For those of you who think diplomacy is the weak way out of a conflict, rest assured, It’s no cake walk.

The art of working with someone with totally different cultural, religious, and social views can be challenging; but OH SO WORTH IT when you find the break through.

As I wrote yesterday, my recent travels to Amman Jordan proved to be enlightening and challenging at the same time, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts and get your reaction.

The Work

For those who haven’t kept up with the work we’re trying to do within the Middle East, I’ll briefly set this up.

About seven years ago, I was invited to attend a conference in the Middle East concerning faith.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I only knew Islam through my textbooks in graduate school.  Quite frankly, I really only knew a handful of Muslims at the time.  I carried with me a prejudice toward Muslims in my mind’s eye, because all I knew of them was the news continually playing the mantra surrounding violence and extremism.  But as an explorer of life, I took the challenge, and went to investigate on my own.  I wanted to see with my own eyes, and either prove or disprove the drumbeat of racism in my own life.

To reduce the story to a few words, I’ll just say, I found a world I didn’t ever even dream of.  In the midst of the clash of sexes, rules I didn’t understand about culture, and a brand new lease on who these people really are; I found the most hospitable, friendly, engaging people I’ve ever met.  I thought to myself Americans need to see the other side of Arabs, and Christians need to see the other side of Muslims.  

I met with high level leaders, and kept asking if it would be of any interest to bring teenagers to Colorado to my Youth project called KIVU.  We would provide a high level outdoor adventure, and we would “test the water” to see if there’s a place where students can learn from each other.  I wanted to find common human bonds to build friendships in order that we might set the stage for the world through the next generation of leaders.

We tested.
It was a success.

To date, we’ve seen nearly 100 students from the Middle East come to KIVU and without question they leave having fond memories of the program, the place, and the people involved in KIVU.  But being an explorer, I set my sites even higher.  The question on the table turned from Can this be done?  to How can we ramp this idea up all over the world?

It seemed like we found a treasure trove of program that worked well with Americans and Arabs.  So we moved on.

The Invitation

One of my friends and mentors, Bob Roberts, pastors a church outside of Dallas.  His blog is called Glocal Net and you can read how BIG of a Vision Bob has to see the world coming together.  He initiated a World Faith Forum last year about his time, and I went to Dallas to meet leaders from all over the world interested in coming together to forge a Love your Neighbor type of global community.  Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists; they all came together to talk more about how we can be human in a world plagued by violence, racism, and discrimination.  In other words, How might we see the world through the lens of Jesus?

After the forum, I was inclined to extend the invitation to KIVU for students all over the Middle East.  And to date, we’ve had students from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia all enjoy the Best in Class Summer in Colorado.  It’s been AMAZING!!

But there are struggles

You may think, “WOW, that program sounds like something that may change the world?”  And that’s my hope, but it’s not without its own struggle.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with my friend about what it might look like to get teenagers who are Christians, Muslims, and Jews around a table to talk about the three major Mono-Theistic religions on planet earth.  We dream of a place where we can find things that are common, discuss our differences, and then leave from our disputes with a high level of respect for relationships.  In other words, we want to forge long-term friendships with people who don’t necessarily think like us, AND NEVER WILL.

When we extended the invitation to another group, the word came back, “We’ll never send our kids there.  That is a place for the “Kuffar.”

Now, I don’t speak arabic (yet), and so I had to do a little research on what this new word meant.

In the Quran, there’s a passage that states, “Against kuffars make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war to strike terror into the (hearts of) the Enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others beside, whom you may not know, but whom Allah does know. Whatever you shall spend in the Cause of Allah, shall be repaid to you, and you shall not be treated unjustly. (Qur’an: 8:60)

My dear friend went on to say the KUFFAR is someone who doesn’t believe in God.

The disappointment

Most of you know, I grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian High School, attended a major Christian University, and went to a Christian Seminary.  My whole life has been working to understand who God is and how I can live my life with the values God, well…values.

So here I am working diligently to try to “Love my neighbor,” and someone who doesn’t know me in any shape or fashion makes a judgement on whether or not what the work I’m doing will be something honoring to God.

I have to admit, this one stung.

I’ve been called all kinds of names in the past, and really don’t pay any attention to most of it.  We all like to judge so we can feel good about ourselves and the direction we’ve chosen to live in life.  If that means I take the brunt for others sake, so be it.  But as I’m trying to unite people, instead of divide people, when calls for further division are the label, I’ve got to be honest, that’s a punch in the proverbial gut.

I started asking, “Why?”

Why would someone just come right out and say I don’t know God, if they’ve never met me?
What’s wrong with getting kids together for some real honest fun in Colorado?
What are we afraid of, when we go and meet people who may think about life a little different from we do?

The Answer:  We’re all the Same

What’s crazy, when you think about it, we’re all really the same.  We all have the same fears for our kids.  We all have the same concerns that someone will mis-guide them.  We all tend to hawk over programs that don’t line up with exactly what we think about the world.  And that’s all GOOD.  But when we make these grand stereotypes without taking our own responses to situations into consideration, well…then we’re just hypocritical.  So I had to ask myself some really good heart-felt questions.

Would I send my son overseas to the Middle East to participate in youth programs?
Would I be comfortable with someone exposing my kids to another worldview?
Am I called to parent as an insulator of the world, or an expositor of what might be out there?

And my answers:  YES!

I want my kids to know how other people think.
I want them to live a life full of adventure.
And when something comes down the road we don’t agree with as a family, the conversations and explanations can be as rich as any vacation I can plan.

So even though I took the initial comment as offensive, it’s actually helped me to re-evaluate how I do my own parenting.

Like I said, Diplomacy is hard, but in the end; I believe the only way we can curb the violence in the world is to start talking with people we don’t understand.  And when it’s time for the youth of today to become the leaders of tomorrow, they won’t forget their friend who may have been different; but smiles all the same.


  1. Andy…exception, wise, courageous, needed thoughts. Your struggle is bearing fruit for all the rest of us. With you, for you, all the way over there and back again!

  2. PS: 🙂 Sorry for the incorrect spelling above: exception should be “exceptional!” Which is what KIVU is………..!!!

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