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Because Lanham Grace Church has about 40 people on any given Sunday, its members see it as a small church. And yet because their hearts are big and their neighborhood (Lanham, Maryland) is so diverse, they and their young pastor Eric Smith decided they wanted to learn about and reach out to their Muslim neighbors. Lanham Grace is a missions-minded church and has sent global workers, but this time they wanted to reach out locally.
Pastor Eric enlisted a fellow pastor from his district (Chesapeake), Chaplain James Schaefer (Colonel, US Army retired), to organize a series of three one-hour adult Sunday School classes entitled “Share the Gospel; Love Your Muslim Neighbors.” The class met on three Sundays.
James and his wife Elizabeth have served in a variety of roles in the United States and overseas, primarily in the Middle East. After his retirement from the chaplaincy, James served in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the US Department of State. He has a keen interest in religious peacebuilding and religious freedom. Currently, he serves in his home district of Charis churches and is an elder at the Waldorf Grace Church in Waldorf, Maryland.
Over half the church attended the classes, with James facilitating them. He invited his long-time friend, the East Coast Director of Ambassadors for Christ, missionary Jay Orvis, to serve as the main teacher.
Jay and his wife Brenda have served with Ambassadors since 1990 in a variety of countries, primarily in Asia. Much of Jay’s focus has been on training pastors and churches in cross-cultural ministry. Having grown up all over the world, mostly in Muslim countries, Jay has keen sensitivities while relating to anyone from an Islamic culture. Because he has spent a lot of time ministering to people of other world religions, he was the perfect person for the presentation.
The purpose of the training was for believers to learn more about Islam and Middle East customs and courtesies as well as how to love and share the gospel with Muslims. While the class did not attempt to sugarcoat any of the teachings of Islam, Jay and James presented them with respect and with the goal to help the church members cultivate a love for and desire to serve their neighbors as they share the gospel. The participants reported growing in their understanding of Islam and in their desire to reach their neighbors.
On the final Sunday, the group of 25 ended the class by touring a local mosque and having lunch there. The mosque was a huge investment by international Islamic peoples and could easily be intimidating, yet the group from Lanham Grace was struck by the hospitality afforded to them at the mosque and by the degree of community their neighbors had created.
Through the series of classes and the tour, the Lanham Grace attendees learned practical steps for reaching out and building relationships with their Muslim neighbors…who did not seem so intimidating anymore.
Today, most of the Lanham group feel less fear of offending their neighbors as they attempt to show them Christ’s love because they have learned a few of their customs and understand them better.