Submitted by: Dale Tunnell
The Chattanooga, Tenn., First Church promotes and celebrates friendship with local Islamic Center members whose mosque is in close proximity to their church. Approximately 60 Chattanooga First members gathered for the long-awaited fellowship meal with their Muslim neighbors in the church fellowship hall on Sunday, April 2, 2017. The friendship seed had been planted specifically to share the Gospel and to foster an understanding of different beliefs, as well as to create meaningful friendships in the Chattanooga area.
The first opportunity to interact with their Muslim neighbors came three years ago when church members were invited, along with others from the community, to visit the opening of the Chattanooga Islamic Center, which includes a place of worship, elementary school, and an activity center. City officials, First Church members, along with hundreds of other community members, were permitted to visit each area of the mosque and to ask questions. During the opening ceremony, stories were related as to how the building of the Islamic Center came about, and what Muslims believe. An elaborate, international dinner climaxed the evening.
The next three years provided opportunities where the theme of friendship was echoed by the Islamic Center and the Chattanooga First Church. Dale Tunnell, Chattanooga First Church senior pastor, encouraged his congregation to try new methods of outreach. His sermons often are reminders of how working for the harvest includes “to preach to those who dwell on the Earth — every nation, tribe, tongue, and people,” Revelation 14:6.
A group of Chattanooga First members who had established good relationships with the Muslims encouraged one another in deepening the friendship with their neighbors. They personally contributed in funding, planning, and hosting the special Friendship Event. The evening started with Tunnell welcoming and briefing the Islamic visitors about Seventh-day Adventist’s beliefs. Singing the hymns, “This is My Father’s World” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” brought special meaning to the guests who had been educated in Christian schools. Several of them commented they “miss singing the hymns from childhood.”
Following the singing and responsive reading, Tunnell shared a short sermon on The Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. “The Lord’s Prayer embraces the whole world,” stated Tunnell, “and by many Christians it is considered as the most concentrated form of the Gospel — indeed one of the most valuable treasures of the Bible.” He noted that it is in The Lord’s Prayer that Jesus is seen sharing His privilege of portraying God as Father, the personal God of love, Who is very near until eternity. Furthermore, it guides all to speak to God directly, and to exalt Him who lives in Heaven.
The church’s Muslim friends appreciated the explanation of The Lord’s Prayer, and found some similarities between their main prayer, The Fatiha (the opening sura in the Quran), and The Lord’s Prayer. As they listened to Tunnell, and read through the Bibles provided them, they could see that the theme of The Lord’s Prayer is not fear but love, not isolation but security, not despair but continual thanks.
The evening ended with a special time for visitation with 70 new friends, and was highlighted with a memorable vegetarian meal, stories, praise to God for His guidance, and the beginning of meaningful friendships. Many of the Chattanooga First members expressed that, “the kindness and love shown toward us, and how appreciative our new friends are will always be the blessing for us as we continue this journey together.”
When the members make friends who learn to trust them because they are authentic followers of God, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14) can work through them to help other people.
Georgia-Cumberland | June 2017