The imam stroked his beard, listening with a steady gaze. He was measuring our words carefully.
This respected religious leader had never seen Westerners in this part of town before. Usually, they toured historical sites near the outskirts—they never went into the city’s heart, where millions of devoted Muslims lived near the mosque where we now stood.
Amy, a long-term Frontiers field worker who spoke the local language fluently, told the imam that we were people of peace and followers of Jesus Christ. She explained that the way Americans pictured Muslims didn’t match the Muslims she’d known and lived among here in South Asia. We wanted to understand more about Muslims so we could help others understand, too.
The imam pondered Amy’s words and silently nodded. He then led the three of us into every corner of the mosque. He took us up to the top of the dome overlooking the whole city and ushered us into the back during prayers, where we sat and listened as his call to prayer echoed off the ceiling.
One young man praying at the mosque overheard our conversation. After watching us for a while, Malik introduced himself and said, “Please come to my home for tea! My mother is there, and my family would like to meet all of you.”
We followed Malik through the narrow, colorful passageways surrounding the mosque. Along the way, he introduced us to the children and women curiously smiling out of their doorways at us. We were their unexpected guests.
In Malik’s home, six women—sisters, cousins, and aunts—surrounded us with their smiles, laughter, and questions. They were a delightful crowd, thrilled that Malik had invited us in for chai. They clucked over us and took pictures.
“Thank you for welcoming us foreigners so warmly into your home,” I said to them. I explained that they had done just what Jesus said we should do, caring for the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger (Matthew 25:34-40). “By making us feel so welcome,” I said, “it’s as if you have welcomed Jesus Christ into your home!”
“Let me tell you a story,” I continued, “about someone who found a great treasure, even though he wasn’t looking for one.” When they expressed interest, I shared the parable of the man who stumbled across a great treasure buried in a field, from Matthew 13:44. When the man found it, he joyfully sold everything he had in order to buy that field, so he could have the treasure inside. “The Kingdom of God, where God Himself reigns,” I said, “is like this treasure.”
The room buzzed with approval.
“But you don’t have to just stumble across it,” I carried on. “The Kingdom of God can be found by searching. It’s like a merchant who searched and searched for the most elegant and beautiful pearl in the market…”
Malik listened silently, entirely caught up with the story.
“When the pearl merchant finds the one pearl of great value, he sells everything he has to buy it.”
“But God is not for sale!” Malik challenged me. “You can’t sell everything you have to buy what God has to offer.”
“What do you think the message of the story is, then?” I asked. We went back and forth and agreed that it was about searching for God’s Kingdom and surrendering everything to gain the treasure He has.
At that moment, Malik stood up tall and pointed his finger at me. “I want to be that man!” he said. “I will search to find the treasure! I want it!”
“How will you do it?” I said, “What is the way to be near to God?”
He slumped a little in his boyish enthusiasm. “I don’t know, actually. What is the straight path? I should find it. Do you know?”
What an open heart he has, I marveled.
The three of us Americans had done our research before coming to Malik’s city. We knew that nine million Muslims lived in the city and its immediate surroundings. We also knew that no one had yet moved into their midst to bring the Good News to them.
Earlier that day, we had stumbled upon the one and only evangelical church in the city—part of this South Asian country’s population of national Christians.
The son of the pastor had greeted us. “Yes, I have many Muslim friends,” he earnestly told us. “But we cannot reach out to them. They will not be interested in joining our church.”
“Are they interested in Jesus?” I challenged the pastor’s son.
“Yes, they are, and they do want to read the Bible. But they cannot. They cannot come here to this church. Their families would forbid it.”
Now, as we sat with Malik and his whole family, I knew that the chances of a Muslim in this city ever entering a church or meaningfully interacting about matters of eternal value with a local follower of Jesus were incredibly slim.
Who would help Muslims in this city gain access to God’s Word? Who would bring it into their homes?
“Malik, I will tell you how to find the straight path,” I said. “Do you know this Arabic word, kalimat?”
“I think so,” he said.
They all knew how to recite the Qur’an in Arabic, but none of them knew the meaning of the words. Malik’s mother, Aisha, was the only one in their family actually able to read the Qur’an in Arabic, and only in side-by-side translation in their own language.
I turned to Aisha and said, “You must explain to everyone what you discover about Jesus in the Qur’an. He is called the kalimat, the Word of God.”
“Yes,” Aisha interjected, “I’ve read in the Qur’an that Jesus is God’s Word!”
“He is also the straight path, the only way to God,” I continued, “and this is good news for Muslims! You must discover everything you can about Jesus so that you can draw near to God. Jesus makes it so you can pray and know that God hears you.”
Malik and his mother were clearly going to look into this some more. But for now our time was up. The day had ended and so had our visit to this city and our new Muslim friends.
We left Malik’s family as Facebook friends, with promises of being welcomed back into their home whenever we might return.
“Where are you now?” Malik posts on my Facebook page. “Our family misses you.”
Soon, I’d like to be able to say, “I’m in America, talking and praying with some friends who want to come live in your city. Can they stay with you?”
Editor's note: Names and details in this story have been changed for security.