DEARBORN, MI (BP) – Southern Baptist pastors will continue attempts to build friendships in Dearborn, Mich., among the sizable Muslim community, despite the fear pastors say President Donald Trump's now suspended travel ban has generated among immigrants there.
Monthly, pastors Dave Ferraro and Carlos Liese gather small groups of volunteers and eat at restaurants Muslims frequent, starting conversations that lead to discussions of religious beliefs. Their outreach is in Dearborn, where one-third of residents claim Arab-American heritage but are not necessarily Muslim, according to the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C. "I think the need is just that [Muslims] would continue to learn that Christians love them," Ferraro, pastor of discipleship at Merriman Road Baptist Church in Garden City, told Baptist Press. "We just seek to let them know that we love them regardless of their immigration status. There's certainly some fear there, so we just try to dispel that by imbibing the truth and showing them Christian love."
The outreach set for Feb. 17 was expected to draw between 10 and 15 evangelism volunteers who are coached in proper technique before each outing. "The only way that lie [of hatred] is dispelled that Satan wants to perpetuate is if Christians go out and just meet with people face to face," Ferraro said, "and seek to demonstrate the love of Christ to them, that they're important, they're valued and maybe misguided in the truth, but that's part of our mission to love on them and point them to the truth."
At issue is an executive order Trump issued Jan. 27 temporarily suspending travel from seven majority Muslim nations for 90 days and banning refugees from Syria indefinitely. Federal district Judge James L. Robart of Seattle suspended the ban Feb. 3 and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Robart's ruling days later. Matthew Vroman, a pastor who is building a friendship with a leading imam (Muslim leader) in the community, cautions Christians against mentioning politics when interacting with Muslims in the U.S. "If you're going to be effective reaching Muslims," Vroman said, "you keep it Gospel-centric. And maybe if you [support] the refugee ban ... you'd better not be advertising that, or you won't have much Muslim ministry."
Muslims think the ban was "completely against Islam and Muslims," Vroman said. "It's very scary for them, definitely.... They're waiting to be rounded up and sent home," regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. "They feel on the defense and scared." Vroman, pastor of Eastside Community Church in Harper Woods, is building a friendship with Imam Muhammad Ali Elahi, leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights. The Detroit Free Press reported that Elahi described the refugee ban as lacking "common sense" during a Feb. 1 press conference at his mosque and is the "greatest gift for ISIS [the Islamic State]" because it further alienates the U.S. from foreign countries. Liese, Vroman's partner in the evangelistic outreach who pastors First Spanish Baptist Church in Detroit, has told Baptist Press, "In all the years that we have been doing this we have been able to share the Gospel with many people, so many seeds have been sown, and we have never been mistreated or disrespected, ever." The outreach has done "a lot of seed planting and people have been very, very receptive. Our experience has been nothing but positive."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.