By Arthur Brown
Food and youth work have always gone hand in hand. While it is true that ‘pizza night’ generally attracts more young people than a discussion on the doctrine of the trinity, good youth workers recognise the significance of young [and old] persons eating together. I was recently reminded of an initiative working in communities that had experienced inter-religious conflict and violence. One of the projects involved a group of women from different religious communities meeting together in order to bake bread. Such a ‘simple,’ and yet profound, activity sought to help reduce community tensions and create friendships.
There is a traditional Arabic phrase, ‘baynatna khubz wa milah,‘ which translates ‘there is bread and salt between us.’ In Egyptian Arabic, the word used for bread [instead of the more typical khubz] is ‘aish,’ which is also the Arabic word meaning ‘life.’ This goes to show the significance in which bread is held in the Arab world.
Before I get myself into trouble for massacring the Arabic language, let me explain. The idea behind this phrase refers to the nature of relationship between two parties. As a Moroccan twist on this proverb makes clear, those who share bread and salt [or eat together] become close:
By bread and salt we are united. – Moroccan proverb
There is a sense of bonding between those who have shared this meal together. In many Eastern European countries, the same idea refers to a ceremony of greeting.
Okay, so this isn’t a food blog. So why such a focus on food?
In the coming weeks IMES, in partnership with World Vision Lebanon and Youth for Christ Lebanon, will be launching The Feast. The Feast is an initiative based in the UK that seeks to develop community cohesion between Christian and Muslim young people. In such a context as Lebanon, this strikes me as a significant need.
What is The Feast?
Essentially, The Feast in Lebanon is about great quality youth work with religiously diverse young people who are committed to their faith. We will be creating a new youth group in Lebanon comprised of Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Maronite Christian, and Evangelical Christian young people aged 15-19. Over time, and as the young people get to know each other better, we hope that not only they but their families and communities will be impacted for the better.
As in The Feast UK, there will be three main elements guiding everything we do.
- Exploring faith: young people are encouraged and equipped to discuss their faith in ways which draw out both the similarities and differences between them.
- Creating friendships: by bringing together young people in a positive and fun environment, The Feast provides the opportunities for them to get to know one another, work on projects together and build ongoing friendships built on trust and respect.
- Changing lives: having been to events run by The Feast the young people are challenged and enabled to live out the lessons they have learnt in their everyday lives amongst their friends, family and the wider community.
Spearheading Social Change
While it is a good end in and of itself for individual young people’s relationships to be developed with those from different faith communities, maybe, just maybe, The Feast in Lebanon, by virtue of these relationships, will also have wider peace-building implications. As a youth worker, I have always believed in the potential for young people to make a difference in society. And, it seems evident from recent events in the MENA region that the youthful voice [with the help of social media] is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
As well as building peace, there are many social issues that need addressing in Lebanon: the treatment of migrant domestic workers, the environment, domestic violence, and the list could go on. Often it is ‘non-religious’ NGO’s who spearhead campaigns to bring about change and social justice. However, often these same NGO’s are somewhat removed from the powerful [and political] religious institutions. Imagine if young people, inspired by their Muslim and Christian faith, became advocates not only for the building of peaceful inter-sectarian relationships, but for social change…based on their faith commitments! Imagine if groups of young people are inspired to go to their religious leaders and ask them what their faith tradition teaches on any number of issues or concerns.
What We Will Do
The Feast Lebanon youth group will meet every two weeks for a diverse menu of activities. It is anticipated that these will include:
- Talking about what is good about being a Christian or a Muslim
- Fun and games during creative youth meetings
- Arts and crafts
- Trips to each other’s religious sites and communities
- Celebrating special religious events [Feasts!]
- Discussions on a wide range of issues and themes
- Sharing food!
- Scriptural reasoning [exploring the Bible and the Quran as they relate to particular themes]
- Drama & role-play
- Campaigning / advocating [from a faith base] for positive social change
- Life skills and peace-building training
And the list could go on.
However, each activity will be inspired by faith. The Feast is about religion [and religious faith] having a positive impact, rather than what is often considered negative. Yet, as an intentionally youth-led initiative, we will encourage young people to decide on the specific activities they themselves see as important [and fun]. One trip already in the works is igloo building in the snowy wintery Lebanese mountains! [Honestly, there is a company that does this!]
The Feast has a number of what it calls ‘guidelines for dialogue’ to help young people explore faith in healthy and appropriate ways. In Lebanon, this is imperative as we ensure all our young participants [and their faith leaders] feel safe and secure. Given some of the recent events around the world involving so called ‘religiously inspired violence’ the following three guidelines seem particularly pertinent:
- [We will] not judge people here by what some people of their faith do.
- [We will] not treat people as a spokesperson for their faith. [We come as individual young people, and not representatives of our religion].
- [I will] speak positively about my own faith, rather than negatively about other people’s. [And, in the Lebanese context we will encourage the same at it relates to political belief].
Working in Partnership
This is a significant step for IMES. It is the first time we will be working directly with young people [aged 15-19]. In the future, we hope to be able to put on ‘Feast events’ in different parts of Lebanon, thus creating a movement of young people who will break down the barriers of ignorance and mistrust. In addition, we hope to start an informal network of youth leaders who are committed to intentional interfaith youth work in Lebanon.
Returning to The Taste of Salt…
Mark 9:50 says,
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” [NIV]
As salt flavours all it touches, it is my prayer that The Feast [and more importantly the young people who participate in it] will help flavor their own communities and spheres of influence. Maybe it is Lebanon’s young people who will flavor the relationships between different religious and sectarian groups in Lebanon towards a future where we can see glimpses of hope amongst signs of hatred and conflict.