By Rachel Bergen
As a result, Kathryn didn’t really challenge the status quo. Creative thinking wasn’t encouraged in her school or even in her wider community as she got older.
Kathryn attends a government-approved church in her home community. The church’s focus, she says, is primarily on what happens within the church on Sunday morning.
“I think most of our attention is on the church work. Our worship, our sermon, our bible study group, but we don’t have too much ideas of how we’re going to care about the community around.”
Things began to change for Kathryn when she decided to quit her job and try something new.
School of Peace
Kathryn participated in School of Peace 2015, where she experienced a different way of teaching and learning.
There are no wrong or right answers at SOP. Questions and criticisms are encouraged, and thinking out of the box is supported.
Fundamental to the school is engaging with people, issues, and beliefs you don’t agree with or understand. That was formative for Kathryn.
“I think the most important lesson is the engagement and dialogue,” she says, referring to engaging with people of different faiths. Kathryn observes that for many Protestants she’s spoken with in China, even engaging with Catholics is radical.
“In my church we don’t have too many chances to know about other religions. The interfaith idea is really new in my place,” Kathryn explains.
She says some people at her church worry their faith will waver if they engage with people who are different or follow other religions.
Although challenging, through Kathryn’s studies at SOP, she broadened her worldview over time.
“I learned God loves everybody. As Christians we have to get to know people of different faiths. We have to talk to them, engage with them, and learn from them.”
This is a core tenet for ICF. According to School of Peace coordinator Max Ediger, engaging with people of other faiths can be very difficult for some participants, but it’s an important part of building peace.
“The more we are deeply rooted in our own faith, the less we feel threatened by people of other faiths,” Max explains.
“Before we can dialogue with people who are different, we first need to be comfortable with our own identity and faith. Then we can be open to learning some truth from others even if we don’t fully agree with them.”
During an SOP break, Kathryn challenged herself and went to visit a Catholic theological seminary in China, although people are not encouraged to do so in her church.
“We have a lot of assumptions about Catholics because we believe they worship Mary, and not Jesus,” Kathryn says. “It’s common in China to think Catholics are different than Christians. What we (Protestants) believe is different, they’re not real Christians. I wanted to go to talk to them to clarify the assumptions in my mind.”
There she learned Catholics are showing respect to saints, not worshipping them.
“I don’t agree with all of the things they believe, but now I understand what they really believe.”
During the break, Kathryn also shared some of the lessons she learned at SOP in a conflict resolution program her church started.
So far the program is meant to promote peaceful conflict resolution in everyday life, but the church plans to use the curriculum in marriage counselling and in prisons.
Kathryn hopes to use what she learned to take the curriculum a step further, but isn’t sure what that will look like just yet.
There are 12 parts to the curriculum for the program, but Kathryn hopes to build an additional module based on understanding identity and tools for transformation.
“I think the study here (at SOP) is very meaningful. It’s more than I expected. The ideology to give you a new idea how to really love people, not just by what you’re saying, but what you’re thinking in mind and heart,” she says.
Kathryn feels her mind and heart have been changed during her time at SOP and hopes to work to increase engagement and build peace in her community.