Tuesday, September 11, 2012

At Summer Camp Christian-Muslim Teens Find Common Ground . . . On Water


10 Jordanian Young People Meet Summer Camp ‘American Style’

DURANGO, COLO.—Sept. 5, 2012—Call it jet-ski diplomacy.

This summer, 10 Muslim young people from Jordan and Christian teens from across the U.S. shared two weeks at Camp KIVU, in the mountains and lakes near Durango, Colo., to rappel, mountain bike, jet ski, camp out and, oh, yes, to exchange worldviews.

“On common ground it’s easier to explore differences,” said KIVU founder and director Andy Braner. “These kids got to be honest and learn there are places we agree and places we disagree—and at the end of the day we can all go jet ski.”

With a decade and half in youth ministry, Braner has an inside track on today’s teen. Besides the hundreds coming through KIVU each summer, he annually speaks to some 80,000 young people at conferences and on campuses worldwide. His latest book, Alone—Finding Connection in a Lonely World, talks to kids about the hidden pain in the digital generation. Now, introducing young people from completely different cultures, Braner is again at his best: strengthening young faith for the real world.

The Christian-Muslim exchange grew from Braner’s contacts with the East-West Initiative, which exists to promote understanding between youths of different faiths and cultures. Would Braner want to host 10 young Jordanians between the ages of 13 and 25 at a KIVU summer session?

“It was the World Series for me,” Braner said, “to say, ‘I believe in Jesus’ and I can sit at a table with people who believe differently.”

Along with three adult counselors, the Jordanian young people, five male, five female, spread out in cabins with the American campers, neither side there to proselytize but to understand. As the teens ate, played and talked together, the ice broke into honest exchange.

“Our campers asked the Jordanians, ‘What is your stereotype of Americans?’” Braner said. “The Jordanians answer was ‘obnoxious, arrogant, think they own everything.’ When Muslim campers returned the question, Americans said: ‘Terrorists.”

Creating opportunity for honest interaction was the fun: skiing, hiking . . . river rafting. The American campers were able to show their faith “life on life,” Braner said, “in the way Jesus functioned in real time with real people.”

The result? Young Christians and young Muslims gained better and perhaps more generous understandings of another culture. “Thanks for this awesome experience,” one young Jordanian said. A U.S. camper’s parent summed it up with, “This is the future of camping.” Braner visits Jordan this fall, perhaps in advance of a KIVU-sponsored spring break trip for U.S. families there. Already he’s at work on a similar exchange for next year.

And a leading indicator of Kivu’s cross-cultural success? From two sides of the globe, campers are reconnecting on Facebook.

“This is the space I want to live in,” Braner said. “We sit down together. I teach you about me. You teach me about you. And at the end of the day, we get on the jet ski.”

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