“The biggest hindrance for Christ followers encountering Muslims are fear and misunderstanding,” says Jonathan Bornman (’85), a global consultant serving on Eastern Mennonite Mission’s Christian-Muslim Relations Team. “Every day I see inaccurate portrayals of Muslim immigrants and refugees that lead to fear and mistrust.”
With changing immigration patterns and refugee crises around the world, Jonathan notes that Christians and Muslims increasingly are neighbors like never before in history—sometimes this goes well and sometimes not so well. “Obeying Jesus’ command to love my neighbor should be the starting point for all Christian-Muslim engagements,” he says.
Jonathan works with congregations interested in learning to engage with their Muslim neighborscongregations, leading seminars that provide a solid introduction to the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity and then teaching and equipping Christians to engage with their Muslim neighbors through dialogue, witness, peacemaking, and hospitality.
“Hospitality is a great starting point. Drinking tea or eating together, sharing tools, or playing together invariably transforms the way we see our neighbors,” says Jonathan. “It is important to be clear about my own faith—that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior—yet being open to learn about the faith of our neighbors. There are many bridges to build upon when we meet our neighbors.”
Witnessing the transformation and friendships that result from such interfaith engagement brings Jonathan great joy. He tells of challenging one church member, who claimed he didn’t know any Muslims, to pray and ask God to bring Muslims into his life. Today that man is deeply involved. He helps refugees in his community, promotes refugee employment in his company, and mentors a young Somali man whose father was killed.
While Jonathan’s initial interest in missions grew out of family, church, and church school experiences at Bethany—where he participated in the Peace Club—and Goshen College (1990 grad), his sense of calling to engage in Christian-Muslim dialogue began in 1992 while on a Mennonite Central Committee assignment in Burkino Faso.
There he and a Bukari, a Muslim man, read the Gospel of Luke together out loud (one chapter per day over a month) followed by brief discussions. Since that time, he has encountered other Muslims with interest in the Bible and desire for friendship with followers of Christ. “Jesus has transformed my life and I love sharing that with others, being a witness to what God has done for me,” says Jonathan.
That profound encounter with Bukari shaped Jonathan’s future interests. A few years later he began studies and eventually earned an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary with a concentration on Islam. Subsequently, he and his wife Carol, along with their three children (now young adults), served in Senegal (1999-2009) in a partnership among several church agencies.
In addition to his current work with Eastern Mennonite Missions, Jonathan is working on a Ph.D. at the Oxford (England) Centre for Mission Studies, researching how the nonviolent commitments of a Sufi Muslim order originating in Senegal are (or are not) being lived out in a large community that has immigrated to New York City.