On my last trip to Jerusalem I visited the Temple Mount. It’s quite possibly one of my favorite places to visit because there’s just something special about what’s going on up there. Now you should know, recent attacks on the Al Aqsa mosque by the Israeli Defense Forces have created an unusually tense spirit, but with that being said; there’s always something happening up there on that plateau that draws my spirit.
This last visit was pretty enlightening. My friend Jarod Sickler and I were walking in front of the Dome of the Rock, when this man Muhammad, approached us. He was carrying some literature and I was intrigued to see where this conversation was going.
Right away, he introduced himself, and then started asking us about our background and faith preference. “So you are Christian from America?” And I’ve learned this is a pretty dangerous question in the Middle East. Not that it’s dangerous to follow Jesus, but there’s jus so many ideas about what it means to be a “Christian.” I always try to figure out what the person asking the question is actually saying…
Am I a Christian who is up on the Temple Mount who wants to violate the rights of the Muslims who pray there?
Am I a Christian who supports drone bombings in and around the Middle East?
Am I a Zionist Christian who threatens the way of life of many Palestinians?
Am I a Pacifist?
Am I a Zealot?
There’s just so many ways for people to interpret a name that might be an easy answer in America; but is convoluted at best in the Middle East.
“I would say I follow Jesus, if that’s what you’re asking.” I answered
My new friend smiled and said, “I follow Jesus too. We have much to talk about.”
And he proceeded to explain all the common places in the Quran where Jesus is held in such a high regard. He told me Jesus is called “The Word” of God in several places. He told me the story where Jesus was born to a Virgin Mary right over the hill in Bethlehem. He even went so far as to tell the story where Jesus would come back to earth and defeat the anti-christ and set up a Kingdom for all the believers.
All of the sudden I found myself in agreement with Muhammad. We believed a lot of the same stuff about Jesus.
“But did you ever consider following the prophet?” he asked.
And this is where the conversation got quite interesting.
“I don’t know much about the prophet. My book pretty much stops around 100 A.D. And as you probably know, your prophet isn’t in our book.”
“Remember when Jesus said, ‘I must go and send you another?'” (Christians commonly think of this statement as the Holy Spirit) “We believe Jesus had to go so Muhammad (PBUH) could come and give us a new Revelation through the Quran.”
We went on and on, round and round, and I told him, “I’ll do some research on Muhammad, but I’m really interested in the life and teachings of Jesus.”
He politely understood what I was saying, and he said, “Can we stay in touch? I would very much like to continue this conversation via email or social media. It’s not often I find men from America like you willing to listen. Most of the time they just yell at me for worshipping another God.”
And that’s when I felt a sadness come over me.
Of all the visitors to come up to the Temple Mount who were willing to engage in conversation with this man, the majority of just wanted to yell a point and make sure they conveyed some ‘right-ness’ without taking the time to have a conversation.
It must be like all those Campus Crusade students out trying to share the love of Jesus looking for conversations when they get be-littled for just explaining their way of looking at the world.
I gave the young man my contact information.
I asked him if we could pray together, and he agreed.
“God. We are thankful for men who are trying to find you. We are grateful for this place on earth where generations of people found you. We ask that you would show us who you are, and how we can better connect with you. Help us to submit ourselves to your will.”
And then he put his arms around me, hugged me tight, and thanked me for the time we spent together.
My encouragement to you today…
Don’t waste the opportunities to share God’s love with the people he puts in your path. They may look a little different. They may believe something different. But people are hungry for others who can humbly engage with the love Jesus came to share with us.
I’m thankful for friends like Mohammad who are willing to engage in meaningful conversations, and where we differ; we’re able to respect one another, and find that place where God loves us both as His creations.