For the last week, we’ve been hosting students from the East West Initiative group here at KIVU. They are a group of students from Amman Jordan and Beirut Lebanon who are interesting in working on partnerships with American students to reach an understanding on Culture, Religion, and Relationships. KIVU has hosted students for the last three years from the EWI group, and I’m finding so much joy in this work.
Ask any American Teenager what they think of the Middle East, and most of them will say something about violence. They have this image that everyone in the Middle East are out to destroy American life, that is unless they’ve had a friend at school or a neighbor who moved in from a Middle East Country.
Ask a Middle East Teenager what they think of Americans and the stereotypes of being Rich, Well Fed, Free from any rules; and basically all the things you think about when you watch a movie that deals with teenage life here in the U.S.
One of the main goals of the EWI and KIVU is to give students a different picture. We want students to connect at a different level than stereotypes they hear in the media or see in the movies. So when Jordanians come to America, or Americans travel to Amman, we are constantly trying to work through the stereotypes and cultural differences we all build whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Yesterday, one of the female students came to me and in her broken arabic/english she said “My cabin really likes me….AND I REALLY LIKE THEM.”
My heart jumped with satisfaction as I felt like we were really accomplishing something tangible. We’re seeing the future of both cultures being able to develop real life friendships.
Being from the Middle East, the EWI is doing a great job integrating Christians and Muslims. About half of the students who came to KIVU this year come from Muslim homes, and we’ve had some honest discussions about the differences between Christians and Muslims. We’ve talked about the culture of Christians here in America opposed to the Middle Eastern Muslim Culture.
We’ve talked about the Bible and the Quran.
We’ve talked about the differences in prayers.
We’ve talked about the images of Allah versed the Images of God in the Western World.
We’ve talked about the differences in the way we view Jesus in Islam versus Jesus in the Christian world.
I’ve been around a lot of programs that focus on similarities and common themes, and most of the time those programs don’t end up with any significant changes. We all sit around the table and talk about how we’re all so similar so what’s the problem? But then when we get back to our respective tribes, we don’t really do anything different.
This has been so exciting, because with the foundation of friendship, we can talk about the differences, and really investigate the things that have caused separation. It’s so fun to watch American students begin to go deeper in their own faith because they want to talk with people who think different from they do. They’re being forced to ask hard questions about why they believe what they believe, and share it with their Muslim friends. And I believe the same could be held true for our Muslim friends. They’re being forced to deal with all the stereotypes of the Christian world.
One of our staff members came to me a few days ago and he said, “I was so wrong. I though I knew what Muslims believe, but the fact they hold Jesus in such high regard is new to me. I’ve got some work to do.”
Nothing I’ve found is more important than developing relationships. You can’t really know what someone thinks at a deep level unit you’re willing to share experiences with one another. So, here at KIVU, we raft, bike, hike, and climb all to provide an outlet to develop stories of relationships with one another. It’s the BEST of DAYS when an American student comes to me and says, “Thank you so much for having Jordanians in the camp. I feel like I’ve got a friend in the most unusual place.”
They Jet Ski together.
They camp together.
They party together.
They sing together.
They learn how to dance together.
And all under the banner of “We’re ALL HUMAN!!”
We’re all just trying to figure out this thing called life. And no matter if you’re American or Jordanian, the same human needs for connection are apparent. We all need to know someone is with us. We all need to find the presence of God in our lives. We all need to figure out family, friends, and future. All in all, we’re just humans walking through the world for the short time we’ve been allotted.
As I watch the interactions happen here in real time, I’m often led to think, this is EXACTLY what Jesus would be doing.
So here we go to the BEST OF DAYS!!