September 29, 2016

Shenk inspires pacifist churches in Bangladesh to build bridges of peace

Written by  Emily Jones

SALUNGA, Pa. — Assemblies of God churches in Bangladesh have a profound commitment to peacemaking. Five Bangladeshi church districts welcomed Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) Global Consultant David W. Shenk, a widely recognized interfaith specialist, to visit, teach, and encourage their congregations to become even more deeply rooted in Jesus’ way of peace. From Aug. 29–Sept. 10, 2016, Assemblies of God church members across Bangladesh were encouraged to continue breaking down barriers between people by building bridges of dialogue and friendship.

Shenk’s seminars in Bangladesh were organized by Proshanta Roy, a Bangladeshi Assemblies of God pastor. Roy was involved in creating a similar schedule of seminars for Shenk five years ago after hearing him speak on Christian-Muslim relations at an Assemblies of God mission conference in Kenya. Ever since the first seminars, Roy has been requesting that Shenk return to Bangladesh. “The peace of the gospel is needed so badly in our country,” he said. “Pray for Bangladesh and our churches.”   

Roy’s son Timothy Roy, an intern with EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team of which Shenk is a part, acted as Shenk’s translator along with his father. Timothy, a student at Lithuania Christian College, arranged to arrive at college two weeks late in order to accompany Shenk. Shenk was also accompanied by another intern, a young EMM worker. Roy’s wife Linda Halder, assisted by son Theophil Roy, arranged for meals to be provided at every seminar.

Shenk’s peacemaking seminars focused on Christian-Muslim relations, his main area of specialty. His talks were welcomed by the government as a contribution to the Bangladeshi spirit of religious tolerance.

Many members of Shenk’s audiences were new believers from various backgrounds. Many more were pastors and church leaders. Some traveled long distances despite transportation problems caused by flooding rivers and Eid al-Adha festival traffic. Seminars were held at Assemblies of God churches in Faridpur, Gopalgonj, Khulna, and Rangpur.

Most of the five seminars lasted for two days. On the first day, Shenk covered answers to the questions Muslims ask about Christianity. “Many misunderstandings happen because of inadequate answers to the questions,” he said. According to Shenk, the most common questions Muslims ask Christians include: What is the meaning of the Trinity? What are your beliefs about the identity and character of Jesus? How could Christ, as the Messiah, be crucified? Has the Bible been corrupted?

On the second day of seminars, Shenk would facilitate group discussions of four pillars of Christian peacemaking: witness, dialogue, suffering, and hospitality. Shenk said that all of his audiences participated in the discussions with enthusiasm.

Thirty to 45 people attended each seminar. Shenk heard from multiple seminar attendees who felt that his visits had encouraged them as peacemakers. “It makes me so thankful to have a small part in making that happen,” he said. Many participants requested future seminars.

Shenk’s peacemaking seminars were a timely encouragement after the July 2 terror attack that killed 20 internationals, including one U.S. citizen, in the capital city Dhaka. ISIS claimed responsibility for the killings. Due to safety concerns following the attack, the government provided police protection at Shenk’s seminars. Shenk reported that some police took notes throughout the seminars, and one policeman approached him at the end to ask questions.

A memorable moment from Shenk’s trip was traveling to Roy’s village of origin by rowing a leaky canoe through marshland for an hour and a half. Another surprise was a nighttime visit from nine armed policemen. A startled Shenk was relieved to discover they were there to check on his safety.

“When you follow Jesus, you get into the strangest situations,” said Shenk.