Brothers Vishnu and Krishna Mano spoke of Hindu faith traditions they observe with their family: lighting a lamp in the evening to symbolize good luck, and praying in the morning and before bed.
The boys, eighth- and fifth-graders, respectively, who attend Forest Hills Public Schools, know a lot about Hinduism, and told 19 peers about the religion during the first-ever Interfaith Service Day Camp.They complemented Fred Stella’s lesson on the faith during a tour of the West Michigan Hindu Temple. Stella is “pracharak,” or outreach minister, at the Ada-based temple.
“I liked that I was educating other people about my faith,” said Vishnu, adding that Hinduism is a minority religion in the U.S. that not everyone knows much about. “Hinduism is not just religion, but the culture and way of life that follows it.”
“It’s cool learning about all the other religions, and learning that a religion I really didn’t know about is not that different than my own.” — Grandville Middle School eighth-grader Radi Rashid
The four-day summer opportunity brought together West Michigan students representing several religious and non-religious backgrounds to explore faith, get to know one another, enjoy food and culture and volunteer. Students toured and met faith leaders at the Dominican Center at Marywood, Temple Emanuel, Masjid At-Tawheed, The Sikh Society of West Michigan Gurdwara, and West Michigan Hindu Temple. They provided service as well, such as volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.
Students learned details and histories covering Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh religions.
“I experienced a lot of new things that were good for me,” Vishnu said. “I made new friends who are not in my faith. I feel like in these last four days I learned a lot about religion, not just through textbooks, but by experiencing it in their places of worship.”
Forming Interfaith Friendships
Representatives from Kaufman Interfaith Institute, at Grand Valley State University, hosted the camp to connect students from different faith backgrounds, build relationships and add youth voices to interfaith conversations.
“The overall mission (of the institute) is to promote mutual understanding, respect and dialogue across different faith traditions and world views in West Michigan,” said Kyle Kooyers, program manager for Kaufman Interfaith Institute, which has a theme this year of interfaith friendship.
Campers represented Christian, Baha’i, Muslim and Hindu faiths and included atheists and those with no religious affiliation. To culminate the week, they shared ideas about what comes next for students in the area of interfaith work and what camp could include next year.
Highlights were participating in meditation; observing Muslim prayer, during which five Muslim campers joined; and learning about holy books, like the Torah, students said.
“I didn’t know a lot about that religion,” said Jenison High School sophomore Kate Boutell of Sikhism. “They are very inclusive and they recognize diversity of religions.”
Grandville Middle School eighth-grader Radi Rashid said he enjoyed exploring other religions and comparing it to his own, Islam.
“It’s cool learning about all the other religions, and learning that a religion I really didn’t know about is not that different than my own.”