After living in The Middle East for almost a year now, I have had time to reflect, sometimes regretfully on how I wish I had lived differently in the UK in order to share the love of Jesus, in particular with my muslim neighbours. Hindsight is always a great thing isn't it, and living life fully in a new culture brings fresh perspective on everything you do. In case it prevents you making the same mistakes as me, here's just a little bit I wanted to share how I'd have lived differently...
I would have asked more questions - In the past I thought I had to read all about every aspect of Islam before I could talk to muslims but I've realised they love to be asked questions about what they believe; often this is the start of a heartfelt dialogue about faith.
I would have firstly been a learner not a know it all - Instead of just assuming that I knew the best way, I would have sought to learn about the differences and richness of the cultures I lived amongst. The reality of life in London is there are many different nations on your doorstep and I wish I'd have stepped into their worlds more as a learner.
I would have loved the things that are important in their culture more - As you are learning about someone's life and culture, people can genuinely tell when you love them, their culture, their history. We've found as you express love and interest they invite you into their world. It's also often intrinsic to what they believe.
I would have been more intentional with my time - Instead of just being busy with church meetings and seeing lots of friends, I would have questioned the use of my time to make sure I prioritised seeing those who I believed God was working in their life. To show you love someone the most important thing is TIME in The Middle East - you cannot skimp with quick back to back meetings to see as many people as you can. If you want to share life, this means really sharing time, and changing how you live.
I would have focused more on making disciples - Sometimes it's easy to get into the habit of going to or putting on the same meetings each week and thinking the meetings will make disciples automatically, but I've realised this doesn't work and you need to intentionally live transparent lives alongside people.
I would have sought to make disciples of whole families not just individuals - People from the east don't exist as individuals, they make collective decisions and life choices and in light of this their decision to follow Jesus is impacted by their immediate and even wider family.
I would have got close to muslim neighbours instead of being scared of them - If you would have told me a year ago all my friends are Muslims I would have never believed you, often without being aware I would distance myself from them, often through fear or even apathy. But we've found there is no such thing as "a muslim", they are people with dreams, hopes, fears and questions just like me and you.
I would have questioned our traditions/assumptions to make them understandable and relevant - Islam is often expressed publicly and through the culture, for example during Ramadan when breaking fast it is a communal act, in public with others. This has shown us the importance of really understanding and questioning our own traditions, which are often more personally expressed, for example how we approach prayer or fasting, or more communal expressions in western culture like Christmas.
I would have focused more on the person of Jesus rather than Christianity - We've learnt there is a whole lot of presuppositions associated with Christianity, as there is in the post modern western world but in the east it is often linked to the abuse of power by "Christian" nations e.g. the crusades. That's why the most important thing is to focus on introducing people to the person of Jesus and using only the Bible to explain what it means to follow him its not about joining a religion.