Episcopal Mission Conference Zones in on Conversion

An Episcopal mission conference that concluded on Sunday offered different perspectives on the conversion process, including tips on how to work with Muslims.

The some 300 attendees at the "Everyone, Everywhere World Mission Conference" in Baltimore, Md., heard addresses on the topic of conversion, ranging from the need for on-going personal transformation to being sensitive when sharing the Gospel with Muslims.

The Rev. Mike Kinman, executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, spoke about a "conversion about liberation … from what holds us most tightly in its grasp" on the opening day of the June 5-8 conference, according to Episcopal News Service.

He pointed to the Scripture story in Luke 10:1-9, when Jesus commanded the 72 missionaries to take nothing with them when they go out to preach. Kinman described this scene as a "call to vulnerability," which requires Christians to "receive the vulnerable stranger and treat them with God's extravagant love." The call also asks believers to become vulnerable.

Kinman said in modern U.S. society, this is especially hard for Americans because of society's strong indoctrination of the "gospel of security."

"We have this almost pathological fear of it all being taken away," Kinman observed.

But he urged Christians to be liberated from their need to always be secured and logical, and instead depend on God.

On day two of the conference, the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal missionary and author, spoke about working with Muslims. He urged participants to "bridge this chasm of misunderstanding" between Christianity and Islam by not focusing on converting the Muslim, but rather to form an interfaith friendship that explores the commonality between the two faiths.

Chandler said Muslims who are pressured into converting to Christianity suffer what he calls a "total break with society." He gave as example real stories of Christian converts from Islam in Senegal who were exiled from their community when they followed Christ.

"They ended up getting Jesus, but the rest of their life was hell," said Chandler, who had lived in Senegal with his parents who were Christian missionaries.

The Episcopal missionary recommended Christians to use the Five Pillars of Islam to introduce the common religious heritage between Christianity and Islam when approaching Muslims. The central common factor is that Jesus was a Middle Eastern man whom Islam reveres.

The five pillars consist of: Shahadah – sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith; Salat – performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day; Zakat – paying an alms (or charity) to benefit the poor and the needy; Sawm – fasting during the month of Ramadan; and Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca.

Chandler, who is the rector of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Cairo, connected the five pillars with the Christian profession that Jesus is Lord; the traditional churches facing the east when praying; Christian charitable giving; fasting during Lent; and the Christian pilgrimage towards the truth, respectively.

He reminded the attendees that both Christians and Muslims hold dear Psalm 84, whose fourth verse says: "Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way."

The "Everyone, Everywhere World Mission Conference" offered more than 40 different workshops to attendees, ranging from regionally specific programs to classes on mission theology. Helen Wangusa, Anglican Observer at the United Nations, was the keynote speaker on Saturday, and the conference concluded with Eucharist on Sunday.

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