Tony Thompson and the team at Hope Church Luton are pioneering work equipping believers in the UK to engage well with their Muslim neighbours; both in building genuine relationships, and in learning how to effectively contextualise the good news of Jesus. In this blog article, Tony talks through some of his experiences in Luton, and how a new training course seeks to equip Christians in the beliefs, practices and culture of a significant population in our towns and cities.
Over recently years I have been able to build strong and mutually beneficial friendship with influential Muslims in the town. I have heard the pain and fear that accompanies every terrorist atrocity, knowing there will be a backlash. I have listened to frustration that their public condemnation of each is ignored. I have listened to concerns for their children, that they will be radicalised or racially abused. I have heard stories about how their Muslim faith was more fully embraced following encounters with the emptiness of secularism. One friend moved from being a purely cultural Muslim to a practicing Muslim when his brother became an alcoholic. I have cried, laughed and worked together with tremendous people.
I have also been able to talk a little about my own relationship with Jesus. I have invited them to meals at my home, had meals in their homes. I have invited them to join me at our Sunday worship meetings where they have been powerfully impacted by the variety of people worship God together; men, women and children, people of all ages and from different nations all sharing together. Something they have never experienced in Mosques.
Yet despite living in Luton for 17 years this has only happened in the last 2 years, previously I had no real contact with my Muslim neighbours. I want to use my experience to help others build friendship bridges with their Muslim neighbours, hence co-hosting the Understand Islam training course and offering Internships for those who want to be immersed in building community amongst Muslims.
Luton is one of the few towns in the UK where white British population is in the minority. A quarter of the population in the 2011 Census said they were Muslims. This had grown significantly over the 10 years from 2001, and all the indicators would suggest that the percentage of Muslims has continued to increase. Luton is a vibrant and diverse community, giving churches a unique mission opportunity. We had a mission field on our doorstep, but we were ignoring it, and we are not alone.
Through my example others in the church have started to build close friendships with Muslims. Barriers are being broken down. There are growing numbers of joint Muslim / Christian activities. We have not yet seen any of our contacts fully commit themselves to follow Christ, however we have seen some attend alpha courses and become part of the wider community linked with the church. This experience has convinced me that the church in the UK needs to be encouraged and equipped to engage with all the communities that are now on our doorsteps, including Muslim communities. We are therefore excited to be part of a programme where people from a Muslim background and others living in Muslim majority contexts can train and mentor us so that we can build genuine relationships with Muslims and to contextualise the message of Jesus.
There will be 10 Saturday sessions between September 2018 and July 2019 taking place mostly in Luton and occasionally in Birmingham. Further details can be found on www.hopechurch.co.uk/understandingislam. To register an interest or ask any questions email email@example.com – additionally, we are offering internships for a year in Luton, starting in September for those who would like to be immersed in a context working amongst Muslims.
Written by Tony Thompson, Hope Church Luton