Shenk built interfaith relationships

EMM worker developed Christian-Muslim dialogue around the world

Bishop Amos Muhagachi, center, and David W. Shenk, left, present A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue in Swahili to Jikaya Kikwete, then President of Tanzania, who requested 200 copies. — Eastern Mennonite Missions Bishop Amos Muhagachi, center, and David W. Shenk, left, present A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue in Swahili to Jikaya Kikwete, then President of Tanzania, who requested 200 copies. — Eastern Mennonite Missions

David W. Shenk, 85, a longtime interfaith peace advocate with Muslim groups, international educator and author, died Jan. 31 at Landis Homes in Lititz, Pa.

An ambassador of Christ’s peace, he worked much of his life in international ministries with Eastern Mennonite Missions and authored or co-authored 18 books.

His passions were dialogue, witness, peacemaking and hospitality, all centered in Jesus. Committed to interreligious dialogue, he enjoyed engagement with Muslim and Christian scholars from around the world.

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

Shenk’s passion for relating lovingly and respectfully to Muslims while confessing Jesus Christ as Lord led to the founding of EMM’s Christian-Muslim Relations Team in 2012.

“David’s legacy is the people he has impacted and connected with over his lifetime,” said current team leader Jonathan Bornman. “His life and the materials he wrote blazed a trail for helping the church and all Christ followers to share a Jesus-centered faith in a multifaith world.”

Shenk’s ministry in the Islamic world and interest in Muslim-Christian dialogue began in 1963 when he and his wife, Grace, moved their family to Somalia, where he served with EMM as director of education for 10 years. He taught and developed curriculum with UNESCO and the Somali Department of Education.

Beginning in 1973, the family lived for six years in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was a Kenyatta University College lecturer, a Nairobi Mennonite Church pastor and an Islamic ministries coordinator.

His vision for supporting the majority-Muslim suburb community in Eastleigh, Nairobi, led to the formation of the Eastleigh Fellowship Center, which provided library services and English lessons for Muslims. Today, the center is a hub of dialogue and friendship for Muslims and Christians and offers education and sports programs.

While at Eastleigh, a student asked Shenk to recommend a Bible study for Muslims. He realized that he knew of none and resolved to write one. The People of God has been translated into 40 languages.

As a professor at Kenyatta University College, he developed a friendship with a Muslim colleague, Badru Kateregga. In 1980, the two partnered to publish A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, which has been translated into at least 12 languages.

Returning to the United States in 1979, he served as EMM home ministries director for seven years, followed by international ministries director for 11 years. In 1998, the Shenks moved to Lithuania, where he was academic dean at Lithuania Christian College in Klaipeda for four years. He served as global Islamic ministries consultant with EMM for 19 years. He was a member of Mountville Mennonite Church, where he pastored from 1980 to 1986.

Shenk was born in Shirati, Tanzania, to EMM missionaries J. Clyde and Alta Shenk. He and Grace Witmer married in 1959 and moved to New York City, where he directed the Mennonite Voluntary Service Center for two years. This was followed by a two-year term as Bible and history instructor at Lancaster Mennonite High School in Pennsylvania.

Shenk earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies and theology from Eastern Mennonite University, a master’s degree in social studies education and a doctorate in religious studies education and anthropology from New York University.

He traveled the world teaching and preaching until he was 80.

He is survived by children Karen (Merv), Doris (Caleb), Jonathan (Cynthia) and Timothy (Christine); seven grandchildren; brothers John Shenk and Daniel Shenk; sister-in-law Edith Shenk (Dennis) Kuhns; stepbrothers Daniel (Thelma) Wenger, Wilmer (Miriam) Wenger; and stepsister Annetta (Harold) Miller.

He was preceded in death by siblings Joseph Shenk and Anna Kathryn Eby.

Contributing: Eastern Mennonite Missions.

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