A few years back, Steve Stone, the pastor at Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, learned that the lot next to him had been purchased for an Islamic Center. And what did the Christians in the community do when they heard that an Islamic Center was opening up? Well, they grabbed their picket signs and protested it.
Unlike the well-intentioned yet misguided Christians who took to protesting the Muslims, Pastor Stone placed a sign out where the lots met that said, "Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood." Stone’s church even invited the Muslims over to the church to share a meal. In a touching moment, the Muslim women brought flowers to give to their Christians hostesses.
Instead of protesting against the Muslims, Heartsong Church lived out the life of Christ and started the process of reaching the unreached. Because of this approach, relationships are being built, bridges that Jesus can walk over rather than walls that would obscure one's view of Jesus.
Somewhere along the road to where we are, many churches have become confused and started to think that being filled with slander, wrath, malice, and anger – characteristics of the old self (Colossians 3:8) – is how we should respond to those different than us. In many circles it has become improper to even dialogue with those that disagree with you because you wouldn't want to appear accepting of them; that might cause people to think that you are like those you disagree with. We don’t just do this with other religions, we do it with other denominations and even churches within our own brotherhood. And on a personal level, we do it with other people. You can't spend time with so-and-so or have others see you talking with him or her because they may think you approve of what they are doing. Too bad that Jesus didn't take that advice when he hung out with tax collectors, sinners, and the forgotten ones of society.
But, we like to keep Jesus at a distance. We like to sing along to Carrie Underwood, and say, "Jesus take the wheel." Yet then we see a road that we want to go down - a road that we know that we shouldn't go down without Jesus. We say, "Jesus, I know you'll understand. I'll pick you up on my way back, but I want to go down this road. Could you just wait here for me? I'll be right back." We drop him off at the corner so he can't influence us in our social interactions. We keep our distance from the least of these because if we didn't, it would hurt our reputation.
The story of Heartsong Church, welcoming the Islamic Center, didn’t just end with a church being Jesus in their community, welcoming their unreached neighbors into the neighborhood. Across the world in Kashmir, the contested and violent religion between India and Pakistan, the story of Heartsong welcoming the Islamic Center was covered on the news.
Pastor Stone got a call from a group of Muslims from a small town in Kashmir. The Muslim man said that they had been watching CNN when a segment telling the story of Heartsong Church came on. And the action of a church outside of Memphis touched the hearts of Muslims on the other side of the world. One of the community's leaders said to those who were gathered, "God just spoke to us through this man." Another said, "How can we kill these people?" A third man went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out.
Pastor Stone said that he was just trying to love his neighbors, as he says Jesus instructs him to do. And that love is always contagious. Small actions, when linked to Jesus, can instigate extraordinary things. As a result of loving their neighbors in the Memphis area, some Muslims in Kashmir said, "We are now trying to be good neighbors, too. Tell your congregation we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of that little church."