A Christian church is being built in a small village in Punjab, Pakistan, with the help of the congregation’s Muslim neighbors.
According to a report from Barnabas Fund, the village is predominantly Muslim, as you would expect. But it is also home to eight Christian families.
It has never had a church building, but the Christians have set about building one.
And the local Muslims have been offering their support to their Christian neighbors with both money and help with the construction work.
I read this and thought, “This is a story that ought to be better known.”
It made me think of Jesus’ words in Mark 9:38-40 to his disciples about the “strange exorcist,” the man casting out demons in Jesus’ name even though he was “not one of us.”
The parallel is far from exact. There’s a big difference between Muslims offering practical support to Christian neighbors and someone using Jesus’ name to carry out exorcisms.
But there is a parallel; and if nothing else it’s worth noticing the gracious attitude of Jesus as opposed to the hard-line attitude of his disciples.
In a world where terrible things are being done in the name of Islam, and where there is a tendency in some circles to stereotype all Muslims as violent, extremist and wicked, we need to hear again the voice of Jesus.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that Muslims don’t need to come to faith in Jesus to find forgiveness, salvation and eternal life: they do (like all the rest of us).
Nor is it heading down the “basically-all-religions-are-the-same” road (because they certainly aren’t).
Nor is it suggesting that people of such widely conflicting views can, in integrity, pray and worship together (because they can’t).
It is simply to recognize that wherever we look in our world today, we may find men and women of goodwill – yes, even in places where our prejudices might have led us to regard it as extremely unlikely.
And we should thank God for them and pray for them.
Who can say for sure how another human being stands in the sight of God?
I have known seemingly “rock-solid” Christians turn out to be anything but. And I have known people who probably wouldn’t describe themselves as full-blown Christians acting in such a way as to suggest that they are well on the way to faith in Jesus.
Some years ago, I spent a few weeks in the predominantly Hindu country of Nepal. I worked with a beautiful little team of Christian people affiliated with BMS World Mission who were heavily involved in both evangelism and social action.
I noticed that there was a member of the team who, by her dress and other indications, seemed to be, nominally at least, a Hindu. I wondered why she was working with this Christian group.
The answer I was given was that – perhaps rather like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 3:1-2 and John 19:38-42) – she had yet to “come out” fully as a follower of Jesus.
But she was in full sympathy with the missionary team and served loyally in carrying out various practical responsibilities.
Here’s another story – I don’t know every detail, but I think I’ve got the basics right.
I used to live in London in the massively multi-religious borough of Brent, which is also the home of Wembley Stadium.
The government of the day had plans to establish large “super casinos” in various centers around the country, and the Wembley Stadium complex was one.
There was a lot of unhappiness in the area, among people of various religious allegiances and of none.
And, cutting the story short, local protests led to the scheme being abandoned, to the great relief of the vast majority.
How had this happened? One of the key factors was a coming together of various faith communities – including Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Zoroastrian.
No one, so far as I am aware, felt any need to compromise their faith or dilute their convictions. But it’s hard to feel that that act of cooperation was anything but a positive thing.
Again, this is by no means a precise parallel with Jesus and the rogue exorcist. But, again, it is a parallel, and it reminds us that in our muddled, messy world of competing religious faiths, we should let nothing surprise us.
Back to that village in Punjab. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of those generous Muslim people were to be found, in years to come, inside that church they’re helping to build, worshipping Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister living in Nottingham, England. He is also a freelance journalist who has written for several United Kingdom papers and various Christian publications. A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog sedgonline.wordpress.com