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Women Sharing Jesus with Canadian Muslims
Community is key to Muslim women. They appreciate friendship and fellowship in a foreign land. As the Church we have the opportunity to love and welcome them.


Joy Loewen (JL) of Winnipeg has spent 30 years in Muslim ministry and is now following God’s call to reach out to Muslim women here in Canada. She spoke with Faith Today’s Karen Stiller (KS) about the surprising lessons she has learned about Muslims – and about Christians.

Joy-Loewen

KS: Joy, sharing the gospel with Muslim women in Canada is hard to picture. What does that actually look like?

JL: Most people wouldn’t understand. In Canada, when we think of evangelism we often think about bringing a person to church or an event. When it comes to Muslims, they’re usually not going to come into a church. We have to meet them on their turf. The Christian has to take the initiative.

The Muslim isn’t going to come up to the Christian and ask questions or take the initiative to make friends.

KS: Why wouldn’t they do that?

JL: They feel like the guest in the country, especially the women. Women don’t normally come up to anybody. Culturally that would not be acceptable. They come across as quite shy.

KS: Are Muslim women shy?

JL: Their eyes are always looking down, and we think they’re not interested in us. It’s not that at all. They are feeling shy. They think that we don’t like them.

KS: Is that sense of not being liked a post-9/11 phenomenon?

JL: Yes, that is a post-9/11 thing. They know what the media is saying, and they feel embarrassed. They feel no one wants them.

KS: Do Muslim women have a reciprocal call to evangelize?

JL: Yes, they are a missionary type of religion, but most of it comes from paid missionaries. They have their own paid people.

KS: So, a typical Muslim woman would not look at you as a Christian and want to convert you?

JL: They are all very proud of Islam, and they think it is the best and the last religion. They are not ashamed of their religion.

KS: Walk me through how you go about your work of reaching Muslim women.

JL: I spend a lot of time in prayer. I want God to send me to exactly the women He has selected. I could go up to any Muslim woman – I feel very comfortable with them – but I could be spinning my wheels. I ask God to put me in the place of a Muslim woman of His choosing. It could be anywhere, on the streets, in an office, in an airport. I sense the Lord is telling me to talk to that particular woman, and I start a normal conversation.

I ask what their name means, because names are terribly important to them. If they’re opening up, I ask if I can visit them in their homes. They love it. It’s different from our culture. In our culture, we don’t walk up to strangers, and we don’t invite ourselves into other’s homes. We wait to be invited. It’s a bit like Zacchaeus, when Jesus says, “I’m coming to your house for tea.” It’s an honour for them. I will get their phone number and call them.

KS: Joy, I would think you were crazy if you did that to me.

JL: I don’t say it in the first five minutes. I would have concluded the conversation and I can tell if she would want to get together more. If she’s drawing back I can tell. But so many Muslim women are so happy if someone will come and visit them. In their culture, visiting in each other’s homes is the norm. And when I express a desire to do it, it means that someone in the country they have come to really cares for them. That’s the drawing feature.

KS: But, aren’t they suspicious that you are doing what you are doing, essentially trying to convert them?

JL: If they know you are a real Christian, they are even more open to it. They consider the West immoral, and many women they see are lined up with the woman on television, which they call a Hollywood woman. But if they see you coming to them and you are dressed modestly – and I am never trying to draw attention to my sexuality – you can get a hearing from them. I’m very intentional. I love them and I go to them. They sense that. I am caring about them. I take the initiative all the time: we visit often and have many cups of tea.

She’ll invite me for a meal, and she’ll ask me to bring my husband and children. Then you reciprocate. Then you are on home turf, and they will want to make many observations. They will study everything. They sense that you care about them and you are living a clean life. They are drawn really powerfully to the love of Jesus. They don’t always know what that is, but they are drawn to it.

It doesn’t take long. They open up very easily. They are more transparent and open than other Canadians. Soon they will start sharing their innermost struggles, their fears, and then you can offer to pray with them. That is the biggest part of my ministry, praying for Muslim women.

I always ask if I can pray for them and tell them that I pray in the name of Jesus. In all my years I’ve only had one woman turn it down. They really appreciate prayer, even in the name of Jesus, who they do believe in, but He’s not the same one as in the Gospels. They believe He is a prophet.

I ask them if I can pray right there, right then, with them. That is not familiar to them. I hold out my hands like a Muslim does, they hold out their hands, then I pray in the name of Jesus. I call her by name, which is very powerful, she means something to God. It is very powerful and very much appreciated.

KS: Okay, I understand that you are modestly dressed, not wearing makeup or jewelry, and are showing a genuine interest in the women’s life, but your goal is still to evangelize them. Doesn’t the husband mind this going on?

JL: I talk about it freely so they know that I am going to church. He relaxes immediately. He wants to know if I am a religious woman and not someone who is going to take his wife down a path towards Western living. It’s all up front. They are happy that this is a religious woman visiting who goes to church and is a real Christian.

KS: Does the husband not realize there is a risk that his wife will become a Christian?

JL: That’s not really entering his mind. It’s very important to show respect for the husband, and this is an area where a lot of Christian women would struggle with – they have unconscious bad attitudes toward Muslim men. If that is felt, and the husband feels that you are going to talk badly about Muslim men, he will get nervous. I always try to show respect to the man. That is terribly important. I do nothing behind his back. I wouldn’t take the woman to church or anything behind his back.

