A Controversial Journey: SPIL visits Michigan
Dearborn, Mich. – The street is dotted with traffic signs, advertisements, and names of businesses on buildings—not unlike every other U.S. city, except that many of these signs are in both Arabic and English.
There are mosques and churches alike along the cityscape. The largest mosque in North America is located here; two towers and three brilliant golden domes loom over the city.
This is a city where Sharia law has influence on the local government. The Arab American National Museum is here, providing a context and an education for visitors and residents of this city. Dearborn is home to one of the largest Arab and Muslim communities in the United States.
Members of the outreach team from George Fox University’s (GFU) Spiritual and Intercultural Life (SPIL) department went to this city as a part of their participation in the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Detroit.
The team visited both a mosque and a Christian organization called Angel House that provides community support and services like transportation, vocational classes, and meals to the Muslim community.
“The trip definitely changed my perspective about the Arabic community within America, and both the potential issues and potential that it creates with cross-cultural ministry,” said Shea Krevi, a junior at GFU and a member of the team that went to the conference and to Dearborn.
When navigating sensitive and difficult topics, especially cross-culturally, conflict is very likely, and this trip did not go without. The religious leader called, the imam, created a very welcoming environment, and was more than willing to answer questions and provide context to the visitors according to Krevi.
Yet while navigating sensitive and difficult topics, especially cross-culturally, conflict is very likely, and this trip did not go without.
But when the group got to Angel House and told the woman in charge about their experience, she told the group that the imam was dishonest with them during the question-and-answer session that they had just had, that their religion condones lying in certain ways, and that the imam was trying to hide information from them.
Two young men that were also from the CCDA conference stood up and argued with the woman, saying that they had worked with immigrants before and that was not their experience. The conversation ended with the them storming out, leaving behind lots of tension in Angel House.
The interchange revealed the generational gap within the audience.
According to Krevi, the older members of the conference group were more apt to side with the woman, and the younger people were more likely to disagree and trust what the imam had told them, and what they already had experienced and knew about Muslims.
“I can’t speak for her experience, but I think she has served there long enough that that could very well be true for her situation; however I don’t know if we should be able to use that as an overarching theme for all these communities,” Krevi said.
On the day that Krevi and a few other members of the GFU team went to Dearborn, a couple people from the GFU SPpIL team also went to Flint, Mich.
Flint has become infamous in America as the town without water. The pipes and the water sources contained dangerous levels of lead, making it toxic to drink and causing illness and even death in the city.
Hannah Wagar, a sophomore GFU student, was able to go to this city and witness the rebuilding.
“Flint is definitely a comeback city, full of people who desire to see grassroots change within their communities. The city is slowly changing infrastructure and doing a lot with what they have,” said Wagar.
The excursions to Dearborn and Flint were just one day of a three-day conference in Detroit. The theme of this conference was resilience, of both the people attending the conference and of the people of Detroit. Fifteen Christian leaders spoke on a wide range of topics.
“It left me with a lot to think about,” says Krevi. “I’m still processing everything.”
The conference covered a myriad of issues, including but not limited to racial reconciliation, the policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), foster care, business as a mission, community development, women in ministry, and tolerance versus love.
“I realized that it’s a love issue, and a love problem, in a lot of these situations. Yes, when it comes down to the policies, those things are important and need to be addressed well. But our first steps as followers is to love and then to act, and I think a lot of times we reverse the order of those things,” said Krevi, on what he learned from this conference.
Reported by Emma Lindberg
Photographed by Satoshi Seth