A month in Londonistan: Whirlpool of cultures

I spent most of May 2010 in predominately Muslim neighborhoods in the UK. As I walked the streets, I had often had the feeling that I was in the Middle East. I took a group of CCU students over to England to build relationships with Muslims, and to share Jesus with them. We set up book tables offering free New Testaments, the Jesus film with subtitles, and other literature in English as well as several other Middle Eastern languages. I implored my students to never say anything which could be construed as anti-Muslim, but only to promote Jesus, whom Muslims consider an important prophet. I was amazed at how open most Muslims were to reading the words of Jesus. Although a few wanted to argue, we avoided doing so, merely challenging them to better inform themselves of what Jesus taught.

The mosques in the UK are full to overflowing, while most churches are nearly empty, except for the evangelical ones. Just before Friday prayers we walked past a mosque where the faithful were gathering. There were so many people that loudspeakers were set up outside the mosque, and hundreds were on the sidewalks and street blocking traffic all the way to the corner. It was from this mosque that several young men were arrested, attempting to smuggle explosives on planes. They are the reason we can’t bring shampoo or toothpaste onboard. We stood on the steps of a Baptist Church along that street, observing the Muslims on the sidewalk and street in front of us performing their obligatory prayers. I was a little uneasy, thinking we were barging in on their service, until I reminded myself that I was a Baptist on the steps of a Baptist church, even though its doors were locked and there seemed to be nobody inside.

Some of the older English have complained to us of the problem, but the upper class young English are politically correct to a fault, and many of the lower class young English have tattoos, body piercing, or seem zoned on booze or drugs. From what I have seen, England is in trouble, but it may be different in less Muslim neighborhoods. Downtown London was very diverse, and Oxford still seemed to be quite English. Right now Muslims are on islands in a sea of English, but given recent birthrates, will English soon find themselves on islands in a sea of Muslims?

There is hope, however, that British civilization won’t be ending soon. We were invited into the homes of many Muslims, and met warm and friendly people. Many of the Muslims we met respected Jesus and acknowledged the miracles he performed. They asked us to pray for them. A charismatic church sets up chairs in a square every Saturday in one predominately Muslim neighborhood offering prayer for healing. I was amazed to discover that more Muslims than English took them up on it. The Quran speaks of the healing ministry of Jesus, and Muslims often seek Christians for this purpose. One troubled Muslim man came up to me at our table, asking me to perform an exorcism to relieve him of demonic oppression.

Several Muslims we met didn’t care for Islam, but feared converting. Others said they would live a wild life until they married, then practice their religion. Still others wanted to move to New York or LA to meet film stars, live a life of glamour, and get away from the oppression of their culture. However, the fear of bringing shame to their families or ending up dead in an honor killing dissuaded them. I did meet some converts from Islam, who lived in hiding and fear, relocating to live under a pseudonym, fearing their families would find them. Some of the more courageous converts joined us at our book table, even though the penalty for leaving Islam is death. In my presence some Muslims asked them if they were born Muslim, but the converts responded that they were born “babies”, avoiding the question. One of my CCU students was asked that often, but (although born in Pakistan) was from the persecuted Christian minority.

One former Muslim was passing out gospels in a suburb near Heathrow airport, where one can hardly find an English face. As he distributed literature near a Mosque during Friday prayers, a crowd of Muslims surrounded and threatened him. He called 911 with a cell phone hidden in his pocket and police appeared in minutes. He reminded the angry crowd that they were in the UK, where there was freedom of speech and religion, not in the Middle East.

Many of the missionaries training us were in Muslim countries until they were expelled for their activities. Now they cool their heels in the UK, working with the only Muslims they can now reach, waiting for another opportunity to go back to the Middle East. They also hoped that some of my students would dedicate themselves to working in the Muslim world, and gain access to where they have been denied.

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