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It was a winter night in Little Town, Arabia. The crisp evening breeze was a welcome change from summer's daytime highs of 120-plus degrees. As I shuffled through the irregular and unpaved hardpan streets, the warmly spiced smells of asha, the evening meal, arose from every house to comfort the chilly air outside. It was after nine o'clock, and as the women washed up the dishes, children who normally came out to play for a couple of hours before bedtime had opted to snuggle up in sweaters and caps indoors, in front of their televisions where it was warmer. The empty stillness of the well-worn streets amplified the quiet padding of my sandals on the dirt. A lack of streetlamps made the glittering stars above all the more vivid against the black sky. And that moon! A huge crescent, the very symbol of Islam, seemed to be hanging directly above our village like a signboard, a symbol of ownership. Joy bubbled up in my heart as I contemplated where I was and what I was doing. Here, beneath the dominating rule of the Crescent, I was on my way to a Bible and Quran discussion with neighborhood women.
"Come ... and bring the books!" they had said. But even more amazing was that they had said it often. Within eighteen months of arriving, our family had been able to share the Gospel at least once with virtually all of our neighborhood friends, and God was confirming His Word to be true in their individual lives. It was incredible the way He opened doors, and it had all started in a quite unexpected way through a rather ordinary event.
We had just moved into the neighborhood and hadn't put much effort into meeting the neighbors yet, as we needed some time to adjust to simply "living" first. There was no city water, so the tank on the roof had to be refilled by water truck every five or six days. Every morning we filtered our drinking water and put it in the refrigerator to cool. The fridge wasn't coping well with the desert heat, so we purchased only a little food at a time to avoid its spoiling. In those first weeks, it seemed like nothing worked the way it was supposed to, or at least not the way we were used to. The oven had no mechanism for telling temperature; it was simply "on" or "off," which suddenly made cooking a new challenge. Our first load of laundry had been torn to shreds by the washer, limiting our limited wardrobe even further. We had not been able to flush the toilet for two days, and floor drains in the kitchen and bathrooms were plugged with trash, toys, and rags from previous tenants. Knowing that hospitality is such an important part of Arab culture, it seemed there was little point in meeting the neighbors until we had a decent place to invite them to. After initial greetings and small talk, it is polite to say "Taali bayti" ["Come to my house"], and we wanted to be ready for them to take us up on that offer. However, there was another reason we hadn't met the neighbors yet, which we wouldn't find out about until later.
Apparently, the mutawwas had warned the local people about us. Being religious teachers who provide guidance and spiritual assistance, they told their flocks that foreigners who come to work in Arabia are Christian missionaries sent to deceive their children, bring in immorality, destroy their families and country, and corrupt Islamic society as a whole. Of course, it's true that we were (and are) Christian missionaries, but our motives could not have been more opposite that description. This erroneous preconception was to become the first hurdle that God overcame for us.
Before coming to Little Town, my husband, Mike, and I had had to fulfill some specific requirements of our mission board, in addition to regular Bible training, to prepare for work in the Muslim World. We read books on Islam and cross-cultural issues, and Mike got some very practical experience reaching out to a Muslim population within the United States. The history of missions to Muslims overall seemed pretty discouraging then. In the past, Christian workers had sacrificed so much; they had labored so long and so hard over years and even lifetimes, with seemingly little fruit. In those days, the evangelical Church in general had little knowledge of the Muslim World. There were very few workers and little prayer support.
However in the 1990s, through the emerging focus on the 10/40 Window and the headlines generated by Operation Desert Storm, all that changed. The face of the worldwide Church turned to look upon the unreached masses of humanity living under Islamic rule. Multitudes of Christians around the world began to pray, and things started to happen. Followers of Christ began to find ways to become residents in Muslim countries where missionary activity is banned by law and constitutes a punishable crime. God began to open doors that were previously shut tight. We believe that our experience in Arabia is a direct result of the dramatic increase in intercessory prayer being made for Muslims and missionaries to Muslims by the Church around the world. For us, the door to our neighborhood began to crack open in a very unexpected way, through the humble means of a car that wouldn't start.
One morning as I was getting our three-year-old son, Tim, ready for the day, my husband, Mike, and I noticed the sound of a car engine outside turning over and over without catching. Being a "motor head" from his youth, Mike naturally went out to see what was going on.
He stepped outside our concrete block house into the gravel yard and a warm, sunny winter's day. A few more steps and he was through the metal gate that permitted entrance to our yard through a seven-foot-high wall. All the concrete houses had concrete walls surrounding them, giving privacy to women who had to emerge from homes to hang wash or go to kitchens, which were usually not attached to the rest of the house.
