Forgiveness Islam Partnerships For Peace & Reconciliation People Personal Racial Reconciliation

How A Muslim Child Saved An Evangelical Minister’s Soul

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 11.00.51 AMPrior to 2005 I hated Muslims. I would not have admitted that openly, but my deepest feelings toward them were resentment, distrust and bitterness. Now, ten years later, I love them and see them as my brothers, sisters and dear friends. What brought about such a radical change of heart? It took place one afternoon in a Starbucks when I had an encounter with a Muslim boy named Omar.

Three months before I met Omar, I had been invited to attend a class at a church on Muslim/Christian relationships. I laughed at the invitation when I received it. My wife, Oceana, told me she felt like I should attend the class because I had a deep prejudice against Muslims, especially Arabs. I had always prided myself on being a progressive pastor who promoted racial reconciliation in the churches that I had lead, but when it came to Muslims I just could not see them the same way. After some prodding and prayer on the part of my wife I finally decided to take the class.

As I read books on Islam and attended the class, I began to realize that I was judging and condemning a group of people that I really knew little about. I read Muslim, Christian, and secular authors on Islam. I made a point to hear all sides. I did this to ensure that my conclusions concerning Islam would not be romantic in nature, but would be based on a sense of honesty, realism, and empathy.

I was not naïve in processing this information. I am concerned about the radical extremists who are committing horrible acts in the name of Islam, but I am equally concerned that the U.S. foreign policies toward the Muslim world have helped create much of the resentment that the Muslim world and other nations have toward us. Suffice it to say, I believe I am a more committed Christian today because of my genuine friendships with Muslims.

Although the class and the books I was reading were impacting my view of Muslims, it would take a small child named Omar to completely turn my heart around.

One day I was sitting in a Starbucks reading a book about Muslims and their culture. The more I read the book the more frustrated I became. I decided to pray for guidance on this issue. I closed my book and prayed: “God, surely you are not calling me to reach out to Muslims in friendship and to build bridges between Christians and Muslims. I want you to know that I have no desire to do this because it would stretch me way beyond my comfort zone. But if you are, I need you to give me a sign so clear I will never doubt it.”

I went back to drinking my coffee and felt a sense of relief. I did not believe He would answer that prayer. Within a couple of minutes, a little boy walked over and asked if he could borrow one of the highlighters that I was using to mark my book. I said, “Sure.” He got in a chair and said, “By the way, my name is Omar. I am five years old and I am here to teach you Arabic.” I was stunned. Omar’s mother called to him to leave me alone, but I told her that Omar was fine.

God had my complete attention.

Omar began writing in Arabic and coaching me on how to do it. Afterwards, I approached his mother and told her that I believed Omar would be a great teacher one day. She told me that Omar was a shy child and he did not typically approach strangers. She was trying to figure out what compelled him to come over to me. As I left Starbucks that day, I began my journey of walking with Muslims as a genuine friend.

I have never doubted that God sent Omar to soften the heart of this Christian who had forgotten the words of Jesus. He said that His followers must love their neighbors as much as they love themselves, and that we even love, forgive and pray for our enemies.

I no longer see Muslims as my enemies and I can say that I have a deep love and genuine friendship with many of them. I encourage Muslims and Christians to form friendship groups and to eat together; to discuss the Bible and the Qur’an, not to debate, but to find out what they have in common and to gain understanding about how they are different; and I encourage churches, mosques and synagogues to partner together on humanitarian projects.

Some will say that I am compromising my faith by what I am doing. I believe such endeavors of mercy are at the core of the teachings of Jesus the Messiah.


Partnerships For Peace & Reconciliation

No Bombs Went Off Today – 9/11/2011


It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington D.C.  I remember where I was that day, and I am sure you do also.  I was in Virginia at my mother-in-law’s house.  I got up to the news that morning that the WTC had been attacked by terrorists.  It was like a dream or a frightening science fiction movie — the kind I am talking about where the aliens blow up the Capital building or the White House only this time it was real.  I remember sitting in front of the television for six hours.  Time had stopped for me and my wife Sheila.  We cried at times, and for the days and weeks afterwards we grieved with the rest of the nation.  I remember we opened up our church for special times of prayer to the public and to anyone who just wanted to come and pray together for our national loss.  It was one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history.

