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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Project in Johvi, Estonia

Johvi, Estonia - UPF-Estonia organized a Religious Youth Service project in coordination with the Johvi Lutheran Church in northeastern Estonia August 1 to 10, 2013. Participants improved the building and grounds of a Lutheran church, worked on projects in the community, and assisted with other work. The experiential-learning program included presentations on relationship-building, team work, a culture of heart, and tolerance.

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Twenty participants from 13 nationalities took part in the program. The volunteers came from Austria, Canada, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Cyprus, Italy, Japan, Philippines, Russia, Scotland and the USA. They joined together to live and work as an interfaith and international community. The main organizers of the project were the Estonian chapter of the Universal Peace Federation and the Lutheran Parish of Jõhvi.

During the orientation, participants learned about the vision of the Religious Youth Service and realized that everyone has something unique to contribute as a representative of his/her culture and faith.

During the project, participants listened to lectures on relevant and important topics such as “Principles of Tolerance,”“Culture  of Peace,”“Value-Oriented Voluntarism,” “Why and How Conflicts should/can be Solved,” “Family as a School of Love and Peace,” ”Universal Principles and Life Goals.” The lectures were presented by Jacques Marion, director of peace initiatives of UPF-Eurasia, and by the chairman of UPF-Georgia, Vitaly Maksimov, who was also the on-site manager of the project. Through the practical and insightful educational programs and sharing participants gained insights into their own live sand the lives of others. Also, participants watched and discussed the video "Neighbors." They were keen to express their opinion on the causes and consequences of conflicts, offering possible ways to resolve them.

From the lectures of the Lutheran pastor, Rev. Kaldur, participants learned about the history of the Lutheran Church and the World Ecumenical Movement. They attended Sunday service at the Lutheran Church, where pastor Kaldur gave a stimulating sermon about the value of leading a spiritual life and the importance of attending God not only on Sundays but in our everyday life. On one of the days the volunteers visited the beautiful and famous Orthodox Nunnery in Puhtitsa, not far from the project site.

The young people actively participated in the creative exercises on group dynamics organized by Pavel Smulski,who is the local coordinator of “Youth in Action” programs.

The second half of each day was devoted to social work.The participants cleaned the place of the historical burial and Memorial of World War II solders, worked at the church, renovating church facilities and roads.All necessary equipment and materials were provided by the Lutheran Parish.They inspired some of the local people by working with enthusiasm, actively fulfilling the given work tasks, and by performing the work as best as they could. As a result, the territory and the memorial now look very nice.

During the interesting and often funny evening programs, participants introduced some of the most beautiful and famous places of their home countries.They created informative posters and shared unique stories and facts, including stereotypes, about their countries.

Also,everybody enjoyed different table games and active sports, such as swimming in a nearby lake and in the refreshing waters of the Finnish Gulf. On the last night everyone shared together at a campfire, singing songs and enjoying grilled snacks.

During the project period the volunteers and local staff members became one family, treating each other with respect and care.The participants had experiences, which will be useful to them in their daily lives as well as in their professional careers.

As participants departed for their home countries, words of gratitude were expressed and parting tears were shed. It was truly delightful and moving to see young people from different faiths and cultures live,work and share together, and thereby creating a spirit of respect and love for each other and strong bonds of heart– whereby the initial awareness of differences in background melted away during just 10 short days.

A town of about 11,000 people, Johvi is the capital of Ida-Viru County, about 50 km from the Russian border. More than half of the people of Johvi are ethnic Russians who arrived in Estonia during the period of Soviet rule, or their descendants. Johvi was first mentioned as a village in the 1241 census, when it was ruled by Denmark. At the heart of the town is a 13th-century church.

Contributed by Johann Hinterleitner (Chairman of UPF-Estonia and Project Director) and Vitaly Maximov (Project Manager on Site)

For a report by Anastasia Petrovskaya, click here.

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