Our area of Oldham is replete with South Asian Muslims, predominantly from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Such work can be hard going with no obvious gospel fruit to speak of. Most of our gospel successes (for want of a better phrase) have come amongst Iranian and Afghan people, with relatively little to show for our efforts with our South Asian friends. This begs the question why we focus so much of our evangelistic energy on South Asians when there appears to be comparatively little fruit. Here is why.
Christ calls us to reach all, not just those with whom we see fruit
Various prophets had fairly unfruitful ministries if we reckon fruit by number of conversions. But that was the ministry to which they were called. Jesus’ call is to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Scripture tells us it is for all nations. This means that we are not to only target ‘low hanging fruit’. We don’t spend all our evangelistic energies only reaching those amongst whom there is tangible (and quick) gospel results. We are called to go to the fruitful and the unfruitful, to those jumping in the boat and to those who actively shun it. To neglect taking the gospel to those who seem harder to us is to dismiss the call of Christ to take the gospel to them.
They are there
If we are called to take the gospel to all people regardless of tangible fruit, it follows that we are to reach those who are there. We can only reasonably reach those within our sphere of influence. We tend to commission missionaries to go and reach those beyond our reach. So we focus much of our energies on South Asians because our area is 90% South Asian. Those are the people on our doorstep. They are part of Christ’s call to reach all people and they are in our sphere of influence. It is natural for us to focus much time on such people.
The Lord placed us where we are and brought the people to where we are too
Whilst all churches should have an eye beyond their immediate area, we would obviously be remiss if we neglected to reach our own neighbourhoods too. In our case, our church was put in the area we are now in because of a compulsory purchase order on a previous building. At that time, the area was a white British area with a fair number of Caribbeans nearby. Over time, the face of the area has changed enormously. It is now predominantly South Asian, almost exclusively Pakistani. But we believe the Lord placed the church where we are in his sovereignty, knowing full well how he would change the demographics of the area over time. It feels like something of a kick in the face of the Lord to dismiss the very people he has placed around us given that he so clearly put us here in the first place knowing how the area would change.
We believe we are laying foundations
It is true that we see comparatively little fruit amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi people despite our regular means of reaching them with the gospel. One of the issues is the social pressure upon South Asian Muslims in respect to the shame/honour culture they come from. It would be a source of great shame to the family and the community for somebody to become an apostate, worse if they commit apostasy by converting to another religion. It can be a thoroughly dangerous thing to convert in our community.
However, it is possible to convert and live somewhere else where you are not known locally. Many Muslim converts come to Christ and then move to a different area where they are not known. We believe (and pray) that the foundations we are laying today in Oldham, though they may not bear fruit locally and redound to our glory, will bear fruit somewhere else. We long for the day that we hear of Muslims meeting Christians elsewhere and, as a result of the things they heard in Oldham, came to Christ in an area they were not known. We believe this is a real possibility, particularly among 2nd generation British Muslims who may go to another area for university or take up a job in another area.
Gospel work among South Asian Muslims is slow, plodding work. Many involved in this sort of ministry will speak about 10 or 15 years with almost no fruit as the norm. There is a huge investment of time and energy for what feels like minimal return. Yet we believe the Lord has a people for himself here. He has many people in this place. We may not see immediate fruit, we may not even see the fruit ourselves, but we believe God has placed us where he has placed us and has changed the area around us for this purpose. He calls us to take the gospel even to those who appear hard and unmoved. Christ calls us to such work and he is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or think. We often ask God to save South Asian Muslims and we can readily imagine him doing so. We reach them because God is able to do abundantly more than that. So we plod on.