A member at Methacton Mennonite Church, Tiana Martinez, was stirred to action by a sermon delivered by a guest speaker, Pastor Juan Marrero from Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia, a ministry to those in recovery or recently released from prison who need a place to stay. Pastor Juan noted a need for blankets, and Tiana felt the Spirit’s nudge. She set a goal to donate 100 afghans to Crossroads by December 2015 thus launching, “One Stitch at a Time Ministry.” Tiana wondered is others across Franconia Conference would be interested in joining her in this endeavor. She contact her LEADership Minister, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, who helped Tiana connect with other congregations. So far, members of Methacton, Alpha, and Garden Chapel are working together to meet this goal. Participants were able to gather together to crochet and fellowship with each other, building relationships based in ministry between congregations.
The Missional Operations Grant helped to cover the cost of yarn and other necessary supplies to support One Stitch at a Time.
The first Sunday Michelle came to worship with Kairos Community, she reached into her bag and pulled out a beautiful purple hand crocheted shawl. “I hope it’s ok if I wear this,” Michelle said as she draped it over her shoulders. “I use it all the time,” she added. “It helps me feel close to God; like I’m wrapped in God’s warm beautiful love.”
I recognized the prayer shawl. Michelle and her family had a difficult year. In December I invited her to join me in attending Souderton Mennonite Church’s longest night service for those experiencing loss and pain. During that service, Michelle received anointing, prayer, and the shawl from pastors Sandy Drescher-Lehman and Tami Good. As Michelle gathered for worship in our “home church” that evening, I felt incredibly grateful to the women in Souderton Mennonite’s prayer shawl ministry who blessed my friend by gifting their time and hands to lovingly and prayerfully crochet these shawls, a source of art, beauty and comfort. I wondered if the creators had any idea how many lives and hearts they warm.
I never learned to sew. My grandmothers tried to teach me to knit and crochet. Those lessons didn’t go well. But even someone with clumsy hands can admire the quilts, wall hangings, embroidery and wide assortment of cloth items produced by Mennonite women and a few men. Quilting and sewing is a colorful piece of our rich heritage. Although not a part of my personal experience, I feel a sense of loss when, in my work with congregations, I hear that quilting and sewing circles are declining in number. I understand the core of these gatherings to have been a time of fellowship, community building, prayer and ministry. Items made were donated to those in need, given as gifts by the congregation or sold at auction to raise money for mission and ministry. Yet, recently I have come to realize the Spirit is knitting something new but perhaps not all that different into being.
I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from Tiana Martinez, a member of Methacton Mennonite Church. Tiana was stirred to action by a sermon delivered by guest speaker, Pastor Juan Marrero from Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia. Crossroads provides safe and educational space for children and youth, but also has a food assistance program and a thriving prison ministry, which has given birth to a new congregation, Christ Centered Church, attended by many ex-offenders and their families. Pastor Juan noted a need for blankets, and Tiana felt the Spirit’s nudge. She set a goal to donate 100 afghans to Crossroads by December 2015, thus launching “One Stitch at a Time Ministry.” Tiana wondered if others across Franconia Conference would be interested in joining her in this endeavor. So far, members of Methacton, Alpha, and Garden Chapel are working together to meet this goal. Plans are being made for participants to gather together to crochet and fellowship with each other, building relationships based in ministry between congregations.
Tiana’s email opened my eyes. I realized there are a number of people across Franconia Conference who knit and crochet. Some congregations have an established and growing knit/crochet ministry, where people gather together to crochet blankets, prayer shawls, hats and scarves. The soft, warm, brilliantly colored items are donated to those in need or given as gifts from the congregation to newborns, people in the hospital or as lap blankets for the elderly. In fact, Souderton Mennonite gifted me with a prayer shawl for my ordination. Often, the teams of people who create these gifts spend time praying together in advance for those who will receive them. Though the products are different, it seems to me, the crochet/knit ministries and sewing circles share the same core values of ministry, prayer, and fellowship.
A funny thing happened when I told some people in a congregation about Tiana’s ministry. A woman piped up, “I don’t knit or crochet, but I can quilt and knot, would that be helpful?” Of course!
This cold winter and especially as March comes in like a lion, I am inspired by those across Franconia Conference who are quietly wrapping people in God’s warm, comforting, beautiful love, “one stitch at a time.”
If you’re interested in getting involved, Tiana Martinez invites individuals and congregations to help share God’s love “One Stitch at a Time” by crocheting or knitting afghans or donating any color 4-ply yarn. For more information please contact Tiana: email@example.com.
