Beyond Borders and Beliefs

As a student of NEST I was invited for a work shop last summer which was organized by the FDCD (Forum for Development of Cultural Dialogue). And the topic was Peacemaking Through Dialogue.

I have attended conferences with different Christians and believers but this was a unique in kind; I met people from 9 different nationalities speaking 7 different languages. The participants were from Denmark, France, Australia, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Italy and Egypt. All of them had different beliefs and ideas. I was the only Lebanese of Armenian origin representing Lebanon. I was encouraged to participate because one of my professors was facilitating this conference. Prior to attending the conference, I had learned that there will be participants from Turkey. I had mixed feelings toward this idea because it was going to be my first meeting with them as an Armenian with my History of the Armenian Genocide! But as Christian I was happy to confront. The first day when I met the lady I welcomed her, then when she introduced herself I welcomed her with a big smile on my face and started talking with her in the Turkish language, since I had learned it by hearing my grandparents speak in Turkish. We became friends, sat together, shared together. We both were sharing about our cultures and finding some similarities. This encouraged us to be transparent and she invited me to go and visit her hometown. I wanted to express my thoughts and ideas and grievances about the loss of my ancestors, but I was trying to be polite! I'm not sure if I was pretending it or if it was real. I replied kindly and said yes I wish to visit the places where my ancestors lived. This was the first evening.

Then, some other ladies were around, one of whom was from Denmark. She asked me about the civil war and my experiences, because she has never had any experiences of this kind in her life! Later during the week, Khalise, the lady and I started having conversations together again. My grief was not tense because as Christian I believed that I had to forgive them! But not forget. Before the end of the one-week conference, we were going to go for shopping in Bourj Hammoud, where most of the people living are Armenian, and this lady was afraid. I asked her about the reason, and she was very transparent and told me "before I come to Lebanon my friends told me to be careful of the Armenians. They may revenge from you! But now I believe that it is not true because you are a good example in front of me!" I was happy to know this, and I protected her when we were walking in Bourj-hammoud.

The following day, we were all gathered together in the big lounge. Our leader who was Christian and from Denmark spoke this sentence "As a Christian, my God helps me to forgive." This word encouraged me to reveal my inner thoughts. I felt that I had a mission there … as if I was going to share about the Armenian believers. Khalise, the lady was sitting next to me, and I lifted my hand to share my idea. I was very confident and I said "I agree what Agnetta told, as an Armenian Christian I forgive what happened in the past. I was not there at that time and she was not there…… and that's why you see me sitting next to her and speaking with her even in her own language... The language of the so called enemy". When I finished my sentences and after concluding the session I noticed that khalise was not around. I knew that I hurt her. Directly I talked with Agnetta about my feelings, but she said "you were right, you were a good example in front of us. Do not be bothered go and talk with her, if she refuses we can talk together." It was late evening I didn't want to disturb her. Next morning, when we met during the breakfast we both welcomed each other. I felt that I had the green light to talk but then I also felt that there was a gap. She was avoiding to be with me. I kept silent but I wanted to talk to her.

The last day of the conference, I entered her room and gave a mug as a souvenir from Lebanon and one of my necklaces that she liked the first day when we met. And I said to her, "I wish to continue our friendship that we started during this conference, let neither our nationality nor the hurt even neither the border and the difference of our beliefs be a barrier for us." She shared that she was hurt on that day too. She shared about their History, which had a different perspective! We both hugged and started crying and promised to keep in touch. The next morning, I woke up early in order to wish her a safe trip. After I returned I wrote her twice, but there was no response unfortunately! I was sad but I know that I did my part.

I wish to hear from her and I'm open to write her again one day! But still I'm waiting the right timing...

To conclude at the end of the conference I learned the following:
• To be open to learn about the norms values and faith and traditions about the other person.
• Acknowledge the obvious differences between me and them.
• Acknowledge the reality of hardship and discrimination.
• Be sensitive in my comments and behaviors.
• Not to be afraid of silence, and not be offended.
• Avoid labeling, be patient and faithful.
• Build a desire to discover God's image in the person I'm dealing with and give value. Allow myself to grow and learn and be changed.
• Rely on God's wisdom and presence with me to serve across the cultures and effectively minister.

Silva Chilingirian,
Armenian Evangelical Nor-Marash Church