We are living in a world where every person is unique and different from each other. We are separated and divided due to differing ideologies, theological teaching, religious belief, cultural orientation, philosophical views, nationality, the language we speak, skin color, interests, or even simple things, like our favorite color, favorite music, etc. These differences consequently create a schism amongst people here and there, anywhere around the world. In our past, we have seen how our differences in various aspects of our lives have resulted in subjugation, domination, oppression, and exploitation; the discrimination often results in isolation, divisions, war, and worst, death. Sadly, if we are to visit our church history, the church has never been spared from these scenarios. Schisms or divisions occurred due to differing theological orientations, biblical interpretations, and sometimes, hierarchical structures. We are really different from each other and those differences make it so hard for us to live together, even more difficult to live together in harmony. As a saying by Martin Amis goes, “Only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb and the rose grow without thorns.”
For many years, I’ve held onto the belief that people with differing beliefs cannot live together; that we cannot unite two people with different thinking. People different in many ways when put together might end up, if not killing each other, hating each other. It seems to me that people nowadays love arguing rather than creating and building relationships. It is very easy for most people to destroy a relationship just because one doesn’t agree with the other’s beliefs. It is so easy to forget a friend just because of differences in ideas. Instead of creating harmony and fixing things, it has become a trend to just end up relationship, giving in more to go or pride.
I always dream of a community like what the Prophet Isaiah had prophesied in Isaiah chapter 11, where leopards and goats lie down together, wolves are resting together with lambs, calves and lions eat together and are cared for by little children, snakes are not seen as dangerous creature but a good companion. It is a place where there is no harm, only peace and love; a place where one values fellowship rather than focusing on differences. What a beautiful scene it is to see people living together in tranquility! But a question always lingers in my thoughts – is it just a dream or could it be possible?
Just recently, God showed me the answer to my question. As I applied to the Global Mission Fellow Program of the church, God sent me to Japan. I had no idea that my placement site will give me the answer. Unity in diversity is possible and it does exist! Here in Asian Rural Institute (ARI), Nasushiobara, Tochigi, Japan, exists a community composed of different nationalities, religion, and way of life. We really differ in many ways but we choose to live together in harmony. This is a community where the word “hate” and the word “division” are alien to our existence. Every day, people come together in fellowship to hear stories from one member of the community. They come to listen to whatever stories the appointed member wants to share, may it be about his/her faith, nationality, or philosophies. The community tries to embrace where this person is coming from. Every day, these people also work together in producing their food; working together with joy and harmony.
(Members of ARI gathered for morning gathering and listening to the story of a member.)
Being united in the midst of differences is possible. The secret formula is simple – it is learning the meaning of the word “respect” and applying it. To be united is to acknowledge the fact that every individual is created differently, born and raised in different cultural and faith backgrounds. If there is one common denominator that should bond us, it is the fact that we are all humans created in God’s image. We all have needs; we have struggles, we want to live. We are all living and as living, we breathe the same air, we eat the same food from the soil, and drink the same water from nature; we are all striving to live and survive, and yet, we are all created uniquely different from the rest.
(Stella Kumbong from Cameroon and myself checking the pumpkins ready for harvest.)
We might be different in many ways, but what matters the most is the things that we have in common. We all have dreams for ourselves, we all just want to be happy, to be treated justly and fairly, and to receive love. Every person in the world is equally important, we all need each other to live. In my new community (ARI), one of my greatest teachings is to set aside differences, and choose to understand and love each other. We are all God’s children and we are all part of each other. As Suzy Kasseem wrote in her book, Rise Up and Salute the Sun, she said, “through understanding, people will be able to see their similarities rather than differences” and “every human bleeds the same color and occupies the same world.” When we are able to decipher and embrace all these things, we can live in harmony.
Isaiah’s prophecy is real. It can happen in the communities where we belong and it can happen this very moment. It can start with you and with me by being the instrument of Isaiah’s prophecy. Jesus is the perfect example of love, respect, and caring for people, and as His followers and faithful servants, it is our responsibility to live out His teachings. The expression of love should start with us. The challenge is how we can be the instrument of unity and peace in this world. Through us, people may see and experience heaven on Earth.
“Let us advocate peace,
Let us advocate hope,
Let us advocate love,
…that we may live together.”
(“That we may live together” is the motto of Asian Rural Institute)
Rey Oliver Fabros
Asian Rural Institute
GMF International, Class of 2016-2018