Peaceful Martyr: The Life and Mission of Francis of Assisi
At the mention of the name Francis of Assisi, images of a peaceful, eccentric, medieval monk who loved to talk to animals may come to mind. But he was also a Christ-loving, innovative missionary to Muslims during the Crusades. Here’s how that matters for missions today.
Rick Love’s life and legacy resonate deeply with the Zwemer Center of Muslim-Christian Relations at Columbia International University. As Ed Smither, Dean of Intercultural Studies at CIU, put it: “Rick loved Muslims and they loved him.” Yet, beyond his work with Muslims, Rick was known for conflict resolution among families, in the workplace, and in cross-cultural relationships all over the world. Below is mostly personal reflection but also how colleagues and friends remember him.
If this were not enough, Acts 17 tells that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling places, that they should seek God…” We forget that God is sovereign in all, the migration of people across borders no exception. Though awful, we must not forget that God is not surprised by what is happening in Syria or Iraq, and has purposed the church to meet needs and bear the message of hope in the midst of tragedy.
Certainly there are political issues, national security issues, and legitimate complex concerns that ought to be discussed; I do not seek to downplay their importance. The responsibility of the Christian towards the foreigner in our midst is however not one of these debatable matters.
During the 5th Crusade St. Francis undertook what most considered a senseless and foolhardy mission: convert the most powerful Muslim in the world. So radical was the Sultan he had promised a Byzantine gold piece for anyone who brought the head of a Christian. He was “treacherous, brainless and false hearted,” but where others saw the face of evil, Francis saw a man without the Savior and compassion welled up inside of him.
As Francis and his trusted friend Illumimato walked onto the battlefield, they were caught, beaten and brought to the Sultan who was happy because he thought they wanted to become Muslims. “On the contrary,” said Francis, “We have a message that you should surrender your soul to God.” Thus he proclaimed the Triune God and Jesus Christ the Savior of all. The Sultan did not convert for it was he who retook Jerusalem. By God’s grace St. Francis was not killed but that possibility did not deter him.
In these perilous times, when radical Islam is carrying out horrific acts of violence, Christians must reach out to Muslims with courage and compassion. We must understand their concerns and engage with them in witness. Most Muslims wake up with no church, no Bible, and no one to tell them about the Way, the Truth and the Life. Five times a day from countless minarets in their midst, they hear God is great, but who will tell them God is love?