Imagine traveling to the Middle East to study religion. Seem like a dangerous idea, perhaps?
Violence in the Middle East dominates the daily news along with warnings that the region is unsafe for travel, unsafe for tourism, and unsafe for missionaries.
Seeing all this strife, it’s easy to think that peaceful coexistence between religious groups will never be possible.
But The Philos Project is trying to change that.
The Philos Project is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to equipping Christians for effective engagement in the religiously diverse environment of the Middle East.
Born out of founder Robert Nicholson’s own spiritual journey, The Philos Project promotes “positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.”
As a young Christian, Nicholson went to a local synagogue to study Hebrew so that he could read the Old Testament in its original language.
But he learned much more than a language along the way.
Nicholson says that a crucial turning point in his Christian faith came when he realized that, “Christianity was not, as I always had thought, an American religion…it was a Middle Eastern religion.”
Nicholson developed a passion for the Middle East, recognizing how awe-inspiring it is to walk in the places where Jesus did while He was here on Earth.
It’s important for today’s Christian leaders to understand the geographical roots of their faith, contends Nicholson.
That’s why Philos specializes in immersive travel programs that allow thought leaders, reporters, professors, researchers, and students to experience the Middle East in a pluralistic religious context.
In an age where Christianity has become almost synonymous with America, it can be difficult to separate the Gospel from “the American dream.”
But we risk corrupting the Gospel of Christ when we forget that Christianity originated in the Middle East with Jesus!
The Philos Project seeks to remind Christians of the need to remain involved in this region of the world.
The Middle East is not a place to look at with fear. It’s a place to engage in dialogue.
Philos recognizes the commonalities between the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. All three originated in the Middle East.
On a Philos excursion, travelers will have the opportunity to study interfaith relationships and immerse themselves in a religiously pluralistic environment.
They get to see religious groups coexisting firsthand.
“No one takes on the hard questions like Philos,” says one traveler, who learned how to develop relationships “with real people.”
The organization navigates politics and religion in a relationship-centric way, putting people – not issues – at the forefront of education.
Philos excursions spark “rich and challenging conversations about religion and politics in modern life,” adds another participant.
Christians on these trips learn about the hard work involved in dialoguing with other religions.
As Americans, we may have limited experience in interfaith relationships, depending on where we live and how wide our circles of influence are.
In the Middle East, interfaith contact is unavoidable, and often violent. Philos tackles the question of how Christians can help mitigate this conflict.
“Constructive Christian engagement” is the motto of the organization.
Philos envisions a Middle East where Christians interact with members of other religions in a loving, selfless way.
Additionally, Philos advocates for the rights and safety of Christians in the Middle East.
If members of Islam and Judaism deserve respect, the organization contends so do Christians.
So, how can you get involved with The Philos Project?
The organization is non-sectarian, meaning that Christians from any denomination can join a local chapter.
So far, Philos has three chapters within the United States: Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Houston.
If you’re not near any of those cities, you can easily get involved online through The Philos Project website.
You’ll have the opportunity to sign petitions, access resources, and even learn about traveling to the Middle East.
Philos offers cross-cultural immersion trips to Israel and other Middle Eastern regions several times a year.
Philos also keeps a list of events like book studies, dinners, and movie screenings that are hosted by its chapters and open to the public.
If the mission of this organization speaks to your heart, the website also offers a place to donate.
Donations fund the work of advocating for religious freedom and coexistence in the Middle East.
You can even earmark your donation for a specific cause, such as funding a traveler or helping persecuted Christians.
Most importantly, keep The Philos Project in your prayers as it promotes the peace of Christ in the Middle East.