Jenifer Eriksen Morales is the minister of transitional ministries and LEADership minister with Franconia Mennonite Conference.
Methacton Mennonite Church has been connecting people to Jesus since 1739. The land on which the meetinghouse is located was deeded to the Dutch Anabaptist Society–Mennonite/Anabaptist families moving north from Germantown up Germantown Pike–for 5 shillings. The first meetinghouse was built prior to 1771 although the exact date is unknown. A second meetinghouse was erected of stone in 1805 and used as a community school and place of worship. The third and present meetinghouse was erected in 1873.
As Mennonite families moved further north towards Souderton/ Franconia in the following centuries, Methacton congregation found itself moving to the fringes of the larger Mennonite community. This is its gift and its challenge. Without “ethnic Mennonites” (people of Swiss-German descent who grew up in the Mennonite Church) in the community, this church has always needed to draw people from the local community, from the Worcester/Collegeville area, to continue to exist.
We saw this need to turn to our community in the 1940s, when, after dropping to only one member in 1943, a large Summer Bible School program was begun with the help of several families from the Plains congregation. Thus began a new era in the church’s existence. Through this vigorous Summer Bible School outreach into the ‘50s and through the preschool (begun in 1958), community people were drawn into the church and preschool ministry. The preschool continues to the present day.
Methacton has never been a large Mennonite church; it has never been a congregation that could continue to exist on its past, or its own strength of numbers. It has to exist because of a mission and God’s purpose for placing us in our specific context. As we look to the future, we’re trying to reorient ourselves to our local community of Worcester, Norristown, and Collegeville.
We have a diverse membership representing various ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. The common bond is a faith committed to a disciplined life, which is both meaningful and evident in daily living. Our vision statement is “Connecting People to Jesus;” we love connecting, we love people, and we love Jesus.
In 1978 Luke and Dorothy Beidler moved to Kalimantan, Indonesia — where the Dayak people live along wide rivers in a great tropical forest — as pioneer missionaries with Eastern Mennonite Missions.
In a groundbreaking partnership between an Anabaptist mission agency in the global South and two from the West, the Mennonite Mission Board of Indonesia (PIPKA), EMM and Mennonite Central Committee united to send the Beidlers and others from Indonesia and the U.S.
Paul and Esther Bucher were appointed by MCC in 1979 from the U.S. From PIPKA came Pak Darmono in 1977, followed by John Reiner Paulus in 1978 and Gusti Ngurah Filemon in 1980.
EMM already had a long history of sending workers to places where the church did not yet exist, and PIPKA was fired with the same vision. Together they went to West Kalimantan, a region of Indonesia to which Islam had come 300 years before but where a high percentage of its people still followed their traditional religion. MCC contributed skills in community development as well as in verbal Christian testimony.
The Beidlers found in Kalimantan a people who knew of, but did not worship, God.
“God speaks to us through the birds,” the villagers said. “Some are evil, and others are good. When we hear the chirping of the evil birds, we do not go to our fields for three days, and we must sacrifice pigs. We fear the birds.”
The Beidlers learned the Dayak language and began to share the Good News. Traveling by boat and sometimes living on the water in a bandung (house boat), they began initiating fellowships of new believers.
“We heard that when Jesus was baptized, a bird from heaven descended on him, and this was a special sign to us who feared the birds that God himself had come to us,” said believers at Jelemuk, a neighboring congregation. “We no longer fear the birds.”
Now 35 years later there are 19 PIPKA congregations scattered along the region’s rivers.
A team from the International Missions Association, a group of Anabaptist mission bodies, visited the region in March. It consisted of Yesaya Abdi, chair of PIPKA and president of IMA; Dri Soesanto, regional director for PIPKA; Tilahun Beyene, coordinator of IMA, and Richard Showalter; IMA coach and president emeritus.
Since EMM and MCC disengaged from ministry in the region years ago, little has been reported in the West. However, the seed sown then and now by PIPKA is far from dormant.
Everywhere the team went, people remembered the Beidlers, now members of Methacton congregation.
“They spoke our Dayak language, and they spoke it well,” said Pastor Hendrikus Kipa of Melapi.
The Beidlers’ and Buchers’ willingness to live among the Dayak villagers in primitive conditions is long remembered.
“Go back home to the United States and say thank you to the people who sent Luke and Dorothy,” said Petrus Kipa, a young pastor and the son of Hendrikus.
