Welcome to North Edmonton Ministry

This blog shares reflections and experiences in witnessing to people of other faiths and cultural backgrounds. It’s my hope that, through sharing these experiences, Christians will be encouraged in their own witness, enlivened to be a Christian presence in their communities and emboldened to share God’s Word. Donna Entz

Blog Posts

  • Donna Shares at Gathering 2019 in Abbotsford Donna Entz, shares about her ministry in Edmonton at our nationwide Gathering 2019. Video is 28 minutes long. 
    Posted 10 Jul 2019, 10:56 by June Miller, MCA Communications
  • Surprise Learnings from Sharing about our Holy Books Surprise Learnings from Sharing about our Holy Books by Suzanne Gross, Mennonite Christian   When I first considered joining the Scriptural Reasoning group, I felt a bit timid about being a valid representative of my faith tradition.  Scriptural Reasoning invites us into each others’ faith tradition by choosing scriptural passages from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran on a topic that is illustrated in each of these passages.  I have grown up in a faith tradition, taken some Bible and Religion classes many, many years ago, but beyond that am not schooled in Biblical Studies. Over time, I began to see how steeped I am in the stories and passages presented. I am grateful for having grown up ...
    Posted 17 May 2019, 12:17 by June Miller, MCA Communications
  • NEM - What we do!
    Posted 6 May 2019, 12:40 by June Miller, MCA Communications
  • Are you a Wise Man or Lady Wisdom? Are you a Wise Man or Lady Wisdom?  At our scriptural reasoning study the other night, and because it was the Christian text of choice for the evening, we Mennonite participants ended up singing, “The Wise man built his house upon the rock” But the main point of that passage is not about building your house on the Lord Jesus Christ. This parable follows three chapters of ethical teaching. So the main point, as Matthew 7: 24 states is: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” It seems that wisdom is what you learn that you put it into action. My best ...
    Posted 7 Mar 2019, 09:15 by June Miller, MCA Communications
  • Prayer Requests Donna Entz is asking for prayer:that God lead our  A Common Word Alberta Committee to a good church, willing to host the October Dialogue 2019.  Requests have been made for the first time to Evangelical/Pentecostal churches.  that God provide increased understanding between the NGO and the host church as regards the ESL program.that God give  wisdom to the leadership of Burkina Faso as regards the increased security issues and escalating attacks. that God give courage to our daughter as she returns the early days of March to the hospital where she works in West Africa. 
    Posted 19 Feb 2019, 21:29 by June Miller, MCA Communications
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Audrey Brooks stands outside her home by the Genocide Memorial Garden she started 10 years ago (2008). In conjunction with the garden, Brooks began the Genocide Memorial Service. For the first nine years she held services at her home.  But this year her church, the Unitarian Church of Edmonton, helped her expand the celebrations by hosting this year's memorial. 

July 15, 2018 marked the 10th Anniversary of the Genocide memorial service*, a yearly event usually held at the home of Audrey Brooks, founder and organizer.

For this special occasion, the service was held in the Unitarian church.   I had found the services meaningful in the past, but this time it was planned for Sunday morning so I would be missing the worship and singing in a Mennonite church.   I had also promised Jasmina Colic, from Bosnia, that I would be there.  She told me she was going to talk about me.  I found a spot with the folks of her community, wearing a T-shirt with the Srebenica massacre featured on the front. 
It truly was a special service with music, singing, poetry and yes of course the difficult stories from places around the world, like one from Venezuela which was heart-breaking. It was one of those rich interfaith events where you might find yourself inspired by those of faith different than your own. 
Jasmina then spoke, not of the Srebenica massacre, but of her journey toward healing here in Edmonton. This focus was a worthy addition to the memorial service, though not verbalized otherwise until she shared.  She spoke without notes and with passion, highlighting four people she has encountered. 
The first was a Serbian orthodox woman.  They spent time together, and Jasmina felt very positive.   But one day the friend happened to mention that everybody had suffered equally in that war.   Jasmina asked her, “But how can you think that way, there were no orthodox women raped, there was no big massacre.   The violence was not equal at all.”    The facts were just too different from what this woman was saying, and eventually Jasmina walked out of the relationship.
Another day, Jasmina was with a man in an elevator.  He asked if she was perhaps Polish, or Ukrainian.   She said, “No, I am from Bosnia.”   He said she must be Serbian, and she said, “ No”.   “Then you must be Croatian”.  She said, No”.  She waited.  He had nothing more to say.    Finally she said, “I am Bosnian Muslim”.   He said they needed to go for coffee.  She said, “How can we go for coffee when you cannot even acknowledge that I exist.”  She walked away.  The encounter was troubling to her. 
Then she spoke of Donna, her Mennonite Friend.   She described how we met many years ago at Al Rashid Mosque for Friday prayer.  She thought that because I was there,  I must be a convert to Islam.   I told her that “No” I am Mennonite Christian but came here because I lived in West Africa for many years.  From that day onward, we both felt that we needed to keep in contact.  and it  deepened.  We met for coffee, celebrated religious holidays in each others homes etc.    I listened to her stories , told my stories and we cried together.  I then invited her to our Christian/Muslim book club.  Then she said that I was there sitting with her people in solidarity.   
Then she spoke of a Bosnian Orthodox woman who attended the service as well.  She said that they are spending time together and getting closer.  She is very thankful for their friendship.
As the service ended we were invited to light candles for any situations around the world that needed prayer.  I went forward to light a candle for the Fulani people of West Africa who this year have been killed in excessive numbers.   My son’s work is focused solely on them, but our daughter also serves people of that tribe in her hospital. 
At the end, the organizer said that next year, she wanted me to speak as well.   I believe that Jasmina’s presentation shifted the focus from past back home to present life in Edmonton. 
The day after the Genocide memorial service a Bosnian Muslim was my bus driver.   He is the one that stopped and waited for me one night where there was no bus stop.   I told him on Monday that I was touched by his stopping for me.   I told him, “Horrible things were done against your people but instead of being bitter you have chosen to go beyond what your job requires to help someone out.  That is living with integrity.  You are a true person of faith”.  
I realized that what Jasmina had said carries lessons that apply to any of us who struggle to walk with others in solidarity as allies.
  • Put your self in spaces where “other” people are found.   Where people don’t expect to find you. 
  • Be open to meet with them setting the parameters.
  • Reciprocate hospitality.
  • Listen to their stories. 
  • Share your stories. 
  • Be empathetic.  Cry together.
  • Invite into a larger circle of connection, and create a space where all can be comfortable. 
Donna Entz

Postscript by Jasmina. I am the lucky one. I live in this multi-cultural society called Canada. In Bosnia there is one village where 40 nations are represented and all live together peacefully in one little town. We were used to being multi-cultural. But now Bosnia cannot be that place for me that it used to be. North is the concentration camp where I stood for hours in 35 degrees. South brings remembrance of where my father was held. It would have been so hard to relate to all the Serbian people in Bosnia. I would have been constantly triggered as I am when I go back. So Canada is good because it gives me other options of kinds of people to relate to. Donna was so helpful because unlike some people she never put pressure on me to forgive or to tell me to just forget it and move on with life in the present. Donna has all those years of experience in Africa and that shapes her response to others.

* According to this year's invitation, "the annual Genocide Memorial Service began as a witness to violence committed against human beings because of wars, greed, ethnic cleansing, slavery, gender bias, colonial appropriation of people and their lands, instances of neglect and political oppression, that resulted in mass extinction of helpless men, women and children. "

Christian de Cherge: A Theology of Hope, by Christian Salenson (quotes from book in bold)
March 26, 2018

In [Algeria] in the 1980s and 1990s...heirs of the colonial era, the monks were now welcomed in this country as guests. They made the choice to not offer charitable help to the population, and rather than hiring workers and thus establishing a hierarchical relationship with the inhabitants of Tibhirine, the brothers preferred instead to work in a cooperative arrangement with their neighbours. As a condition for Dialogue, the position of stranger is different from that of being in the majority...The conditions for theology are not the same when one is a member of a massive institution enjoying high social visibility, as when one is in the minority in a society and dependent on its welcome. (p 16)

De Cherge often insisted on the need for humility...that we renounce any claim to be better or superior...that we are striving for a form of personal authenticity. (p 57)

These two quotes recall to my memory some of the efforts we made in Burkina Faso to structure life in an African way that would also evade the all too pervasive paternalism that plagues Western and non-Western relationships. Where we lived there was little money exchange but life took place through reciprocal exchanges. When we needed help building a house, the villagers volunteered their time, knowing that from then on our car would be used as the village ambulance. The elders of the village were the decision makers and cultural interpreters for our life in the village. Everything was about reciprocity.

One day a woman got upset with me because I was in a hurry and didn't want to take time to eat the food she had just cooked. She told me, "The trees you planted produced an effective treatment for my daughter's sickness. She is now cured. I have no other way to repay you if you don't eat my food." I sat down to eat and learned a powerful lesson in reciprocity. Where reciprocity no longer functions, an uneasy dependency develops. To keep things in balance we often received gifts that we knew the givers could not really be without. But preserving a person's dignity was more important than how much money people had.

Interreligious Dialogue is a part of the Church's evangelizing mission, nevertheless, he points out very clearly that dialogue cannot be used as a means to the end of proselytizing. Rather the goal of Dialogue is the discovery of the seeds of the Word. (p 48)

After ten years in Burkina Faso using our community development training, a decision was made that we would move into an ethnic group as church planters and work with Wycliffe Bible translators who would do linguistics to write up the language and then start translation work. The Dzuun people were all Muslims.

