Reflections on Oman
By Lesley Mazzotta
I recently returned from a 10-day trip to the Sultanate of Oman. This beautiful country, located on the Arabian Sea, next to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, stands as a peaceful and safe place in a volatile part of the world. Oman is gracious and approachable, eager to welcome all people and share its country, culture, and traditions with those who are willing to hear.
While there, my group stayed in the capital city of Muscat, hosted by the Al Amana Centre, an RCA ministry working internationally to foster understanding, acceptance, cooperation, and trust between Muslims and Christians. The work the Centre is doing is vital and timely. At a time when the Gulf region is teeming with violence and mistrust, the Centre creates programs, courses, and other educational opportunities, in collaboration with the people of Oman, to teach us that there is hope for peaceful religious coexistence everywhere.
During my time there, our adventures abounded: we hiked mountains, toured religious sites, visited an Omani school, lunched on the beach, shopped at bustling souks, explored ancient towns, rode camels, took a sunset dhow cruise, went dune bashing (both thrilling and terrifying!), and spent our last night watching shooting stars in the desert sky. However, it was the chance to meet and talk with the country’s gentle and hospitable people that warmed my heart and made me fall in love with this place.
As a Christian, I felt blessed to have the opportunity to speak in-depth with the Omani people, to share our lives, celebrate our common ground, and honor the differences on our unique and personal journeys with God. I was struck by the openness everyone had to discuss their religious truths and learn more about mine. I also observed the deep theological conversations that the ministers in our group had with one another, colleagues sharing about the joys and challenges of our faith in the heat of the Wahiba Sands.
Wherever I went, I felt called to answer the same question: What do I believe? or as Jesus asks, Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:29).The RCA ministers at the Al Amana Centre talked passionately about the importance of upholding our religious convictions in order to truly engage in interfaith dialogue. This is not to convince others to believe as we do, but to fully articulate our faith to create a safe space for exploration and discovery of the differences between us. It is a process towards deeper understanding and authentic friendship.
This is the most surprising part of this transformational experience. A trip aimed at helping me understand other religious points of view strengthened my own. When I think of the questions above, I can’t express my thoughts as well as my Omani or minister friends. But I want to, and I’m committed to continuing to question, study, and explore until I can.
I hope to return to Oman very soon to continue learning from this magnificent country and people. (A women’s trip in fall 2015 is in the works!) In the meantime, I am back in the States, with greater faith in God and a yearning to deepen my Christian beliefs in the hope that as I do, I am able to live into God’s will for my life, while fully engaging in interfaith conversations that lead to peace with all of God’s people.
Lesley Mazzotta is director of spiritual formation at Christ Episcopal Church and Community Reformed Church of Manhasset in New York.