Believers on the MOVE
Shortly after our son Paul graduated from high school this spring, we put him on a plane with seven other students for a two-week trip to France and Italy. Their trek, led by four adults, was a small piece of Wheaton Bible Church's (WBC) MOVE Initiative, a relatively nascent project defined by its mission and ministry to Muslims both in suburban Chicago and abroad. It's a little window into how missions have, for many churches, changed since September 11.
In southern Europe, a number of missionary families reach out to immigrants and refugees from North Africa, many of whom have fled unstable nations and are looking for peace. Partnering with Greater Europe Mission, which has ramped up its own outreach to Muslims in recent years, our church recently commissioned eight new missionaries for this work in France.
My son's group—one of about eight short-term teams from WBC's high school ministry—handed out evangelistic materials at an Italian port city through which many North Africans travel. Paul, one of the student leaders, says his team experienced both receptivity (he led one Muslim man to Christ) and rejection (including being cursed and spat at), but most encounters were quick and cordial. The team distributed 1,000 copies of the New Testament, learned much about the power of prayer, and came home inspired.
Locally, the MOVE Initiative reaches out to about 15 Iraqi families in a nearby apartment complex through a partnership with World Relief. Several staff and church members have moved into the complex to foster deeper relationships, which typically begin with relatively simple tasks when the refugees arrive: picking them up at the airport, stocking their fridges, running errands, and meeting other practical needs involved in resettlement.
"We're just meeting needs and building relationships," says local-impact pastor Chris McElwee. "They're not strangers to us. They know us and trust us, and they're interested in spiritual things." At least a couple of the Iraqi men have been visiting WBC in recent months, attending worship services (with their Arabic/English Bibles in hand) and taking part in a discussion group.
Our new MOVE missionaries, who recently arrived in France, will take essentially the same approach: helping refugees resettle, meeting needs, and building relationships. The hope is that as the friendships grow, so will opportunities to share the gospel.
WBC senior pastor Robert Bugh says the MOVE Initiative is a natural outgrowth of the church's longstanding "sensitivity to the plight of immigrants."
"We have a history of ministering to refugees coming from different places," says Bugh, referring to outreach to Hispanics. But, he says, "9/11 was a game changer for a lot of us. We asked, what does the gospel mean in terms of a Christian response? Are we going to hunker down in fear and hate people? Or are we going to understand that we're all sinful and separated from God, and that it's incumbent upon us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all sorts of people, including those who might be perceived to be our enemies?"
Greater Europe Mission president Henry Deneen says the relatively recent influx of Muslims to Europe has affected his ministry's overall strategy. It still reaches out to native Europeans, but "there's a window of time here, especially with all the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, that immigrants are flooding into Europe.