~ by Brianna Schenkelberg ~
“Yumm. Want some?” Alivia asks.
Sanela scrunches up her nose. “Gross! I don’t eat bacon.”
“You don’t eat bacon?” I chime in. “Is it just because you just don’t like it or for religious reasons?”
“Yeah, I’m Muslim.”
“Oh, cool!” I exclaim. “I don’t eat bacon either. Why don’t Muslims eat it?”
“Well, we believe Allah says it’s not clean and we shouldn’t eat it, so we don’t eat pork. And I don’t think it tastes good anyway. What religion are you?”
So began a beautiful friendship of three people with radically different faiths. When we go to Chili’s and accidentally order an appetizer to share with pieces of bacon on it, Sanela and I pick off the bacon and pile it on Alivia’s plate. Of course, my religion isn’t centered on what I don’t eat. Over time, Sanela and Alivia have come to learn about my beliefs and values as a Christian Seventh-day Adventist. Likewise, I have learned a great deal from asking them about their beliefs.
Though we carry conflicting belief systems on certain subjects, we respect and listen to each other. There is no judging or predestining “correct” answers. Humans are curious beings. We wonder about things we don’t know and we want to find answers. Questions provide opportunities to discuss—and like learning a new language, we begin by listening.
Listening is the strongest stepping stone to outreach.
The phrases “Don’t judge a man until you walk two moons in his shoes” and “try standing in their shoes” can be applied to religion. When we place ourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand their belief system, it’s easier to find connections while respecting differences. Listening leads to learning, learning leads to understanding, and understanding leads to clearer vision.
The best way to learn about someone is to ask the person directly to express their faith in their own words. “Little birdies” are not always credible sources. Once my mom was in the break room talking to two coworkers and she mentioned, “I’m Adventist.”
Immediately, a coworker responded, “Oh, you’re the ones who don’t do blood transfusions.” I’d laugh to see that added to our list of fundamental beliefs.
Know Your Stuff
Knowledge about other religions also provides an outlet for open conversation. Jesus held wide knowledge about not only what He believed, but what others believed. Luke 2:46-47 says, “…they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (NKJ). For someone to really hear you, you have to listen to and understand them as well.
Heaven will not be made up of one religion. God has t the unique power to look into a person’s heart because that is how He judges a person, not which church they are a member of. Allah/God/Yaweh/ the Intelligent Designer/Abba is too big to be confined to one name or one religion. What if we decided to learn from other faiths? Look at Islamic devotion in prayer, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ persistence and purpose, Native religion’s reverence of the sanctity found in nature. As Adventists, we believe we have found the truth and must share the life-changing news with the world. This is a crucial message, yet certainly there are truths we can learn along the way. Understanding is the key to outreach with other faiths. James 1:19 says, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak…” (NKJ).
What if we put down our megaphone and removed our earplugs? What if we started truly listening?
Brianna Schenkelberg is a junior communication: journalism major from Wakee, Iowa, attending Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.