Lessons from a taxi driver!
“Aren’t you afraid working in a mainly Muslim school, especially teaching boys?” was a question I was asked recently by my taxi driver as I went into Beirut to do some shopping. He assumed that westerners believed all Muslims were terrorists and he was therefore surprised when I told him what I was doing in Lebanon. As we talked more it became clear that Hussein (the driver) didn’t share these fears as he told me a little about his life.
He was born before the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) to a Christian father and Muslim mother who taught their five children about both Islam and Christianity, although neither attended either church or mosque. Like many Lebanese, at the onset of civil war his parents took the family abroad, not wishing to be embroiled in the fighting. They later returned and Hussein and his siblings have continued to have mixed marriages and not let religion dictate their choice of spouse. Hussein now has two daughters himself and has brought them up also to respect those of different faiths.
Did Hussein’s view stem from a deeply held belief in God? I don’t know, but his willingness to try to understand and respect those of another faith, and teach his children to do the same, made me reflect on my own feelings towards those who hold different views. Getting the right balance between remaining true to your own beliefs, while respecting the different beliefs of someone else, is not always easy. I can well remember in my younger days being absolutely sure that my “brand” of Christianity was the only true one and not being afraid to say so! Colin and I are very grateful to God for the opportunities we have both had to learn more about those with different views – whether denomination or faith – both before coming to Lebanon and since. Lebanon highlights these issues very clearly. With almost equal numbers of Christians and Sunni and Shia Muslims, there is plenty of scope for suspicions between the Christian denominations, differences between Christians and Muslims and tensions between Shia and Sunni.
Christianity Explored (CE) in Arabic
This issue also came up at the recent launch of the Arabic version of Christianity Explored which Colin attended at the LSESD campus here in Mansourieh, just outside Beirut. CE is a resource to help anyone who wants to find out more about the Christian faith and through seven sessions uses the Gospel of Mark to answer three questions: Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? And how should we respond? Dar Manal al Hayat, the publishing house of LSESD, has been working for many months on translating the written material and dubbing the DVD into Arabic. The Lebanon event was actually the second of two similar events, the first taking place the day before in Cairo. (Colin should have attended both but we are in the middle of renewing our visas, for which the authorities require our passports, so he was unable to travel abroad.)
Both events were led by a team from CE Ministries in the UK and at each event around 150 church leaders came to hear about the resource, its purpose and how it can be used. They also got some practical experience through trying out two of the sessions.
One of the three underlying principles of CE is gospel integrity and, as part of the training, participants were challenged to think through the implications if this principle was ignored or over emphasised. How to remain true to the teachings of Scripture without sounding arrogant or denigrating someone else’s faith.
It was clear from discussions over lunch that some participants thought there was little need for anything but an uncompromising proclamation of the gospel.
The general consensus, though, was that this was not always the best approach and the team from CE highlighted that their resource is designed to prompt those taking the course to discuss and raise questions, and that way discover the truth for themselves.
Despite a few technical issues, both events were very successful with the participants encouraged to take the CE resource away with them and see how it could best be used in their own situation. We are hoping that CE will be as successful as it has been in East Africa where it is estimated many hundreds of thousands of people have been through a CE course. We also hope to have a further training event for church leaders in Jordan later in the year.
As we write, we are a third of the way through Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting (food and water), though it is clearly not as sombre an affair as you might think. Certainly it has a significant religious meaning but it is also a time for celebration with family and friends at the “fast breaking” evening meal, Iftar. Indeed, one of my Muslim colleagues likened it to having Christmas every day! We know some Christians also fast along with their Muslims friends (quite a feat from about 4am to 8 pm – sunrise to sunset) and happily join an Iftar meal if invited. But we know that others would consider both as compromising their faith. I have been very conscious recently of preparing my lunch in the staff kitchen when some of the Muslim staff are present. They are very gracious and are quite happy for me to have my lunch, but it can’t be easy when you are so hungry.
What did I say to Hussein in response to his question as mentioned at the top of this link letter? I didn’t need time to think; my immediate reply was “No, I was not afraid”. Indeed, I have found that the children and staff at the school where I work are all very courteous and welcoming towards me. Over the past year, I also have tried to show that I want to be friends and learn from them and this two-way approach seems to be the key. And perhaps that is another lesson – we are often fearful of things and people we do not understand, but if we can get beyond that we often find our assumptions are ill founded.
With every blessing
Audrey and Colin
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