Muslim and Christian teenagers building peace in Lebanon
A BMS World Mission worker in Beirut is helping young people from different faith traditions to talk about their beliefs, build friendships and love one another
Two Lebanese teenagers laugh together while enjoying a meal. They talk about school, about God, about their favourite TV shows, about their faith. One of them is a Shia Muslim, the other an evangelical Christian.
Lebanon is a country with 18 distinct socio-religious communities. The three biggest religious groups are Shia Muslim (27 per cent), Sunni Muslim (27 per cent) and Christian (40.5 per cent). While in comparison with many countries in the Middle East, Lebanon can be held up as a model of coexistence, regional conflict is heightening the tensions between groups in Lebanon. BMS worker Arthur Brown believes that friendships built between young people of different religions and sects in Lebanon can be profoundly helpful in building peace in the country.
The Feast, started by Christians in Birmingham, is an award-winning youth work initiative empowering young people of different faiths to bring about social change. Arthur is helping to run The Feast in Lebanon, alongside Christian and Muslim partners in the country, and shares more about its purpose and impact in this short interview:
The Feast, Lebanon: an interview with Arthur Brown from BMS World Mission on Vimeo.
So far, The Feast has been run with one group of about 30 Muslim and Christian young people in Beirut. “It breaks down barriers between different religious groups,” says Arthur. “There’s often so much ignorance and fear – in Lebanon and in the UK too – which leads to stereotyping and sometimes violence. We need to build friendships in order to break down these barriers.”
The Feast also enables young people to really think about their faith and how it can be a catalyst for positive change. “I’ve worked in youth work for about 27 years. I have never seen Christian young people feel more comfortable talking about their faith in Christ, and what it means for their everyday life and commitments, with non-Christians, than I have during Feast meetings.
“The Feast also allows Christians to learn how to listen respectfully to young Muslims speaking about how their faith impacts their lives. This is often difficult for young Muslims, given the context of fear as a result of negative stereotyping about Islam. The Feast provides a safe space for young people of faith to bring their faith into the open, providing a catalyst for positive social change.”
BMS has just awarded The Feast in Lebanon a grant to help expand the project – enabling Arthur and the team to set up a couple of new groups for young people from Muslim and Christian faith traditions, with about 12 young people in each group. It will also help them to develop specific youth work resources in both English and Arabic, that could be used across the Middle East and North Africa and to identify and train a group of young people who have already been part of The Feast in Lebanon to become advocates and peer leaders. One Muslim and one evangelical Christian who have been involved in The Feast Lebanon have already volunteered to help develop the project further.
“Too often people are fearful of what and who they do not understand,” says Arthur. “In Jesus I see someone who was prepared to cross the street and meet people who have different values and religions, and who was willing to eat with them, share his life and listen to their stories.”
The Feast operates on the basis that the young people listen to what everyone has to say, respect other’s views, make every effort to get along, and speak positively of their own faith, not negatively of another’s. The ultimate goal is that, together, the Christian and Muslim teenagers involved in The Feast will be inspired to act to bring positive change in their community and country.
At a time when religious liberties are being eroded across the Middle East, The Feast attempts to create safe spaces to talk about Christian beliefs and ensure that young people in Lebanon value religious freedom and tolerance.
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This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission