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Over the April 6-7, 2018, weekend, a seminar series titled “People of the Book and Muslims,” took place at the main auditorium of the Village SDA Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Joe Reeves, the Village Church youth pastor, cured me of my lethargy, when towards the conclusion of his introductory remarks announced almost nonchalantly that, the program will not be streamed “due to the sensitive nature of some of the material to be presented.” In addition, he added, no recordings or picture-taking of any of the events of the weekend was permitted.
This took me completely by surprise because the program was openly advertised in the community for all. I was attending the program in the twin roles of a reporter (for Spectrum) and one interested in the subject. Because of accuracy requirements for reporting, I had a note pad to jot down what I considered important, and my phone set to audio record. So, with this unanticipated prohibition ringing in my ears, I quickly turned off the recorder. But I was unsure whether note-taking counted as a violation of the no- recording rule. I convinced myself that it didn’t and resolved to take notes, howbeit shamefacedly, until somebody with authority instructed me otherwise. But no one did, so I continued taking notes through all the presentations.
In the end, I couldn’t find any good justification for the proscription to record. I found nothing any of the presenters said or shared that rose to the minutest level of “sensitivity” Pr. Reeves intimated. But it is what it is. So in the absence of any recording of the event, it is only my sanitized recollection and attestation of forthrightness that I’m left to offer about this truly informative conference.
Two speakers were earmarked for the Friday evening event. The first was Dr. Samuel Lumwe, Associate Director at the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations (GCAMR), who started laying the foundation to the proposition that the SDA Church has a unique “mandate” from God to evangelize Muslims. He painstakingly showed how God’s dealings with Sarah, Haggai, and Keturah, the three wives of Abraham, prepared the Israelites to anticipate the first Advent of Jesus. In an equally meticulous exposition, Dr. Lumwe explained how the seven churches in Revelation, particularly the last, Laodicea (which he identified as the Adventist Church), is meant to prepare the world, including the 1.8 billion Muslims, for the second Advent. “God has given us the message and the power, and now we have to act,” he concluded.
The second speaker was Gabriela Phillips, the Director for Adventist-Muslim Relations (AMR) in the North American Division. Her style was autobiographical, describing her Saul to Paul-like warming up to her Muslim neighbors during her 12-year service in the Middle East. She drew out commonalities between Adventists and Muslims, observing that the large number of Muslims emigrating to the West is the church’s greatest opportunity to share our unique version of Christianity with this community. “Muslims will listen to us,” she intoned, “because their scriptures tell them to.”
The Sabbath program featured four speakers, four “how-to” breakout sessions, and a Q&A. The first presenter was Dr. Oscar Osindo, Associate Director at (ARM). He referenced the Qur’an, Surah 19:21, which announces the birth of Jesus. In this passage, the angel said:
Thus shall it be. Your Lord says: ‘It is easy for Me: and We shall do so in order to make him a Sign for mankind and a mercy from Us. This has been decreed.’
From this verse, Dr. Osindo identified Jesus as the personification of mercy, what he called “the mercy of God from God.”
Having thus linked the attribute of Mercy with Jesus in the Qur’an, he observed that mercifulness is a key characteristic of Christians — the merciful are blessed and promised “they will be shown mercy” (Mat 5:7 NIV). With the Qur’an and the Bible joined about Mercy, Dr. Osindo threads the needle through an even narrower opening by contending that Adventists, through our humanitarian outreach, especially during disasters, and our Three Angels Message, which shares things of eternal value, are indeed the merciful people both the Bible and Qur’an describe.
Next was the featured speaker, Dr. Petras Bahadur, a specialist in Urban Ministry who is the Director of GCAMR. Dr. Bahadur, an engaging presenter with an infectious passion about his topic, took the audience through a biblical tour of the various covenants God made with his Chosen ones, beginning with Abram and the Israelites whose abrogation opened the door for everyone.
He waxed poetic while elucidating on Surah 3:110, which references “people of the book.” Then he zeroed in on the statement “among them are some who have faith,” which he cross-referenced with the patient saints in Revelation 14:12 who “keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus.” He clinched his delightful exposition by identifying the faithful in both holy books as Seventh-day Adventists. The Importance of going through this exercise was to show that Adventists are the spiritual Israelites, the remnants who Muslims are in search of for enlightenment.
The Sabbath afternoon program kicked off with a short presentation by the long-term Missiologist, Dr. Lester Merklin, who argued that the time has come to jettison the one-size-fits-all evangelistic model the church has used for decades and allow the context to determine appropriate approaches. He used the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well to demonstrate how Jesus worked with what was at hand.
Dr. Bahadur had a second turn at the lectern to talk about “Equipping Members to Reach Out.” It was during this time that he provided some head-turning statistics and projections about Muslims and Adventists. He asserted, for instance, that because of the confluence of contemporary geopolitical conditions in the Muslim world, massive numbers of the 1.8 billion Muslims are now moving to the West. He maintained that if the church prepares adequately to meet this influx, a minimum of 1%, but possibly up to 10%, could be predisposed to becoming Adventists in the next 5-10 years. This is a mindboggling 18 to 180 million new additions to Adventist pews from the Muslim world alone.
By midafternoon the conference attendees were primed to embrace their role as facilitators of the coming Muslim deluge to the Adventist church. What is needed now is to teach them how to engage Muslims. The stage was set by the program facilitators to provide hands-on training in proselytizing Muslims, in four breakout sessions on:
- Jesus in the Qur’an
- How to Live an Authentic Life as a Witness to Muslims
- How to Establish a Local Ministry in Your Area. Field Tested Models in North American Context
- Intercessory Prayer as an Outreach Model
The conference concluded after a Q&A session where the organizers fielded wide-ranging questions, from Islamic theology to the preparedness of the church for this mission. The five presenters at the conference had over 100 years of combined experience working with Muslims, and their vast knowledge on the subject showed. During the Q&A, small differences in approaches were evident among them, but overall, they were all confident that “something big” about the Adventist-Muslim encounter is just over the horizon. What’s needed is a church ready for the harvest. Only time will tell if this is hype, the perception of people too close to their subjects, or the real deal.
Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home.
Image Credit: villagesda.org
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