Reaching the nations in your own backyard

July 31st, 2018 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Reaching the nations in your own backyard

HOUSTON James Miller (not his real name) loved being an elementary school teacher, a natural fit for the Houston native and Baptist pastor’s son who had majored in theology in college. 

Then God used a podcast and an online dictionary to change his life. 

While eating lunch at his desk at school and listening to the podcast, Miller was struck by the speaker’s description of hearing God’s voice, not an audible declaration but a clear impression. Miller prayed, “God, how have you called me? What is my identity for you?”

The word “emissary” came to mind. He turned to an online dictionary, where the example sentence, “The emissary was sent to a faraway land to proclaim a peace treaty was signed,” seemed portentous.

“Did God just speak through Dictionary.com?” Miller thought, eyes tearing.

Before long, he had joined an effort launched a decade ago by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to engage unreached people groups, after being trained by Houstonians working among the local Muslim community. Through that, he heard accounts of God moving in powerful ways.

“I sat at the feet of guys seeing fruit in ministering to the Muslim world,” Miller said. Eventually, mentors recommended developing relationships with Muslims.

He befriended a Saudi student, Ahmed, who welcomed him to his apartment for refreshments. Miller began using an evangelistic “tool” with Ahmed, only to be told, “Oh, I see what you are doing. I am not interested in spiritual conversations.”

Deflated, Miller asked mentors if he should look for someone else to invest in, only to be gently reminded that he must not view Ahmed as a project.

“What if I just be his friend?” Miller asked, and he did so for the next three years, even taking his wife to Ahmed’s apartment where they were greeted by offers of tea, coffee, juice and a plate heaped with candy.

“He is just a regular person,” Miller’s wife observed, noting the threatening stereotypes some Christians have of Muslims. 

Months passed. Spiritual conversations grew more significant. One day, Ahmed told Miller, “You are like a brother to me.” 

“That reminds me of my favorite psalm,” replied Miller, quoting Psalm 133:1-2a: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head.”

Ahmed checked the Bible reference, then bolted upstairs, returning with a tiny vial of oil. “We make this in my hometown,” he exclaimed, explaining that the quarter ounce of oil was worth hundreds of dollars.

“This guy is teaching me about ancient Hebrew Scripture because he grew up in the neighborhood,” Miller mused, adding that two months later, another Muslim whom Miller met through Ahmed, remarked, “Ahmed is telling me you have our oil in the Bible.” 

Ahmed’s discussing Scripture with other Saudis is remarkable, Miller said, admitting that evangelizing Muslims remains “a slow, hard road.” 

After several years of training, the Millers moved to the Middle East as language students and missionaries. But when geopolitics forced them back to Houston after a year, Miller adapted, continued his calling to Muslims right in his hometown.

“God has brought the nations to us. There are 250,000 Muslims in the greater Houston area. If they come to the kingdom and go back to their closed countries, they will be a thousand times more effective at reaching those tribes than I would ever be,” said Miller, who since returning to Houston in 2014 has been a fulltime missionary to Muslims.

“Most Muslims think the Christian agenda is to change their culture, get them to switch teams and forsake parents, but if the agenda is love, they are OK with that,” Miller said. 

Sharing the gospel with Muslims begins with relationships, easily cultivated from a single friendship, Miller added, noting that Ahmed introduced him to dozens of Saudis. He offered advice, paraphrased here.

Don’t be afraid. Muslims aren’t the enemy. Muslims, Christians and all humanity share a common enemy: Satan and his fallen angels. Islam is not a threat because we serve a King who will never be usurped. Muslims have been coming to Christ in increasing numbers over the last 30 years. You likely won’t even strike up a conversation if you are intimidated. 

It’s not up to you to make something happen. Just be open to what the Lord leads you to do. He has pursued these folks long before we met them. Jesus is showing up in dreams and visions. Muslims are seeing healings and other miracles. One friend has a recurring dream in which Jesus Christ, “Isa al Masih,” appears, destroys the powers of darkness, judges the world and takes his followers into paradise with him. I have prayed with Muslims who have heard God speak to them in real time and observed an elderly Pakistani man healed from chronic pain following my prayers for him. 

Pray. God does the work. He causes the growth, new life and transformation. Talk to God about your Muslim friends. Tell them you’re praying for them. Offer to pray with them. I’ve never been turned down for prayer. 

With his language skills, Miller’s strategies include speaking Arabic to anyone who looks Middle Eastern. 

With a quarter of a million Muslims in the Houston area, and almost as many Hindus and Buddhists, opportunities are vast. Many SBTC churches have answered the call to engage, evangelize and plant churches among these groups. 

Bay Area First Baptist and Houston First Baptist are among congregations supporting workers like Miller and hosting SBTC Texas Missions Initiatives trainings. Houston’s First has sponsored SBTC Reach the Nations and People Group Discovery and Engagement trainings in English and Spanish. 

Metropolitan Baptist and Champion Forest Jersey Village have also held People Group Discovery and Engagement workshops while others such as Emmanuel Baptist, Willow River Church and International Victory Christian Church of Pearland have sent members for training. Braeburn Valley Baptist welcomes a Nepali-speaking house church to conduct baptisms, weddings and Christmas events in its facilities. Houston’s First, Champion Forest and Second Baptist offer vibrant ESL programs.

The harvest is ripe, the methods many, the work ongoing. 

Skyler Womack, missionary liaison at Houston’s First, told the TEXAN, “The Lord is bringing the nations to our backyard and is positioning the church to respond.” He praised the work of Miller and other global workers who have returned and remain to help churches reach their multicultural neighbors in the heart of Texas.

“God is calling us to reach out to as many people groups as we can in Texas,” added Dan Acharya, the SBTC missions strategy associate who leads the Texas Missions Initiatives. There are over 421 people groups in Texas who are speaking over 300 languages. Through Texas Missions Initiatives, over 1,000 people in over 100 churches are trained each year to reach Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other groups with the gospel. 

For more information on training contact Acharya at 817-552-2500 or email dacharya@sbtexas.com.