Matthew, who works in a Muslim majority country, found CMCS after a long search for a place that would satisfy his need to learn about Islam and communicate about faith with Muslims. He now feels confident discussing both Islam and Christianity with Muslims.
I am a South Korean and Christian who works in a Muslim majority country. In 2014 Korean evangelical churches and leaders were debating how to relate to Muslims both in South Korea and in the diaspora.
Mostly people asked “What shall we do with these Muslims?” Not many people asked “What is Islam?”
We felt a need to understand Islam more deeply so that we could relate to Muslims better. Many excellent Universities do this kind of research, but they are purely academic and do not provide the practical answers and guidelines that Christian leaders need. There are also centres that provide inter-faith training, but they mostly cover how to interact with Muslims, without a deeper understanding of Islam.
I was keen to cast a biblical lens on these questions, so I set about searching for an academically credible centre that could inform on both Islam and how Muslims and Christians can live and work together.
How Did You Find CMCS?
I was given an opportunity to study and research in Oxford, UK. We organised a four-month period of research and study. I was hosted by a local Oxford family.
Once I arrived in September 2014, my hosts talked about CMCS and especially of the books of Vivien Stacy in the library of CMCS. By great coincidence Vivien Stacy did myself and my family an enormously kind favour over 25 years ago. I was intrigued and keen to meet with CMCS. When I did, I just knew it was the place I had been searching for.
What Did You Learn?
The most important lesson to me was how to learn about Islam and Muslims. For example, Ida Glaser always asked questions that allowed me to ponder the answers, rather than simply giving me her opinion.
I am so grateful for the one-to-one tutoring and guided reading that Ida, Martin, and John at that time provided. My English wasn't great and tutoring takes up precious research time, but they did it for me and with great patience. With their help I learned how to develop my own views from what I read.
I learned about the history of relations between Muslims and Christians in Europe, including recent dialogue between people of the two faiths in Europe. I learned also about how Christians can learn some topics from the Qur’an with Muslims through Scriptural Reasoning and, vice versa, Muslims through the Bible. I was able to discuss major issues with academics and faith leaders I never otherwise could have met.
As time went on I began to understand that it was quite possible for me to learn about an Islamic topic from a Muslim point of view, and that I could contribute in the same way by helping Muslims to understand the Christian view on a topic. This is amazing indeed.
How Did Your Experience Help Your Work in a Muslim majority country?
At CMCS I was guided to read the life stories of Christians working in Muslim countries like Kenneth Cragg, Temple Gairdner (1873-1928) in Egypt, and Charles de Foucauld, French monk and missionary in North Africa, especially in Algeria.
I learned many practical things from their lives and examples, and I compared them with William Carey (1761-1834), Henry Martin (1781-1812), Thomas Valpy French, the First Bishop of Lahore Diocese (1825-1891), Lewis Bevan Jones, the first principal of the Henry Martin School (1880-1960), with encouragement and challenges about how to serve Muslims positively and holistically.
I am still learning about how to live out the Gospel. But because of lessons and examples I have seen and learnt from CMCS, I'm better equipped than ever before. Though I still have many questions, I feel more confident than ever meeting Muslims and Muslim scholars with mutual respect yet without compromising my own biblical position. I learned this from CMCS.
I will continue to learn how to be genuine Christian in a Muslim society and, at the same time, how to respect Muslims’ way of life and thinking, and how to live with them together.
Were There Challenges? How Did You Feel?
The approach and integrity at CMCS was of course a totally new and eye-opening experience to me. I have found the Christians to be faithful to Biblical truth and belief in the Triune God while also being friendly with Muslims in academic integrity and excellency about both Islam and Christianity.
The staff never compromised, but they freely and gently provide their own view points, leaving the rest in God’s hands. I saw the staff of CMCS providing meeting time between Muslims and Christians with genuine motivation to learn something from each other and to teach in a mutual way.
I am now convinced that I could not learn things about Islam and Muslims, even in general, without this kind of neutral and mutual place and people, and vice versa.
How Has Your Experience Impacted Your Life and Work?
My experience with CMCS has almost completely changed my way of interacting with Muslims. Because I did not know that I could have this way of approach or mutual learning, I did not dare to meet Muslims and Muslim scholars to talk about sensitive issues at all, except my prayer for them and superficial interaction with them.
Since my experience of CMCS, I have had open relations with my Muslim colleagues in a respectful, academic and humble manner. At the same time, I help Christian students to live out their lives as disciples of Jesus.
For the Korean Evangelical Christian leadership, CMCS has provided a critical and clear sense of direction with a mid-to-long term perspective, not just a need for short-term gain. This includes numerous historical, theological, and missiological examples in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa, and examples between European Christendom model and Muslims, which CMCS has helped me to understand.
For my interaction with Muslims, CMCS has created such a confidence in me. Not only can I interact with Muslim scholars, but I can also provide view points on Christian topics that they would like to learn from me.
If we continue to have misunderstandings on certain issues without academic clarity, problems and issues will continue to escalate. We can and should talk about how to get salvation in mutual and gentle ways. CMCS plays a very critical and vital role in this today.