christmas, whether that’s an evening meal or coffee and mince pies on a Saturday morning. If you’re feeling particularly brave you could extend the invitation to come and be part of your Christmas Day meal and to receive gifts from the family. That would be the context for them to see how we celebrate, that there is a joyfulness which is other centred not self-centred and it would give us plenty of opportunities to talk about Jesus.