May 19, 2016

Kenya Mennonite Church invites EMM workers to equip churches for Christian-Muslim relations

Written by  Emily Jones
At a Christian-Muslim relations seminar at Eastleigh Fellowship Centre in Eastleigh, Kenya, Christian participants, including Nairobi Mennonite Church pastor Rebecca Osiro (right), work in small groups to study and discuss how to improve relations with Muslims. EMM Christian/Muslim Relations Team members Jonathan Bornman and David Shenk held several such seminars in Kenya in April and May. At a Christian-Muslim relations seminar at Eastleigh Fellowship Centre in Eastleigh, Kenya, Christian participants, including Nairobi Mennonite Church pastor Rebecca Osiro (right), work in small groups to study and discuss how to improve relations with Muslims. EMM Christian/Muslim Relations Team members Jonathan Bornman and David Shenk held several such seminars in Kenya in April and May. Photo provided by Jonathan Bornman.

NAIROBI, Kenya — David Shenk and Jonathan Bornman, members of Eastern Mennonite Missions’ (EMM) Christian/Muslim Relations Team (CMRT), traveled to Kenya at the invitation of the Kenya Mennonite Church (KMC) from April 27 – May 8, 2016. The CMRT, started by Shenk, works to build “bridges of loving and respectful connection between Christians and Muslims, while faithfully confessing Christ,” as expressed in the team’s mission statement. During the visit to Kenya, Bornman and Shenk’s aim was to assist KMC in developing a vision for healthy Christian-Muslim relations as the Muslim community in Western Kenya develops and grows, and to lead seminars and workshops aimed toward dialogue and constructive Christian witness between Christians and Muslims.

Bornman and Shenk’s first seminar took place on April 29–30 in Malindi, Kenya, a small majority Muslim city. The seminar included about 20 participants from five local churches. Many participants were young men and women, even teenagers, and all were accustomed to interaction with Muslim friends, schoolmates, and co-workers. Bornman said, “My perception is that they were deeply encouraged by our 1 Peter 3:15 message of gentle, respectful witness.”

On May 5, Bornman and Shenk conducted a Christian-Muslim relations workshop for the senior leadership of KMC at Amani Gardens Inn in Nairobi. Over 20 church leaders from various areas in Kenya attended, including KMC and other Anabaptist church leaders, bishops from different regions in Kenya, and attendees from Spreading Peace to All Nations (SPAN), KMC’s mission organization. After Shenk presented key differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs and worldviews, Bornman and KMC General Secretary Samson Omondi led the audience in an interactive discussion of four topics: dialogue, witness, peacemaking, and hospitality, all in relation to Christian-Muslim communication. (This discussion was repeated at each seminar.) Bornman said that he was surprised at the passion with which participants explored these topics.

Bornman and Shenk participated in dynamic dialogues with members of the Eastleigh Muslim community at Eastleigh Fellowship Centre on May 6–7. The moderated dialogues included presentations by Christians (including Shenk) and Muslims, as well as questions and answers between Christian and Muslim audience members. The first dialogue was themed on “The cross from a perspective of reconciliation.” The theme of the second was “Who is Jesus?” The dialogues spurred much conversation, even after the event had officially ended.

After the dialogues, Bornman and Shenk used their spare moments to interact with Eastleigh locals. While waiting for a taxi at a tea shop, Bornman asked a young Somali refugee if he had any prayer needs. The man replied, “I want to go to paradise.” Bornman responded, “I am a follower of Jesus, and Jesus makes the way to paradise very clear.” Bornman said he was very thankful for the man’s open confession.

At each seminar, Bornman and Omondi worked with their audiences to develop specific implementation steps to ensure growth in healthy Christian-Muslim dialogue and interaction. Throughout the CMRT members’ time in Kenya, they also met with individuals and organizations such as PROCMURA (Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa), Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) area representatives, and EMM workers in Kenya. At the beginning and end of the trip, Bornman and Shenk worked with KMC to discuss and evaluate Christian-Muslim relations education in the church.

Between them, Shenk and Bornman also preached in a total of four churches. Bornman reported that after speaking at Mumweni Mennonite Church in Mombasa, where he delivered a sermon titled “Salvation for the Rejected” based on Ishmael’s story in Genesis 21, a church member told him that she had grown up Muslim and remained close with her Muslim relatives. She thanked him for his message and his kind posture towards Muslims.

View photo gallery here.