Dialogue on Life, Faith Both Enlightens, Challenges

Post a Comment » Written on March 6th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Matt Enquist

CHICAGO, IL (March 6, 2009) – Members of Grace Covenant Church have had a rare opportunity to enhance interfaith dialogue among Filipino and American religious groups.

Last November, a dozen Filipinos of different faiths met with Grace members. In January, Jonathan Hancock, an ordained Covenant minister and member of Grace, re-connected with the delegation and participated in an interfaith conference in the Philippines.

“A trip half-way around the world to enter into meaningful dialogue about humanity, life and faith seemed to be much too good to be true,” says Hancock, who was part of a seven-member U.S. delegation to the Philippines conference. “But it proved to be what it indeed was – a wonderful gift to me, a unique opportunity that showed itself to be extremely meaningful, satisfying and enjoyable,” says Hancock.

DelegationThe interaction among the groups was the work of the Institute for Training and Development (ITD), a company that facilitates educational dialogue in the States and abroad.

The ITD Philippines Faith and Community Project consisted of three components: recruiting a team from the Philippines, a tour of religious and cultural sites in the States from October 25 through November 14, and finally a team of Americans visiting the Philippines.

Grace represented evangelical congregations. The Filipino delegation to America visited Grace on November 10, 2008, for an hour of discussion among 10 church members and the 12-person Filipino group.

“The visitors just seemed genuinely interested in being in an evangelical Christian church,” says Curt Roeschley, a seven-year member at Grace and the one who organized the visit to the church. “They had a lot of questions about our worship and different things they saw on their trip.

“They were fascinated with our music and how important that is to our worship life,” he adds. “They were also interested in why justice was important as part of our faith and how that’s acted out in our lives as Christians.”

The delegation’s visit in November opened the door for Hancock to travel to the Philippines in return.

“They were also interested in why justice was important as part of our faith and how that’s acted out in our lives as Christians.”

Hancock, who works for Chicago’s Emmaus Ministries, an organization reaching out to male prostitutes in Chicago, already was in the Philippines for a conference presented by the International Christian Alliance on Prostitution when the rest of the American team arrived on January 14. The group spent the next five days traveling the country, particularly the easternmost island of Mindanao, and engaging in dialogue with religious and community leaders. The team flew back January 20. The accompanying photo was taken at the University of Southern Mindanao.

“We were to see, in particular, how the Muslim community did life, how their faith was lived out in this particular culture at this time, how their faith and life looked both in community and in the broader context,” Hancock says. “We were also to be a model, a sounding board, and presenters as representatives of our country and our particular faith,” says Hancock in his post-trip reflection paper.

The U.S. delegation attended a dialogue meeting between Roman Catholics and Muslims, held conversations with the ITD alumni from the American tour, and attended the Interfaith Dialogue and Muslim Communities in the Philippines and the U.S. Conference.

Hancock says interacting with a unique group of people in the American delegations was one of the high points.

“The diversity of the group, in respect to background, ethnicity, faith and age, was very significant,” he explains. “I am confident that this obvious diversity within our group brought greater integrity to our group and led to much greater dialogue and respect with those groups and individuals that we encountered.”

The diversity of the group led Hancock to reflect on his own practice of his faith as an evangelical Christian living in the United States.

“I was challenged to think how my grace and freedom that I have in Christ can easily lead me to freedom to do nothing at all or very little in my daily walk with him.”

“I was moved to see the devotion and faithfulness of Sami, a Muslim, and Justin, the Jewish rabbi,” he says. “The daily, monthly and annual rituals of their faith were very meaningful to them and they were very disciplined in following those. I was challenged to think how my grace and freedom that I have in Christ can easily lead me to freedom to do nothing at all or very little in my daily walk with him.”

Hancock says he will remember the hospitality of his hosts as well as the struggles they face as a Muslim minority in the Philippines. “I grew, as one might expect, exponentially in my understanding of life for Muslims in Mindanao.”

The interaction in the Philippines also highlighted issues in America. “I was moved to see an indigenous population feeling mostly unrepresented in their government and experiencing centuries-old conflict, ” says Hancock. “I saw many parallels to the Native Americans in the U.S. in these regards.”

Nearly a month after he returned to Chicago, Hancock has begun to draw some conclusions on the importance of interfaith dialogue. “Interfaith doesn’t mean what we believe doesn’t matter or somehow we all think the same thing – we just have different angles on the same truth,” says Hancock. “What it does mean is we are all on this planet together and the better that we understand each other, the better we can understand what we have in common and work together from that vantage point.”

Roeschley also is pleased to have been a part of the dialogue. “Meeting together and dialoguing breaks down stereotypes and creates a situation where we can continue to move ahead,” says Roeschley. “It’s really important that this kind of dialogue happens between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and for us as Christians to have a broader idea of what other faiths are like and what other believers experience.”

(Editor’s note: Matt Enquist is a North Park University student completing an internship with the Department of Communication.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Report This Post

Leave a Reply

Report This Blog