Keeping Christ central
A weekly series from HOPE’s director of spiritual integration
*For security reasons, the name of the country in this story has been omitted, and names of individuals have been changed to protect their identities.
On a sparkling day in late August, I sat in a dusty African courtyard with HOPE’s new field coordinator, Pastor John. We met to discuss a pilot program that HOPE recently launched in an area of this country that has historically been highly resistant to Christianity.
As Pastor John and I transitioned to the business of the day, an intense looking man dressed in traditional Muslim garb approached our table. Pastor John greeted him warmly and said,
Please meet my friend, Yayah. He’s a sheikh.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think. I knew that the word “sheikh” was a term of honor typically used for senior Muslim leaders. As we greeted one another, Pastor John laughed. “He doesn’t look like a pastor, does he? He was a sheikh, but now he serves as a volunteer in our savings program.”
Yayah broke into a broad smile and shared that his journey toward Christ began years before. A Christian acquaintance asked Yayah to teach him the Quran so he could engage more effectively with his Muslim friends. Yayah agreed, and as years passed, he decided that if this man was studying his holy book, it would only be fair to begin studying the Bible. Over nine years of discussion and study, Yayah concluded that the Bible is true and chose to make Jesus Lord of his life.
Though Yayah rejoiced in his newfound faith, following Jesus was not without its hardships. At that time, Yayah had two wives, and both immediately left him. He also lost his home and had to move in with his Christian friend for the next three years. Despite these intense challenges, his desire to reach his people led him to complete pastoral training in a neighboring country. He explained,
My Muslim friends and family are dying without Christ. No matter what, I must share Him with them.
When Yayah reengaged with his community, he knew he couldn’t just walk into a village with a Bible in hand proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. He needed a way to build relationships and meet real needs in order to earn the right to share Christ.
I had been asking God for a ministry, and He answered my prayers with HOPE’s savings and credit association program.
Yayah now spends his free time helping groups form, training them to save money together, and facilitating biblically based savings curriculum. In our conversation, he stressed that the holistic nature of the savings ministry gives him the opportunity to build positive relationships with the community, train people in rural poverty to provide for their families, and give people an opportunity to consider Jesus’ invitation to follow Him.
As I walked away from that remarkable conversation, I took away three things:
- Transformation often takes time. Sometimes it takes years of relationship, study, and discussion for someone to find Christ. In a world accustomed to quick fixes, we must be patient and not give up.
- Relationships can blossom in the hardest places. Difficult environments do not mean that we cannot build loving friendships. Yayah came to faith in Christ through a friend who refused to presume that different perspectives on faith automatically produce separation and hostility.
- Insiders are powerful change agents. Community insiders like Pastor John and Yayah are generally more effective than outsiders who don’t know the culture. Yayah shared, “Because I am from the same tribe, I have more opportunities to pray to Jesus and speak of Him where people will accept it.”
We do not yet know the outcome of this pilot, but I praise God for preparing people like Pastor John and Yayah as we pursue this amazing opportunity to share His love in such an unreached place.
This is such an amazing story. I have hardly stopped crying each time I read something new about Hope International. My heart has been prepared for something like this for such a long time. I am drawn to other cultures, and love to learn from people, and celebrate the diversity. I live in Columbus, OH, where we have the second largest Somali population in the country, behind Minneapolis, MN. I have found myself having a desire to learn Somali, so I often ask the few that I regularly see, how to say various words. They are flattered that I want to learn, and others are flattered that I’m attempting to speak their language. I sense in my heart, that God wants to work through this, and future friendships with the Somali community, to witness first of all to them in an active way, the Love of Christ. That is perhaps a doorway for them to begin to accept Christ. Thank God inspiring you to share this story! Glory to God! And thank you.
Brian, I’m sorry that I missed your response. Thanks for sharing your heart for Christ and for the Somali people.
I also have friends from Somalia. In our case, they were families that came to Fort Wayne, IN after living in refugee camps in Kenya (Kakuma and Dadaab). It’s possible that we may know some of the same people, since it was common for our friends to travel to Columbus to visit other friends and family.
I’m grateful for your heart and pray that the Lord will continue to lead you!
Nice ! Thanks!
Thank you for sharing a nuanced response to a question that many NGOs are facing, Matthew. I appreciate HOPE’s emphasis on the perhaps unlikely centrality of Christ in ministries involving microfinance. The faith integration is never to preclude non-Christian clients from the economic and social benefits of microfinance, livelihoods and other development programs. Instead these should be considered empowering tools that professing Christians can use to practically demonstrate (and physically deliver) the good news of God’s inclusive love for all. Whether clients accept or walk away from the offer of abundant life in Christ is not a burden we actively carry. What an important reminder that just as Jesus himself showed no fear when people walked away from his promises, we too are free from that anxiety, if we are faithfully living out our own vocations in earthly pursuit of a God’s kingdom of shalom.
Whether or not they are Christians, people choose to patronize your business because they believe in the attractive value proposition offered by the organization. That says something about the appeal of HOPE’s holistic model over other market options. Offering complementary discipleship programs on the basis of voluntary involvement ensures that clients maintain the dignity to discern and make their own choices concerning whom they will follow. You mention how HOPE’s programs have seen “clients choose to attend an optional Bible study led by local pastors, or talk with their loan officer about troubles they’re facing” and how these actions are “some of the best indicators we have of hearts moving toward Christ.” I couldn’t agree more in terms of holistic program evaluation. Growing in faith can be difficult to measure! But rather than conversion reports and dichotomizing “Are you a Christian? Tick Yes/No”, let’s continue in this more valuable and process-oriented “spiritual metric” that affirm clients’ incremental steps toward a life of faith in Jesus. Neat story of transformation.
Matthew, I really appreciated the story of transformation that you shared here. The long and fruitful journey that many of us take in coming to Christ is the simple and beautiful truth laid out in your post that resonated with me most.
I was also drawn to the delicate tension between the “insiders” and “outsiders,” of global communities, both religious and cultural, as these intersecting identities can have considerable positive and/or negative impacts on our work. The message that “insiders are powerful change agents,” serves as a good reminder of the importance of local engagement and leadership in development programming. People respect and trust who they know and we have learned how useful this nugget of truth is as we pursue the work of transforming lives. What is more, is that even as an “insider,” Yayah (the Muslim Sheikh in your story), still had to “earn the right to share Christ” through building authentic relationships with members of his community and serving real needs that his community had. I have often wrestled with whether service is an a priori assumption to preaching the gospel and have come to realize that it is one in the same. Our service as development practitioners is our preaching and the opportunity to speak about Christ is a reflection of what our actions have said so loudly already. The savings and credit association program that Yayah now runs seems to be an outpouring of his heart and the incredible opportunity God has given him to share His love.