During the week of 17-21 June 2013, The Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES) in Beirut, Lebanon organised its annual inter-faith conference (this was the 10th edition), under the leadership of my friend Dr. Martin Accad, the Director of IMES.
Martin invited me to be one of the contributors in this important meeting, together with Dr. Oaul Fiddes, Regent’s Park College, Oxford; Ehab el-Kharrat, senator in the Egyptian Parliament; Ziya Meral, a Turkish Christian activist living in the UK ; and Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia. At the conference were also invited as contributors a number of Muslin leaders, development workers and some civic activists.
My main responsibility was to to lead the daily spiritual reflections for this conference. I have used for this the story of the two disciples going to Emmaus. I have divided the story in five parts, each day making one more step towards spirituality viewed as journeying with Christ in our troubled world. Each day I have also used some hymn chanting, to spice up and prepare people’s hearts to engage with the story. You may find below the draft notes of the presentation I have made.
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After the introductions, the conference started with a panel discussion, led by Martin Accad, in which four of the main speakers answered questions like:
- Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, where you work (and in what capacity), and some of your interests.
- How did you become interested in the area of human rights, and in which particular areas of human rights have you focused on?
- Could you highlight some of the work you have been involved in that relate to the themes we will be addressing during MEC2013?
- Who has inspired you and who has challenged you within the field you have been involved in?
- Who would you encourage people to engage with [writers, organisations, movements etc.]?
- What are some of the main themes you will be addressing within your sessions?
- What are you looking forward to most this week? What are you hoping to learn?
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During the fourth day of the conference I have been invited to contribute, together with Ehab el-Kharrat, the senator from Egypt, and Imed Dabbour, a Tunisian working for the SAT-7 TV channel, to another panel discussion, moderated by Martin Accad around the topic How Should the Church Respond to the Arab Uprisings: Challenges & Opportunities within the Emerging Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Region. My role was to present an East European view of the Arab Spring, given our experience there with the fall of communism. I will post separately a few notes from my presentation.
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I hoped for years that I will be able to participate to the annual conference of IMES. However, to be a contributor was more than I expected. I am also glad to be there, because I have clearly saw the hand of God in it. Initially I have tentatively accepted the invitation. Yet, late last year I was asked by the facilitation group of the Lausanne initiative for Evangelical-Orthodox dialogue to represent the evangelicals in this group at a Lausanne leadership meeting taking place in Bangalore, India. However, the head of my sector in World Vision decided that I should not go to that meeting. My attempt to negotiate did not change anything. Then, I returned to the IMES people telling them that I am able to come to the conference, even as a simple attendant. To my surprise, they told me that the person they have invited to lead biblical reflections at the conference cancelled because he had to go to the Bangalore meeting. Do you see what I mean by the hand of divine providence?
This was a great conference, where I have learned a lot about the situation on the ground in a region for which I care a lot.
Besides the conference, during one of the days, I was also able to visit aa number of Syrian refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley, where World Vision works. I hope my work will allow me in the near future to share with you the very strong and painful impressions I got during that visit.
Until then, if you want to find out more about the IMES conference, you may read at the links below the summary of each day.
You may also read in the newsletter attached below the summary and conclusions of the conference.