We continued medical, nutritional, and agricultural development work, anthropological research, preparing scripts of Old Testmaent (OT) stories, and simply taking part in all the happenings in the village. As the first OT stories were ready for use, we sat with elders and were amazed at their profound understanding. Obviously their cultural closeness to OT understanding gave them this advantage, and we were enriched in the process.

As the Muslim workers were finishing the linguistic work, we met as an expatriate team to discuss how we would respect them as Muslims now starting Bible translation. We decided together that we would not preach or pressure or put any conditions on their work. The Spirit would be free to work through the words of the Bible. That's how we felt we could respect them being of another religion.

As the OT Stories were becoming known throughout the village, one evening we received a delegation of Muslim leaders. The main reason for their visit was to give us blessings on our work. They were not happy that the elders were continuing on with African practices that were not in line Islam. They prayed that our stories from OT calling for faithfulness to God and getting rid of idols, would convict the elders. And so it came to pass over many years that certain rituals were set aside to embrace more monotheistic ways of living. In many ways we were perceived as a form of renewal movement within Islam. Those whose lives were transformed from the Spirit's work through the Bible stories, were buried as outstanding Muslims.

To ignore the spiritual dimension of each individual is unthinkable. We would cease to be Christian or quite simply human beings, if we were to mutilate others in their hidden dimension, for the sake of a so called purely human encounter. This includes concrete humanity, capacity for intellectual reflection, and spiritual dimension. (p 56)

There are early secular anthropologists who tried to write up a cultural overview on a given people and made an effort to evade anything about religion. The task was impossible and their works are not respected. Though we in the west think we can separate religion from the rest of life, it doesn't really work here either. All around we can see how secularists are finding a wide variety of things they can worship, though most are not aware that their soul has a spiritual component. This is key in building spiritual friendships. Somehow there is a misconception that to respect those of different religion, we are not allowed to speak of our faith. The opposite is closer to the truth. If only one person in a friendship shares out of their spiritual depth, it will be a lopsided relationship. Deep, strong friendships are best achieved by both people being open and sharing from their whole being, including their spiritual sides.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
(William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice)

March 3, 2018

Christian de Cherge: A Theology of Hope, by Christian Salenson, is the title of a book written about the life and writings of a monk who lived in Algeria during the civil war and who wrote inspiringly about inter-religious dialogue. His reflections grew out of the context of living as a monk in a Muslim village. A significant impact on his life was when a Muslim friend protected him, and as a result was killed himself. The following quotes (in bold) are from the book.

Inter-religious Dialogue is [more than] affirming certain ethical convergences concerning justice or respect for life. If we reduce inter-religious dialogue to Jewish-Christian dialogue, we would turn our back on a promise made to both Jews and Christians, and, frankly, we would distort the very relationship between Jews and Christians, for we sit together only by virtue of a relationship with other, with “the Nations.”  Jewish-Christian dialogue is validated by its capacity to consider religions and to enter into relationship with them. (p 9)

Jewish-Christian Dialogue would lose its meaning if it did not open the way, in accordance with the very vocations of the people of Israel and the Church, to an encounter with all peoples, cultures, and therefore religions. (p 49)

These two quotes about Jewish-Christian Dialogue are grounded in the Old Testament images of “the nations.” The nations are not nation states of today, but ethnic groups whose common culture and language gave them a shared identity. For our situation in Canada today, it would be helpful to think of all these nations as non-Jews and non-Christians, who are everywhere all around us. In Psalm 67, Israel is encouraged to lead the way in praising God, and making known God's healing/saving power among all nations (other religions). They are also to share God's blessings and spread joy to all nations. That is what God is doing among the nations and Israel is called to be the active agent alongside God.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.” (Psalm 67)

In Isaiah 49:6 we read, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” All the earth's blessing, joy, guidance, salvation/healing, and knowing God are not for Israel alone. They are for all the nations to the ends of the earth.

Isaiah 56:7 reads, “…these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Because the ideas in A Theology of Hope were formed in a Muslim setting, it is interesting to look more closely at our typical Epiphany passage, Isaiah 60:1-6. If you continue to verse 7, we read about the acceptable sacrifices of two of Ishmael's sons/princes (also referred to in Genesis 25:13), “All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house.”  The sacrifices of Abraham's descendants by Ishmael, not just Isaac, were acceptable to God. What does that say about our relationship to Muslim people today, or how we judge their religion?

In Mark 11, Jesus chases the sellers from the temple and quotes directly from Isaiah 56:7. In Mark 11:17 we read, “He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers.” Jesus condemns the Jewish people for not having fulfilled their vocation and calling, and for making economic interests of higher importance. He models what the church is to do.

The monk de Cherge was saying that it is logical, based on the calling of both Israel and the church toward all the nations, that Islam and other religions be included in the range of relationships, and that true encounter take place. This grows naturally out of Jewish-Christian encounter because of the strong Old Testament theme of “the nations.” This would include validating each other's worship of God, but it would not mean all people becoming the same. All religious communities maintain their own unique ethnic and religious distinctives, their unique ways of worshipping, but all worship the one God. They would be in such close spiritual friendship with those of other religions that in the encounter they would be challenged to go deeper into their own faith practise and expressions, and all would experience wholeness from the encounter. This is exactly what happened when Jesus encountered people.

It seems that we have been led astray to think that being faithful to God means somehow provoking a change in another’s religion by whatever means possible. The Psalm and Isaiah passages do not lead us in that direction; neither does the life of Christ. As members of Abrahamic faiths, “our common vocation is to open humankind to transcendence...for the life of the world [or all nations]...to multiply the fountains of mercy along the way.” (pp 44-45) Isn't this closer to the image we have in Psalm 67?

February 22, 2018

A Muslim Youth program hosted an evening of storytelling called “Outspoken.” It was a very simple format: each speaker told their life story and then attendees asked questions. There were three speakers representing the three Abrahamic faiths. One was a Muslim teacher and chaplain, then was a pastor from a local Community Church, and the last was a rabbi from a reformed synagogue. All spoke of turning against the faith of their youth. The first grew up Mormon and later converted to Islam, the second had an abusive father and so rejected the church his father was imbedded in, and the third’s family was from a form of Judaism that didn't allow women to be rabbis and she felt called to be a rabbi. All ended up with a strong faith. How interesting!

The first speaker made a strong point, saying, "We live in a secular society, but in reality Canadian society has become more religious and more ideologically-driven, and those ideologies are more uncompromising and dogmatic.” He believes that it is important to bring God into the conversation, to allow people their own journey, and to be a visible believer. When you open yourself up, others also open up. Be yourself, and others will too.

The rabbi said that in conversation with people in the community, it is important to bring God into the discussion. One reason for this is that Israel is a country where state and religion are not separated. She also noted that it is important to answer questions, because secular questions often do not give adequate answers to life. An interesting observation was that all Abrahamic faiths have a common goal to change the world.

The pastor's story was the most inspiring for me. He and his wife had both been abused as children and took turns in their early marriage to find healing through God's power, supporting each other through the process. He now counsels Muslim couples. He said, "Acts of kindness open the heart, such as practical acts of service. They open people to the touch of God. Offering to pray for a person often frees them to suggest something that they are having difficulty with.” One of the practical ways he has led his congregation to engage with those in the community was to pick the top eight languages spoken in the neighbourhood, and to teach his congregants how to greet people in each of those languages so they could relate better to their neighbours. 

The pastor’s testimony was humble, transparent and vulnerable. It was a powerful witness to Jesus’s work in the life of someone and the freedom that comes in Jesus. Without proselytizing or preaching, it was a clear communication about his faith.

A highlight that evening was a little eight year old Muslim girl who had great questions. She attends a Christian school and her parents say it really has her thinking about important issues. She asked of the presenters, “Everybody has a key person in their life that was really important. Who was it for you?” and “How do you view your relationship with the other two faiths?”

A Palestinian friend of mine was also there. She asked no questions and so when I saw her the next day, I asked how it was for her. She said it was really hard, and that her chest tensed up every time the rabbi spoke. She had never heard a Jewish speaker before. Wow! This is not easy. But the good news is that I recently met the rabbi and she said the two are going to meet to talk!

What I am learning about interfaith is that life stories are really powerful in how we interact as people of different faiths. I know that when we shared life stories in our committee, it was profound as well.  What does this mean for our future work in Dialogue?

December 22, 2017

I thank God for the rich experiences through North Edmonton Ministry. 2017 started with a trip to Israel/Palestine and I now see life in two layers. The shepherds at Jesus’ birth remind me of the Bedouin shepherds and their displacement from traditional lands today. “He will feed his flock like a shepherd...gather the lambs…and carry them in his bosom.” Isaiah 40:11. I returned home to find deeper connection to the Palestinian community, now struggling with the Jerusalem decision. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I longed to gather your children together... as a hen gathers her brood.” Matthew 23:37
Our main goals as “A Common Word Alberta” (ACWAB) are to create spaces of trust for dialogue and to nourish faith in the younger generation. But regular attendees are often seniors. In September, Michelle, a young Christian woman, joined me as intern. At the same time, a young Muslim woman joined our Scriptural Reasoning Group. This young woman was so excited the first evening, she had to apologize for asking so many questions, questions she had never had  a chance to ask. A highlight of that group was a discussion about ethics and non-violence that ended when Michelle told of people in Rwanda who God protected with angels when they refused to take arms in the genocide. Their lives are an inspiration in spiritual friendships.

