You have probably heard the story of the walls of Jericho tumbling down by God’s hand. But have you heard the story of how tea is helping tear down cross-cultural relational walls between Muslims and Christians?
After arriving in Spain with the charge to make the gospel of Jesus available to diaspora Muslims living in Europe, I realized the task was not going to be as simple as I thought. When I approached Muslim men on the streets in our community to introduce myself, fear and uncertainty came over them like a sudden and unexpected flood. Their fear was so real it often caused them to remain silent until they could escape what they believed was a dangerous situation.
I realized very quickly that to begin relationships with these men, I was going to need an approach that avoided causing them to feel they were going to be taken advantage of or harmed.
The solution would have to be on their terms and as legitimate and natural as possible. As a foreigner, to become part of their world I needed to find a way to desensitize them to my presence.
“I began to wonder if I was being served a small dose of poison.”
I thought the local tea house could be the solution. Most of the men frequented it and found it appealing for their social needs. As culture here dictates, only men can enter and, since it is a public place, I saw no reason I couldn’t also frequent it.
The first day I entered their space I could feel the tension in the room. Conversations went silent, and the eyes of the suspicious men followed me every step. Everything within me wanted to turn and slip out the door.
Thankfully, I was with a teammate. Knowing I wasn’t alone helped me find the courage to stay.
Day after day, we returned to the tea house. And every time we walked in silence fell like a curtain over their conversations. I made sure to greet them and say goodbye each day. My words were always met with silence.
I often ordered mint tea and an egg plate to legitimize my presence each day. Frequently, I found myself violently sick to my stomach shortly after eating. I began to wonder if I was sometimes served a small dose of poison with my eggs.
I decided to tip the barista even though it was not customary in Spain. Perhaps honoring him would result in his protection of my patronage.
Friend and family
Over the course of the year, the silence and tension began to fall to the wayside. The men began to greet me and say goodbye when I left. One by one they accepted me in their space and engaged me in conversations. If I missed a day at the tea house, on my next visit they would ask where I had been. It was evident the relational walls had begun crumbling with persistence, honor and respect.
My hope was that if they allowed me into their social space, they eventually would allow me into their lives. Today, those hard-earned relationships that began in the tea house have extended into the community and into many of their homes.
They no longer see me as a threat and an enemy, but as their friend and family. I’m now in a position for Jesus to continue revealing himself to these men through my daily interactions with them.
In Spain there are very few established churches, and those that exist have very little impact on their communities. Even in areas of the world with many established churches, the direct influence of the church among the unreached and unchurched is declining. The task of reaching further into our communities is becoming more dependent on individual followers of Jesus.
Jesus reached into the community around him by reaching out to sinners and tax collectors. His heart was to pursue the lost, no matter where he found them. The only hope we have as sinners is that God’s grace will find us in our paralyzed spiritual state (Mk. 2:15-17).
Building genuine friendships that lead to new life
As followers of Jesus, how can we best position and prepare ourselves to reach into the world around us and love people to life?
Persistently place yourself in a new environment to interact with new people.
Free up time to spend with people outside your normal relationships.
Pray for opportunities to meet new people in your community
Pray for perseverance to endure their rejection of you in their environment.
Seek a genuine and real friendship.
Pray for a deep and real love for them.
Get to know them and invite them to common-ground activities.
Pray for an attitude of grace to endure anything you might feel is sinful behavior.
Set the example of Jesus’ teachings by your behavior and grace-filled responses.
Pray for God to draw them to himself.
Be ready to share your testimony, and eventually the gospel, when asked. Answer gently with respect and honor (1 Pet. 3:15).
Pray for a pathway to the local church.
Facilitate relationships between your new friends and the local church community.
God can use you to reach people who may never consider stepping foot into a church. Their eternal destination may be forever altered because you took time to be friends with them. If God can use me to love people to life, he can use you to love them to life also.
Missionary 182062, Converge Missionary
For security reasons, the name of the author has been withheld. You can learn more about this missionary at converge.org/missionary/182062.