David W. Shenk, Herald Press, 2014.
—Reviewed by Edwin R. Zehner, lecturer, Ph.D. Program in Asian Studies, Walailak University, Thailand.
David Shenk is an author with more than fifty years of experience working as a missionary among Muslims in Somalia, Kenya, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Drawing on the resources of his Mennonite tradition, his pacifism and service attitude have opened doors that were often closed to other Christian organizations. This was especially so in his early work in Somalia. Part of this book’s purpose is to tell how others can engage in similar door-opening, while warning against anti-Muslim attitudes that undermine these efforts.
Shenk describes himself as a ‘C4’ missionary. He is clear that whenever he interacts with his Muslim friends—and with Muslim government officials—he is clear about his personal stance as a Christian. Furthermore, when observing Muslim rituals, which he apparently does frequently, he normally sits in the back rather than, say, joining directly in the prayers or donning Muslim dress.
Yet his practices also overlap with those of C5 practitioners. He has familiarized himself with the Qur’an and with Muslim interpretations of the Qur’an, while also warning of the importance of deferring to Muslim’s readings of their scriptures rather than imposing interpretations of one’s own. He often uses the term ‘Believers in Jesus’ rather than the culture-bound term “Christian.” In one particularly compelling passage he describes how his mission supported the process whereby a local congregation of Muslim-background believers decided which practices they would retain, which ones they would replace, and which ones they would create anew. All of these appear to be consonant with C5 stances.
One of the most compelling aspects of the book are the many personal stories. Some of these come from Shenk’s missionary work, some from his public dialogues and debates with Muslim spiritual leaders, and others from simple interactions with Muslim neighbors. Throughout the book, one gets a sense of a man who waits on the Spirit of God to guide his words. And often the positions voiced were not what one would expect. As I read, I was often amazed at how bold yet disarming some of the statements were. And I was especially impressed by the woman who essentially saved her mission’s work by refusing to press charges after her husband’s death in a tense political-religious situation.
Throughout the book, Shenk argues for an attitude of ‘respect’ and collaboration, while never hiding his advocacy of the gospel. He apparently lives what he preaches. His works include a book co-authored with a Muslim (A Christian and a Muslim in Dialogue, co-authored with Badru D. Kateregga). His missions’ charitable works often resulted in congregations of new believers in Jesus. And he continues to engage in conversations, in the fullest sense of the word, with Muslims around the world.
Shenk’s primary message to his fellow Christians is to build friendships and to seek to be a friend. The book contains many examples of how to do exactly that. I highly recommend this book for both general and missionary readers.
Check these titles:
Haile, Ahmed Ali. 2011. Teatime in Mogadishu: My Journey as a Peace Ambassador in the World of Islam. Harrisonburg, Va.: Herald Press.
Johnston, Douglas, ed. 2002. Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik. New York: Oxford University Press.