By Laura McKillip Wood
When David and Annette Dryden decided to work as missionaries, they did not realize they would end up working with Muslims. They originally moved to Crimea, which was then part of Ukraine, to plant churches among Ukrainians. “In the process, God showed us the unreached Muslims in Crimea who were not being engaged effectively by the local church.” That observation led to a determined focus on reaching Crimea’s large population of Tatars, a people group who are historically Muslim.
David began attending the local mosque three times a week. At first he went just to get to know people in their village, but eventually he formed valuable relationships with those he met there. He even got opportunities to read the Bible and talk about Jesus. During their seven years in Ukraine, the Drydens partnered with local believers who had a background in Islam and equipped them to reach Muslims across Crimea. They helped start two house churches and helped the local church become more aware of the need to reach out to their Tatar neighbors. “Essentially, we worked alongside Christians, encouraging and equipping them to become skilled at engaging in outreach among unreached Muslims.”
Unexpected New Start
When Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, David and Annette and their three children left their home. Originally planning to return when the political situation settled, they packed only two suitcases and drove 19 hours to the city of Lviv, in the western portion of the country. They have not been able to return since then and ended up settling in Cincinnati, Ohio. “We aren’t sad to have left all of our possessions as much as we are sad that we had to leave friends. Our coworkers and local team had become like family,” they said.
However, since leaving Crimea the Drydens have begun working with Crescent Project (crescentproject.org) in southwest Ohio. This organization was started by Fouad Masri, a Lebanese man who came to the U.S. as a student and realized the great number of unmet needs that immigrants and other internationals have when they move to America.
When American Christians think of missionaries, they think of people sent to other countries to live, but Crescent Project has a different approach. They train Christians in America to reach out to the Muslims in their communities. Crescent Project realizes that relationships between American Christians and Muslims are often strained and uncomfortable because of misunderstandings between the two groups. Their goal is to educate Christians so they feel comfortable forming friendships with their neighbors and, through those friendships, share the love of Christ.
According to the Drydens, there are more than 45,000 Muslims in the greater Cincinnati area. The second largest Somali population outside of Somalia is in nearby Columbus, Ohio. David and Annette are now training and mobilizing American Christians to begin relationships with Muslims who live in their neighborhoods or work with them. “It is imperative that our communities are prepared to meet them, to serve them, and to reflect Christ as these immigrants learn about their new home.”
It’s no longer necessary to leave home in order to reach people from other countries. Immigrants are particularly needy. Meeting their needs reflects the love of Christ to them during a vulnerable time in their lives.
Communicating Clearly & Effectively
Careful communication is important in this ministry. David and Annette said that one of the most challenging things about working with Muslims has been keeping their own attitudes in check. In order to effectively communicate with people from the Muslim faith, they need to hone their ability to empathize with them and learn not to lose focus of their goal of reaching them with Jesus’ love. “I need to constantly check my heart to be sure that I am reflecting Christ’s character and not simply defending theological positions,” David said.
They also assert that it is important to focus not just on God removing the guilt associated with sin when a person accepts him but to also show that God removes shame and restores honor as well. “It is when a Muslim experiences Christ that he begins asking questions—not when he loses an argument.” As a result, the most rewarding part of their ministry is “seeing the Holy Spirit slowly transform a friend into a brother—and being part of that process!”
If you’re interested in receiving the Drydens’ monthly updates or just want to contact them, you can email them (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).