As the city bus pulls up and opens the door, you clamor aboard with seven or eight other people. By now the turbaned driver is no longer a curiosity to you. He arrives each day like clockwork, politely nods in greeting, he delivers you safely to your destination. What else do you need to know?
She works five shifts a week, rain or shine, in a toll booth on a windy expressway. One day you look past her and notice a porcelain bowl of fruit tucked into a corner along with a couple of sticks of incense. Is there some kind of meaning to that?
On a Sabbath afternoon walk at the park, you notice another nicely dressed family. At first you wonder if they might be Adventists, but then you see that the father and sons are each wearing a yarmulke. They were probably at the synagogue while you were at church. Should you say Happy Sabbath or Shabbat Shalom? Or is it more respectful to say nothing?
Such are the modern day dilemmas of knowing what to do or say when meeting people from other cultures and world religions. Depending on their demeanor, we might feel uncomfortable or perhaps even afraid. Maybe we are curious and would like to make some sort of friendly overture. We’d like our children to feel confident about reaching out to others, but how can we teach them to do that when we are unsure ourselves? Perhaps we worry too much about accidentally offending someone, finding it easier to stay within our own circles of friendship.
According to Gary Krause, director of the Office of Adventist Mission, this is a challenge we need to take seriously. “Research shows that Christians are hopelessly out of touch with non-Christians in their communities,” he says. “One study showed that in North America, only 35.6 percent of Buddhists, 22.7 percent of Hindus, and 67.8 percent of Muslims say they don’t even know one Christian.” He adds, “They live in our neighborhoods, sit beside us on public transport, eat at the tables next to us in restaurants—but they don’t know us, and we don’t make them our friends.”
That is an uncomfortable truth, but now Adventist Mission has produced a new resource to help us. Ganoune Diop, director of the Global Mission Study Centers, has recently produced Understanding World Religions, a set of four DVDs that opens the door to comprehending the beliefs, values, and practices of major religious traditions. By identifying areas of common understanding—such as respect, honor, family relationships, justice, love, cooperation, supporting one another—the series can help build bridges between faith groups.
Lectures and interviews with experts filmed throughout the world offer a wealth of useful information about the world’s major religions. Dr. Diop and other experts give practical advice for navigating through new friendships with people of other religious cultures without offending them.
Dr. Diop, a cross-cultural pastor, educator and theologian, shares simple yet sensitive ways to understand, appreciate and reach out to people of differing faiths. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises will be not what we can do for others, but how our lives can be enriched in ways we could never imagine, simply by reaching out.
The four-disc set is the first in a series and covers Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Postmodernism. It retails for $39.99. To order, visit www.AdventistMission.org, or call 1-800-648-5824.
Nancy Kyte is the marketing director for the Office of Adventist Mission at the General Conference.