Creating space for important cross-cultural discussion is crucial work for the church today. Our paths for the coming year have merged at Foothills Mennonite Church, where Lindo is serving with Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) for a term as a pastoral assistant, and Brenda is a part of Lindo’s mentoring group.
Our conversations began on Oct. 27, 2018, with six hours travelling together on our way to and from the Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Edmonton, where religious leaders from both faiths talked about walking together, honouring each other and taking action against hatred in faith-based work. We appreciated the ample time for discussion and getting to know the Muslim women at our table. We shared our stories, thoughts and challenges, and found numerous points of connection and commonality. At times, it seemed almost too easy to find things in common!
This was the first time either of us had attended an event like this. Initially, it seemed that stepping into the context of faith-based dialogue would involve a level of vulnerability and risk. When we find ourselves in new contexts, our tendency can be to fill the gaps in our knowledge or experience with things that we know from our own familiar contexts. All too often, this can lead to looking at the world through only our own eyes, without even considering other points of view.
In reality, we have choices in how we approach the unfamiliar. We can seek out different perspectives and learn from others, including people of other faiths. We can allow those thoughts and experiences to shape us. We can choose to open our hearts and minds to new possibilities, and to not make up our minds too soon. The dialogue was an opportunity to re-learn that when we take the time to listen to one another with respect and love, the fear and uncertainty of the unknown quickly dispels any perceived risk or vulnerability that initially we might have had.
Although we have known each other for only a short time, we have begun discovering the richness that stepping into the gap of the unknown can bring. The IVEP program not only creates that gap, it creates an opportunity to take a giant leap into the unknown. But it also bridges the gap, as it draws our journeys together for the coming year.
When we step into the gap, change is initiated. Consider paint, and how the blending of colours can create something entirely new and unique. The qualities of the original are still present in the new colour, but the hue is richer and more vibrant than before. Taking initiative and inviting new experiences into our lives produce the same result: we’re not the person that we were before.
To us, that’s what it’s all about. God continuously calls us to be renewed, to rediscover ourselves and the richness of his created world. As we continue to move through this world and encounter unknowns, we look forward to being moulded and shaped into the people God desires for us to be.
Lindo Manana is a member of Kukhanyokusha (New Light) Church in Zion, Swaziland, and is serving as an IVEPer at Foothills Mennonite Church, Calgary. Brenda Tiessen-Wiens is a member of Foothills Mennonite Church, currently serving as moderator of Mennonite Church Alberta.