How Christians help Muslims find identity

ReachGlobal, Pakistani youths find common ground in Birmingham

Brogan-and-boy1-300x200It’s hard enough for a teenager to find his identity.

For the Muslim boys like 16-year-old Faisal piling into the community center gym this Friday night, it’s downright ridiculous.

Part of the rapidly growing Pakistani community in Birmingham, England, Faisal and the rest of his community share a dilemma: Despite making up more than 15 percent of the city’s population of 1.2 million people, Pakistani “Brummies” get reminded often by white Brits that they aren’t British  — only to visit Pakistan and get told that they don’t really belong there, either.

A place to belong

“So where does that leave them but in no-man’s land and really struggling with an identity issue?” says ReachGlobal’s David Brogan, who has been volunteering at the boys club for almost two years. “Answering the question, ‘Who am I?’ is one of the biggest tasks. And with these boys, they face it doubly so, I think.”

The club, founded in 2006 by Charles, a Pakistani Christian, meets on Friday nights in an old church building in inner city Birmingham.

The streets in this heavily Pakistani Muslim area are lined with Asian take-out joints, old brick apartment buildings, small shops – and lots of young men with nothing to do.

In May, the Birmingham City Council reported that 11.9 percent of local Pakistanis were unemployed, compared to 5.4 percent of local Brits. The unemployment problem coincides with a widely recognized substance abuse issue: Birmingham reported in 2010 that the district around the boys club had one of the highest rates of problem drinking in the city.

“We protect them from the streets to make sure that we have a positive influence in their life — to see them develop, to make positive choices in their life, rather than just getting into trouble,” says Charles, 38, who started the ministry after extensive prayer in the neighborhood. “We prayed about it, and we felt that is our direction from God, to just work with these young people.”

In the club, out of trouble

Alum-Rock-Boys-Soccer-300x200Games are the big draw – indoor soccer, pool, ping-pong and video games (the club also sponsors an outdoor soccer team). Between games and Bible lessons, workers at the club help the boys find their place in the world, talk about God – and stay out of the trouble everyone knows is just around the corner.

“It keeps us off the streets to avoid crimes and stuff,” says Faisal, who has been coming to the club for four years. “When you’ve got spare time, here, you’ve got something to do. These people are helping us to avoid that bad stuff and making us good.”

Part of that process is explaining biblical truth to the boys and how it applies to them. Tonight, Brogan is retelling the story Joseph, who faced all kinds of “bad stuff,” but came to understand that God meant it for good.

Brogan uses every ounce of his deep voice – battle-tested during years of youth ministry in the U.S. — to make himself heard over boys’ racket. He uses the parallel stories in Genesis and Surah 12 of the Quran to illustrate how Joseph could have sought revenge on his brothers, who sold him into slavery, and yet chose to forgive them.

“Hearing, seeing and observing God’s biblical truths lived out around them within this setting is something that we hope to continue to reinforce,” Brogan says. “It’s being salt and light within the community so that the love of Christ can be seen.”

Faisal says he’s learned respect and manners from club leaders. An aspiring lawyer, he says about 10 of his friends usually show up on Friday nights to socialize, play soccer and shoot pool.

“We’ve got lots of things to play here, so therefore it’s fun,” he says. “We enjoy coming here.”

Keeping God at center

Whatever the conversation – whether from the Bible or the Quran or just life experiences – the club’s leaders try to get the boys to see life in a different way, Charles says. With a steady stream of kids telling him that they want to be in gangs, do drugs and sell drugs, the goal is always to teach the principles of a godly life.

Alum_Rock_Ping_PongIt’s a common topic for Charles, who hosts a local TV show that he uses to explain the Christian faith in Urdu, Pakistan’s national language. He figures about 70 percent of the boys at the club, all from Muslim households, have watched the show.

“But they still come, because we don’t hide ourselves,” Charles says. “There are no curtains there. We are very truthful in what we stand for, and we’re not shy about our faith.”

Charles wishes he had more help from people like Brogan – people who would spend one or two evenings a week helping guide the young men he works with.

“We have only 40 or 50 boys who come every week — in our district, there are almost 200 boys,” Charles says. “But those who don’t come, they are up to something. And when I say up to something, it’s not nice. You keep hearing, ‘That boy who used to come, now he’s in prison, he’s doing drugs.’ That’s heartbreaking, because our goal is to see everybody who comes be developed.

“They are open. They want something. The last five years they’ve been asking to open another day. We can’t, just because we’re limited in time and resources and manpower and everything.”

What you Can Do

Give

Help the work of the Birmingham City Team by giving online today.

Pray

  • Ask the Father to provide more volunteers to hang out with the boys at the club.
  • Pray that the boys would learn to be men of God and worship him in spirit and in truth.
  • Pray that the boys would continue to bring their friends to the club and stay out of trouble with the law.

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