CHICAGO — Last year, an Eastern Mennonite Missions team that works in Christian-Muslim relations was invited to have the only booth representing a Jesus-following witness at America’s largest yearly gathering of Muslims.
This year, EMM’s Christian/ Muslim Relations Team was invited back to the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention, with a special request.
Sayyid Syeed, who recently retired as national director of the society’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, suggested the team return with 3,000 to 4,000 free copies of A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, a book co-authored in 1980 by team founder David W. Shenk and his Muslim colleague Badru D. Kateregga.
Syeed hoped the book could be given to a significant number of the projected 20,000 people who would attend the convention.
“As Muslims, we believe what the Quran (3:113) teaches us about believing Christians and requires us to look for those Christians whose lives are true representatives of those values,” he said. “I have known and respected Shenk and his team, who are wholeheartedly dedicated in building bridges of understanding between Muslims and Christians.”
The book’s publisher, Herald Press, offered a bulk order at one-third of the original price.
“It’s great to work on a project like this where there is direct ministry impact,” said Joe Questel, director of sales and marketing at Herald Press. “The challenge for us was to be able to supply [the books] at a price that would allow [the team] to afford that many, and to do it in a very tight time frame.
“We had done this once before on a smaller buy, so we had a great working relationship in place to be able to scale up for this opportunity.”
Community members gave toward the bulk purchase through an online EMM fundraiser.
Tool for understanding
The team was able to arrive at the June 30-July 3 convention with 2,500 books in tow.
“It was really a step of faith to carry all those books in,” Shenk said.
His teammate Andres Prins agreed.
“We were in a sea of booths, and I had little faith that the 2,500 books would all be taken by people who happened to pass by our booth,” he said of more than 400 stands representing Muslim-oriented organizations.
To the Christian/Muslim Relations Team members’ delight, the book was promoted throughout the convention.
The team distributed all but 300 copies of the book, each containing a welcoming and explanatory letter from authors Kateregga and Shenk.
Syeed said the book was a valued gift at the convention.
“Our people appreciated this kind gesture and cherished [Shenk’s] book as a powerful tool for advancing better understanding and partnership between the two faith communities,” he said. “We will continue to build solidarity against destructive hate and mutual demonization.”
Jonathan Bornman, a team member who attended the convention last year, said it seemed clear to him that the Islamic Society of North America sees itself “as a modernizing movement in Islam, so that North American Muslims can lead the way for the rest of the world in nurturing civil society.”
One of Shenk’s favorite moments at the convention occurred when an attendee said his 12-year-old son had picked up a copy of the book the day before and read it for hours late into the night.