For the second consecutive year, Dr. Richard Shaw took a group of Wayland Baptist University students on a spring break mission trip to Detroit and Dearborn, Mich. and a key component of this year’s trip was the opportunity to visit a local mosque.
Shaw is an associate professor of religion at the university and also the director of the Wayland Mission Center. One of his goals in taking students on mission trips is to give them opportunities not only to serve others, but also to grow in their own Christian maturity and understanding of other cultures.
To that end, Shaw has led the university to establish a partnership with the Greater Detroit Baptist Association — a partnership that not only allows them to experience inner-city mission efforts, but also to gain a better understanding of the Muslim culture and religion. Dearborn is a good place for that because according to the Website, www.muslim-academy.com, “more than 33,000 Arab-Muslims from Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen are living in this state in America.”
Shaw said that concentration of Muslims was one of the driving forces behind establishing the partnership with Baptists in the area, and in particular it was a key area of focus for this year’s mission trip.
“The impetus for that entire mission, I believe, came from the Lord and when we began evaluating a city, a place we could go to as the Wayland Mission Center, in the United States, I felt very, very burdened for Detroit and Dearborn,” Shaw said.
In preparation for this year’s trip, however, he ran into a problem. Baptists in the area were not working with Muslims. As he did his research, he discovered that neither the Greater Detroit Baptist Association nor the state convention had any active ministry efforts aimed at the Muslim community. In fact, he discovered that not even the North American Mission Board, which coordinates Southern Baptist mission work in the United States, had any active work among the Muslims of Dearborn.
Eventually, though, he was able to find three organizations that were conducting ministry efforts in the community and was able to team up with one of them. It was through that partnership that Wayland students were able to gain some insight into Muslim culture and religion.
Shaw explained that as part of their work with the organization, students helped local workers teach English to Arab immigrants. They also taught them citizenship — things such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the components of the Constitution and the different branches of the government — because many of the immigrants are seeking U.S. citizenship.
However, one of the highlights of the partnership was a visit to a local mosque where the Wayland students were able to observe prayer time and also have a conversation with the Imam, and Iraqi immigrant.
For Ashley Price and Sam Martin, the trip to the mosque was an eye-opening experience.
Price is a sophomore from Pampa who is studying business education and intercultural missions. One of the things she cited as being a memorable experience for her was “working with the women at the mosque.”
“Before, I hadn’t had much contact with anybody of an Islamic faith, just kind of hearsay and from my opinion. When I started working with the women I got to see how sweet they were, but you could just see in their eyes how oppressed they were and how they don’t have the opportunities that we do,” she said.
It was that contrast between what she saw in the Muslim women’s eyes and the freedom that she felt as a Christian that had a great impact on her, and the contrast wasn’t confined to the women. She felt the same thing as she listened to the Imam, who she believed saw the session with the young students as “game.”
“I hadn’t realized how suffocating that religion would be and how free I am in Christ and the forgiveness that we have that other religions don’t have because they are based on works. They have to work their way into heaven and you’re never good enough when you’re working for something. But God gives us that forgiveness and that grace and that’s really eye-opening for me because I haven’t thought that before,” Price said.
Martin, who is from Plainview, is a sophomore as well, and he is studying justice administration. He explained that his biggest challenge on the trip centered round the visit to the mosque.
“My biggest challenge is I like to argue,” he said matter-of-factly.
“We went to the mosque and they told us specifically, ‘Don’t argue with (the Imam), just listen to him,’ and it was really hard for me to just sit there and be quiet and just listen to him try to convert us.”
Martin said that after a tour of the mosque and a brief presentation on Islam, the Imam opened the discussion for questions. The sophomore said he and his fellow students took advantage of that opportunity and asked “really good questions.”
Both students expressed that they had felt a heaviness in their souls as they watched the people pray at the mosque that day and Shaw said that was a topic of conversation afterward as he helped the students process the experience.
“I assisted them in processing their sentiments and feelings by discussing what Christ did on the cross of Calvary,” Shaw said. “His atoning blood shed for all humankind is for the salvation of all; notwithstanding, forces of evil are present in the world today, working in divergent and often unassuming ways.”