Maitland, New South Wales
The small gathering of attendees at a series of Maitland Adventist Church (NSW) meetings focused on connecting with Muslims were enthusiastic about the principles and information they’d gained from the line-up of international guests who spoke at the September 22-25 event.
For Muslims, Jesus was raised to the heavens and is alive. All godly religions . . . are waiting for Jesus, who will unite the faithful and show us Almighty God and that there is no difference between those who believe in him.
The conference was titled “Islam and the True People of the Book”, referencing the favourable Qur’anic description of Jews and Christians as ahl al-kitab (people of the book). The topics included a biblical review of Ishmael’s descendants and the “children of the East” from Genesis to Revelation, an introduction to Islam and the life of Mohammed, a presentation of discipleship principles and how they might be applied when relating to Muslims, and demonstrations of inductive Bible study methods.
The 30 or so attendees used opportunities during the conference to ask the hard questions about the true nature of Islam and the character and identity of Mohammed, reflecting the emotive debates in mainstream and social media. The focus of the presenters, however, was on finding ways to connect with Muslims, to identify where is God at work in the Muslim world and make the most of common ground, rather than highlighting differences or stoking hostility. Adventists, with our aversion to unclean meats and alcohol and tradition of dress reform, share even more similarities with Muslims than do average praying, Bible-believing, family-oriented Christians. In answer to a question on how to deal with a friend who has a negative view of Islam, Ms Gabriela Phillips, North American Division (NAD) director of Adventist Muslim Relations (AMR), who addressed the conference via Skype, said she had two answers: “The ideal answer is to say, ‘Here, come—I want you to meet my Muslim friend.’ The realistic answer is to remember that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, not that I personally see Muslims as enemies.”
Ms Phillips’ husband, Marty, who has decades of experience living and working in Muslim-majority countries, spoke via Skype on Sabbath morning, noting that Indigenous gospel movements are rapidly growing across the Muslim world—from Morocco to Indonesia—tens of thousands of genuine followers of Jesus who remain within their Muslim communities but actively participate in a large home-based church movement.
Toronto resident Mr Mouhamad Zoghbi participated in Sabbath afternoon’s final sessions; his presence and perspectives from the floor added significance to the content being discussed. “It has become human nature to focus on what differentiates us from one another,” he said. “For Muslims, Jesus was raised to the heavens and is alive. All godly religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—are waiting for Jesus, who will unite the faithful and show us Almighty God and that there is no difference between those who believe in him.”
The conference speakers also included Australian-born Mr Rodney MacCallum (assistant director of AMR, NAD), Mr Oswin Budi Darmawan (assistant director, Interfaith Study Centre, East and West Indonesia union missions) and the conference organiser, Maitland local Mr Paul Bennetts, who heads up Advent Indonesian Initiative, an organisation that runs English, health and ethics programs in Indonesian madrassas (Islamic schools). The decades of experience befriending and working alongside Muslim people that each of these speakers have, showed in the plethora of stories they each shared. Stories of divine guidance, of risks taken and of lives transformed.
“This program gave fresh perspectives on our fellow believers,” said Maitland church elder Kelvin Langman. “It made me feel confident I can approach someone from the Muslim faith and not be afraid to share this important message that we have for these last days in history. Who knows, this could be beneficial for us both in the future.”
Plans for a similar conference next year are already being discussed, with a number of organisers and participants wondering how the Church in Australia and the South Pacific region can establish a branch of Adventist Muslim Relations or similar initiative in this territory.