ACWAB planning committee this year was strengthened by new energy from two evangelical pastors and more Shia Muslims. At the October “Two Friends, Two Faiths” week of Dialogue, many Shia Muslim and Anglican participants engaged the “other” for the first time. Our Shia Muslim and Mennonite speakers challenged us to think in new ways about our relationships:
  • We don’t need to defend, convince or find a common denominator.
  • When differences surface and people listen respectfully, friendships go to a deeper    level.
  • Living faithfully is not talking about our religion, as much as it is living differently than others.
  • We are too possessive of God and instead need to be possessed by God. As our spiritual lives deepen, we have more and more strength to engage and accept the “other” with respect.
  • Mission is saying to the other “I want you to find your way to God” and we have this in common because both of our faiths expect us to share our fai
    th beyond our circles.
  • In our secular contexts of UK and Canada, instead of competition between our faiths, it is better that we work together inviting people to come and experience a life of faith.
In November, as part of my Southern Alberta “tour,” a third Under Wraps event was held in Lethbridge. Old Colony Mennonites and Muslims shared on the meaning of their head coverings. The event was simply superb because it built on relationships that are already strong with the women who shared. The Muslim speaker begged afterwards that they all find ways to stay more connected. That day was rich in the power of hospitality, spiritual friendships, and witness. This is a good example of where Mennonite Church Alberta has already grown into their new structure.

I am most grateful for the support that I receive during the year. I see the fruits of that concretely in the events mentioned above and in numerous
other ways. If you would like to participate in sustaining this important peace-building ministry, please contact me.

Merry Christmas and Blessings in 2018!
Donna Entz

November 14, 2017
by Michelle

The opportunity to intern with Donna Entz (North Edmonton Ministry) developed as part of a Field Immersion class that I am currently taking through Regent College, Vancouver. This class is an avenue for students to immerse themselves in a field of interest, where they are required to actively participate alongside a mentor and reflect upon the ongoing experiences and learning.

Through previous ministry experience overseas, I have developed an interest in working with Muslims and understanding more about Islam. I desired to explore my interests with a hands-on internship that would allow me to see the many facets of healthy ministry with Muslim people, alongside providing opportunity to build relationships with Muslims living in Edmonton. Through mutual connections, the holistic and community-oriented work of Donna Entz came to my attention, and I quickly realized that her work in Edmonton was a perfect fit for my internship. 

Since the beginning of the internship, I have had many great opportunities to explore inter-faith dialogue and reflect upon current issues facing many religious people within Alberta today. Through Donna’s mentorship, various conversations with others, and the assigned course readings, I have deepened my understanding of Islamic theology. Most importantly, though, the internship has provided a space for relationships to grow with Edmontonians who come from many different cultural backgrounds throughout the world.

April 21, 2017

In February 2017 I participated in a Learning Tour with MCC Alberta to Israel and Palestine. I was interested in gaining awareness of the present situation, as the well-being of Palestinian people deteriorates drastically. I have many friends among the Palestinian people in Edmonton, some of whom were recently sponsored from Syria. I await one Palestinian family that I am personally helping to sponsor. Here is a reflection from one of my days there: 

Today we visited Nazareth Village, a five minute walk from the centre of Nazareth, which would have been a village of 400 people in the time of Jesus. Mennonite Mission Network workers have traditionally helped at this project in reconstructing life at the time of Jesus. Archeologists help with the work to find, for example, the farming terraces of the old village. A synagogue like where Jesus gave his first sermon was rebuilt, and our guide read that sermon from Luke 4:16-19:

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’"

In pushing the guide further, we learned that Jesus would have been the seventh speaker. The first six speakers had to read word for word from the Torah and could add no further comments. The seventh speaker would read a passage of choice from the prophets, could edit what he read, and could also preach. Jesus used these liberties to proclaim himself as the anointed one. He changed the last verse by leaving out the line about revenge. The response was positive. But then his sermon was on the theme of the non-Jews whom God helped in some way. This was so blasphemous that they tried to kill him. 

I asked the guide who these first passages would make the hearers think of. He said the Roman occupation. That made lots of sense because yesterday we learned of the Roman military garrison, just over the hill from Nazareth. Jesus grew up around occupying soldiers, just like children in the West Bank and Gaza today. The guide also mentioned that Jesus refused to be king several times, which means he wasn’t thinking as politically as his hearers hoped he would be.

What does it mean for us today, as followers of Jesus, to refuse to take a direct role in state power and yet still help usher in the release of the captives and freedom from oppression promised in these verses? There are many children being detained and traumatized in prisons for minor offenses. How can they be freed? No one is holding their captors accountable. Maybe we should start by becoming as brazen as Jesus. He put himself out there, telling the truth as clearly, even though it went against the sensibilities of his hearers, who thought they were the only ones entitled to God’s favour.

July 5, 2016

Except for several evenings off, I have spent about 15 evenings celebrating Iftar (breaking fast) with close friends and neighbours, and at mosque events. This meant arriving at about 9 pm and coming home between 1-3 am. Many people made a real effort to organize a ride home when the hour was too late for public transport. Culturally, I ate food from Sudan, Syria, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Burkina Faso (my own). At one event I was encouraged to invite for next year, so as a trial run I invited Muslim people from our apartment building. The greatest challenge was to have everything ready but still hot exactly on time in order to break the fast at the correct minute, 10:08 that evening. I did only one day of my own fasting, no food for 24 hours but I drank water, unlike Muslims.

I observed that:
  • One family that came to Canada only one year ago is much more integrated than another that has been in Canada for many years. The children of the former were connecting with children in the neighbourhood, whereas the latter stayed disconnected from both their country nationals and their mosque community. This situation left me feeling very sad. As the father gave me a ride home, he said he just wanted to go back to his home country.
  • Of the two Imams I met last week, one wanted to prove to me the superiority of Islam. The other wanted to know who I was as a person. In the hour spent with this Imam, we shared the turning points of our own pilgrimage. He could trust me quite easily as he had met Mennonites in Kitchener through Interfaith meetings. He would be a valuable addition to the Dialogue planning group.

I was touched that:
  • A Muslim chaplain in the armed forces told me how sad he is to meet young people who grew up Christian and have no desire to practice that faith today. He once told a young man (who was inquiring about Islam) that he should first study the Bible, so as to make a more informed decision about faith. There is great wisdom and integrity in such advice. He isn't just trying to count heads.
  • A Syrian refugee who arrived in February was volunteering with a mosque that provided food to the homeless. She talked of her joy in studying at Norquest and her English was already very good. She did not have a family to come here with, and a neighbour had included her with their application. I received the tightest hug ever from her! It was obviously a thank-you to MCC, but also symbolized the determination with which she is embracing her new life here.
  • A Farsi speaker encouraged listeners (fasters) to read the Bible and to accept Christians with whatever distinctives they may have.

Now that the month of Ramadan is drawing to a close, I have seen how people are experiencing great joy as a result of this intense spiritual practice. At a recent women's mosque Iftar, I shared with a Muslim woman about Jesus fasting in the desert, and then being tempted by Satan (Luke 4). Later, I reflected more on that event. Jesus was already filled with the Holy Spirit before he went into the desert. We often think he was weak because he was hungry when the devil spoke to him. But if we think of Muslims and their fast, we could imagine that the devil had no chance contending with a Jesus who was physically weak, but incredibly spiritually strengthened because of these 40 days of fasting.

June 29, 2016

It was in January that a Syrian took over some of my coordinating role for welcoming and helping settle refugees from Syria. At the same time, I was privileged to find several retired teachers who were interested in teaching ESL. This allowed us to work with several levels of learners. Two months later, I was feeling uncomfortable in mixing those who are literate in their own language and those who have never read in any language, so we put several people in a separate class with activities such as “Action-Response,” scenarios, flashcards and identifying pictures in a dictionary. They are doing very well, and one of their children even came back to say that their mother doesn't need the children to translate anymore!

Now it is Ramadan. The first week, no Muslims students came. By the second week, I guessed that some had adjusted to the new daily schedule and wanted to reconnect. Three Muslim students came the following week. One brought food for us even though she couldn't eat it herself. Some are falling asleep in class or leave early because they are tired. The amazing thing is that they want to be in class, where the atmosphere is positive.

The other day one of the other teachers was on her morning walk and met a student who was returning from walking her child to school. They were thrilled to meet and they continued their walk together. I can just imagine them. It is sadly very seldom that an old-timer and a newcomer dressed in long black robes will be out walking together. These two have become very close and the newcomer has confided much about her life.

Our ESL class is a place where students share their greatest news, either good or bad. One student just returned from Somalia where she went to visit her sister whose husband was shot and killed. This week, a woman came in and said, “Come here, I have a secret for just you guys.” She then told us that she got word from Canadian immigration that they needed further information, which is a good sign. We have all been through the process – me with my American husband – and we all cheered and congratulated her. She had been going back and forth to Colombia for several years, whenever her visa ran out. Now she may have some stability in her life, and her eyes are sparkling. Another woman brought me a necklace to celebrate that she received her Canadian citizenship.

