“We need the peacemaking presence of Mennonites here,” Muslim leaders emphasized when meeting a team of five Anabaptists in the Philippines during April, 2005.
Mindanao in southern Philippines has experienced five wars in the last seven years. Most families, Christian and Muslim, have been wounded by the atrocities of each side of the conflict. Yet there is an open door for Anabaptist presence. What is the gift that Anabaptists offer that opens doors in North Africa such as we experienced among the Muslims of Mindanao?
The message of the Spirit to the church in Philadelphia described in Revelation 3:7–13 gives some clues about the open doors that modern Anabaptists experience in their engagement with Muslims.
Jesus alone has the key to open the door, and when he opens a door, no one can shut it. He is the King from David’s line whose authority extends to the ends of the earth. He opens doors for those who faithfully serve the extension of his Kingdom. Jesus is quite specific about the characteristics necessary for him to open doors for us.
- The door is open for the Church of “Philadelphia.” The name means brotherly love. As we live in brotherly harmony with one another doors are opened. Strife closes doors and smothers fruitful ministry.
- The deeds of the church open the door. Mennonite Brethren do good deeds. They are renowned for ministries of compassion for the poor and dispossessed. Witness the ministries of Dr. Herb Friesen, an eye specialist, and his wife, Ruth, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They served for 28 years, and continued to relate to the eye clinics even in their retirement years. They are loved by Muslims throughout Afghanistan and North West Pakistan and many mourned Herb’s death in the fall of 2005.So was the ministry of Richard Penner, who, after many years of compassionate service in development work in Afghanistan became overall director of World Concern. Richard told me shortly before his death in a plane crash, “We are called to serve the felt needs of people so faithfully that they want us to be their neighbours.”
- Doors open because the church has little strength. Mennonite Brethren do not wield political power. Their ministry is centered in the way of the cross. They do not embrace the military, economic, and political solutions that characterize much of mainstream North American culture. Their power is centred within the weakness of the cross, which paradoxically is the power of God. It is absolutely necessary that Mennonite Brethren ministries among Muslims be rooted in the weakness of the cross – their witness will only be received as they serve in weakness.
- A Mennonite Brethren keep the Word of God. They are recognized by Muslims as “people of the book.” The Bible forms the center of life in their churches and homes. They read and love the Bible! Muslims respect those who are genuinely people of the book. That book, the Bible, opens doors!
- These Christians do not deny the name of Jesus. They confess that they serve because of the call of Jesus Christ on their lives. Muslims are intrigued with Jesus. As Muslims and Mennonite Brethren meet, Jesus persistently occupies the center of conversation. That is especially true when people know that Mennonite Brethren serve because of Jesus Christ.
- Mennonite Brethren obey the commands of Jesus. They are Sermon on the Mount Christians. Muslims are amazed that these Christians really do obey the Good News ethical teaching of Jesus. They do not participate in the military, but rather seek to express the love of Christ even to those their nations might consider to be enemies. They also obey the Great Commission. Muslims try to press Christian presence into a box where service is welcome but not witness. However, these Anabaptist believers persist in their call to be witnesses, albeit unobtrusively and respectfully.
- Patient endurance characterizes these Christians. MB history has included much suffering. They have known martyrdom. They are not surprised if their calling brings suffering. They are patient, realizing that it is the Holy Spirit who brings fruitfulness. In the book of Acts the early disciples waited ten days for the Holy Spirit to come upon them; Mennonite Brethren are committed to witness and waiting ten years or more for the Holy Spirit to bring forth fruitfulness.
These are the seven characteristics of a church for whom Jesus opens the door for ministry among Muslims. As the Mennonite Brethren enter the doors that Jesus is opening, they will discern that the opposition (synagogue of Satan) is disarmed. They will discover that the kingdom of God is coming (the new Jerusalem). And those they serve will observe that the name of God is inscribed upon them – the joy of the Lord is evident on their faces!
—David W. Shenk
This article was published in MBMSI Witness Winter 2006.