A workshop at New Westminster (British Columbia) Christian Reformed Church began with 125 attendees singing “Salaam, salaam, the peace of God to every race” and ended with a powerful prayer for pastor Naji Umran and his family as they prepared to return to the political uncertainty of the Middle East after two months in North America.
Umran, an ordained pastor, is a ministry representative of the CRC in the Middle East. His current role is to develop leaders among Arab Christians and to support their efforts at dialogue with Muslims. As part of the CRC’s North American Salaam Project, he is also connecting with congregations in Canada and the United States to educate church members and broaden the CRC’s ministry to Muslims.
The evening event, cohosted by New Westminster CRC and nearby Nelson Avenue CRC in Burnaby, was intended to provide church members with useful ideas on how to open dialogue and deepen relationships with their Muslim neighbors. Both churches are situated in diverse neighborhoods and understand that they must be better equipped to engage with those who follow the Islamic faith.
Umran challenged attendees, saying, “Make your faith evident in how you live, and build strong relationships with your Muslim neighbors so that when you speak about your faith it is heard in relationships characterized by trust and mutual respect. Our role should not be to argue theology or doctrine, but to show the love of Christ.”
“I hope we learned something about Islam, but also what our response to it could and should be,” said Johannes Schouten, pastor of Nelson Avenue CRC. “We need dialogue certainly, but we also need courage in our witness, boldness in our hospitality practices, and persistence in our prayers.”