In our ESL program Syrian refugees come and go as they wait for full time classes elsewhere, and Arabic speaking advanced students help them feel welcome. One day an Iraqi national discovered that a new Syrian arrival was from the same city in Syria where she lived as refugee for seven years. They were soon crying in each other's arms. (That was Syria, the place that welcomed first Palestinians, then Somalis and then Iraqis. They never refused anyone.) Where people find connection, I see God is at work.

May 7, 2016

I had things to get done at home, some phone calls that needed to be made and was discouraged to see I had just missed Bus 12. At this hour that meant a half hour wait. I didn't really have the patience for this. I walked closer to the stop and noticed three men sitting on the bus bench, all smoking, and so I decided that I would wait further away. Then I realized that they were speaking Arabic. Smoking, riding the bus, and speaking Arabic in my experience means only one thing: very new Syrian refugees. So I approached them. I said I thought they must be speaking Arabic. Yes, they agreed. I asked if they were from Syria. Again, they said yes. I asked what city? They said Deraa. I said I knew of Deraa (it is where the protests first began in 2011). Their faces lit up in smiles at that. Then we got on the bus. Only one of the men spoke a bit of English. After several stops, some more Syrians, a grandmother and young mother that I already knew, got on. The grandmother is the one woman in our MCC group who wears a niqab, that I have noticed. So I got them to engage with each other. I asked about English classes for all of them. The grandmother was not enrolled, so I invited her to my class. Suddenly their stop was there. I said I would call their family member whose phone number I have. As I got off the bus to transfer to my bus, the bus driver handed me a transfer with his phone number on it. He said that he heard our discussion and that he is semi-retired, and a part time ESL teacher. He invited me to call him when I need more volunteers. I have since called the family; the grandmother wants to come to class, but has not shown up yet. By the way, the reason I was riding the bus that day is that Monday is my regular time volunteering with the Somali homework club. During the day, I called the leader to see if they needed my help in the evening, and he told me they did. I took the bus there only to learn that the club was cancelled because there had been no school that day. Didn't the leader know that? What was the reason that the homework coordinator told me there was class when there wasn't? God seemed to have a hand in the way that this evening unfolded. Since that bus ride, I am now meeting Syrians on the bus and train almost every trip I make!

Syrians arriving in Edmonton
January 1, 2016
On Wednesday Dec 30, 2015,  we were a group of 7 Mennonites and 11 Syrians, 5 of whom came in December.  We had a holiday potluck of Canadian Christmas fixings and Middle Eastern cuisine in their spacious house just blocks from the Entz apartment.  Here in the link is the story of their arrival this past month.  As the refugees arrive quicker and faster, I have turned over my role of contacting the host families and matching church/community members  with the refugees.  A Syrian paid staff and a volunteer now do my work, so I can keep up the rest of my regular commitments.  


August 16, 2015

Community Garden

August 16, 2015

We had a potluck last week with all the people involved in the community garden. The participants are eight families: one Hindu Indian, one Spanish person, a Colombian Shia Muslim, one Kurdish Musl isim, two Somali Muslims, myself, and an Eritrean Christian staff person who organizes us in various ways. Because there is a combination lock on the fence around the garden plots, everyone can water their own garden when it is convenient, but it also means that we seldom see each other. Though I would love to have more religious discussions, I don't bring it up myself, but I thank God for the relationships forming.

As people were arriving to the potluck, there was a discussion about how to eat. I said I couldn't decide how to organize our eating because every group eats differently. I threw down a big spread on the ground. The Somali women liked that and settled in. The Indian men needed chairs, so we got those. Then the Kurdish man said we needed a table and he found another man to help with the table. Then I asked whether the table was to eat at or to put food on. He said the food needed to go there.

The Indian woman who was sitting with the Somalis told them that in India they, too, eat at a cloth on the floor. She added that when Muslims ate together in India, they were so clean and organized and she was just amazed at how they could do that.

One man said that the sal isad was really good but didn't know who made it. Ayesha, from Kurdistan, said she made it. With a twinkle in his eye, he replied, “Then if it was you, Ayesha, that salad was no good.” Lots of laughter! A good sign that trust is being built when people of diverse backgrounds can joke with each other. After the meal, we went to work pulling out weeds.

Just getting such diverse people together seems like a sign of the kingdom. One couple is downsizing because Grandma had to go back to Colombia, and they chose to move close by and keep connected to their garden and to us. Another sign of the kingdom!

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Spiritual Friendship

August 13, 2015

Some people are concerned about those who spend a lot of time with people of other religions. Some think that we are diluting our own faith when we get close to those of other faiths, but my own experience has been the opposite. When true faith meets true faith, there is a deep connection and I thank God for the privilege of experiencing that with Muslims friends. I have gone deeper in my own faith while sharing with a deeply spiritual person of another faith. I remember a day with a friend who lived through the Bosnian genocide, and how she feared for the life of her four month old son. I was crying with her when I realized that I, too, had feared for the life of my own children several times. We both talked of how our faith helped us trust our circumstances to God's care and keep going.

David Goa, a scholar in religion at the University of Alberta tells a story that shows the power of spiritual friendship. He shares deeply with a Muslim friend about his struggles within his Christian circle of friends and family, some of whom could be described as fundamentalists (there are not just fundamentalists in Islam). They would probably see David as too liberal from their perspective. Notice, as David tells his story, that Fundamentalism here is described as living out of doubt and fear. In contrast, true faith is described as living out of God's grace.

David is in discussion with a Muslim friend, Imam al-Sharkawy. Here are David's words:

I confessed to him what a shock it was to have some very close relatives, outstanding people in their own right and deeply committed to an evangelical-fundamentalist vision of the Christian faith, always fearful of my expression of faith and what Christianity had unfolded in my understanding. Sometimes they would do this in prayers that masqueraded as blessings but, if you listened, would be a kind of curse.

Oh David, Oh David, you must not, you must not let them do that,” he (the Imam) exclaimed. “You must not let them do that. It is dangerous.” With tears in his eyes he said, “Tell them they cannot do that. They cannot wash your faith in their doubt and fear. David, if they do not listen you must walk away.”

He wasn't asking me to argue with them. I had done plenty of that! He wasn't asking me to defend myself or to defend my faith.

I had never heard such an injunction before. He was expressing his concern that I might, inadvertently, let the temptation to deny my own understanding enter my heart. For a moment he feared I might move out of the presence of the gift of God's grace that I had been given and onto the ground of what others presumed and require faith to look like. With Ahmed's words a deep sense of relief moved across the kitchen table.

Spiritual friendship does not muddy the boundaries of our particular faith traditions. Rather, drawing on the deep sources of these oceans of insight and wisdom, our interconnection is illuminated. In friendship heart speaks unto heart.

June 25, 2015

I have been reflecting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and what it means for us as a society and as the church. It is especially upsetting to me as a missionary that the government saw the whole residential school project failing after 20 or 30 years, but that church missions wanted to keep them open because they believed it was a way to bring people to faith. How wrong they were! Like the prophet in Isaiah 6:1-10, the church does well to confess her sin, be cleansed and then finally ready to do God's work. So, too, we as a church need to confess our faults and mistakes in this long, abusive relationship with Aboriginal people. This stance of repentant humility is very powerful as I share the following stories on the topic.

A professor at a Christian university took his students to the Sundance Film Festival. One director had produced a film that made fun of Christians. Even at the first showing, people laughed loudly at the way Christians were depicted in the film. During the question session, a Christian who had watched the film was very upset by all of this. This is part of what he said to Jay, the director. “Jay, I want to thank you for this film. As a Christian...”and then people gasped, because they were expecting him to get angry. Instead, he said, “Jay, I apologize for anything ever done to you in the name of God.” The director didn't know how to respond. He finally said “Thank You.” Afterwards, people in the audience came to hug the Christian man. One person said, “I might consider giving Christianity another chance.” Many people were crying. Students from the university went backstage to get to know those who had produced the movie. They had lunch together, and the movie people came to class the next day at the university. That one apology set off a whole series of conversations and exchanges about faith and how faith is lived.

In this story, a Christian made an intentional and conscious decision to be open about his own faults as well as those of the church, and it opened up incredible discussions with others. God's Spirit is released to work in people around us when we are open about our weaknesses and sins. Philip Yancey says in his book, Vanishing Faith, that “True followers of Jesus distinguish themselves primarily by admitting failure and by admitting to the need for help.”

This time of the TRC is a time when the sins of the church across Canada are obvious as stories are being printed up for all to read. I don't see this as negative. It is a chance for the church to say they did wrong. When I attended the meeting here in Edmonton, many Aboriginal people told me that they appreciated that the church listened to their stories and were doing all they could to make things right. It is a chance for church people to say “Sorry” and to say that we will no longer force other people, but we will live with the humility of Jesus and respect other people, their faith and their culture. It is a very important lesson we are learning. I hope, especially, that we learn it is wrong to force our faith on any other person.  Mission done by force is a betrayal of Jesus and his gentle relationships with people.

