I grew up in a society where faith is above everything. My country (Pakistan) had even based its campaign for independence on religious ideology, and religion has great impact on the social, cultural, political and economic values. From my childhood I have had Christian friends from different Churches and many friends from other religions. On this journey I experienced ecumenism and learned from different perspectives.
My first experience was as the youth president in The All Saints Church, which is part of the Diocese of Peshawar, Church of Pakistan. Later I became the youth representative of the Christian community in the Pakistan Council of World Religions (PCWR).
In my journey I worked with many Christian friends to promote the ecumenical movement. For example: Ecumenical Easter procession, ecumenical Christmas services, ecumenical youth camps, sports events, gospel singing competitions and healing prayers.
I understand that the ecumenical movement is not only restricted to services and meetings and not even it has just been approached with theology. Socioeconomic involvement can never be denied where economic, environmental and other social issues need to be addressed. It is a vital movement in Christianity.
On the other hand, my friends from other faiths worked their best to promote interfaith harmony. We had inter-religious dialogues to promote amity and engaging together for justice and peace.
To get peace we need each piece. Every stakeholder’s contribution is necessary. And in a community where the influence of faith is high, interreligious dialogue becomes necessary for unity, justice, peace and harmony.
From 28 May to 11 June 2016, I participated in YATRA (Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity) organized by the World Council of Churches. I was so excited because for the first time I was participating in an international interreligious training with 28 participants from 14 different countries at Jakarta Theological Seminary. The Theme for YATRA 2016 was “Religion and Public Space”.
In most of the Asian countries, Christians are in the minority. Clashes between religions are very frequent in Asia. But as the follower of the Prince of Peace (Jesus Christ), this does not bring us to see violence as a solution, but it strengthens us to fight for justice and peace.
In YATRA we had keynote speakers from different religions which helped us to learn the theology of their respective religions. We learned about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. I understand that all world religions have so much in common when it comes to educating their followers for peace, mercy, harmony, justice and helping others.
Exposure trips to religious sites helped me to learn about others' prayer practices and the place different religions have in society in Indonesia. We saw the contribution of Asian religions towards common goods.
YATRA provided us the space to discuss the issues which we cannot discuss and understand better while living in our own contexts. We discussed about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and the space they have in the society. We understand the contribution of women in developing and leading a society.
Christian social activists told us about their work on different social issues. They also helped us to learn about conflict resolution techniques and peace building. As most of the participants are from countries where Christians are a minority, so we learned how we can be engaged with people of different faiths in different times.
We visited different historical sites in Indonesia and learned about their history. We also tried “Batik” which is a wax-resist dyeing to a cloth.
I enjoyed the companionship of my friends representing 14 cultures and got familiar with their social values and practices, and I have an abundance of good memories with them. I am very thankful to WCC for arranging YATRA and to Jakarta Theological Seminary for opening their doors for us.
This experience changed my life to see and learn things from different perspectives and become a Christian who creates a space for people with different views and understandings, and makes a just and peaceful society. As Buddha said “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from pure and peaceful mind”.
“Small yet beautiful” was the topic of one of our Bible study sessions. For me, YATRA felt very short but it was animating.
YATRA was not two weeks in a life, but life in two weeks.