Choosing understanding over fear


Last month, 35 people from 14 countries and regions gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia for YATRA (Youth in Asia Training in Religious Amity), where I attended on behalf of the Uniting Church.

YATRA, meaning journey in Sanskrit, is an annual two-week program, organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) targeting young people involved in the interfaith space around the Asia Pacific.

The program is intensive, immersive and multi-faceted, allowing participants to discern and explore what it means to be “Passionately Christian and Compassionately Interreligious,” which was the theme for this year’s event.

Participants delved into Indonesian culture in the bustling urban chaos of Jakarta, where to cross the road means sticking out your arm, heading into the traffic and knowing that the sea will part for you.

We received divine hospitality with a vast array of cultural and religious exposure visits, including a Hindu temple, Buddhist temple, a Catholic cathedral and a mosque.

We experienced diverse landscape in a rural setting as well, travelling to Bandung city in West Java, to meet a group of young Muslim and Christian community leaders working together in the midst of that area’s hotbed of social unrest.

The first week was spent delving into the theology of interreligious dialogue and participating in multicultural worship. Each morning we were taken on a journey by our fellow participants to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, India, Samoa, Tonga, Philippians and many more countries and faith traditions. Through reading sacred texts, we learned to identify our contextual realities and understand our embedded theology.

The second week was spent living out and embodying our theology, through meeting various peace activists.

I have always tried to approach interreligious work from a relationship level. The common theme that ran through the meetings with peace activists was that change comes through the everyday encounters.

I asked a fellow participant what the most salient lesson for her was and she spoke about the doers; the young social activists who chose understanding over fear.

“They inspired me so much and changed the way I engage with opposing ideologies,” she said.

“That approaching people as friends is the only way forward for real peace and love”.

The YATRA program is truly transformative. Sharing the space with 34 other people from across the globe can be quite a confronting experience, but it is within that space that we learn the most about our own capabilities.

The cultural context that each person brings invited deep listening and deep learning. Listening to ourselves and others and learning where, in our thoughts and theology we are embedded; learning to be reflexive; then understanding and practising how we can live out our faith as passionate Christians.

The people and this place have energised me and will be forever in my heart. Their faith, creativity, and the courage it takes to bridges across cultural and religious divides, are nothing short of inspiring.

Do you agree that everyday encounters are the best way to bridge divides between faiths? Do you have any examples?

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