By Vineeth Methuselah Mahadas
Methodist Church in India
WMC Youth and Young Adult Program
I was part of the recently concluded YATRA – Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity – held by the World Council of Churches (WCC) from 8-22 July 2017. Yatra is a word in Sanskrit which means Journey. This year the Theme of YATRA was “Passionately Christian and Compassionately Inter-religious.” So here is a small account of the Yatra of YATRA.
We started off with a pre-training online module where we read a lot of excerpts taken mostly from the book God is not One by Stephen Prothero. While we did this exercise of learning about other faiths and the relevance of inter-religious dialogue in our contexts we were also made to write our reflections on a Facebook group. While doing this we learned about the different faiths and relevance of inter-religious dialogue in our contexts. We regularly wrote our relfections in a Facebook group so that the 34 participants from various parts of Asia and the Pacific had interactions and were exposed to the various perspectives. After the online module was a 2-week residential program held at the Jakarta Theological Seminary, Indonesia. During this time we could meet, sit, eat and interact with our fellow participants of YATRA. Eminent scholars and teachers from different faiths like Islam, Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist facilitated our inter-religious discussions. We also had the stalwarts of inter-religious dialogue like Dr. Peniel Rajkumar (WCC) & Dr. Sathi Clark (Wesley Theological Seminary) who guided us through the whole journey.
During the residential course everyday we started off with a worship service conducted by groups made up of YATRA participants. These worship groups were diverse – in my group were two Indians, one New Zealander, one Indonesian and one Taiwanese. We did a Samoan style dance to a song by a Hawaiian artist. Like this we had 7 diverse groups. It was an amazing experience to see such diverse ways of Worship. Following worship, we had a Bible Study conducted on topics relevant to the theme.
Dr. Clarke’s Sessions were very challenging. He pushed us to be socially & theologically liberal. He questioned our embedded theology and took us in a journey of reflexive theology where we were made to stand outside of our embedded thought to be in solidarity with other faiths. Through this, I was affirmed in my belief that as Christians we are called to love our neighbors – to love all that constitutes our neighbors, their body, Mind and Spirit. We are called to be compassionate towards their faith for the sake of knowing our common humanity in God and to be blessed peacemakers.
We were challenged to learn about other religions and to look at them with two different lenses: the “Anthropological Lens” and the “Theological Lens.” This new approach has helped me to learn about the different religions, including their creed, cult, code, community structure, culminating goal and Archetype. We also learnt what that particular religion thought the human problem was and the solution it offered. This was a real transformation point to me as it made me realize Christian evangelism at most times has offered its solution to other religions which have a different problem altogether, hence the hurdle and hate.
In our “See, Judge & Act” journey, we visited different places of worship. Jakarta, despite being a country with a Muslim majority, has deep roots in Hinduism. Buddhist and Christian communities have a significant presence. In our sessions back at the seminary we had various religious scholars engage with us and we discussed at length through both the lens views. We had a chance to visit the city of Bandung. This city has a good presence of churches, groups and organizations that are engaged in the interfaith scene. It was a very encouraging experience to see young people of different faiths hanging out at churches. Their stories have encouraged us to embody all that we have learnt into our local context.
In today’s Global Age, where religions are no more confined to their origins, we are surround both physically and virtually by people of different faiths. YATRA is not confined only to Asia but is for the whole earth. I have learnt that there is a need to engage in body, mind and spirit with our global neighbor. Without any reservations and stereotyping, I have learnt to have space, tolerance and love towards the other Faith. Join me in this Yatra to be peacemakers and spread love to the ends of earth.
From the World Methodist Council Youth & Young Adult Leadership
The YYA Committee of The World Methodist Council encourages national churches to support the ecumenical and trans-cultural formation of younger generations. It is very important to promote the personal encounter and to build a church based on vulnerability and not extremist or polarized ideologies, to discover our common humanity to be able to be fruitful in a common faith as One body.
Vineeth Methuselah Mahadas is a member of the World Methodist Council Youth and Young Adult Organization. He lives in Hyderbad, India, and is a member of the Methodist Church in India.