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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

The three wise men spreading a message of hope over fear

The Rabbi, the Imam and the Pastor preaching love and understanding through faith in Abu Dhabi

Known as 'the three wise men' Pastor Bob Roberts, Imam Mohamed Magid and Rabbi Bruce Lustig are building bridges. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Known as 'the three wise men' Pastor Bob Roberts, Imam Mohamed Magid and Rabbi Bruce Lustig are building bridges. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Known as ‘the three amigos’, an imam, a pastor and a rabbi travel from city to city, as living examples of tolerance and understanding.

The American Caravan for Peace initiative, launched in Abu Dhabi last spring under the umbrella of the Promoting Peace for Muslim Societies forum, has a mission to banish stereotypes from the minds of the masses and build bridges between communities of different faiths.

Imam Mohamed Magid, Rabbi Bruce Lustig – who both live in Washington DC – and Dallas based Pastor Bob Roberts have organised 20 multi-faith retreats so far around America. Besides holding events and visiting homes to preach faith over fear, they also work together on social justice issues, such as human trafficking.

The fruits of this collaboration can be seen when their congregations rush to aid each other in the event of a crisis.

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Such as in 2015 when a group of far right Evangelical Christians descended on a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona, preventing worshippers from entering to pray. In response, local pastor Tyler Johnson organised hundreds of his congregants - who formed a protective cordon around the mosque – allowing worshippers to enter and pray.

Imam Magid said Pastor Johnson addressed the far right group and persuaded them to leave. This was illustrative of the positive impact the initiative has had, he said.

During the recent hurricane that hit Houstan, Texas, all three pitched in to help with relief efforts. Helping to organise the collection and storage of food and clothes for those affected by the disaster.

“So we had everyone working with the pastor and we were all involved,” explained Rabbi Lustig.

During the retreats, the three wise men bring in ten clerics each, and once they have completed the workshop, the clerics have to go back to their communities and apply the same method.

“The retreat lasts for three days, and everybody is really nervous when they first get there, but we make them sit and just tell their story. On the first day they just get to know one another,” explained Pastor Roberts.

“The second day starts with how they perceive the other, and it gets tense,” he noted.

However, no one challenges the religious ideologies of another, instead they come out with a clearer vision of their own faiths.

“When you meet with those intelligent people who are asking you intuitive questions about your identity, these pastors and rabbis and imams leave feeling really fortified and secure about their own faith,” said Rabbi Lustig.

“There is a configuration of each one’s faith because we are all comfortable with our religious identity,” Rabbi Lustig added.

“Like I am not trying to turn Bob into a Jew, but he is always trying to turn me into a Christian, I got used to that,” he chuckled.

On the third day, the participants start to build a relationship. “So there are five building blocks that we try to build around, each city can do what they want, but number one they have to put all of this on a calendar: First of all they have to go to one another’s home to eat a meal because we want them to humanise people.

“Then they have to hold a mixer event, could be sports or a visit to one another’s place of worship and we try to get people to sign up families, because the goal is not really the clerics, our goal is to get to the masses in our congregations,” Pastor Roberts explained.

The third step is to carry out a community project together, “we all live in the same cities and we focus on something that goes on for months, if not a year or two.”

“And fourth thing we do is stand up for one another,” he said. “The fifth is for them to spread it out to ten churches, 10 imams and 10 synagogues by holding a retreat with the clerics in the city.”

Though only recently formalised as the American Caravan for Peace, the three clerics’ partnership has been going on for decades. So long they cannot figure out exactly when they first encountered each other.

“After 9/11 when my mosque was vandalised, it was the Christians and the Jews and Sikhs who came to our mosque with roses and donations and so forth,” said Imam Magid.

“So with all the negative things that people hear about America, there is a lot of hope, because your own faith determines that you have faith over fear,” he concluded.