Since cooking smells in the home were considered unpleasant, incense was burned in all the living quarters to give a fragrant, welcoming smell. Mike could smell the after-breakfast incense in the air as he came out into the dirt road.
There were homes in all directions, with no apparent order or municipal plan. Some of the streets were barely wide enough to drive through; others could accommodate five cars parked side by side. In fact, when visitors came to any particular house, there often were several cars parked that way in the street at once, blocking it completely.
On a weekday morning like this, however, few vehicles were around, since the children had been taken to school and the men had left for work. One car remained, hood open, under a scraggly thorn tree. A small group of men had gathered in front of it. Wearing their freshly pressed robes and traditional head coverings, they surveyed the situation under the hood with their hands folded neatly behind them. It was obvious no one knew what to do, but they were supporting their neighbor by standing by him in his trouble.
As Mike approached, he shouted a cheery greeting, "Salaam alaykum!" The men looked up and responded tentatively, "Alaykum assalaam." Then Mike stepped right into their midst to assess the situation. It was a simple matter of cleaning and setting the points. A few minutes later, he motioned for the gentleman to start his engine. It caught immediately. A look of amazed appreciation came over the men, and they lifted their hands in the air in that time-honored thumbs-up gesture that any Westerner would be sure to understand. Someone who knew a bit of English patted him on the back and exclaimed, "Number one! Number one!" The next thing Mike knew, he had been invited to several houses for coffee to reciprocate the favor. Later we would learn that this was not an initial gesture of friendship, but a traditional means of erasing indebtedness. Nevertheless, our family now had the opportunity to meet the neighbors.
At each home, Mike was invited into the men's majlis, a special room reserved for receiving visitors. Women and children were ushered into separate quarters, and all of us were lavished with fine Arab hospitality. First we were brought cold water and juices, then dates and coffee, then an assortment of delicious foods, all skillfully prepared by the women of the house. We felt welcome indeed! However, it soon became apparent to our hosts that something was wrong with us. We didn't seem to know how to eat normally.
To start with, we had some trouble just getting our bodies down onto the floor where the meal was being served. This being our first visit to each neighbor's home, we exerted every effort to follow all of the cultural rules we had been taught. Don't let your backside point at anyone when you bend over. Hard to do, when getting onto the floor in a room full of people. Never ask someone to serve you by passing food, and eat only with your right hand. Okay, I'd have to get my right side within an arm's length of that tray, without bumping or shoving any of the other eight people who were drawing tightly together around the fou'alla to eat. Don't show anyone the sole of your foot. Shoeless and surrounded on the floor, there didn't seem to be any possible physical position left to sit in without breaking some kind of rule. Or some part of my body. I began to wonder why yoga wasn't included in our missionary training. Our contorted efforts were, shall we say, less than graceful.
Once in position, and trying to ignore the pain of our legs falling asleep under us, we turned our minds to the task of actually eating. Our hosts sat on the floor and ate everything, including grains of rice and slippery noodles, very neatly and effortlessly without the aid of plates, forks, or spoons. Even women wearing face coverings managed to enjoy their meal without getting a drop on themselves. We, on the other hand, appeared to have never eaten before. How pathetic we must have looked with food all down our fronts and in our laps. I think I may have gotten some on the lady sitting next to me. How would our Muslim neighbors ever listen to a message shared by grown adults who couldn't even feed themselves with their own hands?
My family is living testimony to the fact that God can use anybody. As embarrassing as it was to be counted "clueless" in our new community, it disarmed the fear they had of us. Our very ineptitude was what gently opened the door to their hearts. We became the neighborhood project. Someone had to help this helpless American family. As far as the mutawwas' warnings were concerned, if this was the best that the Christians could send to destroy Islamic society as they knew it, there was certainly nothing to fear.
Our neighbors took us under their wings and began to instruct us for our betterment, not only in dining technique but in other areas as well. They taught me how to make proper coffee and how to cook traditional dishes. (I think that was partly to help me and partly so they could enjoy "decent food" when they came to our house, which they did often.) The men explained to Mike how haggling works so he could avoid overpaying too much in the markets. (As a white Westerner, he'd still be overcharged-but not so much as an ignorant white Westerner.) The women showed me how to wrap my veil so it would stop falling off. They let us know how we should handle various social situations, answered our many questions, and gave us advice.
For our part, we offered what we had to them. Mike helped men with car and household repair questions (and was saved from becoming the neighborhood mechanic by the fact that all his tools were in America). He trimmed the trees so everyone could park their cars under them, out of the blistering sun. We helped kids who came to us with questions about their English homework. Our son, Tim, was more than happy to have a few dozen playmates sharing his swing and his toys. Being the only woman in our neighborhood with a driver's license, I could take the ladies to the souq (market) or the hospital, or to visit a friend who lived beyond walking distance. In short, we became friends.
Being friends with an Arab means visiting. They visit you. You visit them. If you can't go visit, you call and visit on the phone. There are even specific times of day for visiting various people. In Little Town, the ladies would visit each other in the morning at an appointed time between doing the chores and cooking the main midday meal. Men would visit men and families would visit families in the evening between the last two prayer calls of the day. To visit others was to honor them because you had made the trip to come and see them. They, in turn, honored you with hospitality. For us, visiting became the core of our ministry. I mean, what do you actually do on a visit? (Besides eat.) You sit and listen. You get to know people. You talk! Talking with our neighbors was exactly what we wanted to do, and now we were expected to do it regularly. God had built a wide-open door of opportunity right into the culture, and we simply walked through it.
Amidst all the discussions about schools, inflation, weddings, cooking, politics, health care, and the rest, we had numberless conversations about spiritual things. It was our privilege to be the first Christians most of our Arab Muslim neighbors had ever met, and we wanted to make the absolute most of it. During that first term, we learned all we could about what our friends believed and why. They, in turn, wanted to know about us. We shared the Gospel at every opportunity, and there were many opportunities. Muslims even shared the Gospel with each other. One woman took a copy of the JESUS film from us and invited a bunch of friends over to watch it with her in her majlis. Another took an audiocassette series of the dramatized Bible and listened to it with her morning visit group. Who would have dreamed it would be like this?
* * *
Once, a fellow Christian worker gave us an Arabic paper that was circulating on the Internet titled "What the Quran Says about the Bible and Jesus." It was intended to stir Muslims' interest in the Bible. Being novices in the language, we gave it to our friend Habiiba and asked her to let us know if it said anything interesting-and if what it said was true. Apparently the answer to both questions was yes, because she took it to the local religious teacher for an explanation.
In her very own Quran, she'd confirmed that Sura 6:114-115 says the Bible is God's Word, which "was sent down from the Lord in truth"; that it should not be doubted; and that no one can change it. Yet every Muslim is taught to believe that the Bible has been changed and corrupted. Why? Well, from our viewpoint it's because Muhammad himself thought that his teachings were in agreement with the Bible. At least, with what he had heard of it, since he was illiterate himself. And how many of his followers back in the sixth century had Bibles to compare doctrine with? It wasn't until enough people could acquire books and read them for themselves that the conflicting natures of the Holy Scriptures and the Quran needed to be explained. Hence, the eruption of the teaching among Muslims that the Bible had been falsified somewhere in history-even though such a statement denies the very teaching of the Quran itself.
Such falsehoods persist largely because of ignorance. Indeed, if we had looked up these verses ourselves, we probably would have missed the issue altogether, because most English translations of the Quran have since been "modified" to eliminate the dilemma such verses pose. But Habiiba was an Arab reading the Arabic text, and she knew there was no mistaking what it said. In all the times she had read the Quran, how could she have missed this? There were other problems brought up by the paper as well, and she decided to take them to the local mosque and ask for guidance. There had to be an explanation.
A devout Muslim, Habiiba was a credit to her well-respected family and proud of her heritage. She had no doubt that the religious teacher had a simple answer for all of this. But instead he became angry at her. He tore up the pages in front of her, and then told her to go home and forget everything she'd read. "Good Muslims don't read such trash," he'd said. She was appalled at his reaction and his treatment of her. She was a good Muslim. It was her wholehearted faith in Islam that had brought her to him for help. She was also intelligent and realized his overreaction meant he had no solution to the problem. This had a profound affect on Habiiba.
In recounting the experience, she determinedly told us, "I will never forget what was written in those papers!" Rather than squelching her interest, her zeal to validate her Islamic faith increased. Habiiba and two of her sisters became my best friends in the neighborhood. It was they who started the practice of calling me late at night to "bring the books." Although their motive was to explain and confirm the truth of Islam rather than to investigate Christianity, they were as eager to listen as they were to speak.
Excerpted from WHICH NONE CAN SHUT by REEMA GOODE Copyright © 2010 by Reema Goode. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted September 30, 2013
Posted August 5, 2013
This was a very interesting book about Goode's life sharing the Gospel in a Muslim nation. I enjoyed reading about the different culture and how Christians were viewed by the regular people in the community. It was an interesting snippet into how missionaries live in foreign countries, but also served as a reminder of how Christians can live in this country - walking the walk and demonstrating faith through our everyday interactions with others.
