As resources and circumstances have permitted, we have brought Western thought leaders to the Middle East on pilgrimages and delegations to experience life in the Middle East and to spend time with Christians and Muslims there. The easiest way to get to know a people and their culture is to live alongside them, even if only for a short period. These first-hand experiences are life-changing, and the traveller returns home with much to pass on to friends, family and work colleagues.
The first opportunity for such an exchange took place in June 2007 when we held our Second International Consultants Conference in Aleppo, Syria. Our Middle Eastern delegates were joined by visitors from Germany, Argentina, the United Kingdom and the United States. After the conference, our delegates were joined by a group of Western pilgrims. They visited the great historical and religious sites of Syria, including Aleppo, Lattakia, Ugarit, the ancient city of Palmyra, Homs and Damascus. It was a rare chance to walk in the footsteps of St. Paul and to experience Christianity – and Islam – in its original and most fascinating context. New bonds were formed between Middle East and West.
‘One of the greatest gifts of this journey has been the abiding desire to build relationships with people who had before seemed so distant and now seem a little more within reach.’
The Revd Dr Dee Dee Estes, US
An Awareness Foundation delegation of 11 business and church leaders travelled to Syria during the last week of May 2009. With the considerable support of the Syrian Ambassador in the UK and the Head of the Syrian Association in London, we prepared a packed agenda for the delegation. With an objective of listening, learning and engaging, the delegates met religious, civic and business leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Syria and the head of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, and heard from them how a diverse society in Syria has been a blessing for centuries. The trip was a great success.
‘It was this trip that convinced me that we are all part of one single human family - brothers and sisters with one another in a global world.‘
Anthony Shillington, UK
Both the Pilgrimage and the Delegation engendered considerable understanding between people in the Middle East and West. After these cultural exchanges, we received numerous positive messages from those involved, two of which we have quoted above. We also received insightful articles that we published in our English-language magazine, Awareness.
We are planning further pilgrimages and delegations, as the situation in the Middle East allows.