“My grandfather heard the gospel from pastor Luke and met Jesus,” he said, close to tears. “As a result, my father became our pastor at Melapi. And now I’m a grandson in the gospel because of that witness.”
Today many churches comprise half a village’s population. At worship gatherings, the benches are filled with children, fathers, mothers, grandpas and grandmas. Village chiefs are staunch members of the congregations.
In the village of Uchung Bayur, Pastor Yusak Sudarmanto led the people in preparing an elaborate ceremony of welcome to the team of visitors from Jakarta, Ethiopia and the U.S. Dancers led a procession to the meetinghouse, festooned with palms, lights and ribbons. Seventy-five children formed a great choir.
The congregation Sudarmanto leads dominates the spiritual life of the village, but this brings challenges as well as rewards.
“What do I do when two of the candidates for village chief are in my congregation and they want our support against other candidates?” he asked. “I believe it would harm the church to take sides politically, but threats come if I don’t.”
Abdi, Soesanto, Beyene and Showalter offered encouragement and prayer, noting that tough political questions can torture church leaders in Kalimantan forests as well as in Jakarta and Lancaster, Pa.
The visiting team did more than observe. They preached, sharing reports of growth and opposition in the global church, with a special focus on Ethiopia and the Middle East. The villagers turned out in force even at inconvenient hours.
After visiting the PIPKA congregations, the team made its way to the isolated mountainous region of Silat Hulu, where PIPKA had been invited for a conference of pastors and revival meetings among churches planted by Worldwide Evangelization for Christ missionaries.
Abdi used peanuts to illustrate financial giving. Beyene told stories of the Ethiopian underground church to people who had never heard of Ethiopia.
Dri Soesanto, the PIPKA regional administrator, frequents the Putussibau region, helping maintain contact with the national and global Anabaptist community.
“The mission to Kalimantan is a model for partnership between agencies from different nations,” Abdi said. “Decades later, the fruit keeps growing.”
What happens when a youth group from a 274-year-old congregation (Methacton) meets with the youth from a community outreach that is just about a year old (Arise)? What happens when you then pile those youth in a couple of vans and drive two hours to a cabin where they will be cooped up for a couple of days? What happens when you add to this mix three 50-something-year-old leaders who want to connect with these kids and have a serious discussion about being peacemakers? You get a weekend when all of us learned a lot about each other and probably a little more about ourselves, a weekend when we all learned that we can have a lot of fun together.
The teenagers could not have been more different. The ethnic differences were the first to fade away and as we got to know each other better, a variety of other differences began to surface. The students were raised and shaped in different contexts and by different influences. Some attend church regularly, others don’t. They came from five different high schools, each of which had its own culture and its own idea of what is cool. One youth described the car that they wanted their grandfather to buy for their 16th birthday. How must that have sounded to the person next to them who never knew their grandparents and for whom the hope of owning a car seemed so far out of reach?
Despite our differences, we were able to bond and soon shared freely about ourselves and our lives. Our discussions centered around peace issues; more than just war or mass shootings, we talked about an attitude of peace. The youth shared about bullying, social media abuse, and sports violence. For the older leaders, it was sad to see how the very activities we used participate in for relaxation and community building have turned into a competitive, anxiety-causing force. Even the cheerleaders shared how their focus was less on encouraging their team and more on degrading the other team. How do we become peacemakers in this environment?
We were so blessed to have Ron Wycoff-Kolb along. Ron shared passionately about how God convicted him to become a conscientious objector even though he had voluntarily joined the military during the Vietnam War. We listened intently as he told the story of his family’s rejection and the price he had to pay for following this call to peacemaking. We were challenged; in the end, a diverse group of teens and a few post-mid-lifers found some common ground. May all of us be brave enough to take a costly stand for peace, whatever our context and whatever our age.
Three days after Hurricane Sandy swept through south-eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, members of Franconia Conference are still cleaning up from massive flooding, downed trees and power lines, and extensive power outages.
Communication has been challenging and reports are trickling in–entire communities are still without power, dealing with road closures, and running short on supplies as gas stations and grocery stores are also without electricity.
Some of the reports we have heard:
Power is still out at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.), Doylestown (Pa.), Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.), Methacton (Norristown, Pa.) and Garden Chapel (Dover, NJ) facilities.
Most of the Garden Chapel congregation is without power, although there have been no reports of damage to homes or the church building.
Methacton had and continues to have flooding in their basement/fellowship hall. Without electricity, they are unable to pump the water out.
