January 26, 2016

A different path

Written by  Jonathan Bornman
Andres (middle) and Jonathan (right) role play a Muslim asking a Christian questions while Toni (left) translates. A few of the questions that Muslims often ask are: “Why do you say Trinity?,” “Has the Bible been changed?,” and “How can Jesus be the Son of God?” Andres (middle) and Jonathan (right) role play a Muslim asking a Christian questions while Toni (left) translates. A few of the questions that Muslims often ask are: “Why do you say Trinity?,” “Has the Bible been changed?,” and “How can Jesus be the Son of God?” Photo provided by Andres Prins.

Andres Prins and I were at the tail end of a 15-day trip throughout Germany, sharing with pastors and congregations as well as meeting with imams and other Muslims. I had just shared a sermon on the life of Ishmael (Genesis 17–21) on November 15, 2015, at a church in Halle, Germany. Just two days earlier, Paris had endured a series of devastating attacks from terrorists, ending with three suicide bombers taking their own lives, killing 130 people and wounding 368.

As soon as I finished preaching, John* raced to the front of the church.

“Look at me,” he said. “Ten years ago, I was on the path of becoming a radical Muslim. My thinking was headed in the same direction as that of the terrorists. But someone introduced me to Jesus.” (The story of John’s conversion appeared in the October 2014 issue of In Return.)

“You can touch me,” John told the congregation, spreading his arms wide. “It is possible for a Muslim to know Jesus and be transformed!”

What a fitting testimony to close out our time in Germany. Andres and I are part of EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team (CMRT). EMM workers in Germany and Edwin Boschman, pastor of the Mennonite Church of Thomashof (near Karlsruhe), had invited us to address a number of churches about peaceful outreach to Muslims and hospitality towards immigrants. During our time in Germany, about 450 people heard some type of presentation from us, and we sold 62 pounds of books! (See the accompanying infographic for more details about our trip.)

We made five visits to mosques along with German pastors, and we had a number of deep conversations with Muslims, opening the door to further relationship and growing respect. After attending a rather large service in a small two-story building used as a mosque in Halle, we were able to meet with the imam and a Jordanian professor of Islamic studies from Martin Luther University.

During the conversation with the professor and the imam, the suggestion came up that Muslims know the Bible has been corrupted. I protested, saying, “I’m shocked to hear that an educated man like you would say such a thing. The Bible in Psalm 119 says God’s Word is established and cannot be changed. Likewise the Qur’an also says God’s Word cannot be changed.” I mentioned manuscript evidence and the fact that Muhammad emphasized that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels were holy books from God.

At that point, he asked with some surprise: “Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word?”

I replied, “Yes, of course.” He said that other Christians only accept that some of the words in the Bible are from God and others not.

Our discussion went on to many other subjects. Andres carried the bulk of the conversation. The professor liked our emphasis on peacemaking and relationship building. Andres and I hoped we were modeling a clarity and transparency about our commitment to the Lordship of Jesus and His transforming power in our lives, while at the same time being gentle and respectful. Halfway through our conversation, the professor paused and said, “I hope I am not offending anyone, but I have never talked this openly with Christians ever.” We reassured him that open communication with respect is what we wanted.

“You have your beliefs and we have ours, God will judge between us on the last day. You will remember this conversation on that day,” the professor said.

One of the reasons the CMRT members go to mosques and engage in dialogue is to open up space so that local churches and workers can begin to develop other ministries and activities in the community. When the imams and the wider Muslim community know Christians are working openly with nothing to hide, it makes for much better relationships. In the future, if there is trouble or concerns, people know who to contact. The imam and the professor in Halle now know the EMM workers and a few German pastors.

We also go to the mosque to model respectful dialogue. In our interactions, we are clear about our identity in Christ; we are respectful; we give clear answers to questions about our faith; we work at peaceful relationships for the Muslim and Christian communities; we confront distortions, and we celebrate shared values and the possibility of friendships.

Following our visit that Friday evening, we ate supper at a chili wurst shop with a Muslim friend. We were the only customers and eventually the owner asked what this noisy group of friends was doing: Were we all Christians? Why would Christians and Muslims be hanging out together? We explained our visit to the mosque. Only a few hours later, reports were on the news of the shooting and suicide bombing in Paris. We wondered if those radicalized young men had ever had the opportunity to be befriended by sincere and loving followers of Christ ....

Jonathan Bornman and Andres Prins serve on EMM’s CMRT team. The team is available to speak in churches and small groups. If you are interested in supporting them, or the work of the team, please contact Kaylene Derksen. Learn more about the team's seminars here.