Some 27 years ago, seeing the thousands of Arabic immigrants settling into the Dearborn-Detroit, Mich., area, local Christians began to realize the potential for ministry. God was making the Muslim world available as never before. Dearborn Christian Fellowship, along with other area congregations and Classis Lake Erie, the regional grouping of Christian Reformed churches, contributed their resources to establish the Arab-American Friendship Center (AAFC).
The center, housed in a former small business building in Dearborn, quietly practices relationship evangelism through its very well-attended morning and evening classes in citizenship and English as a second language (ESL). Friendships and trust develop between Christian teachers and Muslim students; barriers begin to break down. Believing that God calls them to plant seeds and water them and then trust him for a harvest in his timing, the center’s current directors, Dwight and Jeannie Billingsley, noted, “All the efforts of the staff and 31 volunteers point to sharing the gospel with every student.” Opportunities arise through classroom illustrations and chapel assemblies and additional cultural and spiritual learning initiatives.
Bringing Muslims to Christ is difficult, given the negative consequences usually resulting when one leaves Islam for Christianity. The Billingsleys wrote in their recent newsletter about their students: “Their coming to Christ doesn’t allow them to shout it from the housetops in Dearborn because of fear of retribution, but we are told, and it encourages us a lot.”
Over the years, members of local CRC churches have served as teachers and board members, including North Hills CRC member Jerry Van Wyke, who also teaches one of the citizenship classes. He regularly uses the Bible to explain such principles as “all are created equal.” Van Wyke said, “The students are not afraid to talk about God.”Although much of the center’s funding is derived from individual contributions and from 15 churches from other denominations, primary support of AAFC continues to come from area Christian Reformed congregations and classis.