The next interview in our series is a team leader for people group engagement in a local church. Marie works in a local church in the Raleigh area, mobilizing others to reach the West African Muslims that live around the church. Marie is not church staff. She is a regular church member who is catalyzing others in the church to join the cause.
As a PND team leader in a local church, what exactly do you do?
My primary role is to be an advocate for our West African neighbors’ spiritual needs and a facilitator equipping local believers to engage them with the Gospel. That looks like a lot of different things:
- Raising awareness: I inform church members of where West Africans are in our community, show them how they already interact with Africans in their daily routine, explain opportunities and needs, and spur them on to love and good deeds among that community.
- Walking alongside: For those wanting to be involved, I bring them to visit friends, introduce them to people in the community, encourage them to find new parts of the community, and give them information and resources to support their efforts.
- Doing the work: I personally visit hair braiding shops (or other points of interest) in our area, equip African Christians with Bible stories to share with their Muslim friends, and celebrate deaths, births, and holidays with the African community.
- Encouraging: I help those involved share prayer requests, insights, challenges, and ways to be involved with the rest of the church.
What are the hurdles you see to motivating lay people in your church to find and engage people groups?
Before beginning to engage people groups, time is always a challenge for church members. We live in a city where our members’ schedules are stretched thin and people just don’t have time to spare. However, God has brought opportunities in things that members were already doing.
Once beginning involvement, people can also quickly lose heart when faced with the challenges of ministry. Though West Africans excel in showing hospitality to those around them, planning and consistency are not their fortes. So, we have had to be exceptionally dependable and flexible in our relationships with them. Muslims interested in learning about Christ also have to struggle with what accepting him may mean for their cultural identity. Many have seen the beauty of the Gospel and can articulate it well. However, they hesitate to give their life to Christ because of family pressures. This tedious work with a lack of visible fruit can be very discouraging for lay people.
What are some of the creative things your church has done to engage people?
During Ramadan, we gave dried fruit and nut baskets and broke fast with our Muslim friends. We attempted to start French Bible studies and storying groups. We play soccer with them, dance at baby-naming ceremonies, and learn to cook from their ladies. In general, we join with them in their lives and include them in ours.
What are the benefits for your church to be involved in this?
It has opened our eyes to the lost all around us. When we began to look and pray for opportunities, some of our members found they were buying groceries from West Africans and working alongside them every day. All they needed to do from there was simply be a good neighbor, coworker, and friend.
It has also helped us better articulate our faith, separate our cultural traditions from real biblical truth, and break down barriers which have kept us from engaging the lost. For example, we must think through what it communicates to a Muslim when we give them a gift basket during Ramadan. Are we endorsing their works-based religion or simply showing them that we care? We constantly have to pray and seek wisdom on how to meet people where they are culturally and religiously while drawing them towards truth. These issues produce a good tension in us which strengthens our faith as we grapple with it.
What is some advice you would give someone wanting to lead their local church in this work too?
- Pray! This is the Father’s ministry, not ours. I cannot make our congregation care about West Africans, and I cannot make West Africans care about Christ. So, I must go to my knees and trust it to God.
- Get out there. Get to know what peoples are in your area, and begin to make friends. Ask good questions about who they are as a community and who they are as individuals. Share thoughts, life, and space with them.
- Don’t give up. It can often be difficult, disheartening, and frustrating work, but it’s well worth it. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)