By: Rosie Fyfe, Intercultural Communities Enabler
Kia ora e te whānau,
For all of us in New Zealand, it’s been a heavy two weeks. We’ve prayed, wept, stood in solidarity outside mosques, and kept vigil. Even my Muslim friends in the Middle East have posted photos on Facebook admiring the response of New Zealanders to what happened in Christchurch. The questions for us is: “What do we do now? Does anything change? How can the local church be a place of hope and welcome?”
My name is Rosie Fyfe, one of the Intercultural Community Enablers in our movement. During the Arab Spring, I worked for the Egyptian Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East for five years. I learnt a lot from him personally and from working with ministries and interfaith initiatives about loving neighbours in an Islamic context.
I’m writing today to offer some thoughts for us here in Wellington. If anyone wants to chat further I’d love to be in touch. My email address is email@example.com.
(1) Engaging as Religious Leaders
If you are ordained, you have a great opportunity to reach out to the local imam in your neighbourhood. In Islamic contexts, religion is at the centre of life, and religious leaders carry respect. In Egypt, there were many great initiatives and responses to violence which arose out of simple friendships between religious leaders.
(2) Consider Hosting an Iftar “Break-Fast” Meal during Ramadan
Our Muslim friends will be fasting from food and drink for the 30 days of Ramadan from the 5th of May until the 4th of June. This means that there is feasting every night – kind of like 30 days of Christmas dinners! Iftar is the traditional fast-breaking dinner which takes place as the sun goes down. In Cairo, it was common to see large tables on the street called “Ma’idat il-Rahman” (Tables of the Most Merciful), hosting dinner for anyone, especially those in need or away from their homes. The iftar “break-fast’ is about hospitality and love. In Egypt, it was common for churches to host an iftar meal and invite their Muslim friends to join them.
(3) Partner with Local Organisations to Host a Community Party
I attended the wonderful “Togetherness Dinner” in Newtown last week, organised by St Thomas’ Church in conjunction with other groups (read about it here). It was a joyful time of children playing and eating together, and a great time to make some new friends.
I used to be regularly invited to drink tea or share a meal as I walked the streets of Cairo. Hospitality and spending time together in table fellowship is very important in these cultures. Often, it is seen as more honouring to host than to be a guest. The Parable of the Friend at Night (Luke 11:5-8) makes sense in this context – of course you would start cooking at midnight to be hospitable to your friend who arrived unexpectedly at midnight!
(5) “Be THAT Friend”
At Passionfest Peace Festival, a Sudanese friend shared his experience of arriving in Australia with his family. He advice to us in New Zealand who want to welcome people from overseas was to “be THAT friend”: that friend who’s always at your door, who’s always inviting you to events and to drink coffee together, who walks across the room and greets the person they don’t know. Every friend in Wellington from an Islamic context has told me how lonely they have been in New Zealand. One friend told me this week “I eat dinner by myself every night and I wonder why I’m here.” Our love language as New Zealanders is not necessarily the same as our friends from other cultures. In order to be good hosts, perhaps we need to learn the love language of the other.
I’ve got some great resources to help guide you in your prayer for our Muslim brothers and sisters. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
(7) Authentic Encounter
Pope Francis speaks of “authentic encounter” – where we encounter the “other” and we are changed. One of my hopes for taking on this intercultural role with the Diocese is to help create more opportunities for these types of authentic relationships with our friends coming from different cultures and countries to New Zealand. If anyone is interested in doing this individually or as a church, I’d love to hear from you: email@example.com.