“Who are my neighbors of another faith?” This is a question I get asked often. I love discovering how different faiths intersect with mine. And as the coordinator for interreligious relations in the Reformed Church in America, I help connect churches and individuals to their neighbors of different faiths.
I always begin by wondering with people about their literal neighbors: how they are connecting with these neighbors or how they could connect with them. That’s where I encourage you to start, too. From backyard BBQs to prayer walks, get to know your own neighbors.
Getting to know your neighbors of other faiths
If your neighborhood mostly has folks that look and worship the same way you do, it’s still great to get to know those neighbors. But you may also want to start to look outside of your own neighborhood in order to get to know people who have a different faith or religious background than you.
Check out local businesses
Supporting local businesses can be a great way to meet and get to know people of a different faith than you. Where I live, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I have lost track of how many restaurants, coffee shops, stores, and other places of business are owned or operated by folks that don’t look like me.
I have connected with a new neighbor by changing where I buy my Sunday paper (yes, I still read the paper). The local convenience store just a few miles from my home is run by a family from the Sikh faith. I am slowly getting to know a new friend by stopping by each Sunday after church to stay and chat for a few minutes.
Explore community organizations and events in your area
To connect with your neighbors of different faiths, you can also check with the local colleges, cultural centers, and neighborhood associations. Grab a friend and attend a local cultural night. There may even be an interfaith center that hosts events or dialogues for the public to get involved with interfaith conversations.
How getting to know a local restaurant owner has blessed me
Local restaurant owner Amo Mazen has been a wonderful friend for me to get to know. My friend and colleague Eliza Cortes Bast and I have been meeting at his restaurant for years. I have had him cater events for our ministries as well.
Amo is a very open man. He and his wife are extremely hospitable. They own Bab El Salam. Salam means peace. Amo is very much a peacemaker in his community and if you know him, you are treated like family. He is open about sharing where he is from, stories from his youth, how he came to Michigan, his faith, and so much more.
How to prepare for interfaith conversations
We are often worried that we will offend or say something wrong. But just be neighborly and curious. A good way to prepare for a good conversation with your neighbor of another faith is with prayer.
The relationships you build with neighbors of different faith backgrounds should always be grounded in prayer. Pray to have eyes to see who is in your specific neighborhood. Pray for God to give you courage to start a conversation and wisdom about what to say.
Getting to know our neighbors from around the world is a beautiful thing. These are new friends we just don’t know about yet!