Many members of congregations along the Rte. 113 corridor around Souderton, Pa., are without power, as are the Conference Center offices and the Souderton Center, which is owned by Franconia Conference. Penn View Christian School—the site of next weekend’s Conference Assembly—is also without electricity. These power outages extend as far north as Allentown and as far east as the Delaware River.
Despite reports of wider damage in Philadelphia, Franconia congregations in the city survived the hurricane mostly unscathed.
In the midst of such wide-spread destruction, conference congregations are finding opportunities to minister to one another and their communities:
A young mother at Doylestown congregation made meals and delivered them to members of her congregation who were without power.
Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, once their own electricity was restored, opened their facilities to anyone in the community who needed heat, bathrooms, clean water, or a place to plug in their electronic devices. They also expanded their weekly Community Meal to include those who needed a hot dinner.
Individuals throughout the region have opened their homes to friends and neighbors without power, delivered supplies to those who are stuck at home because of blocked roads, and brought their chainsaws to aid in the cleanup.
Members of Ripple Allentown (Pa.) who were without power met at their pastors’ home for a meal and to “warm up a bit,” reported Carolyn Albright. “It was a holy, blessed time together.”
Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership for Franconia Conference, received two emails from conference congregations encouraging members to share their resources with others in their congregation and neighborhoods. “Often we try to get beyond these things to get to the work of church,” Kolb reflected, “but this IS church. This is really the stuff of church.”
Because of the challenges of communication, conference staff has not been able to contact all conference congregations to learn of current conditions, needs, and relief efforts. If you have any information, please report it to your LEADership Minister or any member of conference staff—don’t assume that the staff already know about it.
If your congregation and neighborhood has made it through relatively unscathed, please check in with other congregations in your region to see how you can help; also consider how your congregation’s facility or aid can help the greater community.
If you are aware of relief efforts or needs, please report these to conference staff so that they can connect needs with resources. The conference email and phones are up and running.
On Monday, as the hurricane was approaching, Michael King, a member of Salford and the dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, Va.), sent out an email to seminary students and staff. “I don’t know precisely how we theologize at a time like this,” King wrote. “Jesus teaches that the rain falls on the just and the unjust and that tragedies are not signs that we’re out of God’s favor. The Bible is also rich with images of God’s care, of God as the mother who shelters us under tender wings. My loved ones, your loved ones, and all of us are in my heart and prayers amid the yearnings for God’s shelter.”
What is the spiritual commitment that is at the core of our identity as an Anabaptist community and followers of Jesus, who “for the sake of the joy set before him, endured the cross”?
For me, figuring that out far from home, in the middle of the violence of Dublin, Ireland in the 1980s meant integrating other Christian traditions with the practices of my plain grandmother. All these practices – together – have nurtured my life as I try to live out discipleship, peacemaking, and witness.
I think other Mennonites in urban and mobile settings are trying to figure this out, too. I’ve received requests from churches in Toronto, Champaign-Urbana, Evanston, and Montreal to come and talk about spiritual practices, commitment, and depth. They want to talk about how to cultivate a Mennonite spirituality that makes sense in today’s world. (And also, interestingly enough, requests came from Franklin Conference, in central Pennsylvania. Even in our more rural heartlands we are asking the question: How can we be more aware of and intentional about our spiritual practices?).
To be conformed to Christ, to be formed by Christ, we need to spend very significant time with his words and in his presence, corporately and privately. I am convinced of the centrality of Jesus and of the encounter with the Risen Christ through the Scriptures as a way to anchor Mennonites (and all Christians) in [what could be called a] Dark Night transitional time.
Nelson Kraybill, at the time president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), said the “church . . . must be centered on Jesus. . . . Transforming ministry requires sustained encounter with God made known in Jesus Christ. . . . When the risen Lord is the center of our lives, the Spirit will empower us to speak and act in ways that honor the One who shows us the face of God.” The centrality of Jesus Christ is not an unfamiliar theme to Mennonite-Anabaptists, who grew out of medieval movements practicing the imitation of Christ (imitatio Christi).
“Finding a centering rather than a fracturing experience” is how one AMBS seminary student described what happened as he worked on spiritual formation in the 1980s at AMBS. Finding a centering experience is key. That is what [spiritual] disciplines and contemplative prayer do for us. Some people find themselves in a tremendous balancing act, juggling their lives, family and profession. They need something to hold everything together—a deep anchoring in Christ. Centering or contemplative prayer allow us to center in on our experience with God, become anchored in Jesus, as a way to give some coherence to an increasingly fractured existence.
