His comment was something I had come to expect, but it was still striking all the same. I had asked Yusuf, as I had asked dozens of other Muslims, if he was sure that God would allow him into heaven because of his Islamic faith. And just as with Yusuf, time after time the answer had come back the same: No, a man could never be sure that he was approved by God -- a holy God, a God of unrelenting justice; there's always another good deed to be done, always another sin to be repented of, always another religious obligation to be observed. Perhaps, when the time comes, Yusuf will not measure up to God's dizzyingly high standards, as he told me. As even the great Muslim figure Abu Bakr reportedly lamented, he couldn't trust that God would accept him at the end "even if I had one foot in paradise."
It was against this backdrop that I replied to Yusuf, "What if I told you that you could be certain of God's love and your salvation, and that not because of your good deeds, but because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" Yusuf was skeptical; he had heard of Christians and was prepared for something along these lines. So, to put his fears at rest, I asked, "Don't you, as a Muslim, believe that Jesus is a prophet?" Yusuf did. "And don't prophets speak the truth?" They did, Yusuf agreed. "So when Jesus spoke about Himself, about who He was and what He was about, didn't He speak the truth?"
Hesitantly, Yusuf nodded. This then led into a discussion of Jesus's claims of divine authority, the atonement on the cross, and the reliability of the Bible in which all these wonderful, merciful truths are vouched safe to us.
The conversation unfolded in much the same way it had a dozen times before with other Muslims. Sometimes my interlocutors will accept a printed list of Jesus's own claims of divinity; sometimes they accept an Arabic translation of the New Testament. It's a good ministry, one that I'm glad to be a part of, and one I hope to continue.
But here's the twist: I'm not a missionary with the International Mission Board. I'm a pastor. And these conversations aren't taking place in Morocco or Jordan or Pakistan, they're taking place in California at a nearby college campus. And most amazing of all, I didn't even approach these Muslim students; they came to me looking for a conversation about Jesus.
You see, about a year ago I got permission to set up a small evangelism booth on campus. It's not much -- just a small folding table and some camping chairs. I put out a few copies of the New Testament, a few copies of C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity, some business cards for my church, and a bowl of candy. Also, flanking my table are a couple of small yard signs. One asks, "LOOKING FOR A CHURCH HOME?" The other states, "LET'S TALK ABOUT JESUS". And there, behind the table, facing a busy walkway next to the university library, I sit smiling at the passersby. I even don a clerical collar at times, just to make my intentions all the more obvious. And it's to such a setup as this that curious onlookers come of their own accord.
Sometimes I meet Christians who ask for prayer. Other times I'm greeted by aggressive skeptics looking for an argument. And other times I meet people like Yusuf: earnest, curious non-Christians from all over the world who really would like to have a thoughtful conversation about Jesus -- maybe for the first time in their lives.
I tell you all this because too often we think of "making disciples of all nations", as Matthew 28 puts it, as something that only happens half a world away. But the truth is that while international missions remain vitally important, in the 21st century "all nations" come to us here in the United States, too. Like Yusuf, hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals are studying at American universities as we speak. They come seeking an education. But if faithful Christians make themselves available in obvious ways, and make their willingness to share the Gospel obvious too, these students may find something more than just an education -- they may find the Savior.
So I encourage my fellow Southern Baptists to consider the possibility of campus evangelism in connection with their own churches. The college administrators are often accommodating, the students are interested, and the risks are few. So join with me in seeking to reach "all nations" by reaching out winsomely right here in our own backyard. Come Judgment Day, someone like Yusuf may thank you.
Eugene Curry is pastor of First Baptist Church of Granada Hills, Calif. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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