The way we work and relate to each other as members of the FACES team has become very natural! Addressing the horrors of sexual exploitation and challenging preconceptions based on racial and religious stereotypes and deeply established patterns of behaviour and thinking, while seeking to honour each other as deeply faithful Muslims and Christians is at the heart of our work. As a result we love it when we are invited to talk about the work of FACES, and how we work together without compromise to our faiths.
The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association; and there is a YWCA as well, but they pretty much work together nowadays) recently celebrated 175 years since their foundation in London. The Y, as it is often affectionately known, is now international, and one of the oldest and largest youth organisations in the world, and 3000 people from over 100 nations gathered in London in early August for four days for YMCA175. FACES were invited to lead two workshops, so Rehana Faisal and I spent an interesting afternoon with them.
Arriving early we took the opportunity to wander through a display of their history. They emerged from a strong Christian renewal movement and from the start embraced a strong focus on healthy living and social justice. They expanded internationally with a strong focus on embracing diversity of experience, perspective, culture and ideas, seeking understanding, building bridges and celebrating difference. These have developed to make the Y a very inclusive movement. Their commitment to “promoting empowerment, social justice and peace for young people and their communities through four key areas – health, employment, civic engagement and environment” was very clear from all we saw and the people we talked to. As a result, we felt very much at home in each of the workshops we led.
Rehana and I spoke of the context Luton brings to our work, and our wider work together to oppose all kinds of extremism that seeks to divide our communities, instead bringing people together, to work together. This has led to our work as a Christian and Muslim working together to oppose child sexual exploitation (CSE). In particular to:
- Tackle CSE through faith-centred, community based approaches
- Challenge problematic narratives about CSE and misinformation
- Send a message that faith is a solution to the issues, not the problem
- Develop and deliver training around CSE and safeguarding
- Work with young people to strengthen self-esteem, confidence, communication skills and understanding around healthy and safe relationships
- Develop research into the experiences of Christian and Muslim young people, and how it relates to better CSE prevention.
We highlighted the theme of our recent conference on ‘The Faces We Fail to See’ and the focus it brought on lesser known victims of CSE, their experiences and the challenges they face in receiving appropriate responses.
Whatever we do as FACES we always seek to make sure our relationships as a team are central. Friendship and trust are important, and we seek to be open and vulnerable in the way we relate. We draw attention to common values, and our commitment to compassion and empathy as we engage in difficult subjects. The result is that we have created a safe space where the complex issues that besiege our society can be discussed, and responded to. It is always good to hear responses from people that recognise that. The Y is a home for many who have no faith or who are members of other faiths, alongside Christians, who are passionate about their beliefs, together seeking to make a positive difference – and FACES clearly fitted that ethos. Thank you for having us!