Ministering to the Muslim community presents unique opportunities and challenges, and it is helpful to understand Muslim mindsets and culture in order to engage in impactful and effective ministry to this community.
As the coordinator of Muslim Ministries for the Pacific Union Conference, I have traveled extensively, bringing awareness and training seminars to Adventist churches throughout the United States, Russia, and Canada. I have spoken frequently at pastors’ and workers’ meetings, camp meetings, and for the leadership of the North American Division (NAD). During the COVID-19 pandemic, I intensified my efforts by utilizing a wide array of social media platforms like Instagram, Telegram, Zoom, and Facebook to establish a direct communication with Muslims—connections that might not have happened otherwise.
I was born in Iran to an Adventist Armenian mother and a Christian Assyrian father. My family was introduced to the Adventist message through missionaries in Iran, first through my grandfather, but it was my mother who profoundly embraced the message. My family immigrated to the United States in the aftermath of the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979. After high school I attended Valley College and then California State University, Northridge, where I studied engineering, music, and Near East studies. God led me to Muslim ministries in 2008. Prior to this, however, I had been broadcasting the Advent message via public access cable television in the Los Angles area to the Middle Eastern communities.
My first exposure to ministry was conducting Bible studies in the San Fernando Valley and reaching out to those who would not normally attend church or any kind of organized religious service. This led to establishing Adventist churches in areas and communities where there is no Adventist work. The Adventist International group currently under the umbrella of Canoga Park church is one of the results of this endeavor.
In 2008, I was also asked by Gospel Outreach in College Place, Washington, to produce and broadcast Farsi language telecasts for Iran, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Europe. This project was funded by the aforementioned Adventist organization until 2012. Through the “A Better Tomorrow” broadcasts, which were also aired on Iranian satellite networks in North America, a significant number of Muslim viewers became acquainted with the three angels' messages.
I was greatly encouraged to further solidify my efforts and focus on the Muslim community because God’s leading in this direction was very evident. As an avid student of history and Semitic languages (Assyrian, Farsi, Arabic, and Hebrew), with extensive studies in the origins of Islam, I have been able to share the Advent message in contextual methodologies (using the Bible and the Quran) with a wide range of Muslim seekers in different parts of the U.S. and the world.
Muslim ministry also presents some challenges, but I have gladly welcomed them. The veracity of the Bible, the unique nature of Jesus, and the concept of the Trinity are some of the questions raised by Muslims when met with the gospel message. But the incredible reverential view of the Quran regarding the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the true church, among many other gems, has been the very platform that I have utilized in sharing the last-days message with Muslims who otherwise would not respond to traditional evangelization efforts.
Among many objections that our Muslim friends often raise is their refusal to accept the crucifixion of Jesus as factual. What has also compounded this issue is their rejection of the Bible as a divine revelation. But recently, in a series I conducted on Instagram regarding the crucifixion of Christ, I presented the evidence solely by using the Quran. This led a Muslim attendee to respond, “Your conclusion is very logical.” Many devout practicing Muslims have attended our presentations and have even requested further study in Biblical Hebrew in order to understand the Quran more efficiently. Muslims, like Christians and Jews, often grapple with the challenge of not reading their scriptures and instead relying on the expounding of written words by their religious leaders (imams).
One consideration to keep in mind when ministering to the Muslim community is that fundamental mindsets and cultural norms surrounding matters of faith and religion are significantly different from those of the Western faith experience. Muslims may not feel as free to publicly express adherence to a new faith as a Westerner may—often due to fear for their safety. This can cause discouragement for Western Christians when sharing the gospel with the Muslim community. But what to the Western mind appears to be rejection of the gospel, or at least significant hesitation, is often fear. It is important to keep ministering in culturally aware ways—and to keep trusting in the unseen work of the Holy Spirit.
In the aftermath of the horrific shooting at two Islamic mosques in New Zealand in 2018 in which 60 Muslim worshipers were killed by an Australian assailant, I was asked to deliver a message in the mosque in Northridge, California. This led many Muslims to embrace the message brought from the pages of the Quran in regard to the “true people of the book” mentioned in the Quran. I used this opportunity to introduce the Muslim congregation to the Seventh-day Adventist Church as the embodiment of this phenomena.
With over 10 million Muslims in America, and 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, my hope as Muslim Ministries Coordinator for the Pacific Union Conference is that we would recognize the importance and relevance of continuing to reach out to this group of God’s children.
Wa Salamo Aleykom Wa Rahmatollah Wa Barakato
Gerald Babanezhad is director of Muslim Ministries for the Pacific Union Conference and also serves on the board of advisors for the North American Division Adventist Muslim Relations.