The “Beyond Words Conference” will take place from June 8 through June 9.
Pastor Charles Simonka wants to help lead people out of the religious wilderness, and he’s recruited a pair of friends to help him. From Friday, June 8, through Sunday, June 10, Andre and Mary-Anne Rabe, a pair of travelling ministers from Africa, will spend three days at The Rising Community Fellowship and Outreach Center in Moorestown to share their story and engage the community in a dialogue about God.
The three-day “Beyond Words Conference” will begin on that Friday when the pair will lead a worship session with a teaching session directly after. On Saturday, the Rabes will lead their second teaching session, followed by questions and an open conversation. Finally, on Sunday, the pair will have a meet-and-greet over a catered breakfast, followed by worship and a third teaching session.
The Rabes met as teenagers while doing missionary work in South Africa and were married a few months later. They travelled to Zimbabwe, Namibia and Swaziland to do ministry work before settling down for a time to have their two children. When their children were grown, they rid themselves of all of their possessions except what could fit in two suitcases and have travelled the world since.
They have published five books and two music albums on their beliefs and philosophies on God and the gospel. Simonka said Andre grew up a deeply fundamentalist church culture, and over time, he began to question how the church was teaching. He said, today, Andre approaches the Bible through the humanities, incorporating anthropological, sociological and psychological approaches.
“They have a whole different way of looking at religion or the gospel,” Simonka said. “It’s refreshing and intriguing.”
Simonka said he first stumbled upon the Rabes on YouTube and then went to hear them speak at a church in Delaware last summer. He said the Rabes, out of the blue, invited his wife and him to lunch. He said at the end of the hour lunch, they felt like they’d known each other forever.
Before parting ways, Simonka told the Rabes to reach out if they were ever going to be in the area again. He said he threw the offer out to them not expecting to hear back, but was delighted when he received a message from them in March.
There is not a specific agenda for what the Rabes will discuss. Simonka said going to hear Andre speak and Mary-Anne sing is not like going to church, but rather, the pair will encourage attendees to think hard about what they believe in a way that is “anti-fundamentalism.”
Simonka said the first time he heard Andre speak he was compelled by his words. He said his capacity to use his emotions and intellect to reach a crowd combined with his international perspective drew him in, and he thinks many attendees will have that same experience.
He said the conference will be a time for people to discuss some of the hard questions of religion, such as suffering, in an open and free space. He said he hopes conference-goers walk away knowing that’s OK to question what they believe and it’s OK to express intimacy openly with one another.
“We hope that people’s minds will be opened,” Simonka said. “We hope that they re-examine some of the things they’ve been steeped in religiously.”
The conference is free and open to members of the public. For more information, visit the Facebook event by searching “The Beyond Words Conference.”