In my grandmother’s life, this coherence was provided by an ordered life that centered around a particular place that never changed for her. The place we meet God now is often “in Jesus” through the contemplative disciplines. Some Mennonites are using these now as spiritual formation tools—silence, solitude, daily personal prayer time, spiritual direction, contemplative/listening prayer, lectio divina.
One suggestion: Teach people in Sunday school how to practice listening prayer and lectio divina. Also offer special weeks of prayer where people commit to reading a Scripture daily, meeting daily for half-an-hour with a spiritual director, and meeting with a group for faith-sharing at the end of the week. Take Sunday school classes on weekend retreats following the suggested retreat outlines in the book Soul Care: How to Plan and Guide Inspirational Retreats. We need a concerted congregational effort to help people learn to pray, to listen to and talk to God, to read Scripture in a listening mode (lectio divina), to ask, What is God saying to me today through this Scripture? And we need to accompany them as spiritual friends or in spiritual direction as they try to pray.
–Reflections on and from A Mennonite Woman: Exploring Spiritual Life and Identity by Dawn Ruth Nelson, available from Cascadia, Amazon, or on Kindle. E-mail Dawn.
In a sermon titled Transformed Nonconformist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority” (Strength to Love, 27).
To “Mennonite” is to be creatively maladjusted to a society that promotes materialism, nationalism, militarism, and violence.
I was introduced to the Mennonite/Anabaptist perspective at Providence and Methacton more than thirty years ago. This was the era of Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Doris Jantzen Longacre’s Living More with Less. The lifestyle of simplicity and service such books advocated captured my imagination in a big way. My sister describes me to her friends as “almost Amish,” and, in some ways, I suppose I am. We decided to raise our children without Santa Claus or television. A clothesline replaced the dryer and kept us connected in some small way with the rhythms of the natural world. We built a little house in the woods and lived on one income so I could be a full-time stay-at-home mom until my daughters were in high school.
Such non-conformity to the standards of culture is only possible if one takes Jesus seriously, not only on Sunday morning but in every encounter and experience throughout the week. This was something I saw modeled in the first “salt of the earth” Mennonites I met. Doing so means thoughtfully considering what following Jesus looks like in decisions big and small—the purchases one makes, the words one speaks, the actions one takes, how one spends his/her time. Should I spend a little more for organic produce? Do I really need that new dress? Can I skip that trip and take a walk instead? How do I speak the truth in love in this delicate situation? Will doing this honor/model Christ?
To “Mennonite” also means taking community seriously. I was rebaptized and became a member of the Mennonite Church on my first wedding anniversary. One of the most memorable questions posed to me as part of this public confession was, “Are you willing to give and receive counsel in the congregation?” The mutual accountability and responsibility inherent in the question continues to remind me that we are in this relationship together. Everyone, I think, needs to have someone in his/her life who loves him/her enough to risk speaking the truth, however painful it may be. The vulnerability this demands of both giver and receiver is powerfully present each Holy Week in the simple act of kneeling before each other to wash feet. But the love symbolized in this annual ritual is evident throughout the year as we celebrate life’s milestones, care for children, prepare meals, clean houses, move possessions, offer advice, or listen with a sympathetic ear.
This spring I did a six-week class on memoir writing at the Mennonite Heritage Center. Our last assignment included considering a possible title for our would-be memoir based on the writing we had done during the class. I called mine “Closet Rebel,” and the Mennonites are largely to blame. I am grateful to those who “Mennonite” at Ambler and Methacton for giving me the space and encouragement I needed for my quiet rebellion against the status quo. They have accepted me wholeheartedly, creatively maladjusted as I am.
Next week, Noah Kolb, a forty-year minister in Mennonite congregations, will wrestle with his splintered heritage of faith and practice. How do you “Mennonite”? Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.
Luke and Dot Beidler were recognized for their lives of ministry, service, and stewardship at the joint Franconia and Eastern District Conference Assembly on November 11. Everence representative, Randy Nyce, presented Luke and Dot with the organization’s National Journey Award for excellent stewardship of time, money, and service.
“We’d like to return that honor and praise to God,” Luke responded. Dot agreed. “My heart is really warmed by a God that provides paths for us to go on,” she shared. “And as we say yes to the opportunities we have in life, we find God is all-sufficient. . . . Even if what we have doesn’t seem like enough, God makes it enough.”
From a young age, Luke and Dot experienced the sufficiency of God. As children, they moved with their families to Haycock Township (Pa.) to join a mission effort that led to the planting of Franconia Conference congregations like Rocky Ridge, Salem, and Steel City.
