In 1219 Francis of Assisi traveled to Damietta, Egypt, in order to convert Sultan Malek al-Kamel and avoid the Fifth Crusade. He did not baptize the sultan but he did work out a peace treaty which was later rejected by his fellow Christians. He also spend time in Egypt and in the Holy Land ministering to the needy regardless of creed.
After Francis returned he drew up a Rule for those who were to join him as Franciscans. This document is called the First Rule, or, because it was rejected by Pope Honorious III, the regula non bullata (Rule not ratified by papal bull). According to official reports, the pope rejected Francis’ first effort because it was too austere. The real reason, however, may lie in the way in which his experience among the Muslims was reflected in the First Rule.
Chapter 16 is titled “On traveling among Saracens and other infidels.” Francis laid out two options for his brothers if they found themselves directed to preach the gospel among the Muslims. One way was for to the brother to preach the word of God when he discerned that it would please God for him to do so. Others had tried this, however, and with the battlelines so firmly fixed between Christians and Muslims its utility was suspect.
The other way is likely to be of some special interest to Latter-day Saints. Francis’ first choice was that his brothers who traveled and lived among the Muslims should “cause no arguments nor strife, but be subject “to every human creature for God’s sake” (1 Pt 2:13) and confess themselves to be Christians.” This appears to be the course Francis himself chose, after he left the sultan’s court as he worked his way back home.
Clearly, Francis’ understanding of the needs of the Saracen mission was grounded in the humility and service that marked the life of Jesus as the One who “took the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7) and thereby earned the honor of all of God’s creation. Did this disqualify his Rule in the eyes of Pope Honorious III? Possibly. What is known is that the Rule submitted by Francis in 1223 was accepted, and in it Chapter 16 was reduced to two verses as an appendix.
Anyway, I am sure that this reminds you, as it does me, of the story of Ammon from the BoM. On a deeper level, however, it also drives home the fact that God works everywhere and anywhere, according to his own will and pleasure. And that is a very pleasant thought, for I am sure that if the ways, means, and goals were left to us we’d muck it up immediately.