It did not take long to identify the perpetrators of this horrific crime.  The media named  a group unknown to most of us called Al Qadea led by a notorious leader named Oussama Ben Laden.  This man who was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans proudly declared himself to be Sunni Muslim.  My hatred and resentment for Muslims, and especially Arab Muslims, only increased and expanded as the details became clear that it was an Arab and a Muslim who killed our people on our own soil.  I hated Muslims before 9/11 but I hated them even more after 9/11.  I was a committed Christian and full-time pastor of a church.  I claimed to love Jesus and challenged others to do so.  I taught his teachings in my sermons but some how instead of loving Muslims who I perceived to be my enemies and learned to hate them even though Jesus said we had to love our enemies.  I had forgotten the teachings of Jesus concerning loving our enemies in the same way Ben Laden and his followers had forgotten the teachings of the Qur’an concerning killing innocent people.

In 2005 God completely changed my heart towards Muslims after I encountered a five year old Muslim boy in a Starbucks one evening.  His name was Omar.  I am convinced it was an encounter planned by God.  God used little Omar to soften my heart.  God took all the prejudice and hatred towards Muslims out of my heart and replaced it with His own special divine love.  The love that God gave me for Muslims has never waned.  You can read the full story of my encounter with Omar at the following link:

There are many in this country who are like me before I met Omar.  They are filled with fear and anxieties concerning the Muslims who live near them.  Some are consumed by rabid nationalism that says, “Never Forget!”  Others romanticize two wars that have put our nation in severe debt and that make all Muslims the scapegoats and targets of hate crimes and revenge.  There are many leading national voices who are making big bucks vilifying Muslims,  yet they offer no viable solutions to the rivalry, hostility and violence that have marked our world since 9/11.  They have no solutions but military solutions because they are consumed with fear.  But, history teaches us that fear but has no lasting or redemptive solutions to healing hate, violence and prejudice.  Fear brings torments to everyone it consumes but perfect or mature love casts out all fear.

On 9/11/2010 Muslims, Christians and Jews in Raleigh, North Carolina chose to reject fear and embrace love towards each other.  They came together to build a Habitat Home.  The project was called Abraham Builds.  It was a success and the media took notice of it.  This was a historic occasion in our city.  Nothing of this magnitude had happened before.  Many individuals in these three faith traditions decided that dialogue was just not enough and friendship was essential if we were going to change the world.  When you partner together to build something for the poor and the marginalized it is hard to hate.  We begin to see each other as human beings and good neighbors.  We cannot love what we fear and it becomes easy to love when you take the radical step to work for the common good of all and to love your neighbor as yourself.  When Jews, Christians and Muslims do this together then friendship is inevitable.  We learn to love the other and then we can change the world one person at a time.  It is hard to believe I hated Muslims five years ago but on 9/11/2010 my heart was in a new and sacred place with approximately 150 Muslims, Christians and Jews who were coming together to pledge to build a home for the poor together.  It was a beautiful day and I did not want to leave or see it end.  The pleasure of God was all over the gathering.  His kingdom of love, his new order of mercy and forgiveness and his dream for the world came together that day on that plot of land where a new home was going to be built.  Young people were everywhere.  Old and young wrote blessings and prayers on the wood beams that would become support structures for this house.  It was one of the happiest days of my life.  Here is a news clip of that event:–promote-unity

I believe people are tired of war and of being afraid.  They are looking for a good reason to have hope.  Al Qadea is losing the hearts and minds of people around the world.  Ben Laden’s deepest sadness was the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world, rejected his self-proclaimed jihad.  There is still great evil in the world, but something is changing and it is something good.  If we will look for the God of mercy, love and justice in this goodness and partner together with him, then all of us will find mercy.  Where there is mercy, goodness, justice and compassion taking place then rest assured you have found a place where God is working and moving.

Suppertime was wonderful on 9/11/2010.  I bowed my head in prayer with my wife and daughter and thanked God for the way he brought the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities together in our city to work with him to help a poor family.  I also thanked him that no bombs went off today in America.