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.
I have just returned from an amazing conference in the far East! There were approximately 1000 people present. The most gripping moment was the simple testimony of a little woman (non-white), serving in what may be Central Asia’s dirtiest, darkest and most dangerous country. Dressed in the garb of a village Muslim woman (for security, only eyes showing), she told of a few converts who had believed, despite the cost. One day a friend and fellow worker wept, asking God how these people would ever know He loved them. Shortly thereafter, she and her family were martyred. This little woman was warned her family was next on this list, so she prayed: “God, if that’s your will, we are also willing to die.” One daughter (age 14) said, “Mom, we can’t leave; my best friend has not yet accepted Jesus.” It was a family decision to stay. She was on her way back and asked for more workers. Seven young people got up from their seats and went forward (5 women, 2 men)—all from the same city. By now many (myself included) were in tears.
The greeter at the door completely ignored her, as did others. Wandering around in an attempt to find her own way she felt like a leper and a pariah.
Wondering what would happen if a Muslim had a dream about Jesus and wandered into a church, she teamed up with a Muslim female friend for a scary experiment. (The Muslim friend said she would be terrified to try such a thing herself.) They decided to attend a church as first-time visitors. She wore a hijab (head covering), while her American-looking Muslim friend discreetly sat two rows back, and took notes. It didn’t go well. Someone (probably a plain clothes police officer) practically sat in her lap throughout the service! As Islamic radicals continue to carry out unspeakable acts of violence, Muslims will become increasingly feared, hated and shunned in Western society. Knowing how Jesus responded to Samaritans in his day tells us how he would want his followers to reach out to Muslims today.
Christians and Muslims in America have an image problem. The rest of the world sees us as intolerant, belligerent, prideful, nationalistic, and extremist. As the daughter of Christian and Muslim parents, I feel like a kid stuck in a bad marriage, trying to salvage my parent’s reputation and begging them to get along. As a child I remember feeling conflicted in a home that followed two religions and suffering shame after the 1979 hostage crisis. Today I encounter this drama played out in our country.
Tragically, the Fort Hood massacre, along with 9-11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, perpetuate a climate of religious polarization. It has launched a backlash against innocent Muslims and made Christians look like bullies. It’s blurred the lines between many peaceful Muslims and a few dangerous ideologues; and many caring Christians and a few conspirators who use the church for political purposes.
We can’t afford to repeat the last decade. We desperately need a new generation of American Christian and Muslim leaders, who embody our nations’ decency, to stand up and show the world that we can overcome our fury and work toward reconciliation, accountability and mutual respect. Most importantly, America needs leaders to remind the public, in a fresh and relevant way, of Jesus’ teachings to love our neighbors (even if they feel like enemies). Military containment, humanitarian work, and hard borders, however, will not be enough. We must sow seeds of trust and confidence.