Two Christian pastors have returned to Martinsville after a year and a half of study in Iran, where they set out to learn and build trust and love between the people of both nations.

Husband and wife David Wolfe and Linda Kusse-Wolfe, both Quaker ministers, studied Islam and Iranian culture at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom, Iran, from January 2007 to May 2008.

There, they found a “very hospitable, very gracious people” and made lasting friendships, Kusse-Wolfe said.

“It was a really privileged look at a society many Americans don’t get to see,” she said.

The trip was an exchange program through the Mennonite Central Committee designed to deepen religious and cultural understanding between the East and West.

“We’ve had deep interest in reconciliation work, so when this opportunity opened up, we leaped at the chance,” Kusse-Wolfe said.

Though they are Quakers, not Mennonites, the exchange program is “open to Christians active in their church and committed to pacifism,” she added.

Kusse-Wolfe said they embarked on the trip expecting to “make good friends, do a little traveling and know what it’s like to live in a Muslim republic.”

Wolfe said they also wanted to “get a feel for all the questions we as North Americans ask about Islam. How do people live out what they believe? What does the Quran really say about different things?”

Perhaps the ultimate question is, “How do you live in a world with each other when you have significantly different histories and tradition?” Wolfe said.

“You have to do it. You have to be sociable and respectful and figure out how to get along,” he added. “Even if some of our beliefs are different, we have to find ways to respect and love each other.”

During the exchange, the couple took classes in English about the Quran, Islamic mysticism, Iranian culture and the Farsi language. But the learning didn’t end in the classroom — both were struck by the warmth and hospitality of the Iranians they met.

Before the trip, “we had people ask us, ‘Aren’t you scared to go over there?’” Kusse-Wolfe said. “I’m convinced the (Iranian) people would’ve laid down their lives for us.”

“We never heard an unkind word,” Wolfe said. (MORE)


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