I close with a story by David Shenk, a Mennonite elder who has spent his life relating to Muslim people around the world. In his own words: “On one occasion after I described the astonishing reconciliation offered in the cross, a Muslim academic and theologian turned to me and said, ‘I have never experienced the church as a peacemaking community. This is the first time I have ever known that Jesus rejected the way of violence against his enemies. As for the church, we Muslims perceive of the church as a community committed to violence when things do not go your way.’ I responded, ‘May God forgive the church for portraying a violent Messiah who is a distorted masquerade of the Messiah of the Gospel. I hope by God's grace you also can forgive us. Your comments are a call to Christians to repent of the distortions of the Gospel that we so often embrace.' The Muslim scholar thanked me and with deep emotion said, ‘This is the first time in my life that I have heard a Christian ask forgiveness from Muslims for the sins of the church. In your confession, I have seen an image of the Messiah I have not known.’

May 7, 2015

Several weeks ago while I was  getting a ride home from church, Jaczon Nyuma, a Liberian national and member of Holyrood Mennonite church, told me that the Liberian government was getting pressure to take all prayer out of government proceedings. This was to pacify western nations who are funneling aid into their country. His feeling was that the Liberian practice of rotating between Muslim prayer and Christian prayer was a good one in that country, and fair because it represents the two main religions.

We have also heard that Quebec's Christian prayer was recently banned. This has affected Edmonton's practice of having a time of prayer led by the various religious communities in Edmonton. As a multicultural society which promotes ethnic cultural practices and religious practices, I am left with questions. For some, living in a “secular society” means that our religious practice is pushed to the margin where it is only personal and private. To a Mennonite, a personal and private faith really denies almost everything about our faith. How could Jesus have functioned in Palestine if he was not allowed to freely verbalize and live out his faith in action? How can we be faithful in living out our beliefs?

There is another kind of secular society which is a “pluralistic secularism.” An example would be in my English class, where instead of evading religious content, I help to guide it. I believe that we should be “pluralist secularists” in the spirit of multiculturalism, giving respect to all faith perspectives. Then we, too, would get our chance to speak up about our faith.

Maybe that is the reason it is so hard for Mennonites to speak up and explain who we are. We really haven't had any practice in doing so in our professional or work lives. Yet there are many spaces where it would be quite appropriate to do so.

Karen Armstrong writes extensively on religious violence in her book “Fields of Blood.” In a specific way, it is clear that the Iraq War is the greatest reason that ISIS exists today, but in a general way any time the world puts pressure on religious people to be non-religious, we create more reasons for fundamentalism to exist. In Canada, it is the religious, new, immigrant population that has high birth rates and that will continue to grow. I hope that the children growing up in Canada can be proud of their cultural and religious identities instead of having to hide them. I find that I am always appreciated when I am willing to answer questions about the Christian faith which I profess. I sense that many people honestly want to learn in a relational way about the faiths of the people we are with in this city every day. Is it a stretch to define multiculturalism as pluralist secularism?
February 20, 2015

In rereading the story of the Good Samaritan, I reflected on the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans of Jesus' day. Normally Jews did not walk through Samaria to get to Galilee, but instead took a long way around to evade the region altogether.

The historical background is that of Israel, where Assyrian rulers had forced pagan people to mix with Jews in Samaria. The Jews in Judah to the south, judged these mixed peoples to be heretical because of their unorthodox rituals. By Jesus' time , these relationships had deteriorated to hatred and disdain. In the story of the Samaritan woman (John 4), we learn about the issues between Samaritans and Jews which Jesus addresses in this exchange.

It is of interest to observe what Jesus did about this state of affairs. The most blatant being a refusal to take the long way around Samaria and, instead heading directly through. More than that, he intentionally engaged the Samaritans he met.

About where to worship, Jesus says that neither location, neither Jerusalem nor Mt Gerazim, was the proper place. True worship happens in “Spirit and Truth” (v 23) With respect to scripture, Jesus does not denigrate the Samaritan scriptures in any way, though they were different than Jewish texts. He does allude to the fact that “salvation comes from the Jews” (v 22), yet does nothing to show the error of the Samaritan scriptures. As to religious vocabulary, Jesus liberally builds on the concept of “living water” (v 10-15) a metaphor popular among the wisdom literature of the Samaritans. The Jews were very strict about ritual purity, but the Samaritans were not. Jesus refused to respect these cultural and religious rituals when interacting with Samaritans.

In summary, Jesus modeled a whole different way of relating to Samaritans. Even the disciples were scandalized at Jesus behaviour. He engages a woman of the village and then works through her to bring salvation to the whole village. He stays with them for two days to teach them more. Jesus did not put down their religion, but instead used their own religious metaphors to communicate the message of the kingdom and to call the whole village to embrace this message.

What are the parallels between the Jewish-Samaritan relationship and that of Christians and Muslims today? The debate between the Qur'an and the Bible is always there, and I just heard a lecture comparing the two. There is also a common belief that the Biblical texts have been corrupted and therefore not authoritative. This is extremely upsetting to me, especially because of my work in Bible translation. The importance of one place for worship and pilgrimage, in Mecca, is central to Islam.

The greatest parallel is that Christians often view Muslims with disdain just as the Jews viewed the Samaritans. We were honored to be invited to a Muslim-organized vigil in honor of the three Muslims killed in North Carolina over a parking conflict. Would these killings have happened if there was no underlying disdain for Muslim people?

Eboo Patel, a Muslim, tells the Christians he engages in seminaries, the story of the Good Samaritan. He challenges them to look closely at the identity of the hero, the Samaritan who stops to help the injured man. Patel says that Samaritans were, for Jesus and his listeners, heretics, or "people of a different faith." He points out that "it is the Samaritan, the heretic, [that] Jesus tells them to emulate... [and] Jesus seems to be saying it is not enough to stay within the fold of the faithful, not enough even to follow the way, the truth, and the life. To attain the eternal, the story suggests, you have to engage with people who believe differently than you." (Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, Boston: Beacon Press: 2012, by Eboo Patel, pp. 143-145).

As we create new conversations, it may be that, according to the Good Samaritan, we will be prayed for, find comfort and healing through people of this other faith.

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Anabaptist-Style Dialogue
October 25, 2014

The first dialogue I attended was during my studies in 2009 at Fuller Theological Seminary. It was an Evangelical-Muslim Dialogue. There had been several before and it was obvious that deep friendships had been formed. Their relationships were such that some of the difficult issues between the two faiths were being explored, not just commonalities. I appreciated these because everyone including the Christians presented a very clear picture of the richness of their faith. (http://cms.fuller.edu/EIFD/issues/Spring_2014/Spring_2014.aspx)

Then I came to Edmonton and attended dialogues as I could. The ones I most appreciated were those where David Goa was the Christian presenter. Though Orthodox in practice, his way of understanding scripture is very Anabaptist and I always felt he was rightly representing us as Anabaptists. He usually focused on the life or words of Jesus in some way. I know hardly any Muslims who have read the Bible at all, and so I began to see that these dialogue were a powerful form of witness, declaring the presence of God's Kingdom, just as Jesus mentored his disciples to do.

There were other dialogue events, several where I left feeling that Christianity had been minimizing the message for some reason. Were people simplifying so as not to offend? I always left those spaces very discouraged. I inwardly questioned whether they were being faithful to Jesus as Lord and his expectation that his disciples would be “witnesses.”

All of these events were speaker/expert focused and rather academic, thus serving a solid purpose in explaining and building respect for those of the other faith. But I longed to engage the people attending much more than was ever structured into the program.

Once I had established some solid relationships in the Edmonton Muslim Community, I began to wonder what a dialogue would look like that took seriously some of our distinctive Anabaptist values. What unique contribution could we bring to the dialogue experience? Because we are non hierarchical and more community based, unlike Muslim and some other Christian groups, in a Dialogue we could focus more extensively on the engagement between the participants and not solely on the speakers. If we think of MCC's legacy around the world, it is the strong relationships formed with grass roots people that has been our strength, and this is equally true in Canada, not just internationally. This could mean that speakers would not be presented as the authority, as much as a catalyst for engagement time around the table. Lately I've noticed an emphasis in Mennonite circles on Biblical Story telling and personal life stories and so reflected on how that could be used in a dialogue. I realized that story telling could be very powerful in a Dialogue setting.

So this latter idea became the starting point of the first dialogue, eventually held in Spring of 2013. Stories and experiences were shared that set the stage for people to begin thinking about dialogue and Muslim Christian interaction in general. The second part focused on the topic of “Compassion” from Mennonite, Qur'an and Hadith (the remembrances of the prophet) perspectives. While envisioning with the Shia Imam, I basically organized this Dialogue and asked various people for presentations. We had two times intentionally placed on the schedule, for interaction around the table. The “mixing up” of people happened quite naturally because most of the Mennonites arrived promptly on time and we had given them advanced notice to only fill up half of each table. The Muslim participants filled in the seats shortly after. Cultural as well as religious differences are so crucial in the planning.

For the second Dialogue, the circle of planners was enlarged to have Sunni, Shia and Roman Catholic representatives. It was much more collaborative and a great group to work with. This time our topic was “Religious Identity in Secular Society” and thought it important this time to include young people's testimonies on how they live their lives. Their participation was appreciated.

I remember sitting beside a Mennonite woman as a young Shia woman was speaking of her deepening faith commitment, which included at one stage donning the “Hijab.” My sense from the woman listening was, “I had no idea.” (http://globalnews.ca/video/1562237/creating-an-interfaith-dialogue)

Though this event was strongly speaker focused, people appreciated the time they had engaging with each other at their tables. My strongest image of the Dialogue is the sight of joyful, engaging people, very pleased to be in that space. (http://www.canadianmennonite.org/articles/counting-conversations-not-conversions)

With the world situation as it appears on the news, these humble efforts of ours have heightened urgency. The  mission statement of the planners was largely fulfilled at the 2014 dialogue “As Christians and Muslims, we strive to create spaces for gatherings where our faith communities can engage each other in order to overcome stereotypes and embrace our differences."

