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Excited to Build Bridges

December 13th, 2017 by Mark Tymm

This is a submission to the Golden Thread Contest. Every submission to the Golden Thread Contest will be considered for publishing in the Thread of 1000 Stories.

I came from one of those families: on Sunday mornings I remember putting on corduroy pants, buttoned coats, polished shoes, and piling into the van with my parents and three younger siblings. We were off to church. These foundational years of childhood taught me about community, selflessness, and introduced me to complex ideas of good, evil, right, wrong, culture, conflict, and long histories. I remember colouring pictures in our church basement of stories from thousands of years ago. I can recall memorizing Scriptures, reciting them in following weeks to earn stickers or points, slowly embedding values of goodness, justice and harmony into my young mind.

Fast forward through the teenage years, which were filled with music lessons, school work, and great friends, culminating in high school graduation, and a scholarship to study engineering at UBC. That first fall semester of post-secondary studies I was suddenly confronted with the reality that so far, I’d grown up in a medium-sized town where my beliefs and perspectives were largely unchallenged by the status quo of the community around me. I met people who came from radically different backgrounds; from cities very different from my own, from different families, from socioeconomic positions completely different from my own. And they had ideas. They worked hard, they got good marks, they partied hard, and they slept in on Sundays. It was such a novel concept! I loved these new friends, and they challenged me in many ways, academically and socially, but also at a much deeper level.

My 19-year-old self had never really thought about my faith. I knew what I believed, could back it up with verse from the Bible that “proved” my point, and was ready to stand up and identify myself for the faith that I professed. Yet these new friends I made pushed me to ask questions I’d never really asked. I was developing a hunger to explore and learn more about the tradition that I had always identified with, and yet was growing more and more aware that I wasn’t at the right institution to do that. I needed a change.

Within a few months, I found myself at Capernwray New Zealand, a private institution that offers certificate programs for young adults looking to explore their faith in a more dedicated and intentional community. I read: my Bible, commentaries, books on discipleship, books on arts and culture, and books on ministry. I discussed with staff, built deep friendships, and explored two incredible islands. I developed perspectives, and learned to analyze how arguments were built on tradition, reason, or interpretation. I became more passionate, but simultaneously, more confused.

The looming reality was that I would at some point return from the South Pacific to the Fraser Valley, and would have to integrate all this learning into some sort of career path, likely accompanied with more studies. I knew I had more questions about my faith, and wanted to keep digging. What’s more, I knew that while an engineering degree from UBC would result in a well-paying job, I wasn’t sure I was passionate enough about the field to slog through the remaining years of study that would be required.

My return to the Fraser Valley found me at Columbia Bible College, a degree-granting institution jointly operated by the B.C. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and Mennonite Church B.C. where my passions for music and theological studies combined. I enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Worship Arts program, and within weeks had found my stride.

I loved the professors, became involved in extracurricular ministry opportunities. I was shoulder-tapped by my home church and became involved in leadership functions of our community. In my second year of studies I was encouraged to take a class called Peace & Justice, which examined faith and sociopolitical engagement. I was hooked, and everyone knew it. My faith took on a distinctly social justice tone, and I began reading, discussing and examining everything from a new lens. I finished my degree, and started looking for ways to get involved in deeper discussions on how faith and public life interacted, specifically with regard to how policy could influence situations of injustice.

I was offered a position in Ottawa as Advocacy Research Intern with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and packed my bags for the capital. I quickly found myself hip-deep in a world of jargon, policies, structures and bureaucracy I was completely new to. My short sojourn in Ottawa was remarkably invigorating and spurred me to consider other doors of learning. The question was where. Should I be attending grad school? Getting work experience? Stay in Ottawa? A discussion with my supervisors led me to apply for a peace analyst position with MCC in Jos, Nigeria, but the security situation deteriorated before my arrival. Nevertheless my appetite was sparked, and an adventure I’d never dreamed of awaited.

I spent the next three years living and working in Chad with one of MCC’s long term partners, the department of Ethics, Peace & Justice (EPJ). Their primary mandate is to host interfaith workshops across the country, bringing Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders together to discuss issues of faith, community engagement, differences, and conflict management. Under the hot Sahelian sun thousands of kilometers from temperate Fraser Valley, I learned, grew, laughed, cried, ate things I can’t pronounce, and had nearly every corner of my personhood questioned and examined. There’s no better way to get to know yourself than to throw yourself into a cultural context that’s radically different than your own.

Naturally, this led me to ask questions. “Why is our tradition better than theirs?” “How did this place and these people come to know such a different life than what I experienced?” “How can we work together to learn more from each other, to better celebrate our differences, and to further contribute to our mutual humanity?” Many of these questions continue to swirl in my mind, but I’m beginning to see some direction.

Since returning to Canada, I’ve moved to Vancouver and continue to work with MCC. At the same time, I’ve returned to academics and am working on a degree in Justice Studies from Royal Roads University with the hopes of continuing to make changes for the “least of these.” My time in Chad opened my eyes to the tough realities of human suffering, and I’ve developed a deep passion for stimulating change. I’ve been privileged to attend Cardus’ Faith 150 events in the capital in July 2017, where I met with dozens of young faith leaders from across the country. We’re a budding community of passionate and energetic 20-somethings, eager to see change in our country and excited to build bridges across religious communities.

Looking back on life is a scary prospect sometimes, but I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had so many opportunities to study, grow, challenge my perspectives, refine them, test theory in the real world, and continue to press into my faith as it finds itself in my every day. What’s next is yet to be found, but my surrounding community of Canadians, Jews, Muslims, women, men, settlers, and indigenous peoples enriches my everyday to see a little more of what the good life really is.

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