A youth weekend away with Christians and Muslims? How building community and sharing your faith need not be mutually exclusive …
To the casual observer it would look like a typical lads’ weekend, complete with mountain biking, fencing, canoeing and plenty of time to just hang out and talk. But the teenage participants’ conversation went well beyond what girls they were dating and what music they liked.
The eight guys were there to talk about “What it means to be a man of God”. The fact that four of them were Muslim and four were Christian made the weekend anything but typical.
“The weekend was about having fun, finding out about one another, recognising differences in beliefs – and similarities – and working toward being peaceful men of faith,” says CMS mission partner Richard Sudworth, who led the weekend. “The guys all live near here in Birmingham and it was great to see friendships forged across boundaries.”
One Muslim young man said: “I’ve never listened to rock music. If I’d seen someone looking like him [pointing to his nu-metal Christian roommate] I’d have thought he was weird and avoided him. Now I realise he’s actually really cool.”
On the Saturday night, the group agreed together to the following commitments: to tell people positive things about the other faith, to offer to do chores daily, to avoid x-rated material, to avoid foul language and to pray daily.
“It was good to hear some of the Christian lads being challenged to be more serious about their faith,” says Richard.
According to Richard, who is based at St Christopher’s Church in Birmingham, Christians taking their belief in Jesus seriously is a key part of building genuine interfaith relationships. “By being faithful to Christ, we can serve and bless all peoples,” he says.
A normal day for Richard begins with him dropping his children off at school and then walking along the local high street, past multiple Asian fruit and vegetable stalls, to the Springfield Project’s Children’s Centre. Entering the foyer, he’s likely to see Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, African-Caribbean and white mums bringing their children to the nursery. A large colourful sign above their heads reads: “God’s love in the community”.
Upstairs, Richard’s office is next to the family support section, which responds to crises in families living in the community, offering counselling as well as practical support and advice to people of all faiths and none.
With a mosque sitting just over the road, St Christopher’s is in a prime location for building bridges across faiths. Richard, who chairs the Springfield Project management committee, comments: “Interestingly, it’s precisely because the project’s work has been so faith-based that the predominantly Muslim community has responded so well. They trust the church in what it is doing … It’s a privilege to be part of something so evidently done in the name of Jesus that can be shared and done in partnership with others.”
At a time when some are talking about “no-go areas” and there is an increasing fear of immigration leading to polarization, Richard remains optimistic: “I believe we can confidently love and serve our Muslim neighbours unconditionally, while unashamedly explaining the hope we have in Jesus. One recent Sunday summed up what is so exciting about what God is doing here. That day, an Afghan asylum-seeker, an Albanian family and a middle-aged alcoholic were all baptised.
“During the week there is the nitty-gritty of Christian service, but there’s also the wonder of seeing lives transformed and people discovering who Jesus really is.
“What’s happening here epitomises to me the reality of integral mission – evangelism, dialogue, justice, all coming together in a community of different ages and cultures.”
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