showell-india-story1.jpgSix years ago, I applied for my first passport, in preparation for a trip to India with the Wesley Foundation at the University of Central Florida. Unfortunately, I ended up being unable to attend, but vowed that I would one day find a way to travel there. To my great joy, I was given the opportunity to put that passport to use this past January Term, as part of the student group traveling with Dr. Arun Jones, Dr. Deanna Womack, and the World Methodist Evangelism Institute.

Over the course of the trip, we travelled from the southernmost tip of India in Kerala, to New Delhi in northern India, stopping in Hyderabad, Jaipur and Agra along the way. We were given the opportunity to visit sacred sites and observe the worship practices of Indian Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, as well as learn from educators at multiple Indian seminaries. Our trip concluded with the WMEI Seminar in New Delhi, bringing together Indian Methodists and Candler students around dialogue of what sharing the Gospel in a pluralistic context can look like.

However, the highlight of the trip for me personally was our visit to the Aman Shanti community center, a project of the Henry Martyn Institute. The Institute focuses on interfaith relations and reconciliation through education, community development and conflict transformation. The Aman Shanti community center, located in the Old City of Hyderabad, is one of the Institute’s community development projects, bringing together the Muslim and Hindu communities, especially those in the lower castes of the community. Historically, the two communities have come into episodic conflict, and often do not intermingle. The center seeks to engage peacebuilding on a relational level through a school for both Muslim and Hindu children pre-k to grade six, and through women’s and men’s programs focused on both community building and training in marketable skills for economic stability.

showell-india-story3.jpgDuring our visit to the center we were able to engage with those leading and attending the women’s programming, as well as those teaching and attending the school. Throughout our conversations, I was struck by the clear focus on intentional relationship formation in every aspect of the work being done. The leadership team of the center, most of whom are women from the local community, firmly believe that truly transformative interfaith dialogue can only occur in the context of individual relationships.

As someone discerning a call to conflict transformation ministry, this was an extremely refreshing point of view. I think it is often easy for us as seminarians to engage in academic conversations around interfaith dialogue without engaging in that dialogue in meaningful and practical ways. It was incredibly inspiring for me see this group of women, working with significantly fewer resources than comparable organizations in the States, enacting meaningful and lasting change in their community, and not asking for recognition for any of it. Even in our short time at Aman Shanti, it was obvious to me that the leadership team take seriously their roles, leading by example in their selflessness and intentional efforts to enter into relationship with each person they meet. It was an honor to meet each and every one of them.

Thanks to Sarah for the photos from the Aman Shanti community center!