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Peace Education

A Family Festival in Texas

Dutch native Robert Exler has been living for some years in the USA. He helped organize an event in Houston, Texas, on August 9.

July 19 was proclaimed now and for always “Agape Family Peace Day” in Houston, Texas, by Mayor Bill White. And for good reason. Sixty adults and more than 30 teens and 20 children from around the metropolitan area representing eight church congregations, a Buddhist sect, and a child care center gathered at the Will of God Family Church to celebrate the first annual Agape Family Festival.

The event was sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation, the Family Federation for World Peace, Will of God Family Church pastored by Rev. Charles and Mrs. Essie Keys, Gloryland Missionary Baptist Church pastored by Rev. Bennit and Mrs. Ethel Hayes, the Family Outreach Foundation, and the Women's Federation for World Peace of Houston led by Rev. Joy Theriot.

Several new projects were launched on this occasion, including the Joyful Voices Interfaith Choir led by Mrs. Taeko White and the Agape Fishing Club for religious leaders led by Galveston Police Department Detective Jason Chide. Helen Kashiwa and Laura Lea were instrumental in developing the event.

The Festival was intended as a means to substantially demonstrate the love of God to our community. It consisted of a service project, an entertainment program, an Ambassadors for Peace Awards Ceremony, a “Toast for Peace,” a Unity Candle Ceremony “Call to Action,” and a Victory Dinner hosted by Rev. and Mrs. Keys.

At the Will of God Family Church, the land behind the sanctuary was cleared of undergrowth to prepare for the construction of a learning center for inner city youth, which will focus on technical and character education. The chain-link fence along the front was extended, and a flower garden was lovingly landscaped underneath the church signboard. It was a hot and humid summer day, but the young people didn't complain. They just kept the hose running and used it to cool off! The Keys kept a huge cooler well stocked with juice, soda, and water on the front porch of the church, and they stoked up the grill to keep hot dogs and hamburgers coming!

The Agape Family Festival was free and open to all. No special budget was created for this event. Donations of supplies and services by individuals and local businesses supported it. During the festival there was also a bake sale, a silent auction, and the collection of a love offering.

The festivities began outdoors on the grounds of the Will of God Family Church where two “moon walk” bounce houses, three tents, two barbecue grills, and lots of chairs and tables were set up. Some teenagers prepared the grounds the previous Saturday and organized a balloon toss and ice-cream eating contest for the younger children. Co-pastor Essie Keys served hot dogs and hamburgers to every comer as people arrived for an afternoon of family fun and inspiration.

After lunch the entertainment included three songs from the newly formed Joyful Voices Interfaith Choir followed by a Filipino ceremonial candle dance, which was performed with the lights off. The performances created a wonderful spirit and was punctuated by an invocation and welcoming remarks from Pastor and Mrs. Keys.

Robert Exler, Houston coordinator for the American Clergy Leadership Conference, gave an impassioned speech, emphasizing that now is the time for the unity of believers to bring about “One Family under God!.” Pastor Keys introduced Rev. Hayes, who gave the keynote address titled “Open Your Eyes.” His key point was that any barriers between us are not of God because God is love.

Eight new Ambassadors for Peace received certificates of appointment. Then a “Toast for Peace” was shared by married couples and all others present. The program concluded with a “Unity Candle Ceremony” and a Call to Action.

Everyone who could stay longer was invited for a dinner in the church dining room with the Keys and Hayes couples. The fellowship over that meal was full of hope and excitement for the future of interfaith cooperation and service in Houston.

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