When I was nineteen I served a mission for my church, proselyting the gospel in the Caribbean. There was a great diversity of religious opinion where I served. Hinduism was most prevalent, but Christianity and Islam were not far behind. A healthy dose of Rastafari as well, and numerous smaller theologies sprinkled on top, to say nothing of the many different sects within each larger religion-umbrella.
Because of the nature of my work there, I entered into many theological discussions with members of other churches, some of them positive and some of them not. I met more than one person who was angry at me for “being wrong,” and who would seek very aggressively to convince me of that wrongness.
And while those experiences left a strong distaste in my mouth, I have actually come to agree with some of the points they made, but many years after and not because of their hostile approach. For example, only recently I came to the realization that I misunderstood grace. I said I believed in it, but I was still trying to win my own salvation. This was something that others were able to see amiss in me, but their antagonistic methods only delayed my willingness to see the truth of the matter. I wasn’t convinced until much later, when I met others who genuinely cared for me, and as a friend helped me to see more clearly.
I’m glad to say that I also had very positive experiences with members of different faiths on my mission. In particular I remember a long conversation with a Hindu Pujari (temple priest) in his home, where he patiently explained all the concepts of their religion that I had questions about. He helped me to see the misunderstanding I had on concepts like reincarnation, nirvana, and karma.
Now I did not convert to Hinduism, but I did open myself to seeing the very real good that this religion and culture has to offer the world. For example, the emphasis that it gives to connecting with one’s physical self and caring for it; this is something that many of us Christians have a lot to learn about. I have even added the practice of yoga into my life because of the good I have seen it bring me.
Indeed, whenever I meet a soul that is intent upon being a friend, and not merely a corrector, I have found something to learn from them. No matter their religion, philosophy, or personal beliefs, no matter how many other things they think that I disagree with, there is always still something for a friend to teach.