KS: What happens if she does become a Christian, and he hasn’t yet?

JL: There is the understanding that as an adult, even as a woman, she is free to choose here in the West. If she wants to go to church and believe in Jesus, the average Muslim man here in the West is not going to beat her up. But they are nervous if you are trying to take their children. I’ve had numerous men say that their wife wants to study the Bible. I ask the husband if she can go to church with me. They know when you love them. There’s a big difference between proselytizing and just loving them and sharing Jesus with them.

KS: When I hear media stories of Muslim wives or daughters being pretty seriously controlled or punished if they step over the line, it feeds into my idea that women aren’t free in Islam.

JL: It depends on what you mean by free. There is a wrong perception here in the West that Muslim women are all oppressed. It has a lot to do with education. There are some women who have more power in the household. The more education a woman has, the freer she is – she knows her rights and operates in the world. A woman who comes from a refugee camp and the husband is lost and without work and doesn’t know where he belongs – he might take it out on his wife. I wouldn’t say the majority are oppressed. They are very beautiful people, so warm and hospitable, and so drawn to the love of Jesus.

KS: Do Muslim women in Canada pay a price if they do become a Christian?

JL: Islam is the glue that holds them together. For them to survive without that, it is just like a fish out of water. The community that is offered in church is not the same as the community offered in the Islamic world. Our community is based on programs. You would plug into this and plug into that. It’s not like you are just all part of each other. We offer a Saviour, and He is worth more than any community.

But their sense of community is really beautiful, as long as you toe the line. But as soon as you start to think independently, if you shake things up a bit, the community can isolate you. When these women come to Jesus, they have to find another community. It is really tough.

We are all so busy in church, and we have our own lives and friends. The church really needs to be aware of welcoming these people and understand that leaving the Muslim community is like an amputation.

KS: That’s sad.

JL: It is sad. But most of them are really drawn to older women. Here is a mother figure, an older woman, someone who isn’t necessarily taking care of little kids. They are grasping for someone who will be their community.

KS: Can that happen?

JL: I haven’t seen that. What will happen is they will find a particular family in the church who takes some interest in them, but not necessarily the church community per se, because it is very program-centred. But the important thing is they are drawn to the Saviour and the Saviour will always be there for them.

KS: Tell me about Western-raised women who marry a Muslim man and convert?

JL: This often happens at the university age, and it’s most common for a young Christian girl who’s not terribly grounded in doctrine. She’s wooed by this guy who is good looking, charming and he talks about God and about praying. When these girls convert to Islam, they have no idea what is going to happen to their children. Sometimes they are told they can be Christian, but they don’t realize the children have to become Muslim. Sometimes, when women do convert to Islam, they can become the strongest adherents. Then Islamic associations use them, on TV and so on, to be advocates. She becomes a hero, and of course, that feels good.

KS: I’m struck by the irony that modesty, plain dressing and no makeup goes a long way to start a meaningful conversation with Muslim women, when some of our most vocal Christian TV evangelists, and even just ordinary Christian women, are the exact opposite. Sometimes we have really big hair.

JL: For the Muslim that would give very mixed messages. When they see our kind of televangelist with big hair and makeup, they don’t get it at all. But in Western culture, we don’t want [a Christian TV personality] to look like a prude. We want them to be “with it.” I remember the day when I was about 40, I took my jewelry and makeup, and threw them in the garbage. I sacrificed them so I could get a better hearing with Muslim women. It wasn’t easy for me. I was fairly self-conscious. Right away, it made a huge difference. Muslim women knew what I was set aside for.

Now, I’m 57, and the older you get for Muslims, the more respect you will have and the greater hearing you will have. I don’t dye my hair. It identifies my age, and that is in my favour. In Western culture we honour the person who is younger, but I feel very free.

KS: What can we learn from Muslim women, from the Islamic community?

JL: It’s a good question. The cultures are so different. They are intensely interested in people. They gather at the mosque and there will be no program, they are just there with their food. We go to a program, sip tea, listen to a speaker, exchange a few words and then go home. We are really into programs. They are intensely interested in every marriage, death, sickness. They feel responsible to each other. Hospitality is a given.

KS: What can the ordinary Christian learn from you, someone who has been doing this work for so many years?

JL: It has increased my faith level. When you pray for these people, they often have very big needs – it stretches you in faith. You witness miracles. You hear wonderful stories.

I have the most un-boring life, it’s pure adventure. It has thrown me upon God. Jesus means much more to me than ever before. The Bible is much more powerful to me. I know it’s the power of God, and not just a book. My work has made me a little bit of a misfit. But it’s worth it.

The biggest thing I can say is that we have to take the initiative. Without that nothing will happen. It’s the one thing the Christian woman doesn’t want to do, and it all hinges on that – just like Jesus came to us. And then not to try to invite them to church right away: we Canadians invite people to church fairly soon, and that would be the last thing to do. Christian women will be very surprised, if they take initiative. They will have an incredible opportunity. They will find that it is entirely possible to love her and have a good friendship. Our life will be the richer for it.

KS: Thank you, Joy. FT

Joy Loewen of Winnipeg is the author of Woman to Woman: Sharing Jesus with a Muslim Friend (Chosen, 2010). The daughter of missionary parents, she has lived in Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan and the United States. She works with Arab World Ministries and writes online at www.joyloewen.blogspot.com.  

Karen Stiller of Port Perry, Ontario, is associate editor at Faith Today.

Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 2010.

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