Even so, Come Lord Jesus

” A new way of understanding other religions implies a new way of understanding Christianity. Christians do indeed face both problems and promises when they honestly and lovingly face the reality of other religions. ”                                                                                                           – Paul F. Knitter (Introducing Theologies of Religions)

Wow. Never have I felt like there is more at stake in my faith than I have in my Muslim-Christian relations class. Just one question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” can make my palms and neck sweat immediately. There seems to be something heavy attached to me when I am asked to share my theology or what I think about an Islamic thought. A weight that I’ve never felt feel so dense before. My mind is full of questions like, what do Christians do in a more pluralistic society? What does it mean to be inclusive in a religion that preaches of exclusive salvation? How can Muslims and Christians get along when their beliefs are seemingly so contradictory? Oy. Loaded concepts, difficult, heart throbbing, heat rising. So many questions with individual and communal implications. Implications for the church and for my future. Yikes, that’s a lot!

Let me explain. For my next paper, I have to write about my personal theology of religions in reference to Paul Knitter’s book Introducing Theologies of Religions. In other words, how should/do Christians relate to other religions theologically and in practice? The hardest part is knowing that this question is what I should be asking myself anyway. This essay isn’t just for a homework assignment, it is crucial to my hopes for now and for the future. Especially, if I’m going to head to seminary after undergrad, or even just for my personal relationship with God. Studying abroad, learning about new cultures and meeting people who are very different than you — especially if you’re in a country that centers on a whole different religion than your own— makes you ask huge questions of yourself, of others, of the world and even of God. Even writing this my forehead is damp and my heartbeat has spiked because I know these aren’t small things to ponder.

Books I’m reading for my Muslim-Christian relations course: A Muslim and Christian in Dialogue by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk, Theologies of Religions by Paul F. Knitter A History of Christian-Muslim Relations by High Goddard

When faith, when salvation, when the religion I center most, if not all of my actions on is questioned or pushed, it can be scary and overwhelming. Sometimes, I catch myself wondering if I’m a good enough Christian as I see the devotion of Muslims heading to prayer or hear the conviction that seems to be greater than my own in the voices of my peers. Other times, I find myself questioning if there are beautiful parts of Islam that I wish were more emphasized on in Christianity such as reserving judgment or to strive for peace between “people of the book” (Muslims, Christians and Jews). This is not to say that these elements are not in other religions, they just seem clearer to me in Islam.

Yet, God’s voice has been so present in helping me. When questions get uncomfortable, I find comfort in scripture and prayer. When I feel overwhelmed with not knowing what to think, he reminds me that I am known, and he is all-knowing. He listens to the struggle. At one point I asked our program director and professor Justin how he handles it all living in Oman as a Christian and interacting with so many Muslims. He said he doesn’t always know what to do, or when he feels useless or like he is not reaching people, he remembers to think “even so, come Lord Jesus”. I’ve since written that phrase on the back of my notebook as a reminder.

I’m searching for and questioning Truth in every class, and I’m still only confident in the fact that faith has to be had because I simply won’t ever know all the answers. I might share about my faith with my Muslim neighbors purely as a witness to what I have learned in the gospel and not to convert (conversion of any kind, not just to Christianity, is illegal in Oman), and not quite do it justice. “Even so… come Lord Jesus”. I can mess up my words and not truly say what I mean or even say something that is wrong altogether, “even so… come Lord Jesus”. I may have a moment of doubt in faith, “even so… come Lord Jesus”.

Just one of the many mosques in Muscat, Oman. They line streets like churches in Holland, Michigan, form the intersections of community. I love seeing all the colorful minarets.

So, back to this essay. I’ve realized that the weight I feel when I read the prompt is simply just passion. The question of how I relate as a Christian, as a person of faith, to people of different belief systems is so, so important to me. I am passionate about caring for people of different faiths. I am passionate about preventing violence with religious values that only promote peace. I am passionate about interfaith dialogue and action. If so, then why do I feel like a weight is holding me back? Why do I need a three-hour nap after every class as if I’m defeated by the conversation?

