Time and again in Scripture, Jesus meets us in the borderlands. At geographical borders and at the divides of faith and ethnicity, Jesus reveals himself and the nature of Gods reign to us. The Spirit of God descended upon Jesus and the Father proclaimed his pleasure with the Son as Jesus received his baptism from John in the waters of that ancient dividing river, the border into the land of promise, the Jordan (Matt. 3:13-17). In conversation with a woman of "ill-repute," to use the archaic and delicate phrase, a woman on the fringes of her society, a Samaritan woman, no less, a member of a religious group whom self-respecting Jews would have viewed with suspicion at best, Jesus proclaims himself the water of life (John 4:1-26).
An encounter with a Samaritan proves decisive again in Jesus parable of the traveler headed down to Jericho attacked by bandits and left by the side of the road: By identifying the Samaritan who stops to tend to the injured man as "neighbor," Jesus tells his listeners of the boundary-breaking character of Gods coming, even-now-present, reign (Luke 10:25-37). And it is after crossing north into the region of Tyre, today in war-ravaged southern Lebanon, that Jesus meets the unnamed Syrophoenician woman desperate for Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Through Jesus conversation with this persistent and faith-filled woman, the overflowing expansiveness of the new reality Jesus has come to proclaim and embody becomes clear (Mark 7:24-30).
Borderlands, as Scripture shows, are often sites of revelation. In todays world, as in the world of the Bible, borderlands are also often sites of tension, clash, even violence. These borderlands can be physical regions separating different political and geographical territories, but just as often they are metaphorical divides, divides between different ethnicities, different socio-economic classes, and different faiths. Tensions simmer along these borders and sometimes erupt with violent results.
Some political commentators today proclaim that the world is facing a "clash of civilizations," with conflicts brewing and breaking out along religious divides. For these pundits, the events of September 11, 2001, serve as proof positive of a civilizational clash between the West and the Muslim world. Extremist Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, return the favor, portraying U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as new crusades waged by the supposedly Christian West against the Muslim ummah.
If, however, the "clash of civilizations" thesis has rhetorical power, an ability to mobilize people for anticipated battle, it fails to capture the complexities of the real world. Cultures and civilizations are not monolithic, homogenous entities. The dividing lines between ethnic groups, religions, and cultures are always fluid, never fixed. Proponents of battle live alongside persons who seek to build bridges of friendship and cooperation across perceived dividing lines. If religious rhetoric and ideologies are routinely marshalled to justify violence and aggression against the religious "Other," religious texts and traditions also regularly provide visions of peace, justice, and co-existence with the Other.
This volume of essays offers case studies of persons and institutions building bridges across religious divides, of people of different faith backgrounds meeting Jesus in the borderlands. These case studies all emerge out of the worldwide experience of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a relief, development, and peacebuilding agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in Canada and the United States. MCC recently (see Appendix) identified "interfaith bridge building"supporting interfaith collaboration in diaconal ministries of relief, community development, and peacebuildingas a global "key initiative" for its peacebuilding work. This book is a product of the conviction that if MCCand other Mennonite institutions, be they mission agencies or conflict transformation instituteswishes to engage in interfaith bridge building, it is important to learn from the rich Mennonite history of promoting interfaith and ecumenical cooperation.
The authors of the case studies, all of whom have extensive experience with MCC, examine MCC-supported efforts to foster collaboration across religious divides in contexts ranging from Indonesia to Palestine-Israel, from El Salvador to India, and from Nigeria to Nepal. Most of these case studies explore examples of interfaith bridge buildingbetween Christians and Muslims, Christians and Hindusbut others also address the matter of bridging ecumenical rifts, whether between Catholics and evangelicals in Central America or among Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians in the countries emerging from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Many of the case studies, moreover, stress how MCC, as a North American Christian organization, has sought to engage in interfaith collaboration in partnership with local churches, be it with the Mennonite churches of Indonesia or the Coptic Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox churches of the Middle East.
Mennonite Central Committee, a North American Christian organization working in over fifty countries, is a complex institution, and the case studies shed light on some of that complexity. MCC is an organization supported by and accountable to Canadian and U.S. churches, yet it also views itself as accountable in some way to partner organizations and bodies, including especially church and church-related institutions, in the varied contexts where it works. It is an organization staffed not only by "service workers"the successor term to the now-outmoded "volunteers"but also by locally hired workers.
MCC speaks much of the same language as the rest of the world of humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), be they religious like World Vision or secular like Mercy Corps, but in other ways MCC bears striking similarities to the world of mission agencies; indeed, in certain contexts MCC works in close cooperation with Mennonite mission boards. A variety of factors, thenMCCs relationship to the churches in a given country, connections with other Mennonite agencies, feedback from supporting churches in Canada and the United States, and the individual personalities and convictions of MCC workersall contribute to the shape that MCCs interfaith and ecumenical bridge-building efforts take in different contexts.
At its best, interfaith bridge building is a form of Christian witness and mission. As Peter Dula explains in his concluding essay, Christians have strong christological reasons for attending closely to the voices of those who are extra muros ecclesiae (outside the walls of the church). Interfaith bridge building is not about adherents of different faiths relinquishing their truth claims, about finding a supposedly neutral space free of confessional bias, or about watering down religious convictions to a lowest common denominator. For Christians, interfaith bridge building is motivated by the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord over all of creation and history. Thus we should expect to meet Jesus in the borderlands, in our interactions with persons of other faiths.
Cultivating an open receptivity to
hearing Jesus voice in these encounters and
building bridges of practical interfaith collaboration in
relief, development, and peacebuilding ventures are thus
vital forms of Christian witness. We offer these case
studies with the hope and the prayer that the church
might continue to explore new and creative interfaith
collaborations and thus be ready to meet Jesus in the
© 2007 by Cascadia Publishing House