High school sweethearts, Luke and Dot married after graduating from Eastern Mennonite College in 1965. They wanted to participate in mission and enthusiastically accepted an inivitation to serve as missionaries in Vietnam with Eastern Mennonite Missions.
In Vietnam, they saw the reality of war up close. Some friends and fellow missionaries didn’t make it home. Luke and Dot struggled with their need to depend on a government to airlift them out when the fighting intensified and their children’s lives became endangered. How should a pacifist respond?
Back in the states, Luke returned to school, this time at the University of Pittsburgh to study anthropology and international education. In that university environment, he and Dot discovered that their Vietnam experience made them particularly sensitive to the anti-war crowd. “We were as hippy as you could be,” Luke recently told a class of seminary students. Then he laughed. “On the inside.”
But their heart was still for mission and in 1976 the Beidlers joined Mennonite Central Committee in a partnership with local missionaries in Indonesia. Their years on the island of Borneo shaped their identities as they learned about true simplicity: living without electricity, washing clothes and bathing in the river, and eating whatever food was available.
When their children reached high school age, Luke and Dot returned the family to Pennsylvania where the teens enrolled in Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. Luke served as the Missions Secretary for Franconia Conference while Dot taught at Penn View Christian School.
After ten years of serving in the conference, Luke and Dot were ready to move back to the fringe. Luke was invited to serve as an associate pastor of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life in 1995 and, one year later, he and Dot purchased a home next door to the church building. It had been converted into apartments by a former missionary to provide low-income housing. The Beidlers felt called to continue this mission.
For the last 15 years, they have lived alongside their residents and they have come to love their home as well as their neighbors. Luke tends the gardens around their building and the church property. “We feel safe in community with a household,” Dot believes. “Urban issues have taken on faces as we live in this place. We hope to grow old here. “
Dot has worked for 15 years in a before- and after-school program in Norristown. Luke continued in his pastoral role at Nueva Vida until 2007 while also serving at Methacton beginning in 2003. Although he formally retired in March, he and Dot continue to worship at Methacton. Ministry, for them, is a life-long calling.
“Get involved in a local congregation, serve in every way you can, take opportunities to cross cultures and learn from others at home and abroad,” they encourage young leaders. “Enter into life and faith with all your hearts.”
Norristown, PA — “The greatest challenge the church is facing today is the rapid rise of Islam around the world.” It was a bold statement, but Dr. Andrew Bush, a missionary, church planter, and professor of missiology, believes that this challenge is one the church is called to engage.
“As representatives of Christ we stand at a historic hour in which we have the opportunity to show the true love of Jesus to the Muslim world,” said Bush at a workshop on improving Muslim-Christian relations held at Methacton Mennonite Church on May 5. Bush is a professor at Eastern University in St. David’s, PA and attends Methacton Mennonite Church.
The growth of Islam is not just on foreign soil–Pennsylvania has one of the largest Muslim populations in the US. Courtney Smith of Lansdale, Pa., noted that several of her neighbors were Muslim. And that her ongoing conversations have at times left her unsure about the relationship between Islam and Christianity. “Muslims insist that we worship the same God, the God of Abraham,” Bush responded. But if that’s the case, “we have different understandings of God.” Islam believes that Jesus was the world’s greatest prophet, next to Muhammad, but it rejects Christ’s divinity and crucifixion, believing instead that Jesus was taken up alive to God.
And that, Bush said excitedly, is where conversation can begin. “Jesus is alive—we both agree on that.”
Jesus is highly respected in the Muslim faith as a teacher, moral leader, and even the Messiah. The tragedy, in Bush’s view, is that in the rejection of the cross Muslims miss the victory of Christ’s work. Considering the story Jesus told of the shepherd searching for his lost sheep, Bush pointed out, “Jesus is probably spending more time among Muslims than among us.”
Friendships with Muslims begin with the conversion of your own heart, according to Bush. Those who want to build relationships must become students of Islam, learning to understand the faith as Muslims understand it. Although the Bible also has verses that are hard to explain, Muslims are often harassed for portions of the Quran that Westerners consider offensive. But keep an open mind, Bush encourages, because “you can’t judge a religion by its worst verse.”
Islam has already made up its mind about Jesus, so why should we care about building bridges? “It is the revelation of the love of Jesus that compels us,” responded Bush, a former missionary to Mexico and the Philippines. “My concern is that Muslims hear the gospel of Jesus, see the gospel of Jesus. . . experience Jesus.”
Listen to highlights from the May 5th breakfast with Dr. Andrew Bush: