Helping Provide Teenage With Solutions to Global Violence

06/06/2013 10:49 am ET | Updated Aug 06, 2013

I opened up the paper this morning, and there's yet another story about violence in the Middle East. Syria has been in the trenches of civil war for nearly two years now. Iran and Lebanon siding with Assad, America and the Sunni Muslim states beginning to foreshadow siding with revolutionaries; this only seems to be deepening the hatred between people groups around the world.

I realize the intense desire for people to long for power.
I understand the need to provide a worldview of right-ness.
I even get the deep seeded historical hatred some of these countries have for one another.

But focusing on the problem doesn't seem to be getting us any real results. We only see more of the same.

I'm a little disillusioned as to how the smartest diplomats in the world are unable to figure out how to come up with some sort of way to create peace. I understand there are variables out of the public eye, and people are people plagued by the same desires, insecurities, and lust for power as everyone else. But when is enough... enough?

As I watch the professional ambassadors going to try and broker peace around the world, most recently I started asking a pivotal question, "How many people in their 50s and 60s are willing to change their entire worldview to accommodate another?" The answer I keep hearing from my international diplomatic friends: "NONE!"

So if the violence continues to spread without any hope, and those who are brokering peace will never negotiate real solutions, isn't that the definition of insanity? Mainly hoping for something different as we continue to try the same techniques over again...

Last summer I had a unique idea. What if we began to employ teenagers to be the ambassadors of peace in far off lands? Could we help mentor students to see the world through the eyes of humanity, rather than through the lens of a conquerer?

We started by bringing a group of Middle Eastern teenagers to our summer program in Colorado. Even though we have deep faith roots, we set ourselves up to be people of peace, not of any sort of faith conversion episode you might have seen in other summer camp programs. I told my staff, "We're here to show people we care, we want to serve, and we want to have a LOT of fun."

Before the term began, I realized I forgot most Middle Eastern families don't eat pork. A seemingly small problem by American standards, but a HUGE deal to people who've chosen to be devout in their faith journey. So hours before the international students arrived, I told our kitchen staff to put the pork away for the next two weeks.

They were a bit put out by the request, as the menu for the next few days included sausage for breakfast, ham for lunch, and a special pork chop menu for the evening dinner. After a few convincing arguments about learning to serve others, they agreed, and we were ready for our Middle Eastern friends to arrive.

When they rolled in, the first conversation I had was something like, "I'm sorry we didn't talk about the menu before you guys came, but I went ahead and took pork off the food service so you don't have to worry about it."

You should have seen their reaction.

Their mouths dropped in disbelief that an American would actually consider their needs and culture higher than his own.

"You did that for us?" they questioned in sort of a strange tone.

"Hey, we want to have fun for ALL of us. You've come a long way to stay here at our home. We want to host you like our honored guests."

In the next two weeks, I came to see Middle Eastern teenagers aren't that different from American teenagers. They long for attention. They want to be a part of pop culture. They are trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up. And the most interesting part was finding places in the differences of worldview where both groups could accept one another. They finally found a place where they belonged outside their normal sphere of influence.

I've seen those relationships continue over the course of the last 12 months, and I'm certain there will be business leaders, political leaders, academic leaders all rise up out of our little experiment. There will be ambassadors all over the world sharing their experience with like-minded Americans. They'll have connections to American kids and draw on real relationships instead of stereotypes they hear about from others, and they'll be able to draw on the similarities rather than focusing on the differences in culture.

Can you imagine this for just a moment?

What might happen if we began focusing our diplomacy on the next generation of youth? I find teenagers able to accept others quicker, they have an ability to want to meet people where they are, and if we have qualified life coaches to guide them in the places they do differ; we might be able to seed the next 20 years with leaders who will think twice before they turn to violence. They'll have real life experience with someone from a foreign land, and who knows what conflicts might be diverted because we took a proactive stand to introduce them while they're young?

I know this is a lofty goal. If we can create fertile ground where people who traditionally have conflict can see one another as human, then maybe The City on a Hill might once return to its place of prominent hope, instead of always being seen as people who fuel conflict. I've often said, "If we can find common places to connect then Great! But if we have differences, let's stop and develop a story together. We can all go bike together, hike together, or head up to a mountain lake and create a memory. It's like Jet Ski Diplomacy. Everyone smiles on the back of a Jet Ski."

This Summer I'm hoping to have Palestinian kids, Israeli kids, Middle Eastern kids, Asian kids, and European kids all having fun together, all enjoying one another, all working through potential conflict before it becomes a world issue.

What do you think?

Am I dreaming?

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