Lebanon (MNN) — The more tragedies and hardships that hit countries and cities, the more communities splinter, drawing dividing lines and focusing on themselves. But even during trying circumstances, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) looks to build bridges and foster friendship between Christians and Muslims through its Institute of Middle East Studies’ (IMES) peace-building initiatives.
Chief academic office Martin Accad explains that these peace-building initiatives remain distinctive because they put faith at the center.
“The purpose is to allow your faith values [to] inspire living together across faith traditions and working together towards the common good,” he says.
Included in these initiatives is the Friendship Network of Church and Mosque Goers. For the past two and a half years, IMES has worked to build a network of leaders across Lebanon that can bring people of both faiths together.
“With this group of 25 to 30 people, we explore themes around friendship,” Accad explains.
The pandemic meant these groups had to stop meeting, but the health crisis combined with a severe economic downturn means unity and cooperation are more important than ever. Accad says the friendship network is using relief funds to help both communities. The network has had Christian and Muslim leaders take food packs to families together.
“We want to demonstrate that in times of crisis, faith leaders, out of their values, are able to think beyond the wellbeing of their own community,” he says.
Accad also explains delivering these food packages serves two important purposes.
“We will have an impact in certain families that we are reaching out to, but most importantly, we will be demonstrating that people of faith can collaborate together toward the common good,” he says.
“It doesn’t mean that all religions are equal. It doesn’t mean that we are trying to say that there are no differences. On the contrary, true dialogue and peace building is based on the recognition that we are different, and we can collaborate together despite our differences.”
Built on the Bible
The Friendship Network of Church and Mosque Goers offers a tangible picture of what building understanding between very different communities can look like. Ultimately, these peace-building initiatives are grounded in Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:9.
“We believe that when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,’ it’s not just a spiritual statement. It’s a very real statement,” Accad says. “We understand that when Jesus invites us to be peacemakers and reconcilers, he’s not just making a spiritualized statement. He’s really inviting us to transform our societies.
“It’s a very important calling that we take quite seriously at our institute with young people, with faith leaders, with faith communities, with our own constituencies, and even with political actors as we seek to transform not only the spaces inside the walls of our churches but also society around us and the [nation] as well.”
You can help support ABTS’s vital work by donating here. As Lebanon continues to struggle through the pandemic and economic crisis, your prayer support is more important than ever. Find ways to pray for ABTS, their initiatives, and the country here.
Header image courtesy of Marten Bjork via Unsplash