I was very pleased with Carol Penner's presentation representing the Mennonites. As I listened to her recount some of Jesus' stories and experiences, it struck me that for most of the Muslims in the room, this was totally new material. More information on the dialogue is at our new website “A Common Word Alberta.”

Listening to Carol, I felt like I was being faithful to what Jesus is looking for in his followers. Though we may not be persecuted in modern day Canada, the Christian faith is largely discredited and ignored. So the challenge from I Peter 3:14-16 remains applicable in our context. “But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

If I think seriously about the reason for the hope I have, or the reason that I don't have to be overcome by fear even in troubled times, it always come back to Jesus and my close relationship to Jesus. The reason usually includes a story, experience, or words of Jesus that are relevant to us.

I Thess 2:7-8 states: “Though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ...but we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” Notice being faithful witnesses is about being strong in some ways, but mostly about caring and gentleness.

Perhaps we are called to live life intentionally putting ourselves in places, or creating spaces so that little mini dialogues happen all day, every day just naturally. Intentionally and naturally are not contradictory. If we are intentionally outside our comfort zone, the love of Jesus will naturally overflow to build connection with those we encounter. This could be at a neighbourhood ball game, coaching a team, volunteering for the community league, helping with homework, or teaching English. There are so many ways we could find to be with people different than us. Let's take what we've learned in official dialogues and live it each day wherever our natural interests lead us.

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A Clear Picture?
August 20, 2014

On the final day of fasting during Ramadan, I ended up with a woman who was born Palestinian, but lived in Syria most of her life. Her husband died young and she came to Canada with her younger children. Her older children are now in Dubai. I have known her for almost four years and she is part of the multi-faith book club. Her son flew in from Montreal to celebrate Eid (feast day) with her. She had made him his favourite food, baked cauliflower. Later, a couple stopped by with their two small children. My hostess has adopted this couple because they have no family in Edmonton.

We visited until after 1:00 am, when I said that I was getting tired. We then began to talk about rides, because buses were no longer running. The man eventually put one daughter in his SUV and offered to give me a ride home. Our discussion turned to talking about our faiths and our holy books. He asked me what I thought about Islam, and I told him that I couldn't imagine being a Muslim because I just love Jesus so much. He replied that Muslims love Jesus too. I acknowledged that I knew that, but what Muslims and Christians say about Jesus has almost no overlap, which is distressing for me. He was sorry to keep me up so late but wanted to continue talking because he had never talked to a Christian who understood so much about Islam. Other Christians had told him that Christian theology is a mystery which you just need to accept. So we continued visiting, and I told him how I have spent my whole long life, especially from the perspective of my Mennonite faith, loving the stories Jesus told, loving how he related to people, and loving the words he spoke to people. I talked about how important Jesus’ death and resurrection are to me and how they empower me to live well, noting that I knew the Qur'an has different ideas on all of that. Jesus' life is the example of how I live and the way I work. We talked for some time about Jesus as prophet, and other prophets. It was almost 2:30 am by then, so we decided we would continue another day. Since then, we have exchanged emails and I have invited him to the September dialogue. In the future, I hope to follow up and invite them to our house. I spoke more freely than sometimes with this new friend, and the reason I could do that was because he respected me for learning about Islam. Some people really want to understand Christianity. Are we giving them a clear picture?

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Something Good
February 14, 2014

After several poorly attended family potlucks in fall and then over the holiday season not being able to get the required staff support for an activity, Ghada and I decided to give one last try to get community people together in the Kilkenny Community Centre. We decided to call it my birthday party, invite only women, and ask for special food as gifts. My hope was that they would simply enjoy being together and realize this was a good thing to continue, apart from my birthday. We were seventeen women in all. I invited my ESL class and anyone else who lives close by. There were several North American born women who couldn’t make it, but otherwise would have participated. Everyone else was born outside of Canada or the US. A woman who I had helped study for her citizenship test brought a birthday cake. First, we ate. The non-Muslim women were somewhat confused that Muslims couldn’t eat their food, so I realized that I need to prepare people more. Next, we did a listening circle, holding a talking piece. The women were too engaged with each other to really follow the rules well, but still everyone said something about celebrations in their own religion or country. One Somali woman shared that she loves to sing and dance for any celebration, so someone asked her to sing. She did, and others got up to dance. The most touching moment was a 60-year old Sudanese woman who is struggling with English. She was moving to the singing in a most beautiful and graceful way. I realized how I was only seeing her as the “bad English” person. Others sang, and people danced a little. I sang a short blessing song from Steve Bell. After sharing how much I’d enjoyed the evening, I asked if we would want to meet again, to do something similar. It was agreed!

Next time they will bring their CDs of favourite music, and it will again be a women’s event. They realized how much fun it was to connect as women. They found something that they will enjoy together, and I am right in there with them! I enjoy singing and dancing, but never thought of making that the focus of a women’s gathering. My prayer is that the women will come to trust each other because they have learned to trust me. Trust is the key in bridging diversity . So I believe that a crazy, last-ditch effort and the connectedness of women created something good. Something that God maybe sees as good as well, because God showed up. What a birthday party!

Equality between Races
January 9, 2014

Last week I attended an event with a special speaker at a local mosque, where one of those great stories from early years of Islam was shared. It’s a story which was preserved through oral transmission; today, there are written collections of these "Hadith" or remembrances of the prophet. The story is from the early days of Islam, and is about equality between races.

Bilal was an African slave that was freed by the prophet and became an early follower of Islam. In fact, he was the first person asked by the prophet to do the call to prayer. One day, Bilal was in discussion with Abu Dhar, an early follower who was Arabic and of the same tribe as the prophet. Bilal disagreed with the man on the point he was making and told him so. Abu Dhar got very upset and demanded who Bilal thought he was, as an ex-slave, to be questioning him, Abu Dhar, who was Arabic and of the most prestigious tribe. He insulted Bilal. Bilal went straight to the prophet and reported the incident. Muhammad went at once to Abu Dhar. He admitted that what Bilal had reported was true, then went to look for Bilal to make things right. When he reached Bilal, he fell to the ground and told Bilal to step on his head. Instead, Bilal picked him up and kissed his head.

“Neighbour” in Muslim and Christian Perspective
January 9, 2014

We, in Christianity, have broadened the idea of neighbour to mean anyone in need. To a Muslim, a neighbour is the person who lives within physical proximity and the first responsibility is to the one whose door is closest. I have heard Muslim preachers encourage Muslims to know and care for the 50 closest neighbours to their house.

Worship Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good - to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the Companion by your side, the wayfarer [you meet], and what your right hands possess...” (Qur'an 4:36)

The "neighbour who is near" is one with whom one shares ties of kinship or religion; the "neighbour who is a stranger" is one with whom one shares no such ties; and the "companion by your side" is a friend, colleague or travelling-companion. Everyone whose home neighbours yours has the rights of a neighbour over you, even if you are not connected by kinship or religion. This honouring of the neighbour is an example of the tolerance promoted by Islam. There are many hadiths of the prophet(s) (experiences that people brought to memory of what the prophet did or said) which enjoin good treatment of neighbours in general, regardless of kinship or religious factors, and confirm the importance of the neighbourly relationship in Islam (from Chapter 7 of The Ideal Muslim: The True Islamic Personality - As Defined in the Qur'an and the Sunnah by Dr. Muhammad 'Ali al Hashimi, translated by Nasiruddin al Khattab).

We have something to learn from this. The Old Testament texts about neighbours are numerous:

“You shall not defraud your neighbour…with justice you shall judge your neighbour…you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour...you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.” Lev 19:13, 15, 18

Jesus, as noted earlier, set up “love your neighbour” on an equal basis to the Shema, to love God. In my thinking, these verses were meant to encourage people to be in charge of the well-being of their neighbours living next door to them. That would create a strong social net that provides for care of everyone. Why is it that we have broadened the meaning of neighbour so widely that we are no longer responsible for our neighbour? I referred to both of these faith traditions when I did a workshop on Assets Based Community Development, encouraging leaders of minority groups to use the values of their faith community to strengthen the social fabric of their own neighbourhood. I encouraged them not to confine themselves to their minority group, but to take the relational skills they brought from their countries of origin to care for Canadians whose social skills have atrophied in isolation.

For books to read on this topic, go to North Edmonton Ministry “Resources

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Church Planting Congress (Oakville Ontario Nov. 19-21, 2013)
January 9, 2014

This Church Planting Congress was, in general, a God-sighting. I left exhausted from reflection and from too much activity, but God met me in many ways on this trip. I got rested while away, which is amazing.

It was fun to get to know the people of the Jesus Network in Toronto; some of these people have been called through dreams. All three entities are working at engaging different subgroups of the Muslim community: Albanians, Iranians and Indo-Pakistanis. Their work is largely undefined, much like the relationships that develop in the North Edmonton Ministry. The Iranian church planter noted that Caucasian colleagues have a special place and a unique contribution to make in this work because they are not seen as traitors, like he is. One person said that the gospel, by definition, is everything about Jesus in the Bible, so sharing the gospel is very broad and can go many places.

