Facilitator Rev. Jennifer Gillyard speaks with YATRA participants from Tokyo, Pakistan, and Bangladesh about challenging concepts of God from the Old Testament and reading the Bible interreligiously. Photo: Carrie Diaz-Littauer/WCC

Facilitator Rev. Jennifer Gillyard speaks with YATRA participants from Tokyo, Pakistan, and Bangladesh about challenging concepts of God from the Old Testament and reading the Bible interreligiously. Photo: Carrie Diaz-Littauer/WCC

On 18-19 July, 35 young leaders from 14 countries across Asia part of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Youth in Asia Training in Religious Amity (YATRA) travelled to the Indonesian city of Bandung to meet with faith leaders and young activists engaged in interreligious dialogue and work.

The group was welcomed and hosted by the Pasundan Christian Church (PCC), a member church of WCC, whose stated mission is “to become church for others.” PCC lives out its mission running hospitals, a women’s crisis center, a university, and 58 local churches throughout West Java, Java, and Banten.

According to Dr Peniel Rajkumar, programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for the WCC and organizer of the YATRA programme, the encounter with young interreligious practitioners was meant “to offer YATRA participants glimpses of what it means to be compassionately interreligious in practice – to teach us how love of God and love of one’s neighbour can complement and complete each other.”

The gathering on Tuesday was organized “with the hope that our heads would be inspired and hearts would be warmed to walk the paths of justice and peace hand in hand with our religious neighbours.”

YATRA participants were stirred by the transformative work of PCC’s women’s crisis center, which points to the powerful reality of how the practice of healing work can enhance the scope and depth of interreligious dialogue and understanding on embodied, practical, and discursive levels.

The center’s Muslim volunteers work actively with Christian staff to shelter and counsel society’s most vulnerable women, and combat gender-based violence throughout the region with workshops and consultations.

And when it comes to working with those of different faiths, Pastor Obertina Johanis shared with the group how “a real hope [for this work] lies in the youth, the young people.” Since 2005, PCC has run an interfaith camp for more than 500 youth from across the region to do just this: bring young people from diverse faith traditions and communities together to address topics such as diversity, nationalism, radicalism, justice, and how to build interfaith community.

The gathering brought together Christian, Muslim, Confucian and Baha’i alumni from the camp to share with YATRA participants their vision and passion for building interreligious understanding – and more importantly, friendship – through “theology cafes,” film screenings, photography, social media forums, and dialogues with other youth.

For the YATRA participants, who have spent the past two weeks exploring what it means to be “passionately Christian and compassionately interreligious,” the faith, creativity, and courage of the Indonesian youth working to bridge religious and cultural divides in Bandung was nothing short of inspiring.

“I’m going to be taking back this message of community development, in terms of having social media, photography, and movies as a platform for people to first engage... to first build friendship, and then share the love of Christ. I think that is a baby step for interreligious faith work... something they are practicing very well,” shared Devin Pearl, a YATRA participant from India.

The group held a lively discussion around systemic and structural challenges facing their work, the need to replace ideologies of intolerance with those of tolerance and diversity, the need for strong partnerships, and the driving passion and faith behind what they do.

“This is part of our faith, part of the way we worship God,” shared one camp alumnus. “I think Jesus will cry if we do not spread his love. That’s why we do this.”

This sense of shared passion, faith and struggle – from West Java, to Hyderabad, to Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne and beyond – is the solidarity from which newfound courage and creativity for interreligious engagement can take root.

For Tiana Hsing, a YATRA participant from Malaysia, this solidarity remains a fundamental part of what makes this work both necessary and possible moving forward.

“It was revealing how the youth in Bandung face the same problems as I face back at home. Now, I don’t feel like I’m alone. Even if we’re from different religions, we all face the same issues… we have to persevere.”

More information about YATRA: Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity

Interreligious youth training programme adopts online learning component (WCC press release 6 July, 2017)