Dialogue In Dearborn: Seminary Team Visits Bakeries, Restaurants to Interact With Muslims

M.Div. student Josh Hildebrand, center, reads from the Gospel of John with two Arab-American men, right, at a local bakery in Dearborn, Mich.
SBTS photo

In Dearborn, Mich., home of the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States, students from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary learned about praying for and sharing the Gospel with local Muslims during a three-day visit to the city.

Led by faculty member Ayman S. Ibrahim, the team interacted with a number of the 100,000-plus Arab Americans who comprise at least 45 percent of Dearborn’s population.

The 13 students from Southern Seminary and its undergraduate school, Boyce College, visited local Arab bakeries and restaurants, starting conversations with Muslims and discussing the Christian faith. The team also visited the Islamic Center of America, which was one of the largest mosques in the United States when it was built in 2005.

Several students received contact information for the Dearborn residents they met, aiming to have follow-up conversations about the Gospel.

“Evangelism is not impossible, beginning a conversation with Muslims is not impossible, and people are ready to listen,” said Ibrahim, regarding lessons the students learned from the Feb. 22-24 trip. “It’s completely worth it when you see you’re opening eyes and changing minds.”

The team not only saw the religion of Islam close-up when they visited the mosque but also spoke with practicing Muslims face-to-face, applying in real-time what many of them have learned in class with Ibrahim, director of Southern Seminary’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam and the Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies.

Josh Hildebrand, an M.Div. student in Islamic studies who has studied Arabic at the seminary, said it was “really encouraging to have learned things in class about Islam and use that [in conversation]. Having the class definitely made me feel a lot more credible and a lot more respected.”

The trip gave students a more balanced perspective on Muslims, said Ashley Ulrich, a 2013 graduate of Southern Seminary with an M.A. in education. Most Muslims know very little about Christianity and likely have never talked at length with a Christian, she said, noting that American Christians should not equate all Muslims with ISIS or other terrorist extremists but recognize them as fellow humans created in God’s image and in need of the Gospel.

“Muslims are just people. We build relationships with them in the same exact way that we build relationships with anybody. You find out the superficial stuff first and then you go a little bit deeper,” Ulrich said. “That’s how I get to know every other nationality of people; why would I treat them any differently just because they come from a different religious context?”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Andrew J.W. Smith