by John Stoltzfus, Franconia Conference Youth Minister
“We pursue peace and tolerance through dialogue and mutual understanding. We want to teach honesty and sincerity of purpose amongst the different religious groups in Nigeria. We want to teach respect of each other’s language, culture, and faith.”
Musa Mambula, who serves as the national spiritual advisor for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), spoke these words in a recent chapel at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. He spoke movingly about how Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) remains committed to nonviolence, peacemaking, and forgiveness while suffering much violence perpetuated by radical groups, specifically Boko Haram.
Despite the violence which has cost many their lives, Mambula’s message is one of healing. He described a coming together of different faiths to face violence with understanding and love. Further, he encouraged the students to pursue peace in their own contexts through building relationships of understanding and compassion with people of other faith traditions.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this past January, a group of Mennonite youth representing three conference churches did this very thing by participating in a new initiative of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadephia called “A Day of Walking the Walk.” Nineteen youth and thirteen adults representing four different faith traditions and ten different faith communities came together for a day of building bridges through dialogue, exploration of sacred spaces and community service.
During the day each faith tradition had the opportunity to give a presentation on the values, beliefs and worship practices of their respective communities. When it came time for the Mennonite tradition, many of the questions from the participants of other faith traditions dealt with what is more typically attributed to the Amish such as questions of electricity use and horse and buggies! Evan Moyer, from Souderton Mennonite Church, remarked that he was not expecting to answer questions related to the practice of rumspringa (a term that often refers to an Amish rite of passage when a young person explores the outside world and makes a decision whether or not to remain Amish).
One of the interesting questions that came out of the discussion of whether or not
Mennonites have a particular style of dress was this: “If you look the same as everyone around you, what distinguishes you as Mennonites?”
Marjorie Scharf, who serves as the director of youth initiatives, remarked that a key impact of these interfaith encounters is an increased appreciation and commitment in one’s own heritage and faith identity.
Another important component of these interfaith encounters is service learning. For this event, the youth provided and put together sixty hygiene kits through the Mennonite Central Committee Material Resource Center in Harleysville. The Mennonite youth gave explanation as to why service and compassion for the poor and needy is a key value to their understanding of what it means to follow in the way of Jesus.
The day ended with participants filling out a sign that read “I will continue to Walk the Walk by…” Responses ranged from “having our church become involved” to “reaching out to other students across faith lines and creating a welcoming environment.” Emily Rittenhouse, from Salford Mennonite Church, was inspired to educate herself more about other faith traditions and to love others unconditionally.