Last week I went on my bicycle to Hoepertingen to visit the local Gurdwara. I did not go along the main road, but followed one of the cycle routes which you find throughout Limburg. These routes are not the shortest way to get from A to B, but they do take you along nice country lanes.
Hoepertingen is part of the borough of Borgloon, just to the east of Sint Truiden. I planned to use a route north of the village and then turn right into a ‘dirt road’ which would take me straight to the Gurdwara.
The map I have is quite good, it shows all the metalled roads and most of the ‘dirt roads’, but not all of them, and when I came to a crossing with a slightly wider road I was sure that I missed my turnoff.
I spotted a farmer and asked him for directions. He was helpful and we had a very interesting conversation. The gentleman (he was a gentle man), asked me if I believed in God, and I answered that through following Guru’s way I met with God.
The farmer had lost his belief in the ‘church’ but was still interested in God. I explained that our ‘church’ also had its fair share of dodgy characters, but I tried to follow God and the Guru Granth, which contains the light of God.
We also talked about Jesus, who did not found a Church bureaucracy with Popes, Archbishops, Bishops and other VVIPs. His followers were simple fisherman and Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, were simple people too. I explained the notion of dharm to him, the importance of being righteous, to be a positive force in society.
It was not just me who did the talking, and I was not preaching at him, I just tried to explain what guided my life, trying to share my experiences. When I talked about the fact that teachings on honesty, sharing and compassion are what the world religions have in common, he agreed.
He told me about a Turkish friend of his who had invited him to his house. Like most Turkish people he was a Muslim, and my new friend had no problem with that, but he did not like it when it was made clear to him that all non-Muslims are unbelievers.
I have had mixed experiences in Belgian Limburg. I have been called Osama Bin Laden, some idiots shouted ‘jihad, jihad’ at me and some others called me Sint Nicolaas (Santa Claus). But I also met Limburgers who were open minded and interested to learn more about other traditions.
My best experience so far was a visit to the Mosque where we sat together after evening prayers and had a very constructive conversation.