Mentoring Mentors in India

by Dr. Gordon Nickel

It is always a joy to mentor a Christian from Muslim background. But to mentor Asghar Ali is a special joy.

Asghar and I are spending quality time together this month in Hyderabad, India.We are reading God's Word together, letting it speak to us, and praying together.Then we are checking the drafts of chapters for a book we are writing to defend the Bible against attacks from Muslim polemicists. I am teaching Asghar Classical Arabic and academic Qur'anic Studies in order to encourage him and help strengthen his remarkable ministry.

It is God's grace and your prayers and financial support that allow me to be here now.

At the beginning of January Asghar and I taught a 5-day intensive course titled "Gospel Light on the Qur'an". Most of the students were Christians from Muslim background. I walked the students through the Qur'an in a scholarly way and explained verses that are either for or against the teaching of the NewTestament. Asghar dealt with accusations against the Bible or its teaching, which Muslim polemicists back up from the Qur'an. He suggested how to answer such accusations effectively. We both attempted to shine "gospel light" on various themes developed in the Qur'an. Teaching together is another way to encourage and affirm or, sometimes, correct an effective minister.

Like most of us, Christians from Muslim background do not appreciate correction that doesn't come from love. But once love and trust have been firmly established, hearts and minds become fully teachable.

A number of the students in the Qur'an course had come all the way from Assam - way up in the northeast beyond Bangladesh! They came because Asghar had established a solid link with them during the previous year. Last year he made contact with a leader of a growing community of Assamese Christians from Muslim background up in Kolkata who was feeling discouraged at the time. Asghar encouraged him, then made three trips during the year to teach the leader and some 35 other leaders of a community of 500 Christians in 50 house churches. The Assamese received Asghar with open and grateful hearts, and there are now plans for him to visit Assam another three times in the coming year.

This is the kind of fruitful ministry Asghar has among groups of Christians from Muslim background, not only in Assam but also in several other parts of India.

Which means that every good thing I can pour into Asghar is passed on to hundreds of others like him, encouraging and enriching them and preparing them in turn to mentor others.

Asghar can teach these Indian Christians from Muslim background in a way that I never could. Though I know Urdu/Hindi, he knows how people really speak. He knows what it is like to suffer for choosing to follow Jesus within a Muslim community, to have your father disown you. He can easily reach the hearts of these Assamese. They love him. When Asghar speaks in Assam, they laugh, they shout, they cry. Nothing that intense happens when I speak.

However, Asghar too needs a mentor, and he trusts me. So though I don't deserve the privilege, I get to encourage and teach him. And through Asghar I can bless others I may never meet.

My relationship with Asghar goes back more than 10 years, to when my wife and I were mentoring Indian evangelists in witness among Muslims in Hyderabad. One of the evangelists was a young woman who knew and liked Asghar and was open to the possibility of marrying him. The match was a good one. But it was some time until it dawned on me that what was missing was someone to negotiate with the woman's parents on Asghar's behalf! Asghar's Muslim parents would not be doing that because they wouldn't approve of his marriage to a Christian woman in any case - so how could the marriage go ahead? Asghar needed someone to speak for him. When I finally figured it out, I stepped forward and helped facilitate a marriage that has produced a very strong ministry unit.

Such are the challenges that Christians from Muslim background face. They need other Christians to come alongside them to befriend them, disciple them and look out for them. With the Body of Christ gathering around them, loving them and providing them "a place among those who are sanctified" by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18), they can definitely become strong and fruitful ministers like Asghar.

Gordon Nickel serves as a Training Associate with Salaam.

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