Jet-Ski Diplomacy

"This year we saw Muslims, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, and some who didn't even know what they were ask tough questions about God, Jesus, and their relationship to God through their lives. When we frame the conversation around loving God, and loving others; it just works."

Andy Braner was disillusioned like most of us that violence would one day end in the Middle East. Diplomacy seemed to have failed--our representatives are even less inspiring. Frustrated, Braner decided to bridge the gap by inviting teenagers from the Middle East to his summer camp in Colorado last summer. Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and Christian teens jet skied, hiked and ate together side-by-side through the lens of conversation and humanity. Braner hopes his endeavor will launch future peace ambassadors when the teens return to their respective countries. He figures nothing else has eased religious intolerance and climate of hatred, maybe his teens can change our current path to one of peace.

What does your camp offer?

As we build confidence through our high mountain adventure programs, we've learned friendship is a key to translating belief systems. Many people might look at what we're doing and call it inter faith, but it's significantly more powerful than that. We're not sitting around the camp fire singing Cum Baya to prove to the world we can get along in a short stint. No, we are trying to highlight similarities, learn to respect the differences, and move on down the road.

Most Christians have a preconception that Muslims are trying to kill them, take over the world, and rule by sharia law. Likewise, Most Muslims think Christians are violence loving, porn addicted, bomb making, war mongers trying to destroy their lives. So when you eliminate the two false variables in the relational equation, we find long lasting friendships emerge.

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What can world leaders learn from this experiment?

We believe learning to listen to one another is crucial. It seems like the world stage is full of ego maniacs who are trying to save face, put their country at the head of the global empire, and tell everyone else how to live their lives. We find a mutual respect emerge from our friendships developing here at KIVU. When they learn not to fear one another, when they learn they have common needs and common desires, it's amazing to watch togetherness happen. I wonder what the world leaders would gain from taking time out talking, and begin listening to one another for a while.

Are you in touch with political leaders regarding your findings?

I'm trying to figure out how to best connect with people who will listen. I've been in contact with members of Congress who attend the National Prayer Breakfast each February and I'm working to develop relationships in the State Department that may be able to learn what we're doing and how best they can adapt our message.

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C. Gatti
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