Communicating across differences
'Lovely morning!' It sounded really incongruous in the sand and heat of the pyramids on Thursday morning. Tourists from far and wide with mobile phones in hand were attempting to get the best camera angle on the huge structures. Meanwhile, locals touting for trade were using clever ruses to get their attention. What got mine was when the 'Lovely morning' greeting was spoken in an English accent by one of the Egyptians. I'm sure he'd never been anywhere near the UK or Ireland but he'd learned to say a few words in a way some tourists would instantly recognise.
A big factor in mission is to communicate and act in a culturally appropriate way. It takes time to begin to understand a different way of doing things. But it can make such a difference if we don't simply raise our voice to 'get the message across' but do our best to genuinely understand.
The day before our visit to the pyramids and the 'lovely morning', I had a fascinating time with Bishop Mouneer. He shared with me something of the history of the Centre of Christian-Muslim Understanding and Partnership. I was struck by the commitment that Muslim and Anglican leaders made to love and respect one another with honesty and without compromise.
This is not about papering over differences and pretending that 'it's all the same anyway'. It is about respecting the other to the extent that you want to understand them much better and love them enough to share what matters to you.
A strange occurrence took place one evening. I happened to bump into a group of visitors from another country in the Middle East. We fell into conversation and, on hearing I was a priest, they asked if I could show them a church. As a visitor myself, that involved a few conversations. But when we walked in together it was a special moment. They had never been inside any church before and were very curious. It wasn't a long encounter but there were lots of questions and all was in an atmosphere of respect and courtesy.
It was a truly lovely evening!