Over time The Risen Savior Lutheran Church (in north Wichita, Kansas) has been known as "the church across from Fantasy Water Park" and for a short while "the congregation down the road from Home Depo." But never did Pastor Tom Harmon imagine leading a ministry known as "the church next door to the Mosque."
Ten years ago Harmon returned to Wichita to plant a new Christian church. Growing up in Cheney Kansas Harmon says he was excited about the opportunity. He previously served the First Lutheran Church of Sabetha, Kansas.
For nearly two years the Missouri Synod group rented space in Oxford Square at the intersection of 21st and Woodlawn in Wichita. As Harmon cast his vision to reach non-believers the ministry grew. Leaders soon set their sites on 13 acres just north of I-96. "We concluded our current location was good because of high traffic and that there was no other Missouri Synod church in the area to serve the northeast part of Wichita," said Harmon.
In 1999 Harmon first discovered the Islamic Society of Wichita’s intent to acquire three acres of land across the street. "Initially, the news disturbed members of the neighborhood more than the congregation," said Harmon.
Before long the growing Muslim presence had its effects on church membership. Harmon told the Chronicle "a few of our members from Egypt not only left the church, but also moved from Wichita. Stating they had seen it’s destructive power firsthand in Egypt, several members feared the eventual impact the Mosque would have on Wichita’s political and religious structures. Harmon said, "at first the Muslim’s build relationships of cooperation, but as their society grows they begin to take over certain geographic areas and become more politically active."
Early on Risen Savior had what Harmon called a cordial relationship with its new neighbor. The Islamic center asked to rent space for its school, but based on biblical differences the church denied that request. On busy religious holidays the congregations’ share parking facilities. But now according to Harmon the two leadership groups rarely communicate.
The congregation is now forced to learn more about Islam. Small group studies on Islamic beliefs are now part of the church’s ongoing teachings. Harmon says he goes straight to the Qur’an to understand the teachings of Islam. "Seminary did not prepare me for this challenge. It now consumes every part of my daily journey," said Harmon.
According to the Qur’an (what Muslims believe as the words of God dictated by the angel Gabriel) God sent 104 divine books to mankind but only four survived the Law given to Moses, the Psalms given to David, the Gospel given to Jesus, and the Qur’an given to Muhammad. All of God’s revelations originally contained the same message but Jews and Christians corrupted and changed their scriptures. Only the Qur’an is the pure word of God. Harmon admits this makes it difficult for Christians to discuss spiritual truth with Muslims. Any Bible quotation is dismissed as a corruption of the original message.
Harmon said he finds the notion of "jhad" most disturbing. The word means "struggle (in the ways of God)." It can mean the internal struggle in a person’s heart to walk in obedience to Allah. It can also mean the external struggle to extend the dominion of Islam over infidels – the "holy war."
During a recent exclusive Chronicle interview Rick Mathes, a well-known leader in prison ministry, provided a clear description of the differences between Allah and Jesus by retelling a true story. While attending a training session required for maintaining state prison security Mathes heard three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, which explained each of their belief systems.
"I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say," said Mathes. After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. "Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad (Holy War) against the infidels of the world," Mathes said. "And, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in Heaven. If that’s the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?"
"Non-believers," the Imam said. "So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?" said Mathes.
Mathes says the Imam’s face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The Imam sheepishly replied, "Yes."
"Well sir," said Mathes, "I have a real problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and He wants you to be with me?"
Mathes says the Imam hung his head in shame. Like Mathes’ experience members of Risen Savior say citizens need to know the truth about Islam.
With an estimated 5,000 Muslims living in Wichita many are now taking up residents near the Mosque. This new demographic has caused the church’s mission to be firmly committed to spreading the Gospel of Christ. Though there have been days Pastor Harmon admits considering a different ministry he believes God’s spirit is stronger. "My desire is to dialogue with them and to not create animosity. The only way for salvation is through Jesus Christ. I’m more concerned for them than myself," said Harmon.
Harmon agrees all Muslims are not fanatical; many are loving and peaceful people. "The main struggle is getting people to understand the focus isn’t on individuals. We’re talking about a belief. There are a lot of wonderful Muslim people, but when the Qur’an says kill the infidels that causes concern," Harmon said.
For more information about the ministry of The Risen Savior call (316) 683-5538. Sunday morning worship services are at 8:00am and 10:30am. The church is located at 6770 East 34th St. North
Russ Jones is a freelance writer and co-founder of New Direction Ministry – a Kansas based divorce recovery and stepfamily ministry. Ordained in 1990, Jones speaks across the country on a variety of subjects and is published in numerous publications. He is also a former TV reporter. Jones is a graduate of the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, holds a master of divinity degree from St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and a doctoral candidate in biblical counseling at Trinity Seminary. For more information go to: www.newdirectionministry.net or www.newdirectioncoaching.net
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