A lot is at stake when I’m not sure what the answers are.  So, I give them over. God is the all-knowing. If I don’t know all the answers, it’s okay. Shway, Shway (Arabic for “little by little”—it’s becoming one of my favorite phrases). I will learn. When I realize that, the heavy weight of passion turns into a light, lofty sail, and it pulls me to where I can question again. It propels me to keep learning, reading, writing about interreligious relations and cooperation. I’m so happy and lucky to have this opportunity to learn in an active, dynamic, “high stakes” environment. Being in Oman, at the Al Amana Center is sometimes difficult and at times anxiety driving. But it is so, so worth it as my passion is renewed and pulling me onwards. In fact, it is crucial to my growth as an individual, as a Christian and for my part in community. I’m feeling excited, enthusiastic and renewed and still, I say, “Come Lord Jesus”!

Where Is God When You Study Abroad?

If you go to Hope, you know that it’s basically a Christian Bubble.

You know multiple people going on mission trips this summer, tons of your friends work with Young Life, and you’re probably a part of at least two Bible studies and a house church. And this is all great! Hope is a perfect environment to develop and strengthen your faith before heading out into the “real world” after graduation. I’m extremely thankful for what Hope has taught me about God and myself.

But it’s incredibly hard to leave this Christian Bubble, and I realized this as soon as I arrived at the University of Aberdeen.

It’s not like I thought God wasn’t here. I knew God was here and everywhere, but studying abroad puts you outside of that Christian Bubble and into the dead center of that “real world” everyone talks about. You’re in a new environment with a new culture. The friends you make probably don’t talk about Bible studies and mission trips. Drinking culture is also huge over here since the legal age is 18, not 21. You’re suddenly the odd one out.

So where have I found God? Has stepping outside of Hope’s Christian Bubble been a blessing or an obstacle for me?

When I first arrived, I made it my mission to find God. I went to a bunch of Aberdeen Christian Union events, including a weekend retreat, and joined a Bible study on campus. I also decided to take a New Testament class so that I would keep reading my Bible. Now in a more secular environment, I wanted to prove to myself that I could still be a “good Christian” without Hope’s help.

But what I didn’t realize would happen is just how much God would find me. In some of these cases I didn’t even really have to try and seek him out. After praying for a loyal friend group, He gave me four friends (one of whom is a Hope student) who respect my beliefs and ask about them. I’m able to evangelize and have fun, even if not every one of my friends knows that Paul and Saul are the same person.

I think God has also used this study abroad experience to mature me and help me understand things about Him that had been bothering me for a long time. This came through in a lot of different aspects, mainly in the way I approach relationships, and He also used my growing maturity to dive me deeper into an understanding of sin, repentance, and grace. It was here in Aberdeen that God finally got through to me about some chronic sins in my life and urged me to confess those sins, repent, and move forward. I’m certainly not perfect, and I fall back into my mess from time to time, but this was a huge moment for me. I honestly don’t think this would have happened if it weren’t for this study abroad experience.

And overall, I think it’s been beneficial to take my faith to this new place. A lot of times at Hope I get stuck on one of those “Jesus highs”. It usually ends up during church at Moran Park. I’m always the emotional person crying during altar call at the very end, waving my hands in the air, and exercising my spiritual gifts. But here, I’ve learned that real life isn’t composed of mainly “Jesus highs”. Instead, I’ve had to realize that my day-to-day interactions and walk with God is just as, if not more, important than my “drunk in the Holy Spirit” moments. God hasn’t left me this entire time, and He has quietly nudged me towards understanding, confession, and joy. He’s allowed me to experience this part of His world for myself and use my adventures to teach me and show me His love. He’s matured me so much, and I know I will not be returning home the same Christian I was when I left. Now, I’ve seen that God truly follows us to the ends of His earth.

If you’re worried about your faith life when traveling abroad, don’t let it stop you. Seek God and places of worship, but also trust that God will find you, too. It can’t be all up to us. If it were, then why would we need Jesus? Jesus says that if we knock, the door will be opened for us, so trust that He will open that door.