It is 50 years since my confirmation, a tradition in the Christianity, indeed in Norway, for 14-15 year olds. It is also seen as a transition from childhood to adulthood – and that part of the event, we emphasized more perhaps. The religious training that preceded the confirmation ceremony was quite comprehensive over half a year. It came in addition to religion, well, mostly Bible history, as a school subject throughout primary and lower-secondary school.

That time, all pupils generally belonged to what was then the State Church. Today, pupils who do not belong to the majority religion, Christianity, but other religious associations, including a growing number Muslims, receive training in their respective religions or in non-religious ethics and thinking. I would like to underline that religion is more important in Norway (and the rest of Europe) than meets the eye at first glance; it is more subtle than in majority Muslim countries, and also what was the case in Norway a few generations ago. But it is still there, and in Norway and the neighbouring countries, more than three-quarters are members of a religious association, and almost everyone attends religious ceremonies as part of state and cultural events. So, don’t write off Europe as non-religious, it is not at all the case!

Last weekend, my age-mates, now 65, had a fifty-year confirmation anniversary. Since I was in Pakistan, I missed it. But my confirmation-colleagues called me; we exchanged photos on email, including old class photos. We had aged, but the old tone was still easy to find.

Obviously, those who organized the re-union were the women. I believe it was Margun, a retired school teacher, who was the lead organizer; she is the kindest woman you can think of, intelligent and practical – yes, like the best of the kind you can find in Pakistan, too. But there were also other organizers; so let me say, no one named, no one forgotten.

In my confirmation group of fifteen, all but one is still around. Kjell Sørås died young from an undiagnosed heart failure or brain tumor as a teenager. The anniversary group had visited his grave. They had also gone to see the classrooms we had used in three different school houses. We were lucky to get into a brand new building in our last few school years, with a separate gym and carpentry rooms. And then we were scattered for further education and work. About half have lived their lives in Western Norway, in different villages and towns nearby where we grew up; and some have moved to the capital, as people would in any country. I seems I am the only one who has spent much of my life abroad, in Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, and some other countries, dealing with development aid and refugee issues.

My class mates at home find my ‘nomadic life’ fascinating and exotic, not quite realizing that to work abroad is not really all that different from working at home, especially not as one stays long in a country, and I have lived in Pakistan for much 10 years. One grows into the daily chores, pleasures and worries of the people where one lives – and that is how it should be. One stops comparing everything with home, and if it would have been an easier and better life there. But still, regardless of how long one lives away somewhere else than where one grew up, went school and was confirmed, we would always refer to it as ‘home’.

Today, when relatively many refugees come at Norway, people reflect on and feel empathy for the new-Norwegians who have been forced to leave their homes and all that they cherish. Half a million of the five million people living in Norway were born outside the country. There are about forty thousand of Pakistan background, many from Gujrat and surrounding villages. They began coming at the time of my confirmation; many have done well and have settled in Norway, with children and grandchildren. But they also visit ‘home’. Just as I was writing this article, my friend Sajjad called by surprise from Gujrat; he was visiting his relatives in his hometown, with his Norwegian wife.

They have two home countries.

I believe it is quite easy for Norwegians to understand migration issues. We have sent missionaries to Africa and elsewhere since the early 1800s. At the same time, Norwegians began immigrating to America. There are as many people of Norwegian heritage abroad as there are Norwegians in Norway. So, it is not only Gujratis and other Pakistanis who migrate and take up work abroad! Sometimes, though, it drains the homeland and it is not an easy life for the first generation to settle in a new land.

People who have been directly exposed to migration have a much better background for understanding forced migration issues, including such related to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Irak, Syria, North Africa and elsewhere. If Europeans look in their hearts, as German chancellor Angela Merkel did when she spoke a few months ago about being welcoming to the large numbers of refugees that had begun arriving in Europe. Germans, based on their history, will be able to understand forced migration issues, and help the newcomers, either they are refugees but even if they are economic migrants. Migrants of all categories are basically the same as those who stay in their hometown throughout their lives.

Norwegians, and many other Europeans, have another special forte in understanding the wider world and migration, notably our background as seafaring people – from the Viking Age a thousand year ago, nut more so from our recent history. A few decades before my time, it was quite common that young boys after confirmation were sent as crew on ships. Norway was that time the second largest shipping nation in the world (after Japan). For many poor teenagers, it was often the only way to earn money. Many Norwegian men were sailors throughout their lives. They became quite knowledgeable about the world outside the Norwegian mountains and fjords, and they developed positive attitudes (alas, some reinforced prejudices, too) to people from abroad. In later years, the crews became mixtures of Norwegians and foreigners, with sailors from Portugal, Spain, Philippines, Zanzibar, and so on. In Pakistanis, I have met some sailors who have worked on Norwegian ships; one is an engineer from Karachi, and in our modern days, he had on some tours been able to take his wife along.

Oneness of humanity is a central teaching in the Baha’i faith, and in all religions, as God is one. I believe it is important to talk about such experiences and stories that I have discussed in my article today. They show that we are all the same; my stories could in essence have been from any town or village in the world.

We should talk about our heritage, our own moral and ethical values, beliefs, hopes, sorrows, and more. We should not shy away from saying what we think is right and wrong, yet, always leaving room for the other person’s opposite opinion. And we should keep in touch with our roots – even fifty years after confirmation.

I am still quite rooted in my own background, but I have also learned to respect every person that I meet, of any creed, colour and faith. I am humbled every day by the wisdom and kindness of others – including the great women who organized the confirmation anniversary in Norway. They would be loved anywhere in the world; their universal oneness of humanity would go round the globe – and it would be similar everywhere. Let me add, there are also great men, but generally, we need to learn from women about how to care for others. Or maybe we just let the women do most of those things, and then it is our simple duty to celebrate together with them. Finally, in Norway, more women become preachers in the Church today; that can only be good and it will strengthen religion in society.