It is a short book that could be finished in an afternoon, but the stand-alone chapters make it ideal to read over time while waiting for kids to get out of practice or school.
A very interesting book that I would recommend for anyone who wants to learn about missionary life in the Arabian Peninsula.
Posted October 23, 2010
If you ever wondered about the lives of missionaries in Muslim countries and not just an "aerial" look but an account about the very lives, then Reema Goode's book is for you.
Using the means of stories, something that we all love to read, she tells about her family's life and more importantly, how God opens the doors for witness among those of Islam religion.
I have been interested in the happenings in the lives of Christians in countries like that for a long time. Mostly, it's because I think that those people really know what they believe because when you risk your life as well as your family members' lives for having faith in something, you better be confident what you believe and why. Also, I think that we can learn quite a lot from their experiences - we got too used to the religious freedom and stopped trying to sift the good teachings from the garbage that something sneaks in with the good stuff.
What I especially like about this book is that the stories Reema tells are personal stories, not just "this happened to another person" but "this happened to my husband, my kids, and me" kind. Stories of God's majesty, stories of being afraid, stories about opened doors, and stories about what would God do in order to reach to His lost children.
Posted October 8, 2010
Imagine a place where becoming a Christian is a punishable crime-and your own family exacts the punishment. Where those who spread the gospel among locals are deported if discovered. Where converts to Christianity face persecution, isolation, or even death as the price for their faith.
"Reema Goode" and her family are Christians working in a closed Middle Eastern country where all of these things are true. Yet they are also firsthand witnesses of a whole new trend that is taking shape in missions to Muslims. Despite all obstacles, God is opening miraculous doors in the Islamic world, where an unprecedented number of Muslims are becoming followers of Jesus.
In this powerful collection of personal stories, Reema takes us deep inside her Arab neighborhood to show how God is opening doors in just one of many Islamic communities. As she walks us through everyday life in a Muslim town, she reveals the diverse, creative, unexpected, and thrilling ways God is reaching her neighbors with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it."-Revelation 3:8
In seems in recent days that there has been so much discussion in pertaining to the Muslim world and this book addresses all those very issues. Reema Goode felt a calling from God on her life to take the message of God into the parts of the world where the largest number of people needed to hear it and weren't. This led her to the Middle East. She ventured along with her husband Mike and for the past several years have led many people from the Muslim world to the truth in Jesus Christ.
The book takes those down to earth stories from Reema and Mike and translates them to us to show how God uniquely used every day situations from a car not starting to a woman who was going to die with a brain tumor to lead them to Jesus.
I received this book Which None Can Shut by Reema Goode compliments of Tyndale House Publishers for my honest review and found it eye opening. Sometimes we don't know where to begin to share our testimony with others but in seeing the many ways Mike and Reema did, it has encouraged me to share mine more with people I come into contact with everyday. I would rate this book a 5 out of 5 stars and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about how to talk to Muslims about God in a personal way.
Posted September 30, 2010
American Christians take much for granted. We have an unlimited access to the Bible and are allowed to worship and proclaim our faith in Christ without fear of physical harm. Christians serving as missionaries in the Muslim world are not so fortunate. Which None Can Shut; Remarkable True Stories of God's Miraculous Work in the Muslim World is an intriguing book by "Reema Goode" (her name has been changed for security reasons) that chronicles her experiences as a Christian living in a hostile Arab country. With passion and raw emotion she describes how God is opening doors for the proclamation of the gospel among the Muslim people group. This book is about relationships. "Reema" speaks from the vantage point of a relationship-builder. She tells of her occasions to meet and get to personally know the women who were her neighbors. She takes the reader through her journey of taking time to get to know these women and their families and understand their Muslim culture and traditions. As trust was built from first being a friend, she was able to share the gospel with as the door opened. I really enjoyed the honest and accurate portrayal of the Muslim culture in this book. For those of us with little or no experience with Islam of the Muslim faith, Which None Can Shut gives some much needed and helpful insight. This book helped to know how I can better pray for Muslims around the world. Whether intentional or not, "Reema" gives the reader practical steps to beginning a dialogue with someone of the Muslim faith. If you want to know how to pray for Muslims, and also how to pray for the missionaries working to reach them for Christ, you will find this book encouraging, helpful, and enlightening. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for my honest review.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 18, 2011
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