The Rev. Matt Walter was returning books to the Tampa library one afternoon when he saw an elderly Arab woman wearing a hijab out of the corner of his eye. He felt the Holy Spirit urge him, Go talk to her.
Matt introduced himself in Arabic and learned the woman was from Syria. She wept when he expressed sympathy about the recent cataclysmic events in her country. Matt took the opportunity to gently share about the healing and hope found in Jesus Christ. She wasn’t ready to accept his message, but Matt knew most Muslims, with their deep reverence for Mohammed, the Koran and the Hadith traditions, don’t accept the truth of Christianity right away. It takes a continued relationship and abundant prayer for them to sacrifice their deeply engrained way of life. But the woman did ask for prayer from the church and some practical help, which Matt was happy to provide.
Matt is both respectful and bold when it comes to faith-sharing with the more than 30,000 Muslims in Tampa, many of whom reside in his northeast neighborhood. Commissioned by Christ the King Anglican Church in Ocala, where he previously served as assistant pastor, Matt, his wife Mave and their family followed a calling from God to use their Arabic language skills and overseas experience to reach Tampa’s burgeoning Muslim population. Matt is uniquely equipped to reach this group after living for a total of 15 years in the Middle East. He spent five years as a child in Iran, then attended language school and majored in Middle Eastern Languages at Yale. As an intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps, he served overseas in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Subsequently, he lived in Jordan as a missionary with his own family and ran the same language school he’d attended.
But even with that background, moving to Tampa to found Tampa Muslim Outreach—a ministry that equips churches to reach Muslims—required a real step of faith. Matt wasn’t sure what the ministry would look like or how he would meet Muslims. But he soon learned God had led their family to a rental home in a neighborhood where they were the minority.
“We moved into the United Nations; we are in ‘New Tampa,’” Matt says. “Anytime we want to meet Muslims we can—they are right here.”
When sharing the Gospel with people he meets, Matt first and foremost relies on prayer. He is also experimenting with an evangelism method called Any-3 by Michael Shipman, while contextualizing other evangelism methods to the needs in Tampa.
“Any-3 gives Muslims a wonderfully interactive way of gleaning information about the gospel using a lot of the things they already understand,” he says. “It leaves open a door for further Bible study even if they are not fully convinced.”
Each day looks different for the roving evangelist. Some days Matt connects with people on Facebook while other days he travels to train a church in Muslim outreach. He gives churches a basic introduction to Islam, urging them to reach out with gentleness and respect. He also reminds Christians they don’t have to completely understand Islam to preach Christ.
“We have the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word and the Gospel and love,” he says. “Those are available to every Christian, so we mustn’t hesitate to witness to Muslims no matter how little we know.”
Many Christians are frozen in their Gospel duties because of the internal tension they feel over Islam and the influx of Muslims into the United States. But Muslims are not the enemy; it’s a spiritual battle, Matt says. In fact, according to Acts 17, God is the one bringing Muslims to us.
“The first letter of John says, ‘Perfect love casts out fear,’” he explains. “If we are experiencing fear and resentment, we are not perfected in love. Muslims are captives of a deceitful philosophy, a system of thought that’s been thrust on them by the elemental forces of this world.”
Some churches need more hands-on instruction than Matt typically provides. After completing a three-hour training session, one church said, “We want to see how this works.” They took Matt to a classroom upstairs where an English as a Second Language program was meeting, and gathered a group of students from Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and Africa. Matt established a quick rapport with them while the church leaders prayed for him in a corner.
“We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun,” Matt says. “I told my testimony and walked them through the Gospel.” Though none of the students immediately professed Christ, the church is now equipped to follow up with them.
Matt’s passion is to see more churches become Muslim evangelism centers, competent and passionate for the evangelization and discipleship of Muslims—to ensure every Muslim in Tampa hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his own life, that can happen in a grocery store, coffee shop or library, one Spirit-led conversation at a time.
“God is really using times like that,” he says.
Learn more at Tampa Muslim Outreach.