MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BP) -- Members of Grace Baptist Church have been well aware of the struggle in their community the last two years over the building of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro next door.
At times they didn't know what to do. At times, as the rhetoric -- often led by Christians -- grew strident, they became fearful and their numbers dwindled.
Interim pastor Dan Watts advised members of Grace Baptist to avoid the community and city council meetings, where the discussion usually turned negative about Muslims, their potential new neighbors. Watts came to the church just as the community's struggle over the new mosque's construction was developing into a local and eventually national news story. He learned later that Muslims had worshiped at a mosque at another location in Murfreesboro for 30 years.
Watts didn't want Grace members to be afraid of the Muslims who were planning to build next door. "I also wanted us to move from not being afraid of Muslims to loving Muslims," he said.
He and the other members of Grace may not know much about Muslims, but they are learning, he said. And he said they realized, as plans to build developed, that "God has placed [Muslims] here."
The fact that Muslims, about 200 it is reported, are now meeting next door to Grace Baptist doesn't "surprise God a bit," Watts said. "We can have a Christian witness right next door."
Even though he served as a trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board for eight years and witnessed to internationals over the years in different communities, Watts still had a lot to learn.
"I wasn't familiar with our neighbors," he said.
Now he and Grace members don't have to go anywhere to become missionaries. They can be missionaries at home, he said.
Last summer, when construction on the mosque was about to begin, a sign on the property announcing the new mosque was spray-painted with the phrase "Not Welcome." Then an arson fire destroyed excavating equipment at the site. Read More