Church develops bond with Muslim community
BP: ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)--Jason Thibeaux said he wasn't really afraid of Muslims. But he definitely didn't love them, either.
"I was indifferent to Muslims, and that broke my heart," he said. "That was almost the worst scenario -- that I would treat them as though they weren't even there. You go have your life and I'll have mine, and hopefully we never interact."
But Thibeaux, Sunday School director at Lake Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, began to notice God at work in his heart. He started noticing Muslims.
His community was full of them.
God "very much convicted my heart," Thibeaux said. "[My attitude] needed to change and I needed to do something since He'd brought them here to my back door. I needed to be a part of His mission here locally in making sure that they got to hear the Gospel."
So he and his Sunday School class, which had been focusing on missions, decided to build relationships with their Muslim neighbors in Arlington.
"We [the class] had some really good discussions about what is missions and, you know, it's not just those who do it as a career; it's us. It's supposed to be us, at least," Thibeaux said.
Thibeaux began training to teach English as a Second Language, and he and his wife and another Sunday School member connected with a local ministry to begin classes in an area of town where a number of Muslims lived.
At first, no one came. For weeks.
"That was somewhat heartbreaking," he said.
But then they began to see children coming, and though some won't participate when the group shares Bible stories, some will. "Some of them are getting it," Thibeaux said.
Todd Virnoche said the same thing.
His kids participated in Lake Arlington's backyard Bible clubs and came home saying they couldn't believe the mission field was so big in their hometown.
"They were surprised that kids hadn't even heard of Jesus and they were living here in Arlington, Texas," Virnoche said.
Since then, Virnoche and others have been knocking on the doors of their Muslim neighbors, taking them school supplies, giving them financial help, teaching them English.
When one little girl, Joanne, was critically injured in an accident, Virnoche went nearly every day for 72 days to pray with the family in the hospital. She lived, and because of his investment of time and relationship, she and all her family and friends welcomed him in as a close friend.
"There was a trust that was established there by God's grace -- the fact that we [the church] were able to be there and to help and minister to them a little bit," Virnoche said.
Thibeaux said long-haul relationships are what they are all about.
"The thing that's been different about this is it's not just an event to build up to. It's not just, 'OK, I'll take a week off work and I'll do my duty of missions and then I'm through,'" he said. "It's really been a thing where God said, 'You're here. I brought them to you. Why not love them and make that part of your life?' We're called to love them. God's brought them here. He's put us here for a reason. It's not an accident. We're supposed to love them because they are our neighbors."