My time in Prospect over the past six months has been quite impactful and transformative. Having previously been involved with Christian community development work for two years in Church Hill, Richmond through East End Fellowship, I somewhat knew what I was getting into. It has been difficult to learn more and more about the systemic problems that neighborhoods like Prospect have faced for decades. Segregation and racism have created a country where urban African-American neighborhoods often lack the same level of educational resources and social supports that other neighborhoods enjoy.
“I don’t know if I could live anywhere else but amongst a people who acknowledge they need Christ for their daily bread.”
Inspired by my neighbors
Nonetheless, it has been beautiful to see how God has been working in Prospect amongst a people who know they need him. Whether I am surprised by the strong faith of some of the 1st-4th graders in Bible Club, or my neighbor knocks at my door on Tuesday for our weekly dinner and Bible study, or I am humbled by the resilience of a child’s single mom working two jobs to make ends meet, it has been a joy to see how Jesus has been the source of strength for so many of my neighbors. I don’t know if I could live anywhere else but amongst a people who acknowledge they need Christ for their daily bread.
A particularly exciting development has been meeting STRIVE graduate Amdane Sanda, a local clothing and visual artist whose label name is Tape. While organizing the ArtBeat of Cville fundraiser, I was introduced to Amdane through my boss Richard. He displayed his shoe and sweater collection at the concert and I was deeply impressed by his work. The two of us got along very well and consequently started to meet for coffee and breakfast once a week. Amdane is Muslim and during our time we started talking about our different faiths and the differences between Islam and Christianity.
The Bible and the Quran
We started reading the Quran and the Bible during our morning meetings. The Quran claims to be the latest revelation from God whereas the Bible ends with the book of Revelation which claims to be the final revelation. However, the Quran encourages Muslims to read the Torah and the Gospels. I visited his mosque once during Friday prayer and he came to Victory Church where I attend on Sundays. Both religions are monotheistic, but it has been enjoyable to realize together that Muslims and Christians believe very different things. There are superficial similarities but fundamental differences. There are similar concepts of morality and sinful behavior, but the motivation of why we do good diverge from each other.
In Islam there is a strong emphasis on Judgment Day which Christians affirm as well; however, the way to get to one of the seven heavens is by performing good deeds. Muslims do not have an assurance of salvation, but they hope that Allah is merciful and forgiving and that they have been good enough. According to the Quran, Jesus is not God, but a prophet, and he did not die on the cross. Someone who looked like him died on a cross. On the other hand, we Christians believe that Jesus is God, died on a cross, rose again from the dead and will be the Judge on Judgment Day, but that those who believe in him are saved and have assurance of salvation. It is not based on anything good we do but on his grace – an undeserved gift.
Same topic, different sermons
“It has been wonderful to be able to share with Amdane about how trials in my life have made me more dependent on Jesus.”
The sermons by the Imam and Pastor were both on suffering that same weekend. It was somewhat of a surreal experience. The Imam preached that the Muslim can be more certain of going to heaven when he/she suffers and that this would expiate or atone for sin. Pastor Paul Harris, on the other hand, preached that suffering for the Christian shows that God’s strength is perfected in weakness. That God is with us during times of suffering and that his grace becomes more present during our trials.
It has been wonderful to be able to share with Amdane about how trials in my life have made me more dependent on Jesus. That Christ himself suffered and was perfected through suffering and that this is how he redeemed us to him. I look forward to my Wednesday morning breakfasts with Amdane and believe this will continue even after my Fellows year has ended.
Editor’s note: In accordance to stay-at-home and social distancing directives, Jonathan and Amdane’s meetings now occur on Zoom!