Bob Roberts, from Dallas, stood out as a speaker because he had new material that resonated with me. His main idea was to connect locally and let that lead to international connections. As an American, he had sent lots of professionals from his church to Vietnam. He reflected on the first deacons’ passage in Acts 6:1-7,and said that it is powerful because it showed that God broke down racism and other barriers right at the start of the church. He encourages his church to be truly an alternative to the culture in which they live. Roberts’ connections to Muslim people in his neighbourhood are significant; they prayed for an Ayotollah in their church, in spite of the US situation with Iran. He likes to speak of “multi-faith” rather than “interfaith” because he doesn’t really see the “all roads leading to heaven” idea. Rather, he sees the world as multi-faith and believes you don’t have to put down someone else’s faith to be a good witness. He believes in the healing power of Jesus, regardless of whether a person is Christian or not. In fact, he believes the gospel thrives among those of other religions. At some point in a spiritual friendship, it is good to talk about differences and still love each other. Muslims, he believes, really want to know about our faith. Finally, Roberts never asks a pastor how their church is doing. Instead, he asks how their city is doing, and speaks about do things "with" the city, not "for" the city in a demeaning way. All in all, it was a very inspiring conference!

October 21, 2013

It’s a beautiful evening. Thirty people have been invited in person and by flyer. A Sudanese friend and I have dreamed up the idea of a potluck to bring together people from various religious and ethnic communities, drawing from our apartment blocks. We are starting early Sunday evening because it’s a school night. A staff member in the new social service centre is happy to facilitate our vision.

The week in preparation was interesting. The majority of people we invited were interested in having a potluck and happy to contribute their own country’s food. After realizing people might really come, my friend and I begin to plan the gathering. That same week I had picked up a book about aboriginal sharing circles. I wonder if God isn’t showing me this way of bringing a community together just when we need it.

My friend, her children and I arrive at the same time as the staff person and set up. My husband, Loren, comes with the rest of our food, and another Caucasian couple arrives promptly on time. We visit. And wait. My friend’s husband arrives, followed 45 minutes later by a close Somali friend and her three children. As introductions are made, she pulls her sleeve over her hand to shake the white man’s hand. She explains that if she had shaken his hand directly, she would have to go through the ritual washing again before she next prays. She shows respect by finding a creative way to shake his hand instead of refusing it.

She looks at the man again and says, “I remember you. My car wouldn’t start last winter and you boosted it and got me home with all my kids. Yes, I see you around sometimes.” It’s a good way to get us started in connecting as neighbours. No one else comes, the children are hungry, and we finally dig into the food.

After dinner, I bring out the talking piece, a small clay pot that I had brought with me from Burkina Faso, and briefly explain sharing circles. No one can speak except the one holding the piece. I suggest that we tell a story or something about ourselves that would be meaningful. One woman says that she has just come from the USA to marry, and she is adjusting to life here. People in her neighbourhood are already very important to her, and she is wondering what God is wanting her to do. My Somali friend shares how she is grateful to God for bringing her whole family to Canada. People are speaking from their hearts, including their faith perspective. For a while, my co-organizer steps out of the circle to look after her son. The minute he is quiet, she is handed the clay pot. I’m thankful for Canada, and for the man who invited her to share her thoughts when her baby was quiet. I take the Sudanese baby while the father tells his story. We tell stories of snow and of first arriving in Canada. My friend says that she hopes we can have many gatherings like this throughout the year so that none of us are isolated in winter.

Loren isn’t disappointed with the turnout; he says that what happened here was deep, and good. Perhaps the evening showed us the strongest neighbourhood people, a core on which to build future neighbouring experiences. I leave with deep peace. It’s been a holy place.

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An Evening during Ramadan
August 9, 2013

I received an invitation from a friend and an administrator at the original Edmonton mosque to attend their event at City Hall square. I greeted her and others I knew that were working hard all the while having eaten no food or drank any water for over 14 hours by then. They had brought food for 2000 people and contacted homeless shelters to send their folks to the square.I greeted the older women of this community.

Then standing in line I visited with a man about various things. It was only toward the end I heard he was Ismaili Muslim but yet was not fasting. So I was confused. He was so respectful of me and interested in my life. Toward the end he was willing to speak of himself and his community as well. He is interested in an interfaith group and got his contact info.

I then met a woman who has been on the EMCN board and has known Mennonites for a long time. She introduced me to her son. He is a lawyer, works with computers instead but is interested in sociology.Together we had fun analyzing why the homeless, who were lining up in front of us, in our society end up homeless. I compared their life with the life of people in the village where I lived in Burkina Faso. He told me of sociology books to read. At the end, he said that it is unusual to find people interested in talking with him on these topics, and was most thankful for this time.He would be interested in an interfaith group as well.

A Bosnian Muslim woman took me home from Train station after we were at the Taste of Ramadan event. We chatted about her family and my family. I asked her if she was interested in an interfaith book study on compassion, where people of various religions would get together and meet once a month to learn about compassion together but to build friendships with each other too. She said that was most interesting to her. That she has been busy as a single mom but now her children have their own cars and are more independent and she wants to be more involved in other’s lives. She volunteers at the mosque just to have contact with people, those Arab people.

By the end of the ride, she said, “But if a Christian Serb either orthodox or RC showed up in the group, she wouldn't be able to do it. " Would I be able to? Oh my! (I had thought this was simply a very good idea. For her this had the potential of her having to face her enemy. I felt bad for taking the issue so lightly.) Then I said that I was so sad that Christians did that to her people. That they betrayed Jesus. I asked if she would forgive us as Christians for that. (This is the kind of thing that David Shenk often does, but I have not had much opportunity for it.) She said she wasn't trying to make me feel guilty. I said I wasn't feeling guilty personally just so sad, that it should never have happened. She talked in more detail that 50 years earlier the Christian Serbs had wiped out a whole town of Muslims, and then in the 90’s again. She said it is just awful that it has to happen twice, that people don’t learn from their past.

Then I watched the Serbian dancers at Heritage festival. I wondered if some of those dancers were probably alive when the genocide and rapes happened. What did these young people think of the events of that time?

Somali Contacts
August 9, 2013 (written July 5, 2013)

There were four evenings last week where I was with the Somali community. As the first evening got going, a couple I’ve known for a long time told me how discouraged they were with the continuing clan tensions in the Somali community. Then as the evening got going, I realized why they told me what they did. For instead of the four Somali associations working together at the event like last year, only one association did the organizing. This was already evident at the Africa Day dinner when only one Somali association was present at the event. I wondered where the others are.

One evening, I went to a Women’s wedding party. About five women who are mostly my neighbors were there with me. I have wanted to focus on neighbors more this summer and I was so pleased with this. This invitation came through the woman who I tutor in prep for her citizenship test.

Then for independence Day I was with another group of Somali neighbors, who I now understand are part of the “other group”. This group I know from English classes in the neighborhood and from the woman who I work with on the child custody case. There was no overlap in these groups, but these women are all neighbors to each other and know each other but only socialize with the ones of their group.

Their Ramadan fasting month is soon here and we plan to give these people each a package of dates to break the fast. All of this feels so familiar to Burkina Faso, weddings and fasting, and finding ways to be part of a community that I have been invited to be a part of. I praise God for these open doors to relationships within a complex but fascinating people. They are drawing me deeper in commitment to them.

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A Funeral Plus Two Visits (names have been removed)
March 25, 2013

It all began last week on Monday morning, about 10 o’clock. It was my English tutor student, ________, a woman of Somali origin who called me saying that she was very sad, because her aunt’s son had been brutally stabbed the day before. What horrible news!. It was a very suspicious story where the young man was only gone from his home for 30 minutes when the parents got word of his death. So many unanswered questions! For my part, it was unsettling in that this home was one of the few in the Somali community where I had visited. I had gone to see a sick aunt of this young man. I knew the mother as well. Anyway, my student had a young girl, a niece, with her who is home schooled and an only child. The mother was doing so poorly with all that, that my tutored student, _________, asked if I was willing to come to the library and read to the girl.So away we went. I did some reading with the young girl and came back home. I felt a huge heaviness myself. There had been many such murders in the Somali community several years ago. But for the last two years, it seemed that things were going better. All were working together to make things work. So this murder of a wonderful, adjusted Canadian-born Somali youth felt like a huge set back.

That evening I went by bus as usual to volunteer at the Somali-run homework club. It was only a day after the announcement of the death, and the club was full of young people who could not concentrate. In fact the first person at the club was the younger brother of the deceased teenager. Some relative thought it was better that he come there and be “normal” instead of staying at home where the mother and sisters were doing very poorly emotionally. It was finally decided that all should take a break and go to the gym and do prayers together. I guess the thought was that all needed to refocus on God as they dealt with the news. Good idea!

After the club, and as I waited for my ride with the same _______to take me home where we normally studied, I visited with the head of the Somali Canadian Association. He asked for my contact information. He said that they needed to honor me as volunteer in the Somali community. I told him, that I really didn’t need any encouragement to keep doing what I am. I said I was so welcomed by Africans in Africa, that this is the least that I can do to give back. He said that I may not need any honor but that they needed to do it for their own good. For a time, then, this man, ________ thought he should take me to the home of the deceased family where I would meet my ride and we got in the car together. Then my ride showed up and I went with her instead.By then, it was very late and the emotion of the day had _______ exhausted. She did not come to study but as we drove I asked her about the funeral and whether it was appropriate that I attend. She said that I should come if I could, and she hoped I did.I then contacted my English class volunteer coordinator by email, saying that I would not be in class the next afternoon, because I was attending a funeral.

