2020 in Review, Tom
My year began, effectively on Jan 13, with a trip to Rome for meetings organized by the US State Department at the Vatican about religious persecution. There were six Muslim, six Jewish, and six Christian representatives, along with diplomats and State Dept staff. Among the Christians there were two Catholics, two Orthodox, and two Protestants (including me for the World Evangelical Alliance). One of the evenings we met with the Pope for informal discussion.
While in Rome, I also met with my official counterpart at the Vatican and had long discussions with two of the Muslim leaders who strongly support religious freedom for all. This led to many online meetings throughout 2020 with religious and governmental leaders, while spending the rest of my time researching and writing on themes surrounding religious freedom and human rights. Prior to this past year I had friendly contact with the State Department office of religious freedom, but by midyear they were calling me a couple times per week with questions, since they do not have their own religious scholars.
The group that met in Rome
In mid-2020 I published a research article on an important type of Islam, what is now called “Humanitarian Islam,” in the Evangelical Review of Theology. This included a
comparison and contrast with normal Protestant views on many topics, which led to a substantial change in my relationship with the leaders of this Muslim movement. They wrote to thank me for the article and then, with our permission, they republished my article three or four times in Muslim publications. Imagine that! Muslims republishing what I wrote about Christianity! It felt like they began to trust me; I think I had earned their trust by investing a lot of study into honestly understanding their views. There is now a book length version of this study in press, and I am leading the WEA team of a religious freedom joint working group we have formed with this group of Muslims. We have held numerous meetings and have plans developing.
Just a couple days ago I received the proof of my next book on human rights, and a Muslim scholar from this group wrote a nice foreword to the book. Until recently I would not have imagined that a Muslim theologian would participate in publishing a Christian book on human rights.
My aid to the US State Dept has developed into distinct programs, leading to different online conferences about religious freedom in which they have asked me to speak. In December I gave a speech for about 20 diplomats (mostly American) and 50 religious leaders from all sorts of religions from around the world. In January 2021, a year after the Rome meetings, I was one of four speakers (with a Muslim, a Jew, and a Buddhist) for a conference of diplomats from about 25 countries. In every speech I must earn the right to be heard by means of telling them something relevant they have not heard before, so that I can weave part of the biblical message into the speech as an organic part. While consulting on religious freedom, I cannot stop being a minister of God’s Word.
The group in Rome with Pope Francis
2020 in Review, Leslie
Because of COVID-19, I had assumed the year would go more slowly, that I would be bored, that maybe, just maybe, I would get caught up on some things. Did that happen? Nope. 2020 went by in a blur in spite of COVID-19. How did that happen? Well, the Lord brought my way a lot of good things to do:
January and February, pre-COVID, I was preparing workshops for schools and two conferences for which I was speaking in March/early April.
Though I was able to talk to the students at a Christian school in Rotterdam as planned, all of my other engagements and school visits were cancelled by the end of the second week of March. By that time, countries all over Europe were closing their borders and we were concerned we would get stuck in Europe. So we prayed and worked and managed to get out of the Czech Republic just in time before their borders closed.
Once we were back on US soil, we chose to self-isolate for two weeks before going home to our daughter, who was expecting, and our grandson. Our son-in-law was deployed at the time. Those two weeks were a bit of a respite and rest, for which I am thankful.
In April, we were looking forward to the birth of the newest grandchild and trying to settle back into routine. For me, the question now hung over my head – now what?
May and June were busy with a newborn in the house. How can one have routine then?!? And of course, for Americans, the end of May showed us the dark side of our US culture with the death of George Floyd and the protests and violence that followed. As things heated up about that, I started praying more earnestly: Lord, show me how I can contextualize all my work in cultural intelligence to the US cultural tensions. How can I help?
By praying and reading and watching webinars about race and education and others, I sensed the Lord leading me to apply for a three-year cohort program that focuses on unity and diversity, intercultural competence, and leadership competence. In August, I was accepted into that program and have been full-on busy ever since. I am reading, watching webinars, and working on developing a practicum.
And all that on top of my ACSI Europe meetings with colleagues there that continue once or twice a week, being involved in planning and participating in ACSI EU Student Leadership Conference in September, and ACSI Accreditation. Oh, and babysitting two days a week for my daughter. So nope, not bored.
However, I am humbled and thankful for the Lord’s gift of health and energy, as well as the opportunity to serve in Christian education and learn through the cohort.
|ZOOM Calls and More ZOOM Calls
Would you like to ZOOM with us?
Until travel can happen again, we are available to meet with missions committees and/or Sunday school classes or even church services using Zoom or other platforms. We are also each available for speaking engagements via webinars. Do you need a speaker for an event, church retreat, or mission conference Feel free to invite Tom and/or Leslie to come to your organization. Contact Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org to organize engagement for either of us.
2020 Publications and Websites
After 43 years as a print journal, the Evangelical Review of Theology is online. It is one of the major publications of the WEA for which Tom has been both writing and helping with planning for many years. We now have a subscription form for the online publications of the World Evangelical Alliance. This includes both Theological News and the Evangelical Review of Theology for which Tom is on the editorial team.
Praises as we look back at 2020:
We thank the Lord for:
- Overall, continued good health for both of us.
- We are particularly thankful that the Lord moved us to the US to be with family before COVID-19 hit. There is something special and worth thanking the Lord for, to be with family.
- Tom’s opportunity to participate in high level discussions about religious freedom at the Vatican in January.
- Leslie’s opportunity to speak to students in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in March.
- Safe return from Europe back in March, as well as no contact with the COVID-19 virus in our travels.
- The project Komenksy 2020, celebrating the Christian life and teaching of Jan Amos Komenksy (Comenius), was launched in public schools, libraries, and churches across the Czech Republic in 2020, 350 years after his death.
- Tom’s opportunity to write about Muslims who support freedom of religion.
- Tom’s opportunity to coordinate a team of Evangelicals and Indonesian Muslims.
- Opportunities for Tom to advise the State Department.
- Leslie’s opportunity to study theology and intercultural competence to contextualize her training and experience to the US setting.
- Students being taught and discipled in Christian schools around the world, even when school has been online.
Prayers for 2021: Please join us in praying for:
- For the Lord’s purposes for COVID-19 to be accomplished around the world and that he would end it. Soon. Lord willing, by the end of 2021.
- Creative ideas to help persecuted Christians around the world and safe places for them to go.
- Our work from home to be encouraging and helpful locally and from afar.
- Continued wisdom for Tom as he (on behalf of the WEA) engages the world’s largest Muslim group about religious freedom. What are the next steps? He is reading constantly.
- Wise next steps for WEA-Vatican relations.
- Tom as he considers which books to write next.
- Wisdom for Leslie as she develops her series of workshops on “Teaching with Cultural Intelligence.”
- ACSI Europe and ACSI Global to have an impact through conferences for administrators, teachers, and students around the world whose education has suffered because of COVID-19 and virtual learning.
- For Christians around the world to be strengthened to serve God and others in their communities, whether those “others” are different in beliefs, color of skin, nationalities, etc.