The three sessions, Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 and 10:50 a.m., are based on the experiences and backgrounds of the presenters, George and Zina Al-Salty, a couple who are students at Cincinnati Christian University pursuing master’s degrees in clinical counseling. The topics are “Things You Did Not Know About Islam,” “Al-Jihad, Shar’ea Law and Related Issues,” and “Women in Islam.”
George Al-Salty, 42, said that he and his wife, Zina, 39, have worked as missionaries and planted churches in the Middle East.
“I am an Arab. We lived most of our life in the Arab world,” Mr. Al-Salty, born in Jordan, said, “so we have a very good understanding of the Islamic culture and how it affects the Christian community. My wife is also an Arab, Chaldean Arab [from Iraq] — it’s a different ethnic group, but she grew up in the Arab culture as well.”
Both of the Al-Saltys were raised in Catholic households, Mr. Al-Salty said. “Right now, I consider myself somebody who is a Christian nondenominational, and we try to work with all denominations in making Christianity and Christianity’s principles available to the Arabic-speaking people.”
The Al-Saltys spent 15 years traveling among five countries in the Middle East in their work as missionaries planting churches, Mr. Al-Salty said. “For the last 15 to 17 years we worked with the Christian community, trying to strengthen the Christians there, but now our focus is to make Christianity available in Arabic.”
The concept of missionary is changing.
The Revs. Angela and Martin Zimmann of Holland, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are preparing to serve in Jerusalem; they hope to start their service there in February and are awaiting work visas.
“We’re mission staff, but not missionaries in the traditional 20th-century sense of the word,” Mr. Zimmann said. “We are there to accompany an already established and existing church community, to walk with them in their joys and sorrows, and to receive as much as give. We [will be] there to serve the Palestinian Lutheran Church.”
“Accompaniment is the theology of the ELCA,” said Ms. Zimmann, who was the Democratic challenger for Congress in Ohio’s 5th District in November. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) retained his seat and Ms. Zimmann and her husband accepted this ministerial calling soon after the election.
“One of the words we used when we interviewed for the position was solidarity,” Ms. Zimmann said, and their interviewer’s response was that “accompaniment is more than solidarity — to go there and walk with these people, that’s accompaniment. You can sit at home and be in solidarity.”
“We are here to be with you in this, to be present with you and to learn from you,” is Mr. Zimmann’s way of explaining his Lutheran Church’s aim of accompaniment. Ms. Zimmann added, “This is about going there and saying, ‘There’s pain here; what small piece can I be in the puzzle that alleviates it?’”
Imam Shamsuddin Waheed of the Toledo Masjid of Al-Islam said that, after learning the workshop Understanding Islam was to be presented at Garden Park Christian Church, “I talked for 90 minutes” with the church’s pastor, the Rev. John Thybault. Mr. Thybault did not respond to interview requests from The Blade.
“I can’t be critical of them for believing what they believe and preaching what they want to preach,” Imam Waheed said. “I want to do the same thing [for my faith].”
But to understand Islam, he said, “it’s best to go to the sources of Islam itself — they’re widely available — or go to Muslims themselves and see how, in fact, they understand and practice their faith.” Interested people “can read the Qu’ran for themselves, they can go visit a mosque, they can ask the tough questions.”
Having been Christians from the cradle, the Al-Saltys don’t have the direct experiences of the Muslims whom they tell about Jesus as missionaries.
“Our job, mandated by God,” Mr. Al-Salty said, is “to answer whoever has questions and to explain the faith and explain the grace we have, and give them a choice to decide for themselves. So we would like to work with all the denominations to make Christianity available to the Arabic-speaking people worldwide, really, because our ministry is to inform and educate about Christianity through the Internet and media.”
“I just want to emphasize that the preachers are free to believe,” Imam Waheen said. “It doesn’t bother me that they think I’m going to hell as long as they don’t try to send me there.”
As for the Zimmanns, “our initial response to being labeled missionaries was to shrink away from that term because historically it’s been more about getting folks overseas” to act and live like the Western missionaries rather than keeping their own culture, Mr. Zimmann said.
“There’s a lot of cultural and colonial baggage that goes with that. We have to be very humble and cautious not to assume any moral or spiritual superiority over anyone else. What we’ve come to discover about mission work is we have much more to gain learning from the folks we’re sent to serve rather than imposing our way of life on them. Accompaniment is more about walking with, and following, even, rather than fixing everything. Maybe the best thing we can do is listen to the message they have to offer.”
Those who might benefit from the Understanding Islam weekend at Garden Park Christian Church, Mr. Al-Salty said, are “people who have the heart to show compassion to Arabs and Muslims. The motivation of this workshop is not to produce hate or prejudice. It is to build trust and communication, to have courage to build the bridges of trust and communication. We need to open gateways of communication and friendships because Christianity is all about the love of God. We need to show people — any person, regardless of their religion or background — the respect, the love, the compassion that they deserve as human beings.”
Contact TK Barger at: email@example.com or 419-724-6278.