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Churches Can Facilitate Interaction Between Christians and Muslims
Churches can offer immigrants English courses to welcome them to Canada, help them overcome isolation in a new country, and help them build relationships.

This article is a response to Don Hutchinson's weblog, Is Christian-Muslim Dialogue Possible in a Post 911 World?

Thank you, Don Hutchinson, for this compassionate call to engagement. It does fall to the host (us) to be the first to offer hospitality to our new immigrants. There will be things we can learn too, e.g. about the importance of hospitality in mid-eastern culture.

Many churches across Canada are ministering to their new neighbours through relational, interactive ESL and becoming blessed in return.

The core of one's culture, basic beliefs and assumptions, do not change as easily as the outer layers of behaviour, and or even the acceptance of authority. In fact it takes personal experience (a powerful way of knowing) to touch the core. How can we facilitate shared experiences?

We can mobilize the largest group of volunteers in Canada—the church-going population—by training them to minister to the felt needs of the immigrants through English (ESL) conversational-style classes. This is a legitimate connection, an engagement that is appreciated by the newcomer. This is one way to overcome isolation and build relationships.

The immigrants chosen on the point system have all studied English before they came. Most find the adjustment from class-room English to that of the clerk in the store much greater than they expected. They need a chance to practice English in authentic situations. They need a safe place to ask questions. They need a Canadian to care enough to dialogue with them, to include them in events.

Don reminds us that Jesus engaged in dialogue—an expression of relationship—while recognizing differences. Many churches across Canada are ministering to their new neighbours through relational, interactive ESL and becoming blessed in return.

When the immigrants in an ESL Bible Study asked "How do you know what church to go to—it seems like they are all competing with each other?" a knife went through my heart. Words here are not enough. Jesus said "the world will believe" when they see His family as one (see John 17: 21 & 23).

Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver now has churches working together through ESL ministries, raising the standards of the training in church-based ESL outreaches, and demonstrating the unity of the family of God across denominations.

I'd like to encourage the churches to mobilize the grass roots to connect, and to have shared experiences in the context of trust and love of neighbour we Christians are commanded to engage in. And do it in a way that the world can see that we are truly one. Shame and honour are big in Muslim and eastern cultures. If we fulfill the prayer of Jesus, honour and glory will go to our God.

Madeline Johnson is the president of Cooperative ESL Ministries Society, Calgary, Alberta, T3K 2X1. Tel: (403) 275-3529.




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