The W4CAA’s annual Thematic Bible Conference in Princeton (30 June to 1 July this year) is not that big, but I have high hopes for this conference as a way to promote the Church’s ministry of reconciliation and healing for the nations. In particular, I think God can use it to train Coptic Christians to reach their Muslim neighbours from Ægypt with the gospel, and Chinese Christians to reach their Uyghur neighbours, and in so doing reconcile nations that are not at peace with each other.
Peace between Copts and Muslim Ægyptians
In 2005, Jersey City saw a Coptic family of 4 murdered, and a local Ægyptian community once living side by side in peace, sharing Ægyptian origin and culture, was sharply divided. The murders followed close upon fights in Ægypt which had killed 20 Copts and one Muslim Ægyptian. The father who was killed in Jersey City had been involved in some fiery debates with Muslims in Internet fora. Copts strongly suspected Muslims, and Muslims who did not want to be blamed. And the Coptic community in New Jersey, particularly in Jersey City, was quite large. According to the New York Times in 2005, Copts were more than 12% of Jersey City: ‘The Census Bureau does not track religious affiliation, but both Coptic organizations and the Jersey City chapter of the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations estimate the number of Copts to be above 30,000 and the Muslims to total about 25,000, out of the city’s population of 239,000.’ Discord between Christians and Muslims in Jersey City touched at least 23% of the whole city. I suspect these wounds have often been renewed: last year, on Palm Sunday, ‘many members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of St Mark awoke to the news that people dear to them [in Ægypt] had died or were wounded simply for being Coptic Christians.’ Bombings of two Coptic churches had killed more than 40 people and injured at least 100. O Lord, Ægyptians need a peace that only thou canst give.
As Religion News Service reported,
Dr. Mona Tantawi, a New Jersey Muslim from Egypt and a pediatrician, was profoundly moved by Copts’ reaction and sees continued attacks on Coptic churches as an attempt to destabilize Egypt.
‘The Egyptian community, Christian or not, we are the same culture,‘ she said. ’What happened was devastating, and when I look at their reaction? … They are really living out the teachings of Jesus.’
It seems the righteousness of the Copts has caused Muslims in New Jersey to give glory to God, and Jesus has commissioned the Church to also show Muslims the word of God, which is the word of everlasting life. If inductive Bible study in a context of hospitality became a way for Coptic Christians to extend peace and reconciliation to their Muslim neighbours from the same country, I know not what a powerful witness that could be in the world, a witness to the power and justice and mercy of God. If Copts in America were encouraged and equipped to show the greatest love for their Muslim neighbours, perhaps Copts in Ægypt itself would be empowered to do the same up and down the Nile. The point is not debate between Christians and Muslims. The point is not to win by the convincing arguments of man’s ingenuity. The point is for everyone to know the peace that comes from Jesus, from the word of God himself; for by his word God brings peace, and by his stripes we are healed.
Peace between Han Chinese and Uyghurs
Farther south, the DC area is home to America’s largest population of Uyghurs, more than Los Angeles. Several thousand Uyghurs have made their home in northern Virginia, and I know of 5 Uyghur restaurants – I ate at one of them, Queen Amannisa, on my birthday. Everyone who pays attention to Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan and Dzungaria) knows how Han Chinese and Uyghurs have been shaken by ethnic strife. The Chinese Communist Party, fearing Salafi Islamist separatism, has clamped down even on marriages done the traditional Uyghur Muslim way; riots some years ago killed many people, and some Uyghur Salafis (modernists who do not follow a traditional madhhab) have fought for Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. Han Chinese often fear that Uyghurs may be terrorists; Uyghurs often see Han Chinese as invaders in their homeland. At the same time, last year I saw an advertisement for an Uyghur restaurant, Dolan Uyghur Restaurant, at a Chinese supermarket. Chinese folk like Uyghur food and hospitality, and Uyghurs want their business.
God has a reason for putting North America’s largest population of Uyghurs in the DC area. I think the next move falls to the Chinese churches in northern Virginia. It is Han Chinese Christians who have to bring Christ’s message of peace to the Uyghurs in the DC area, forming relationships with them and inviting them to see for themselves the gospel of God’s kingdom, the gospel in which Jesus Christ reconciles the nations to God and to each other. The gospel is a beautiful thing, and it is Han Chinese believers who must be God’s ambassadors of reconciliation, that the Han Chinese and the Uyghurs may be friends in the love of God.