March 3, 2016

“Understanding Your Muslim Neighbors” workshop in Lititz held by members of EMM Christian/Muslim Relations team

Written by  Emily Jones
Bornman invites audience interaction as he explains Muslim beliefs and practices at the “Understanding Your Muslim Neighbors” workshop. Bornman invites audience interaction as he explains Muslim beliefs and practices at the “Understanding Your Muslim Neighbors” workshop. Photo provided by Emily Jones.

LITITZ, Pa. – Many first-time meetings between members of the different faiths are characterized by “a tremendous amount of fear,” says Jonathan Bornman, a member of Eastern Mennonite Missions’ Christian/Muslim Relations Team who has facilitated many interactions between Christians and Muslims. As part of his efforts to reduce fear and increase understanding, Bornman, along with his colleague Andres Prins, held a workshop titled “Understanding your Muslim Neighbors” at Lititz Mennonite Church on February 27, 2016.

Sharon Brubaker, outreach coordinator at Lititz Mennonite Church and organizer of the event, estimated that 35 people from Lititz Mennonite Church as well as other churches were in attendance. The workshop included a breakfast and three sessions led by Bornman and Prins over the course of the morning.

The first session included a brief history of Islam, an overview of basic Muslim beliefs and practices, and an explanation of the Muslim understanding of divine revelation. After a break, Bornman and Prins spent the second session roleplaying faith-centered conversations that Muslim tend to have with Christian acquaintances or friends. The material in the roleplay was developed from interactions Prins and Bornman have had with an imam at a mosque in Lancaster City, as well as hundreds of other conversations with Muslims.

During the roleplay, Prins, who played a Christian, and Bornman, who played a Muslim, discussed Christian understandings of prayer, Jesus’ crucifixion and divine Sonship, the Trinity, Scripture, and prophets. After the roleplay, Bornman said that he believes many Muslims are deeply and sincerely curious about what Christians really believe.

In the third and last session, Bornman and Prins spoke on unleashing the power of hospitality. They each shared stories of positive interactions between Christians and Muslims, including the story of a Christmas celebration on December 13, 2015, for about 100 refugees, many of whom were Muslim, at Mount Joy Mennonite Church, where Bornman is a member.

Brubaker said she organized the event to help broaden understanding of others, increase tolerance and dialogue between people of different faiths, and to offer alternative ways of seeing others, more nuanced than the views portrayed in the media.

Workshop attendees took the opportunity to ask questions about Islam-related information that they had heard from media reports and other sources. One attendee asked Bornman and Prins to comment on former Wheaton professor Larycia Hawkins’ recent statement that the Muslim and Christian God are the same, and her subsequent split from the college. Another attendee asked why imams are not speaking out to distinguish their faith communities from Muslim extremists. Another said that he had been taught in childhood that Muslims are encouraged to practice violence.

Throughout the workshop, Bornman stressed that Christ-followers should live out their commitment to the Lordship of Christ with Muslim friends just as they would with anyone else. “It’s surprising how many things Christians and Muslims share,” he said. At the end of the workshop, Bornman provided a sign-up sheet where workshop attendees could indicate interest in the possibility of visiting a mosque in the future. Prins closed the workshop with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic.