Creative interfaith training for a new generation

Monk Dhirapunno takes a group photo in front of the conference center in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin
Monk Dhirapunno takes a group photo in front of the conference center in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin

LWF and Indonesian institute build on a dialogical model to affirm diversity

(LWI) - An interfaith pilot project targeting youth in three cities in Indonesia has become a source of inspiration for young people and is evolving into a platform where they continue to affirm each other’s religious diversity and equality for all in the community.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in partnership with the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) has trained young Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics and those from local religious beliefs in Medan, Manado and Ambon in the initiative named INGAGE, referring to interfaith engagement. One of the goals of the program was to assess the role of social media in interreligious relations and encourage the trainees and their peers to creatively use communication tools to affirm diversity and equality. At least 25 young people were trained in each of the three locations, adding up to a total of 81. Nearly 400 youth had applied for the training.

Using local trainers, the youth discussed the theme “Communicating creatively on faith and equal rights - Interfaith training for a new generation in Indonesia” during the seven-day intensive training and further exchange over several months. In mixed religious groups they visited a Buddhist center and a Hindu temple; some spent a few days in a Muslim boarding school; participated in a religious tradition house of worship or Parmalin; and shared communal meals among other activities.

The training also included human rights’ literacy and citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief. The pilot project ended with a public event for a wider audience of representatives from religious communities, scholars and government officials. Its design drew upon the combined expertise of the LWF as an international faith-based organization with a long-standing track-record in advocacy for freedom of religion and belief, and the active civil society engagement of ICRS as an academic interfaith institution. INGAGE was principally funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, NORAD.

The LWF clearly wants to continue to provide space for young people’s encounters on different religions and peace building not only in Indonesia but in other parts of the world.
Rev. Dr Simone Sinn, LWF study secretary for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations

An interactive ‘kopi toleransi’

After the September 2016 - February 2017 pilot phase, the young people continued to meet. For example, in Medan, they set up an interactive evening called “kopi toleransi” (coffee tolerance), during which they meet for coffee and discuss  perspectives on tolerance among different faith communities in a country of multicultural and multi-religious diversity.

“Such concrete actions are encouraging and need to be supported further,” said Rev. Dr Simone Sinn, LWF study secretary for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations, who coordinated INGAGE’s work with ICRS.

“The LWF clearly wants to continue to provide space for young people’s encounters on different religions and peace building not only in Indonesia but in other parts of the world. The goal is to continue working with other interested partners to nurture and provide capacity for youth to be engaged agents of peace in their communities,” she added.

“Often people think that young people have to be ‘guided’ in order to be able to deal with religious diversity. But a much more fruitful approach is a dialogical model where you create a space for young people to express what is dear to their hearts,” noted Dr Leonard C. Epafras, ICRS Yogyakarta coordinator.

Often people think that young people have to be ‘guided’ in order to be able to deal with religious diversity. But a much more fruitful approach is a dialogical model where you create a space for young people to express what is dear to their hearts.
Dr Leonard C. Epafras, Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies

Sinn said plans are underway to also explore whether to work with other LWF member churches living in contexts defined by a plurality of faith and cultures.

There are 13 LWF member churches in Indonesia, bringing together nearly 6 million Christians.

Photos from the meeting

A monk from the Indonesia Theravada Buddhist Centre, Medan, welcomes Dr Leonard C. Epafras, INGAGE program coordinator. Photo: A. Yaqin
A monk from the Indonesia Theravada Buddhist Centre, Medan, welcomes Dr Leonard C. Epafras, INGAGE program coordinator. Photo: A. Yaqin

Hospitality

During the interfaith journey in Medan the group visited the Indonesia Theravada Buddhist Centre, where the group was warmly received by both the monks and the local lay community. In his introduction to Buddhist perspectives on life, the leading monk radiated the mindfulness that he spoke about. One of the young monks, Monk Dhirapunno, was part of the training throughout. With a number of Christians he attended a three-day live-in program at a pesantren (Muslim boarding school).

Group discussion among participants during the interfaith training, Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin
Group discussion among participants during the interfaith training, Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin

Dialogue

Dialogue and peer learning promote interfaith understanding. Speaking about one’s faith tradition and attentively listening to others are at the core of any dialogue process.

“Often people think that young people have to be ‘guided’ in order to be able to deal with religious diversity. But a much more fruitful approach is a dialogical model where you create a space for young people to express what is dear to their hearts.” Dr Leonard C. Epafras, ICRS Yogyakarta, INGAGE program coordinator.

Participants visit the Kuil Shri Mariamman temple, Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin
Participants visit the Kuil Shri Mariamman temple, Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin

Spirituality

Respect for other religious traditions can grow when we experience our neighbors’ living spirituality. Visiting their houses of worship and being present as they pray is a precious moment. Taking off one’s shoes before entering a place of worship is a wide-spread tradition among many religions; it symbolizes respect. This Hindu temple in Medan was built in 1884 and has been place of worship for generations. The community around the temple welcomed young people for the three-day live-in program. Furthermore, Christian families welcomed participants of other faiths, and the Muslim pesantren hosted participants from other communities.

Christian and Muslim women in front of the Parmalim worship house in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin
Christian and Muslim women in front of the Parmalim worship house in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin

Local religions

While Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and recently also Confucianism, are officially recognized religions in Indonesia, local religious traditions are not fully recognized. The training also focused on human rights literacy, including every citizen’s right to freedom of religion or belief. During the interfaith training, the young people attended a worship service at a local Parmalim house of worship. A human rights expert from the Protestant University in Yogyakarta, and an expert on religious plurality from the Islamic University in Yogyakarta served as resource persons throughout the training.

Communal meal after the Parmalim worship in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin
Communal meal after the Parmalim worship in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin

Conviviality

The sharing of meals and leisure time allows people to engage with one another in a relaxed atmosphere. Trainings were conducted in Medan (North-Sumatera), Manado (North-Sulawesi) and Ambon (Moluccas).

“The participants in the training had very diverse identities. Some of them came from local religions like Parmalim and Ugamo Bangso Batak, others were Agnostic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic. There were also participants from the LGBTQ community. I noticed that everyone respected the given diversity. We interacted with one another, regardless of the other’s specific identity.” Desi Ratna Hutajulu, a participant in Medan.

Monk Dhirapunno takes a group photo in front of the conference center in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin
Monk Dhirapunno takes a group photo in front of the conference center in Medan. Photo: A. Yaqin

Communication

Young people are digital natives who constantly communicate with one another, blending online and offline communication. While news about conflicts and interfaith strife easily go viral, reports about constructive relations are rare. The creative use of social media and blogs are an important part of interfaith training.

“The participants were invited to analyze the messaging in social media, to think critically, be wise in responding, and make a creative contribution to peace building.” Mataharitimoer, ICT Watch Indonesia

Participants gather for a photo to be posted on Facebook. Photo: A. Yaqin
Participants gather for a photo to be posted on Facebook. Photo: A. Yaqin

Cooperation

The “Interfaith Training for a New Generation in Indonesia” is an innovative interfaith pilot project for young people initiated by The Lutheran World Federation. It was conceptualized together with the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies and principally funded by NORAD.

“In a personal interfaith encounter young people experience that their faith does not hinder building relations. Rather, faith creates confidence and openness, fosters relationships, and strengthens our common citizenship.” Rev. Dr Simone Sinn, LWF study secretary for public theology and interreligious relations.