Middle East Meets West

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When I watch the news, I’m sad for all that’s going on in the Middle East.  ISIS is threatening Iraq, Syria, and now Jordan.  Israel and Palestine are bombing each other relentlessly.  Syria is still in the middle of a brutal civil war.  Afghanistan is trying to emerge out of three decades of war.

Sometimes it might seem like there are no human answers to all the problems being reported in the region, but I refuse to give in.

Here at KIVU, we’ve worked diligently to solve problems in the youth world for nearly 20 years.  To date: we’ve invited students from all over the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, and Now the Middle East.  While there are troubles brewing, we are trying to intentional help a new generation see each other as friends.

 

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Seeing Each Other As Human

So many times we see stories in the news which make HUGE generalizations toward people.  I’ve talked with Americans who believe that all Middle East people are out to get them.  “They want to change our way of life.” Some have said to my face.  And although there certainly are bad people in every region of the world, the majority of people are just like you and me.  They want to raise a family in safety and security.  They want to provide an education for their kids.  They want to get a good job.  They want to travel and meet new people.  Overall, most people in the world are just like you and me.  People are People.

People who have the same needs of encouragement.
People who want to smile and have fun.
People who want to connect with other humans on a deep level of understanding.
People who want to reach out and make their lives matter for something beyond the normal hum drum of life.

Three years ago, we entered a partnership with a friend in the Middle East who also sees the value of exposing teenagers in his community to the teenagers in America.  And it’s been absolutely amazing.  After three years of work, I’ve come to the conclusion that teenagers and young adults are pretty much all the same around the world.

They deal with the same problems.
They think about similar issues.
They long for the same love and care that all teenagers are looking for.
And overall, we’ve found the energy of two cultures colliding is a refreshing look into the future.

Because one day:

These students are going to lead.
They’re going to own their own businesses.
They’re going to sit in seats of government.
They’ll be the one’s who have influence in their communities.

And both Americans and Middle Eastern Students will have a reference to point for friendship.

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Understanding Different Cultures

This night we threw a huge country barn dance for all the students at KIVU.  We clear out the old barn on our property, and teach students how to dance to the current country songs of the day.  My friends from the Middle East were so gracious and kind.  They wore their best country western attire.  They learned how to two -step.  Even though many of them have never heard a country song in their lives, they laughed, they smiled, they had so much fun just being together.

After it was over, I talked with some of the students privately.

“There’s something about the people here that give me hope.  I have 6 members of my family back home, but here I have 200 members of a new family.”  he said as I choked up.

Can you imagine the world today with people who saw each other as family?

Sure we have our own core family groups, but what if we reached out and learned how to respect culture, give to one another’s human needs, and just laughed?

There’s so much that can happen between two people groups when we have JOY as a benchmark.  Trust begins to form.  Relationships start to take place.  Deeper conversations about what drives us to be who we are begin to surface.  And overall, we see each other as friends.

Sure, we don’t wear the same clothes, eat the same food, or think in the same way.  But we do have the common core of humanity to begin with.  Everything else is an exploration into understanding.  When we come to an encounter with another human, instead of seeing “the other” as a threat, AMAZING life can take place.

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Learning About Core Belief Systems

Much of the world’s problems come from severe belief system ignorance.  We set up this barrier of faith that keep us from exploring the deep belief systems in each person.  It’s often belief systems that drive us to do the things we do, and to curb the future of violence; we need to learn how to understand, articulate, and be people who respect one another’s core belief system.

I’m not talking about the “Inter Faith” dialogues.  Those seem to produce a group of people who sing Kumbya around a campfire, but upon returning to our homes, we develop strategies to make sure the other one is wrong.

No, I’m talking about “Multi-Faith” understanding.

We want to understand what and why a person of Middle East descent thinks like they do.
We want to share why American Christians think like they do.
We want to understand the commonalities, but we also want to find a place of friendship where we can understand the difference too.

When we begin to understand each other’s difference, and then shift our behavior to one of respect; ITS AMAZING what can happen in between.

When the Middle East students came to KIVU, we offered to take pork of the menu.  “I don’t want you guys to feel like you have to pick the pork out of your food, so how can we make this experience as free as we can.”

“You would do that for us?” one student asked.

“Sure we would.  We love you guys.  We invited you to our house.  We want to make sure we treat you as our guest, and not have to worry about being pressured to live like us.”  I replied.

I wish you could have looked into their eyes when they saw us Love them Unconditionally.  It was like they never experienced what it would look like for someone to serve them, rather than having to fight to be true to their own heritage.

The Jesus Way

I believe that’s the Jesus way.

Jesus didn’t call the Roman Guard to be anything other than a Roman Guard when he decided to go and heal his daughter.
He didn’t ask the woman to clean up before he stopped in the middle of the crowd and healed her wounds.
He didn’t ask the disciples to stop living like a human, he simply asked them to drop their nets and come and follow Him.

As I continue to learn what it means to follow Jesus TODAY, I’m becoming more aware of the tension between the cultures he lived in.

I’m less compelled to tell someone about Jesus, and more compelled to live like Jesus would live if He were living today.

After all, the hope for the world isn’t about who can out maneuver someone politically, economically, or socially.  The hope for the world is found in the “Loving God with our all heart, soul and Mind, This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.”

We see a twenty year future in helping different cultures understand this concept, and LIVE IT OUT in the real world.

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Thank you to my dear brave friends willing to see the future and come learn about American ways of thought.

And to my American friends, thank you for hosting well, living full, and creating friendships that will last a lifetime.

1 Comment

  1. To which I say, amen! Our faith in Christ MUST lead us to love others. Thanks for leading this generation according to the Gospel.

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