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November 2017
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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Creates a Peace Park in Siberia

Novosibirsk, Russia - On the way towards fulfillment of our dreams, we are often confronted by difficulties and obstacles. I always felt inspired by the slogan: “It’s me who is responsible for the future!” And the future of Russia depends on friendship and understanding among people of different nations and religions. Our youth project “Cherish Friendship, Create a Park of Peace” is the living proof of it.

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The first time I heard about the Religious Youth Service (RYS) program was 15 years ago, and I became a participant in the first project in Russia.

A RYS project under the slogan “Cherish Friendship, Create a Park of Peace” took place from August 15 to 21 in Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia. “Let us make friends” – these words opened the VESTI television broadcast about our project. The various nationalities of Russia have been keeping friendly relations long before our forefathers worked together to conquer Nazism. But will it remain true with future generations? According to statistics, the number of armed clashes has increased dramatically, and some of the conflicts are of a pronounced religious character. We call upon people to strengthen friendships between nations, which is possible through socially useful activity, or, as we call it, social service. That is why our program is called “Religious Youth Service.”

The project is aimed at educating spiritual leaders about service and responsible citizens of peace about caring for the public benefit and being willing to serve. We hope that the participants will become good Young Ambassadors for Peace, conductors of positive changes able to overcome barriers, develop friendships, and promote reconciliation of conflicting sides.

I started my preparation course with a thorough reading of Holy Scriptures trying to expand my knowledge of cultures and religions of the world. For four months, we exerted ourselves to prepare the project, which was to be held at the House of National Cultures of the Novosibirsk region. Unfortunately, three days before the event we were compelled to change our plans and move the project to another premise – to the Veterans' Home of the Novosibirsk region. The director of the House of Nationalities was warned against our project and threatened with being fired in case of disobedience. Confronted by the changed circumstances, our team members mobilized their organizational abilities and acted accordingly. Our partners were inspired by our enthusiasm.

Altogether there were about 70 participants who came to Novosibirsk; they were mostly students from Iran, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, USA, and different places of Russia.

The program consisted of three segments: planning, practice, and analysis. Each day was marked by practicing one value recognized by people throughout the world: purity, beauty, love, life, unity, peacemaking, and family. From the first day on, the interreligious worldview was our leading practice and it consolidated us into one united team, each member of which desired to help others. These practices inspired hope that creating a world where people of different nationalities and traditions can co-exist in peace and friendship is possible.

Each morning we participated in seminars where we learned how to acquire the habits of Ambassadors for Peace. On the first day we all appeared in snow-white T-shirts to show our intention to serve in purity. In harmonious cooperation, we worked in the territory of the Veterans’ Home.

Teaching through service

“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” declared the human rights champion, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Following this idea, after the lectures we proceeded to carry out social projects each day for the benefit of the local community of veterans.  Our work was considered not the final goal but the means for uniting us and acquiring the valuable experience in creating the culture of peace.

The participants were divided into several teams; one team did repair work, the other teams laid out a lawn with a flower bed, and painted benches and pavilions. Team work is a good practice for stimulating personal growth and development. It teaches people to analyze problems from a wider point of view, acquire communication skills, and develop friendly relations.

In different situations, the participants in the project revealed their personal weak points or those of other people. The program was partly aimed at teaching the participants to develop their good habits and improve their weak points.  Through physical work they learned how to get over difficulties and worked together to create a special spirit of comradeship.

Integration of interreligious experience

The idea of the project was that all participants would feel like they are real peacemakers. Working in teams, visualization, training in developing habits of communication, and actions of unselfish service promote the creation of a culture of peace. For this very purpose, as a part of the program we visited religious holy places and interesting cultural sites so the participants could get the general idea about spiritual roots of the nation that would inherit this land.

While preparing to meet representatives of other religions, participants in the project read paragraphs from the Holy Scriptures of world religions. During the project, we visited the main mosque and the Transfiguration Cathedral. In the mosque we were welcomed by Imam Halil, who spoke about symbols of the Islamic faith and showed us around. In the cathedral we were welcomed by Father Alexander, who explained to us the role of the Catholic Church in the world and its social projects. The participants asked him many questions. The sightseeing gave us a chance to widen our knowledge of different traditions and helped us to better understand our own roots. The Jewish people also wanted us to come, but unfortunately their premises were under construction, and we decided to visit the synagogue next time.

Some participants came to understand their own religion more deeply. Others knew next to nothing about their traditional faith and even less about other religions. Our project helped them enrich their experience in this direction. The participants learned to respect their religion following the example of those who showed their sincere devotion and respect for their religion.

Ideas of peace at work

Our third day was the culmination point. Before beginning work, in a friendly atmosphere we discussed the theme “Conflicts, reconciliation and peace.” A flower bed in the form of a map of the world made by the participants was our symbol: continents were made of stones rolled in the oceans of flowers. In the center was the Pacific Ocean as a symbol of tranquility. It so happened that missionaries of the Mormon Church joined our project on that day.

The flower-bed portrayed the Bridge of Peace in the Bering Strait that will connect Russia and America in the future. Together with other participants in the project they created the flower-bed. Americans and Russians together built a symbolic bridge of flowers over the “Bering Strait," thus connecting the two continents. They were happy to work for the benefit of lonely elderly people who needed support and attention.

The participants expressed their desire to make a musical performance for the veterans. The idea was difficult to accomplish but we did it using our artistic potential.

Our performance was linked to the UN Day of Humanitarian Aid on August 19. There were songs in Russian, English, and Korean languages. We tried to show the diversity and unity of different cultures based on universal principles inherent in every culture: work in the name of goodness, love, mutual assistance, family, and God. Elderly people spoke out their warm gratitude. Administration of the Veterans Home expressed their desire to continue our cooperation in the future.

The third segment of the project included sizing up and analyzing the results. During the event, the participants discovered new possibilities for development of their peacemaking abilities. Below are some comments:

“Participation in the project helped me to reconsider such notions as “peace”, “peacemaker”, “living for others”, and reflect on the role of religions in character education and relations between religious traditions.”

“I got the main point of the project as desire to abolish the boarders dividing people of different races, religions and nationalities. I’m happy to confess that my attitude to Americans has changed, no more feeling of animosity.”

“I myself wish now to become initiator of such projects. I got the real evidence of the efficiency of the principle “Living for others”; by giving out you receive back so much pleasure, positive feelings, and love that you naturally feel like sharing all this with others.”

“I think that the project could influence the spiritual atmosphere of our city and, may be, of the whole nation!”

“It was a wonderful experience for me, extremely captivating and greatly inspiring. I liked everything! I’ve never been in such a project in Russia. I was happy there.”

Background information

The first Religious Youth Service project was held in the Philippines in 1986. Young people of different nations and religions carried out projects of public service together; it helped them get to know each other in a better way. Since then, more than 100 projects have been held in 40 nations; the programs included construction and repair works on public premises, schools, shelters for homeless people and refugees, play grounds for children, etc. We should mention also planting trees in city parks and gardens and painting walls to create a joyful and inspiring atmosphere. Also RYS has held seminars and discussions during which young people could gain experience in interfaith communication and learn ways people of different religions, races, and nationalities can co-exist in peace and interact effectively.

Religious Youth Service is a multi-faceted project of the Universal Peace Federation. On one hand, the service is of interreligious character, because our peaceful future can be guaranteed only if based on eternal values of religious teachings. On the other hand, it involves youth in service, and the young will inherit the world together with the responsibility for world peace. Finally, the project is both charitable and educational. The young people are serving the community and at the same time developing their character and practicing the ideals of compassion and kindness.

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