In the House of Prayer

In the House of Prayer

Burgas, Bulgaria - June 5-12, 2011.  In Burgas, a Bulgarian touristic town, located on the shores of the Black Sea in the south-eastern region of the country, the second International Convention on Islam was held, organized by the Euro-Africa Region (EUD)

June 16, 2011 | CD-EUD

Burgas, Bulgaria - June 5-12, 2011. In Burgas, a Bulgarian touristic town, located on the shores of the Black Sea in the south-eastern region of the country, the second International Convention on Islam was held, organized by the Euro-Africa Region (EUD) Ministerial Association, in cooperation with Women’s Ministries, Sabbath School and Personal Ministries. Similarly to the first convention, the objective was focused on the search for a better understanding of the Muslim world, in order to bring participants into closer contact with the Islamic world: people, culture, religion.
All the participants of this convention, about 70 coming from different European countries, were called to build a deeper awareness of the growing number of Muslim immigrants residing in Europe and furthermore to consider their openness to learn more about the Bible and its message of the good news in Jesus Christ.

The program
The program was divided into two parts: one presented by lecturers and another set up as a study tour in Istanbul, Turkey. Specialists on Islamic studies and Christian-Islamic relationships, such as Dr. G. Diop, Dr. L. Merklin, Dr. O. Osindo, Dr. P. Bahadur, Dr. U. Worschech and other workers, gave several interesting lectures as well as testimonies of their commitment in this challenging field. The topics presented were structured in terms of dialogue between the teachings of the Koran and the Bible. For example: The Sabbath in the Koran; The Judgment Day and Related Signs as presented in the Bible and in the Koran; Meaningful Interactions with Muslims; God’s Final Revelation: The Character of God in the Koran and in the Scripture; Mohammed and Jesus; Old Testament Trinitarian Thinking in Relationship to the Koran: How to Approach a Dialogue with Muslims About This Difficult Issue; and so on. All the lecturers were well prepared and captured the attention and the interest of the attendees. “The teachings and the testimonies offered to the participants during the Convention on Islam have been of high quality” said Bruno Vertallier, Seventh-day Adventist EUD President. “I want to thank all the contributors for their expertise. It helps us to understand better how we may reach out to people who seem so far away from us.”

To better approach the Muslim setting, the program included the two-day trip to Istanbul. Nothing is better than learning by experience. Awake at 4.00 am and after a 6-hour trip in a bus organized by a travel agency, the attendees arrived in Istanbul, ready to dive into the real Muslim culture. The visit to the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Grand Bazaar, the tour of this huge city, the contact with the people, the food, etc. gave an engaging overview of this interesting world. “I consider that the main objectives of this convention – helping the participants to better understand the Islamic world and to better approach the Muslims – were fairly well achieved” affirmed Mario Brito, Ministerial Association Director and principal organizer of the convention. “I am not saying that the participants went home completely equipped with all the necessary skills to accomplish this objective, but that they became more aware of the main issues related to this question.”

Experiences in the field

Besides time for lectures, the convention offered time for testimonies, where some pastors had the possibility to share some stories to inform the attendees about practical aspects as well. Most of the Bible Studies are given by pastors, in groups or personally, but principally with persons that are curious regarding the second coming of Christ. They ask questions and are fascinated by the answers. One pastor affirmed that sometimes Bible Studies are so intensive that they may last 10 hours.
Another pastor told the story of a man who started to study the Bible. When he went to his country, he was threatened and warned not to continue. For many years he didn’t enter a church. One day, after about 10 years, he passed close to a church and saw a Bible. His reaction was to start to study the word of God again and finally he was baptized. Other members, who meet opposition from their close family members, have had the same experience. Nevertheless, they take courage and reach the goal.
There were also some who presented their disappointment when they entered a church for the first time, realizing that all the members keep their shoes on. Their disappointment arose when they saw how the Bible was handled, as well as when seeing how prayer is practiced. It takes time to accept these differences. Even if this could be considered formalism, we understood once again how important is to communicate using the same language in order to be accepted and share the message of the word of God. Other stories were presented that amazed the attendees, and as Denise Hochstrasser, Euro-Africa Region Women’s Ministries Director, suggests, “to be reliable for another time, we will need more speakers who should have a very grounded, wide and personal experience in this ministry.”

Youth Workers
What has most impressed the auditorium was the average age of church leaders working in these territories: less than 30 years. And their commitment is so strong that nothing and nobody can divert them from their mission. Young pastors and elders sharing the gospel while respecting the conditions imposed by their country; it is not easy to study the Bible in complete freedom. All of those who accept opening their hearts to the Word of the Book remain fascinated, even if not everybody accepts baptism.
What a challenge for these youth workers! That is to keep stand in the face of opposition from those who do not trust the Bible due to tradition. We cannot affirm that these youth are in danger, as far as they assume the responsibility of not evangelizing the natives. But the experiences that they have are sometimes fraught with the intervention of the authorities who can impose their conditions. This is the case of a church that received a police visit one Sabbath morning. Some of the members were accompanied outside the country. Today this church is half empty.
This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to live their personal faith in these countries, but one thing is sure, there is no freedom and the results suffer the lack of it.
Freedom was one of the key words expressed by all of these youth leaders attending the convention. It was moving to hear their desire to be free to preach the gospel. “My personal prayer is to help my people have the freedom to discover Jesus as their personal Savior”, said Ishmael. (All the names in this story are fictitious and their countries are not cited.)
As sharing the Good News is not easy, the best way to witness is to approach friends naturally and openly. “My friends know that I’m Christian,” intervenes Assad, “and when the moment arises, I try to tell them how I live my religion. Most of the time this moment occurs when they are having a difficult time and ask me for help. For this reason I’m always listening to them. It is not dangerous to invite your friends, it is important to give a good answer.” “When we understand the needs of our friends, sharing the gospel becomes easier,” reiterates Ishmael, “but it is important to not hurt them by imposing our position. I do it in a prayerful attitude. Prayer is a strong means that God gave us.” Sharing is not only theoretical, but above all practical. “Our friends observe us, and our lifestyle gives credibility to the Bible studies,” he concluded.
“For me, there are three principles to apply when we talk about sharing the gospel,” intervenes Harmed, “prayer, the Holy Spirit and love. Without a relationship with God fostered by prayers, we cannot receive the Holy Spirit and finally, I wouldn’t have a loving feeling when I’m with my Muslim friends. Without any one of these three conditions, our conversation becomes confrontation and my relationship is focused on convincing instead of helping them to discover what the Holy Spirit would like to tell them.”
These testimonies highlight the personal relationship of the gospel. When it is not possible, media such as TV, radio and Internet are the best vehicles to reach out to people who want to know

more about Jesus. But there are not many programs being broadcasted at the moment. “Full-time programs could allow our members to open their houses and transform them into places of prayer, worshipping God, enjoying listening to the word of God,” affirmed Hamadu, concerned about the lack of resources in this media outreach context. He concluded: “Besides this need of programs, we need more youth workers in our country. The few members there are now are old. What about the future?”
This is a big challenge launched by Hamadu, but he is not the only one. “I would live the gospel in my country as I could one day leave a Christian legacy.” “Before becoming a Christian, my challenge was to go to Europe for a better life. After my conversion, my dream was to become God’s servant and witness His love until the end of my days with my spouse.”
All of these youth have a common goal that is to share the gospel with all the people that they know. For this reason, their constant prayer is to ask God to send more workers to accomplish this mission. “I feel that this revolution we are experiencing in North Africa is not by chance,” said Hassam. “I’m sure that God is opening the doors, and we have to be present to give appropriate answers.”

Participants’ impressions
The convention was held in a hotel structured for these kinds of meetings. All the participants enjoyed the modules contributing to the success of the program.
Friedbert Hartmann, Seventh-day Adventist North German Union Secretary, was very impressed by the main setting of the convention. “This issue on Islam is so important today,” he said, “that we should have a theological course in our seminaries.” In Germany there is a challenge in this regard, because of the huge presence of Muslim immigrants. “Also, the pastors should be trained to face this topic with more knowledge,” he concluded.
Dr. G. Diop, Resources from Global Mission Study Centers Director, considers the education/training on the main Muslim context very important. “There must be real education so that people can be more sensitized to the issue and equipped with useful means,” he said. “It would be good to organize an inventory of practical material relating to this theme of evangelization that could be made easily available.” The Ministerial Association i

s also oriented in the same direction: “The EUD strongly encourages the leaders of the unions, conferences and churches to organize further training activities that may help workers and church members to have a more thorough and detailed preparation that may match the specific needs of each given territory and reality,” said Mario Brito, and Bruno Vertallier goes further: “My hope is that all the participants will take advantage of that experience to sensitize their fellow members in the Adventist church in their local areas. Invite the delegates or the people working in these Muslim countries to help the church members understand and start a ministry in their own region. This is our mission and it will be a blessing from the Lord.”
As a closing note, we would like to mention the friendly and affectionate atmosphere of fellowship among all the participants and the warm reception of our Bulgarian hosts.

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