Perhaps, the only way a good thing can happen is by taking a risk. That means opening one’s self to the possibility of failure, and being utterly vulnerable. This was the case when our group of Evangelical Christian peace theologians and missionaries headed by PCEC National Director, Bishop Noel Pantoja, travelled to Midsayap, North Cotabato last 24 October 2015 to have a two-day dialogue with a group of Muslim religious leaders led by Ustadz Abdulkadir Abubakar.
God blessed our journey, for we certainly experienced a good thing—the goodness of friendship.
Like many fellow-Christians here in the Philippines our group also felt some trepidation in going to a region known historically for conflicts involving Muslims and Christians. In view of that past which still spills into the present, our task was certainly not an easy one. What if the Muslim group does not receive us warmly? What if the dialogue turns sour, and instead of developing understanding we succeed in increasing ill will toward each other? Or what if we run into some brigands or some cross-fires during the 4-hour drive from Davao to Midsayap or vice versa? While the possibilities were real for any or all of these to occur, there was also a chance that the dialogue will cultivate a deeper understanding, which will be the basis for future meetings and hopefully for deeper friendships. Certainly, the potential advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. In other words, in my mind, the risk is certainly worth taking.
Come to think of it, didn’t Jesus take some great risk, too, when he shed his glory and emptied himself in the Incarnation (Phil. 2:7)? What greater risk can there be than when he endured the cross for us? But, what if no one, or just a handful few accepted that love? Would his sufferings been “worth it”? But then, to see God’s love as if it is dependent on human response and worthiness seems a wrong way of understanding God. Is it not the case that God’s love is divine precisely because he demonstrates it irrespective of our worth and how we may respond (Rom. 5:8)? In this sense, God’s love is not a risk since it is not conditioned by who we are and what we do. God does not “risk” in loving us; he simply loves us.
I believe that for Christian-Muslim relations to be transformed in our country, such kind of love is what we Christians need to show to our Muslim neighbors; a love that is not merely calculated, but one that is gracious and free. During the dialogue it often surfaced how Christians and Muslims desire each other’s friendship, but prejudice and fear of the “Other” have often prevented its formation. It was therefore very meaningful how in those two days we Christians and Muslims have started to trek that road. Through the discussions and games facilitated by Ka Boyet, we Christians and Muslims were able to laugh together, to state honestly our views and our fears, and to dream together. Through our interactions, we Christians were able to perceive more clearly the person and not just the Moro figure about whom we have only read or heard about. In a real sense, it was “togetherness” that lifted a good portion of the veil of our Moro neighbor’s otherness. Indeed, it was through fellowship that we were able to behold the similarities we, Christians and Muslims, share amidst our differences.
To be sure, the road toward genuine peace and reconciliation stretches forth. How long before we reach its end may be interesting but it is not such questions that are crucial. While each one of us who went to Midsayap had—and may still have–our own personal questions in relation to what we sought to achieve in the dialogue, in the end it is not our questions but our response that is truly important. Like the expert in the law in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, many of us have a good idea of what is right. Knowing what is right, Jesus tells the expert in the law, “Go and do likewise” (Matt. 10:37). Similarly, in view of God’s free and unconditional love for us, we are all called to love our Moro neighbors. We are all called to follow how Jesus loved and embraced the “Other.” We are called to “go and do likewise.”