By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
DUNDALK, Md.—International ministry can be as close as your backyard, or in the case of Grace Place, across the parking lot. Troy McDaniel, pastor of Grace Place began ministering at the church a year ago. Just before he officially began his work at Grace Place he discovered a Sikh Temple adjacent to the church’s parking lot. He watched as men with turbans came and went. McDaniel was intrigued, and began praying about how God wanted him to minister to these unique neighbors. He discovered that barriers had to be torn down before he could form any relationships with the Sikhs.McDaniel tried to make contact waving and sending over food, but the response was nonexistent as the Sikhs would look away. Some of the church’s congregation had grown to distrust the Sikhs, believing them to be associated with Muslim extremists. There were even rumors of the Sikhs praying against the church.
“Their attitude toward us was a result of our attitude toward them,” McDaniel said. In the past, years before McDaniel became pastor, the church put up “no parking” signs in their lot and even called the police to tow the Sikhs and others who disobeyed the signs.
“It sent a contrary message to what we, as Christians, are really about: ‘We don’t want you here.’”
Now, the church welcomes the Sikhs and others to park in their lot, and they’re intentionally opening their arms to others in their neighborhood. Change came unexpectedly. McDaniel was in the parking lot the same evening as the Sikh priest and was amazed when, after months of avoidance, the priest waved, and the two met face-to-face at the border of their property lines. He looked McDaniel in the eye and told him, “We are Sikh. We are not Islam.”
McDaniel told the priest he was sorry for how his people had been treated in the past and that “Our book tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We want to serve you and be your friends.”
McDaniel said the corner of the priest’s mouth turned up slightly in a small smile. McDaniel mirrored the priest, shook hands, and remained reserved. He laughs as he said afterwards he walked in the church and jumped up and down with excitement while thanking God.
Slowly, the two leaders began to talk, chatting about their families and friends and everyday life stuff. McDaniel prayed for God to open doors.
The real turn came when McDaniel spoke with Lisa Mele. Mele leads the South Asian Fellowship in partnership with the North American Mission Board and the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. NAMB Missionary Aslam Masih encouraged Mele to find partners and build relationships.
“Aslam challenged Lisa to find a Sikh temple in Baltimore that NAMB could visit and conduct a Vision Tour. At the same time, I had been in the church parking lot for six or seven months trying to connect with the Sikh priest,” McDaniel said.
In a three way conversation between Masih, McDaniel and the priest, Masih asked the priest if McDaniel and Mele could bring a few from their churches to visit the temple and learn about the Sikh religion. The priest immediately accepted.
[pullquote]“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) [/pullquote]In August, Grace Place hosted a Sikh Temple Vision tour. Masih led a brief introductory session, before leading the group of about 20 across the lot to the temple. Participants hesitantly entered the Gurdwara. The Sikhs provided head coverings for everyone before entering the worship area – a large open room with sheet type floor covering on each side. Women sat on one side, men on the other. Masih translated as the priest shared Sikh beliefs and answered questions. Afterwards, the Sikhs provided light refreshment and Indian tea.
Last year’s shooting in the Wisconsin Sikh temple offered another opportunity for Grace Place to reach out to the Sikhs, offering prayer and support.
“We extended our condolences for their people and explained how that action, in no way represents what we’re about as we offered our support,” McDaniel said, noting the Sikhs were very appreciative.
On Dec. 23, the Sikhs initiated and attended a joint prayer service at Grace Place to pray for the victims and families of the Connecticut shooting.
The next joint event is a dinner Grace Place has planned for Sikh Temple leaders. Lisa Mele and volunteers from her church, Maple View Baptist, where her husband Craig is the pastor, will work with Grace Place members to host the event. The dinner will be catered, prepared according to Sikh dietary requirements as the atmosphere will be established with the Sikh’s customary Indian music. The two groups will fellowship and share ideas for continuing to build the relationship.
“I want to erase any previously erected walls,” McDaniel said, adding that his next step is to bring the congregations together. “I believe they want to do the same thing now. Then, I want to work on evangelizing and bringing souls to Christ.”
Want to learn more?
The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware provides several evangelism training videos, including: Becoming an Externally Focused Church by Eric Swanson and From Mormonism to Christianity by James Walker at http://bcmd.e-quip.net.