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Seven years ago, the contract on the house Simon and Becky planned to buy unexpectedly fell through. They waited a year until they found a house in the neighbourhood near an iconic stadium where they now live. “When we moved in, we had no idea how big the Arab community was. We had no idea the Syrian influx that was about to start. The last two years, it was a wave that you could physically see,” Simon described. “We feel that for such a time as this, God shut a door. We knew we’d outgrown our flat, but the door shut for the area we thought we wanted to be. God opened the door for a different place, and now we can see why: We have all these Muslims on our doorstep.”
A stone’s throw away from their house, Arab shops line a bustling street. Three months ago, a Syrian food shop opened next to an Iranian pizza place. Across the road, a Lebanese man runs a bakery. Further along, there’s a Syrian restaurant, a Moroccan clothes shop, and the Iraqi barber shop Simon frequents. On his way to the OM centre, Simon passes another street, one side Somali, the other Afghan. “It’s so rich culturally,” he said.
The area also has a strong Islamic presence. Within the last two years, Simon said three new mosques have opened—in addition to two existing mosques with over a 1,000-person capacity.
Still, Simon sees many openings to talk about Jesus.
Historically, Simon’s team focused on literature-based outreach, including mass distribution and book tables. In the last two years, however, he’s focused more on friendship outreach. “We’re wanting to open up conversations and listen to stories,” he said.
Weekly, Simon stops in shops along the street of Arabs to talk to the owners and meet other customers. Through that, “We’ve made some really good friendships, had opportunities to hear people’s stories and talk about our faith in a low-key way. People know that we’re praying for them.”
The stories Simon hears contain emotional and spiritual struggles—losing family members through the war, having loved ones disappear, being separated from spouses and children.
He met a Palestinian businessman who had become bankrupt twice. “But he was a fighter,” Simon stated. Twice, he managed to rebuild his business. “But what really broke him, what broke his spirit, was that one of his sons went to fight for ISIS and was killed,” Simon explained. “He was just a broken guy.”
Within a couple of months, Simon met three families with similarly sad stories. His hairdressers, two brothers from Iraq, also lost a third brother to a car bomb that had detonated outside his house. He left behind a young child and his wife, who was pregnant with their second child. Simon sat and listened to their stories. He also gave the two brothers Bibles.
Simon has met another man on the bus multiple times. “He’s going the same direction on a route. There’s dozens and dozens of buses,” Simon noted. “It seems fortuitous that we keep bumping into each other. He’s the one who’s heard the gospel most clearly through an Egyptian itinerant evangelist.
“The relationships we’re developing in the community are real, vital relationships where we can share clearly the truth and power of Christ to many people who have lost almost everything,” Simon explained.
“Becky and I, we are very intentional about wanting to be witnesses of Christ and His life and His salvation. We want to communicate that through words and through actions. Actions could be the sitting, listening, talking, and praying. It could be helping families with their children.”
During the week, Becky meets with several Muslim-background believers (MBBs), discipling them and praying together. “Many of these women, as believers, are witnesses within their spheres of influence,” Simon said.
Beyond befriending Arabs, Simon also focuses on diaspora networking—linking with like-minded people from OM and other organisations for the common goal of seeing Muslims in Europe come to Christ. “A real joy is being able to work, week by week, with people from other [companies] in strategic ministry and seeing new things happen,” Simon shared.
This collaboration of organisations has developed several resources, including a course teaching ordinary Christians how to share the gospel with Muslims and, most recently, a second series equipping the church to receive MBBs. “It seems that the church has been stirred and awoken to be more of a presence to the growing Muslim community in the UK,” Simon noted.
Too, he shared that OM still incorporates literature as an intentional part of its work. For the last few years, his team has shipped materials to Scandinavia, facilitating ministries there. Over the next year, he also plans to facilitate times of strategic intercessory prayer for different zones in London with strong Arab presence.
“God’s breaking into the lives of individuals,” he said. “We are seeing more and more fruit in the Arab Muslim community.”
Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.
Published: Monday, 15 January 2018
Credit: Nicole James