As resources and circumstances have permitted, we have brought Western thought leaders to the Middle East on pilgrimages and delegations to experience life in the Middle East and to spend time with Christians and Muslims there. The easiest way to get to know a people and their culture is to live alongside them, even if only for a short period. These first-hand experiences are life-changing, and the traveller returns home with much to pass on to friends, family and work colleagues.
Our week-long trip to Lebanon in April 2017, with a mix of Canadian and British business, civic and religious leaders, was many months in planning. Delegates travelled throughout Beirut and into the countryside around it. We met many wonderful people, including the 77th Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, the General Secretary of the Synod of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Syria and Lebanon, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, the former Syrian Ambassador to London, the Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon, the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Alexandria and Jerusalem, the President of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as leading scholars and civic leaders. There was also time to visit a Syrian refugee family in the Bekaa Valley, and a school for refugee children where the Baptist and the National Evangelical Churches are working together to bring hope, love and a sense of security back into the children’s lives.
Each delegate went home with a wealth of experiences and stories to share with friends, family and colleagues, stories of people of faith who live side-by-side, working together to defeat sectarianism and preserve Lebanon’s famous multi-cultural and multi-faith diversity.
A full report on this delegation can be found here.
An Awareness Foundation delegation of 11 business and church leaders travelled to Syria during the last week of May 2009. With the considerable support of the Syrian Ambassador in the UK and the Head of the Syrian Association in London, we prepared a packed agenda for the delegation. With an objective of listening, learning and engaging, the delegates met religious, civic and business leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Syria and the head of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, and heard from them how a diverse society in Syria has been a blessing for centuries. The trip was a great success.
‘It was this trip that convinced me that we are all part of one single human family – brothers and sisters with one another in a global world.‘
Anthony Shillington, UK
The first opportunity for such an exchange took place in June 2007 when we held our Second International Consultants Conference in Aleppo, Syria. Our Middle Eastern delegates were joined by visitors from Germany, Argentina, the United Kingdom and the United States. After the conference, our delegates were joined by a group of Western pilgrims. They visited the great historical and religious sites of Syria, including Aleppo, Lattakia, Ugarit, the ancient city of Palmyra, Homs and Damascus. It was a rare chance to walk in the footsteps of St. Paul and to experience Christianity – and Islam – in its original and most fascinating context. New bonds were formed between Middle East and West.
‘One of the greatest gifts of this journey has been the abiding desire to build relationships with people who had before seemed so distant and now seem a little more within reach.’
The Revd Dr Dee Dee Estes, US