The guest speaker for the opening night of the "Honoring Bridges" conference at Cooke Road Church of the Nazarene will be Columbus native Nathan Emmelhainz.

Now a resident of Lawrenceville, Ga., Emmelhainz will address the gathering of Northland residents representing the various cultural groups in the area on Friday, June 3, beginning at 7 p.m.

Emmelhainz, who grew up on the West Side and graduated from West High School, is preparing to return this fall or early in 2012 to Pakistan on behalf of Millennium Relief and Development Services. The Houston-based charity, according to its website, "has served the poor in various parts of the world for over a decade."

A self-described devout Christian, Emmelhainz said he and his wife, Heather, made their first visit to Pakistan after he had a personal revelation about an "anti-Muslim bias" he had developed in the wake of 9-11 and other terrorist attacks.

"I didn't even realize it was entirely there until somebody confronted me about how Jesus said to treat enemies, and I didn't want to treat them well," Emmelhainz said.

The first trip to Pakistan was a two-week vacation the couple took at the invitation of Millennium Relief and Development.

"What I discovered was that all these Muslims that I was nervous about, mostly out of ignorance, were people, and they took their kids to school and they took care of their families and they had all the hopes and dreams and struggles of everyone I ever met," Emmelhainz said. "It was sort of a real eye-opener.

"The Bible is just full of things that I feel largely the Christian community isn't doing," he added. "We're not being the sacrificial hosts in our community that we ought to be."

Emmelhainz recalled riding on a bus with his wife during their stay in Pakistan, and being invited to dinner by another passenger solely because it was obvious they were strangers.

"I'm going to talk about some of the things that are beautiful about the Muslim cultures (that) are some of the same things that Jesus calls us to do, to be a host to strangers, to love your neighbors to call the Christian community back to what we ought to be as servants to the refugee," Emmelhainz said.

"Nathan will be sharing his own journey as well as some practical advice on how to become friends with your Muslim, or Christian or Jewish, etc., neighbor," the Rev. Chris Fleece, associate pastor at Cooke Road Church of the Nazarene, wrote in describing the speaker for the opening night of the conference.

Day two of the conference on June 4 will be devoted to visiting different restaurants and stores representing various cultures and then returning to the church, 1389 E. Cooke Road, to continue discussing ways in which people of different backgrounds can come to know one another better.