David W. Shenk: An ambassador of Christ’s peace

Bishop Amos Muhagachi (center) and David W. Shenk (left), presenting “A Muslim and a Christian in dialogue” in Swahili to Jikaya Kikwete (right), then President of Tanzania, who requested 200 copies.

LANCASTER, Pa. — David W. Shenk, 85, of Lititz, Pa., went to be with the Lord on January 31, 2023. David was an ambassador of Christ’s peace who devoted his life to serving God through missions and the church.

In his memoir, “A gentle boldness,” David concluded by reflecting on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:20. David wrote that he and his wife Grace “were seeking to celebrate the peace of Jesus … Jesus commissions us to be his ambassadors of peace.” Indeed, that is what David has been: an ambassador of Christ’s peace!

“David’s legacy will continue to have a profound impact on me and the work of EMM for years to come. His commitment to Christ — and his gentle and bold approach to relationships — modeled a spirit-empowered life that effectively ministered across numerous cultural and religious landscapes,” said Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) President Marvin Lorenzana.

“Only God knows how many people around the world were inspired to say ‘yes’ to Jesus because of the faithful example and gifted teaching of David Shenk. We count it a great gift from God that he spent most of his 85 years connected to EMM, and we grieve his passing even as we gratefully celebrate his life and ministry,” said EMM Mission Team Director Lorri Bentch.

David had a life-long passion for relating lovingly and respectfully to Muslims while confessing Christ as Lord, which led to the founding of the EMM Christian-Muslim Relations Team in 2012. Current team leader Jonathan Bornman said, “David’s legacy is the people he has impacted and connected with over his lifetime. His life and the materials he has written have blazed a trail for helping the church and all Christ followers to share a Jesus-centered faith in a multi-faith world.”

David grew up in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) as a child of EMM missionaries Clyde and Alta Shenk. From 1959 to 1961, he served as a youth worker in New York City. In 1963, he returned to Africa, along with his wife, Grace, and their two daughters, to Somalia, where he taught and developed curriculum along with UNESCO and the Somali Department of Education.

In 1973, David and his wife Grace relocated, with their two daughters and two sons, to Nairobi, Kenya, where he served as pastor of the Nairobi Mennonite Church and professor at Kenyatta University College. His vision for supporting the majority-Muslim suburb community in Eastleigh, Nairobi, led to the formation of the Eastleigh Fellowship Center, which provided library services and English lessons for Muslims. Today, Eastleigh Fellowship Center is a thriving hub of dialogue and friendship between Muslims and Christians and offers numerous education and sports programs.

While at Eastleigh, a student asked David to recommend a Bible study about the gospel that Muslims would understand. David realized that he knew of none and resolved to write one: “The people of God,” which has now been translated into 40 languages.

As a professor at Kenyatta University College, David developed a friendship with a Muslim colleague, Badru Kateregga. In 1980, the two partnered to publish a book titled “A Muslim and a Christian in dialogue,” which has now been translated into at least 12 languages.

A time of transition in David’s career and family brought him back to the United States where he served as director of EMM’s Home Ministries, based in Salunga, Pa, from 1980 to 1986 and as director of Overseas Ministries from 1987 to 1998. He went on to become dean of Lithuania Christian College (now LCC International University) from 1998 to 2002. Beginning in 2003, David served worldwide as a global consultant for EMM with a focus on Muslim ministries.

David was the author or co-author of 18 books, including “Global gods,” “Journeys of the Muslim nation and the Christian church,” “Teatime in Mogadishu,” and “Christian. Muslim. Friend.” His final book, a memoir, is titled “A gentle boldness: sharing the peace of Jesus in a multi-faith world.”

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 18, at 10:30 a.m. at Mellinger Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pa. There will be visitation with the family at the church from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, February 17, and from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 18, prior to the service. The service will be live-streamed on the website of Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be given to the David and Grace Shenk Legacy Endowment Fund, a fund created by EMM in 2020 to honor David and Grace’s life of ministry. This fund supports the work of the Christian-Muslim Relations Team and provides resources to equip Christians around the world to nurture life-giving relationships with Muslims through dialogue, witness, peacemaking, and hospitality.