By David Brogan and Salma Hamid
“On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable do you feel about meeting new people?” This was the challenge that faced two groups separated by 4,000 miles, two different cultures, two different faiths, and a common language. To participate in The Feast US – UK Exchange, a group of nine young people from Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Plainview, MN, flew eight hours to meet a group of 10 young people from Icircle group that meets at the Muath Trust in Sparkbrook. They all brought with them a positive attitude, humility, willingness to participate and an eagerness to learn. So, how did they answer this question?
“Beforehand, a 5 because I was anxious; and now more like a 9 because we are on the same page.” It didn’t take long during the first encounter for the two groups to mix it up and start talking. Great food, dessert, and a video about what life is like in Plainview, MN, broke the ice amongst these teenagers. Conversations about faith soon flowed along the guidelines for dialogue. By the end of the night, one participant rated the comfort level at: “10 – because I feel like we’re already friends and we can just talk and have a good time while learning and understanding and not judging. I know we’re both nervous.” In addition, they all wanted more time for talking – a perfect way to step forward.
During the second encounter, they met at Homeless Heroes, a Birmingham-based charity that provides food, beverages, and clothing to those most vulnerable, our homeless. They quickly saw that homelessness knows no religious nor racial boundaries. Sharing a meal of lamb curry and rice in the rain forged relationships within the group even deeper. At Birmingham Central Mosque, the girls and boys separated to observe Muslim prayers with opportunities to ask questions after a brief tour of the mosque. Over dessert, conversations continued until midnight when the leaders had to call it quits or they’d have kept on going!
There was time during our final encounter when they met at Christ Church Sparkbrook for their worship time. Following a delicious meal of samosas and salads, they were ready to talk. Launching from questions they had written anonymously, small group conversations ranged from what they had observed during their church and mosque visits, points of theology, and mostly how one’s faith impacts their everyday life. It was no surprise to extend their time to talk for an additional 30 minutes.
In the beginning, one of them wrote: “That we are not perfect examples of our faith, we are human, we make mistakes.” By the end, they were asking about the possibility of doing this again, but next time in the US. It was clear that the participants in the first ever Feast US – UK Exchange thoroughly enjoyed talking faith, making friends, and changing lives.