SASKATOON, SK, Canada — David W. Shenk, a global consultant with Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM), served as the keynote speaker for this year’s Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) National Conference on May 26–29, 2016. The theme of the 2016 conference, which was attended by Christian medical professionals from Canada, was “Welcoming strangers.”
As the keynote speaker, Shenk gave three plenary addresses themed around hospitality on May 27, 28, and 29. The first was titled “The Horrendous Consequence of Hospitality Denied.” In this address, Shenk spoke on the “legacy of separation and abandonment” in the historical roots of many faiths, focusing especially on the effects of this legacy in Islam and Christianity. He linked the current Middle Eastern conflicts and the refugee crisis to a history of loss and loneliness.
“Abandonment is a theme that runs deeply through the soul of all Muslim communities. … Our calling is to be emissaries of Jesus whose touch is healing for the memories of abandonment,” Shenk wrote in a paper distributed to guests.
Shenk’s second session,“The Enormous Obstacles to Reciprocal Hospitality,” confronted the theological, philosophical, ideological, and religious obstacles to respecting and welcoming strangers. Finally, his address on “The Astounding Blessing of Welcoming the Stranger” shared stories of reconciliation and peacemaking through Christ. One such story was that of Rev. Paulus Hartono, a Mennonite church leader in Java, Indonesia, who has made great strides in developing good relations between Christians and Muslims in the midst of hostility.
“Canadian Christians are entrusted by God to carry forward the ministry of welcoming the stranger in the local community and from shore to shore across this wonderful land. We need to reflect upon and be encouraged by accounts of life-giving expressions of welcoming the stranger,” said Shenk.
Shenk and his wife, Grace Shenk, were invited to the conference at the suggestion of Dr. Peter Block, former president and current member of CMDS, and his wife, Arlene Block. The Blocks served on the planning committee for the 2016 CMDS conference. Their first contact with Shenk occurred in 1997, when they heard him speak at Mennonite World Conference in Calcutta, India.
Shenk specializes in Islam and has spent many years promoting Christian-Muslim relations. David and Grace Shenk currently use their expertise in and experience with Christian-Muslim relations to serve on EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team. Though Grace Shenk did not speak publicly at the conference, David Shenk said that her spirit of hospitality among the guests embodied the hospitality that he spoke about.
Of the theme for this year’s CMDS National Conference, Dr. Block said that “Welcoming strangers” was chosen because medical professionals in Canada are seeing an increase in refugees and people from all over the world. Missions has always been an important part of CMDS’s mandate, with many members serving overseas short-term or long-term, he said. The Blocks themselves served as missionaries for 22 years, including three years as EMM missionaries in Ethiopia. In recent years Dr. Block said they felt that the mission field has come to them.
As a longtime cross-cultural missionary, Shenk was impressed by the commitment of many CMDS members to overseas missions. He commented that throughout the conference, wherever he and Grace Shenk sat, they encountered people who had served internationally.
Dr. Block felt that Shenk’s addresses resonated with CMDS National Conference guests, mentioning that Shenk’s books for sale at the conference sold rapidly. “Many appreciated [Shenk’s] experience and knowledge about Islam very much, as they are getting more and more Muslim patients — and also neighbors,” said Block. “One person commented, ‘David is the Holy Spirit’s man for us at this time.’”