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Speeches

B. Ten Broek: Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue

Address to the International Leadership Conference
Seoul, Korea - February 9-13, 2014

With the name Albertus I was baptized in the severe, hungry winter of 1944, during the Second World War. People call me Bart.

I come from The Hague in the Netherlands, an international city of peace and justice. With its wonderful peace palace and the many international courts, it is, in a sense, a world capital.

Since this conference is about a new paradigm, I will give you an example of a good practice, including some of the difficulties involved in such a process. For almost 40 years of my life I have been devoting my time to interreligious or interfaith dialogue. I was the director of a Christian primary school in a little city in the Netherlands. There were children from the Moluccas, which are Indonesian islands. When I came there in 1973 nobody told me that these children were from Muslim families. In the school where I had been working earlier, the Moluccan families were Christians. I discovered that the children were Muslims about three months later. After so many years, I still feel the shame, and my cheeks turn red.

Two years later a Turkish boy (from a new immigrant family) came to the school. He did not speak a word of Dutch, but very rapidly he understood that the school was a Christian one. He showed that when he proudly brought with him a booklet about Jesus in the Turkish language. It was a booklet from the Jehovah's Witnesses. Then the school board asked themselves whether it was possible for a Muslim child to attend the Christian school. The question was a bit strange, for Muslim children had been attending the school for many years!

In the next city where I moved to, the school was given the task by the government to develop a model for incorporating children from other cultures and religions in school education. We created what we called "Meeting Education." We developed a curriculum in which children learn about the Islamic and Christian stories, commitments, rituals and traditions. We presented that model to the Minister of Education. Also Queen Beatrix visited the school.

Later on, the Muslim parents asked if the imam could come to the school to teach the Muslim children their own values and norms. This started a big discussion among the members of the school board. First there was a “yes,” but afterwards the answer was “no.” In a meeting, the president of the school board asked the Turkish Muslim parents: "You want to have one lesson a week: would you like to have more?" "Of course," the parents answered. But when the parents left, the president said: "Did you see? When you give one finger, they take the whole hand." And the board said no! He was an ordained minister and president of a board that included many church members. They were angry at him. A commission was formed with members of the board, the team and Muslim parents.

After two years I presented a proposal to give the school its freedom. So many things happened - too much to tell. There was blood, sweat and tears. At last we could form a new board with parents that included Turkish and Moroccan Muslims and Dutch Christians. This was significant for the children. On the day that we official introduced ourselves, a little girl from Moroccan origin came to me, took my hand and asked me: "You are the boss of the school?" I said: "Oh yes, a bit!" She replied, "Today my father is also a bit boss of the school!" (Her father was a member of the board.) There was equality!

From that moment, I began looking for theologians and educators to be our consultants. With them, we created what we called "Recognition Education" in which children received religious education in their own tradition and told each other about what they had learned; they discovered similarities and differences in their traditions, prayers, rituals, stories, etc. When these children went on to the next school, they were often peacebuilders, owing to this education.

We always used the framework of a social theme (with an actual story, a poem, a song or drama that was understood by all the children). We opened the week with the story, and at the end of the week the children brought in creative expressions of the lesson. These recognition lessons included activities based on sound psychological and philosophical principles.

In summary, for 40 years I have been working in organizations and groups to promote interfaith peacebuilding in our society. For the last ten years I have been the secretary of the Steering Committee of United Religions Initiative (URI) in the Netherlands. URI is a worldwide network (with about 650 Cooperation Circles in more than 80 countries). Each Cooperation Circle includes a minimum of seven persons from at least three different religions or faith traditions. I am also the president of an Interreligious Council in The Hague. In this city of peace and justice, we organize workshops, celebrate festivities and engage in dialogues among Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and others. Now I have been nominated to the Global Council of URI, which has its office in San Francisco in the United States of America.

I’m a Christian. In my youth I wanted to be a missionary. My pastor knew that and gave me the following Bible text in confirmation: “You will be my witness…” I became a missionary in another way than what I had thought. I am a missionary in interfaith dialogue.

I believe in bringing interfaith dialogue on the grassroots level. For me, it is very important that peace begins on the level of the streets in cities such as ours! It is possible. In several events we have been asked to present ourselves as an interreligious council. That is beautiful.

Bart ten Broek can be contact by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The purpose of the United Religions Initiative is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings