Lights. Iridescent lights.
Thousands of them, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them, adorn a skyscraping Christmas tree in front of a famed historical building. As the familiar melodies of Christmas music dance in the background, visitors bustle around the iconic Christmas market situated at the base of the tree, weaving from booth to booth as they shop for gifts and stop for a cup of warm punch and a festively decorated baked treat. These are the quintessential sights, sounds and tastes of Christmas in the European city where my husband and I live and serve.
Dark. Pitch dark.
This was the room where he was kept in solitary confinement for three days after the police broke his knee, effectively ending his professional basketball career, because he courageously refused to disclose the identities and whereabouts of those in his house church. For him and other followers of Jesus in his home country, converting from Islam is a criminal offense. Upon being released from solitary confinement, he fled his home country and arrived in our city, claiming asylum. This passionate follower of Jesus is a refugee. He is also my friend.
As twinkling lights brighten the winding streets after dark, the idea of Christmas is alive and well in my city. However, the understanding of its true meaning is not. Although a city of light during the Christmas season, the beauty of the city disguises its spiritually dark and destitute reality, where the evangelical church makes up less than one percent of a mostly secular population. Who and what is really in the light? It is not the elaborately bedecked city where few people claim Christ as Savior. It is the growing number of refugees like my friend, fleeing unfathomable horrors, who are being delivered from the darkened world of Islam and putting their trust in Christ.
My husband and I lead a team in Europe where we reach out to immigrants and refugees. Like most people in ministry, Christmastime is a key time for us to share the gospel. Most of our immigrant and refugee ministry contacts are Muslim background.
In a cross-cultural setting among people who do not celebrate Christmas, we rely on creativity led by the Holy Spirit. God has shown us that some of the tools for sharing Christ are literally in front of our eyes. While Christmas decorations are inanimate objects, they are visual reminders that it is Christmastime. This means that conversations about Christmas are a natural part of everyday conversation.
“What are your plans for Christmas?” is a common question that even our Muslim friends ask us. In response, we can share that we will read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Injeel (New Testament) to our children and attend our church’s Christmas Eve service. (Well, maybe we will have an in-person Christmas Eve service this year. Due to COVID-19, we have temporarily moved to digital services).
As a works-based religion, Islam offers its followers no assurance of salvation. As Christ-followers, we can joyfully proclaim that we celebrate the birth of Jesus, because faith in him gives us assurance of salvation and the full confidence that we will spend eternity in heaven. We also share Christ at Christmas by partnering with a local refugee ministry center in distributing Christmas gifts to refugees. The refugees may be mostly Muslim, but they enthusiastically accept the Christmas bags filled with practical and fun gifts, such as hygiene items, chocolate and coloring books for their children. Each refugee who receives a gift bag is also given a gospel tract in their heart language.
Can you imagine Christmas in heaven one day, worshipping the King face to face, and praising his name alongside the angels, heavenly hosts and those who have gone before us? What hope we have in Christ! May those who we are here to reach be delivered from darkness and walk in the light of Christ — and enjoy the pretty Christmas lights in the city too!
Written by a Global Partners missionary. Name withheld for security purposes.