From the outside, it looked like a regular house. It was a typical New York City row house.
The white wooden siding looked old and weathered. You would not have known it was even a mosque (known as a masjid in Arabic) except for the large green sign written in English and Arabic.
We had come to this house with purpose and to learn. We cannot speak God’s truth to men’s hearts unless we know them. And how can we know them if we are not willing to sit down and learn from them?
We prayed beforehand. We prayed for courage. We prayed for boldness. We prayed to enter with a heart of love and grace.
As we entered we removed our shoes. The first room was small. It felt crowded. To our right was a small room filled with ornate porcelain bowls filled with water. This was where men would wash before prayers.
The inside of the first-floor main room was a cavernous space. The deep crimson carpet had a beautiful Middle Eastern pattern repeated throughout the room. Dust hung in the air. It felt like it was aged beyond its years.
A house of prayer
This was not our house of worship. The old men that were gathered there for prayer were both curious and concerned by our presence. Their weathered faces hid nothing.
“Why are you here?”
“We are followers of Isa. We know that your holy book speaks of Isa and we wanted to sit and talk with you about it. We wanted to learn what your book says about Isa.”
They were gracious and kind. They motioned for us to sit and wait in the corner. Prayer time was about to start. We would wait, and then we would talk.
Others began filing into the prayer room. They were older devout men. Their heads were covered. They eyed us with puzzled and sometimes suspicious expressions. Reading their faces we could hear, “Who are they? Why have they come?”
The Imam calmed them, “They are here to learn. They have come in kindness.”
We watched them conduct their afternoon prayer time. They bowed deeply. They spoke in unison. Their Arabic chant was done in rhythmic cadence.
Afterward, the men filed out slowly. Some stayed behind to continue in prayer. Others nodded silently to us as they left.
We waited. We smiled. We sat politely.
Spoonfuls of truth
The older Imam that walked with a cane and slight limp approached. He sat in a chair. We remained cross-legged on the floor. A younger man, an Imam in training perhaps, sat down on the floor with us also.
“What do you wish to know?” The older man asked.
“We know that we believe some of the same things. But some things we believe are different. We wanted to discuss these things with you directly. It is not proper to ask someone else what our Muslim friends believe. It is only proper to ask you directly.”
We talked. They told me what they believed a man must to earn God’s approval. We grieved for them.
Our conversation was tense at times. It was awkward and labored. But we listened to each other. We fought against speaking past each other. We willingly wrestled with the tension of two different worlds attempting to understand each other.
Our victory was small and almost unnoticeable. It was captured in the space of only a few minutes. These few minutes existed inside the larger prism of an hour long conversation. But this is how truth comes. In those few minutes we were able to share a small amount of truth.
We longed to give them more. But when a man has been lost in the desert and is found dying of thirst, he cannot drink from a hose. He must sip on small spoonfuls of lifesaving water until he is able to handle drinking his fill.
The amount of truth we were able to give was but a spoonful. But it was all our new friends could handle. And it was a definitive win.
Sharing Bible stories
We shared the story of Adam and Eve. We told of how just one sin had separated from paradise with God and how God had covered their shame by with the sacrifice of animals to cover their naked shame.
We shared the story of Abraham’s faithful and grieving journey up the mountain to sacrifice his only son. This man of God whose unshakable faith had brought him to this heart journey was obediently climbing the steep slope fervently believing that God would deliver. And deliver He did. We talked about the beautiful miracle of the sacrifice God alone provided so that Abraham’s son didn’t have to die.
And finally we spoke of our savior Isa. Jesus the Messiah had provided the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind. He paid for our sins and created a straight path back to paradise with God.
We spoke a while longer after this. We thanked them for their kindness and hospitality. We thanked them for welcoming us into their space.
I don’t know if any great movement happened that day. But, truth be told, that is not for me to know.
I do know that we were able to boldly share God’s word. We faithfully shared the truth of the gospel.
This is what it means to go forward in God’s name. This is what it means to be salt and light.
It wasn’t easy to walk into that room. It wasn’t comfortable to be there. But God did not call us to comfort. He called us to obedience.