I began my day on Tuesday as I typically do; by going to volunteer teach in an English as Second Language class, that is held at the neighborhood library branch.One woman, ______, is always the most pleased to see me, because her mother was sponsored by the First Mennonite church in Edmonton as a refugee from Somalia, and the connections have been made with me.______struggles with a depressed teenage girl who lays on a couch at home and isn’t finishing her high school. _______ never seems to get good help for this problem, but I listen as I am able.

There was a huge turnout in class that day, and the teacher was pleased and rather overwhelmed. The atmosphere was positive as it usually is, realizing that the sense of belonging by being together weekly is as important as learning some English.

But at noon when I would normally stay to also teach a drop in conversation class at the same location in the afternoon, I got on a bus and headed to the _______ mosque the only place equipped for Muslim funerals in Edmonton. Even being two buses away from the mosque, there was standing room only with many Somali young people going the same place as me. The second bus was even a greater majority of Somali youth.What a difficult day for all of them, grieving deeply a trusted friend, beloved by many.

I got there before the early afternoon prayer, called Zuhr. The normal prayers would be followed by the special funeral prayers. I had once happened on this ritual at the mosque, but did not know the people. This time, I sat down, not far from the grieving mother, as people came to hug her and console her. There were many tears. I too hugged her trying to imagine how it would feel to lose my first born son in this way. I told her I was praying that God would comfort her. My tutored student ______was making sure the mother and relatives were sitting in the proper place, etc, comforting the young women who were struggling so deeply with the day. I noticed that everyone seemed to be of Somali origin and there were only a few non-Somali Muslims.I was the only non-Muslim. I was told later that many Caucasian male friends of the deceased had participated in the men’s section of the mosque. That is a good thing.

The sermon that day with many, many young people present was on the theme of a person never knowing when their time may come and living in faithfulness to God right now without delaying. I wondered to myself whether these words were really the words of consolation that so many needed at that time.

Afterwards, but still in the mosque, I met _______, my English student’s mother who Mennonites had sponsored. We went home to their place together as I had a message to take to a woman next door who would only return home later in the day. We visited as ______’s daughter, cooked the evening meal for her mother, sister, husband and seven children, some of whom would be returning from school soon. The two youngest girls had various tantrums, as they were not allowed to go outside each time someone walked out the door. My own children had gone through this at about their age, so tired of being cooped up in a building, after losing their freedom to run in Africa. The family had arrived just five months ago as UN refugees from India. I ate with them and then excused myself to go next door to deliver my message. They said that the cake in the oven was for me and that I needed to promise to come back and pick it up later before I returned home.That was about 5 o’clock.

Next door, I met ______, a 28 year old Iraqi woman and ______ her 70 year old mother.They welcomed me warmly for my third visit. They had arrived here several years ago. The mother knows no English and the daughter is learning quickly. They needed the help of a lawyer to change important papers. The mother had been upset with her oldest son, and did not include him in the list of children on the forms for permanent residence that they filled out to come to Canada. Now the oldest son wanted to visit his mother, but was denied a visa from the United Arab Emirates.So information needed to be changed on those papers, and no one seemed clear who could do this.So through the most recent sponsored refugees by First Mennonite church, also of Iraqi origin, they had heard of me and called me to visit them. My role was to track down a lawyer. The irony was that the young woman is herself a lawyer, with credentials in Arabic, but totally incapable of even finding a lawyer in Edmonton. After getting past the business, the daughter and I talked a long time about how she could intensify her English study.I gave her several bits of advice and I have no idea if she will follow them. By the end of the visit, the mother got out a most beautiful purple scarf, a perfect match to the purple blazer I was wearing that day.What a gift! I left around 8 o’clock to give greetings to the family who lost their son.

At this time I called my husband on cell phone to say that my day was going to be long and though I had considered an early birthday meal for him that evening, it wouldn’t happen and that the meal would happen on his real birthday tomorrow.

As I was welcomed into the home, about 30 women were lining up in the living room to do the evening prayers. With me being the only non-Muslim in that space, the group had to decide what to do with me. A woman from across the room, whom I recognized, called out to someone to grab a living room chair and set it in the dining room for me, to wait while they prayed. It was the first time I heard a woman leading in the prayers, which was deeply moving for me. Afterwards the same woman led in a short sermon, and a second woman added to it. I did not know these women.My tutored student _______told me a brief summary of their comments. It was on the importance of trusting God no matter what happens in life.

I sat with them then, chatting about the situation. I said that I was sad for the family but also for the larger Somali community which seemed to be doing so much better. I also talked about how it must be confusing to raise children in Canada, and then something can go so wrong.I told how privileged I felt to have raised my children in a solid and strong African Muslim village, where I could trust everyone with my children. Later, my closest Somali friend, _____, told me that this latter point was still being discussed when she visited the home later that evening, and that people appreciated my coming with greetings. This funeral scene reminded me of our days as a missionary in Burkina Faso. We were always present at funerals in our village. At one time in our village, a blacksmith friend came and told us that the people in the neighboring market town had asked him why he liked the white people in his village so much. He told them that it is because they always attend our funerals with us. In Burkina Faso we were with people at the very first funeral that happened after our arrival. Here in Edmonton, it had taken 2 ½ years before we were welcomed into that very important time for a family, and a faith community.

In case you forgot, I had one more stop to make.It was now about 9 pm.I went back to_____’s family to pick up the cake as I had promised. This time, different that the previous visits, ______, the father of the children was home. He’s an opthamologist and trying to figure out what are next steps to get his credentials in Canada. We looked at options together for about an hour. Most of my ideas were that of encouraging him to stick with it until he was fully recognized. There are many highly trained professionals in the Somali communities, that weren’t willing to live on “welfare” while they did the prescribed study. I said it was not welfare. It is a provision for immigrants so that they can have this transition time in order to become productive in this society.

At close to 9:50 pm, I looked at my time, and realized I had just missed my bus.So I took off my shoes and was invited by the father for the evening meal. So while eating a second meal with this family, another bus went by. At 10:30, the meal was over and I started my good-byes. As I hugged the first woman, 3 times as is the custom, the little girls of age 3 and 4 hopped up on the big arm chair so that they could be in line for hugs too. I gave them their hugs and then hugged the next two women. Seeing what was going on, they got back on the chair to receive a closing hug before I walked out the door. So I ended my day with 2 hugs each from these beautiful, bubbly, pigtail bobbing girls, and arrived home about 11:15.I am in awe of God’s work as I am present in the Somali community. I know full well that another Somali Christian was recently martyred in Kenya and that even in Edmonton there is a lot of anti-Christian sentiment, growing stronger with the passing of time, not diminishing. I wonder what God is up to, but I pray for guidance to be wise in all I do.

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Being Strong and Kind as Christians in Relation to Those of Other Faiths
March 22, 2013

"(1) The stronger our Christian commitment, the more we emphasize our differences with other faiths…We may be friendly to individuals of other religions, but our friendship always has a pretext: we want them to switch sides and be won over to our better way... (2) Others of us know how to have a more positive, accepting response to other religions. We never proselytize. We always show respect for other religions and their adherents. We always minimize differences and maximize commonalities. But we typically achieve coexistence by weakening our Christian identity...So I explore the possibility of a (3) third option, a Christian identity that is both strong and kind. By strong, I mean vigorous, vital, durable, motivating, faithful, attractive, and defining—an authentic Christian identity that matters. By kind I mean benevolent, hospitable, accepting, interested and loving , so that the stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view." (from Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road by Brian McLaren, 2012.)

Two quotes from a second book that is a shorter read:

1)The author is talking with a man in the Middle East. The man says ".. I've figured it out. Here's the answer for the Middle East. People come up to this house, and on the house it says 'Christianity: Do not enter.'

I said, 'That's not what the house says.'

Oh, yes, he replied, 'in the Middle East the house called Christianity has a subtitle and it says, 'Do not Enter'. 'Keep out, we are against you.' He said, 'We have to take these words off the house because it's actually not the house of Christianity. It's the house of Jesus. So here's my plan. People get close to the house and they're reading Christianity. They're ready to run away, but we have to grab them and open up the door and say, 'Look! It's Jesus. And Jesus will invite them in because Jesus loves people. He's not in the way. He is the way.'"

2) "I'm not here to say who's in and who's out. I'm not God. But as far as I can tell, Jesus is the best news around and everyone that I've ever told about Him seems to like Him. Some even choose to follow Him and commit themselves to His way. But it's totally your choice. No pressure from me!

And please don't ever think that God is up in heaven on His big white throne, with His long gray beard and big iron scepter in His hand waiting to smack anyone who goes awry. That's such a faulty picture of God. Jesus told us the real picture in Luke chapter 15. It's a picture of God running to the sinner who has turned to come crawling back home—but God can't wait for him, so He runs to the kid and hugs him. Kisses him. Rewards him and welcomes him home. That's the real God. And that's what we and everyone else get when we say yes to Jesus. Good news, man. I'm telling you, it's good news!"

(from Speaking of Jesus: The Art of non-evangelism by Carl Medearis, 2011)

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