The Words of the Saver Family
The Inspiration of Religious Youth Service
March 6, 2002
This is from a speech given at the Oceania Peace Embassy on Wed. 6th March 2002. Those present consisted of people representing various faiths.
In 1991, whilst a seminary student at UTS in the USA, I attended a major RYS project held in Budapest, Hungary. It went for 30 days. If you look back on all your life experiences you can identify certain times which you may call peak experiences -- experiences which had a major impact on your way of thinking and outlook on life. For me, the Hungary RYS project was one of those life-changing experiences. The service project was to repair a center for Gypsy women. I had an encounter with several teenagers -- local youth who were attracted to the project. They were not official participants. In fact they professed to be agnostics, yet were irresistibly drawn to help with the work. They said "we are not interested in religion because we see all the different churches in Budapest just taking care of their own members. However we like RYS because you bring together people from many faiths and you are working together to help our community. This makes us curious about religion"
The fact is, people nowadays, especially young people, are not so interested to listen to sermons. They want to see the sermon. How can we speak of Godís love if it is not demonstrated through substantial actions? Also how can people of religion speak of Godís love and yet be unable to work together for the common good of all?
Religious people have a responsibility to practice what they preach and not simply become people trailing empty slogans.
The ultimate goal of RYS is to establish a culture of peace throughout the world. A culture that is inclusive rather than exclusive. Is this a worthwhile pursuit? The sad reality throughout history is that our culture has been one of conflict, war and division fueled by ignorance and selfishness.
Even amongst religious people who speak of wonderful ideals and profess Godís love are as guilty as anyone else of promoted the antithesis of peace. Currently there 36 violent conflicts taking place in the world. Thirty two of them have their roots in religious animosity. If religious people canít work together for the common good of all, peace will never be realized.
The RYS project is a model for peace. Each project consists of participants from a multitude of nationalities, races and faiths. By relating well with the participants of an RYS project we demonstrate a model of international, interracial and interreligious harmony. The motto of RYS is World Peace through interreligious dialogue and action.
Ignorance breeds hatred and division. When we gather for an RYS project we come with a mutual spirit of reverence toward not only God but each other as well. In doing so we learn about each other and different faiths and barriers start coming down. We come to feel that we are all Godís children.
RYS is a Service Learning Project
RYS is an educational program that uses social service work as a vehicle to educate. Modern educational theorists agree that the most effective learning takes place through living experience where not only minds but bodies and hearts are engaged. This is referred to as experiential learning.
The act of service itself has value for the recipient but also the service provider -- the RYS participant. A person may perform an act of community service and look back on that experience as a memorable one. Through the seminar component (interaction style) the participant may come to have the dawning realization that "hey living for the sake of others is good. This should be a vital part of my life." Such a graduate of an RYS project may go on in life to positively effect the lives of thousands of others. Some past RYS alumni after having attended a project decided to make a change of direction in their career path toward vocations that are more service/humanitarian oriented.
RYS is a school for sainthood. You might think that I am exaggerating to make such a claim. Think about it for a moment. How do you define "a good parent?" It is someone who lives for the sake of their children. A patriot is one who lives for the sake of oneís own nation. What then is a saint? It is one who goes beyond the boundary of oneís nation and lives for the sake of all people -- all nationalities, races and religions. The RYS project is a microcosm of the world. The Muslim participants represent their nations and their worldwide faith. The same is true for Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and other participants.
If a participant is ignorant of a certain faith or nationality/race or harbors certain prejudices or ill feeling, the RYS project creates an environment or an arena in which they can undergo their own personal restoration course. The brochures and videoís of RYS depict harmony and good will amongst all participants. This is the usual outcome. However to get there, it may require confronting oneís fallen nature and struggling together. This usually turns out to be a positive and meaningful experience.
There are lots of people who serve. Any restaurant will serve you food. If you are lucky you might meet a smiling face but the fact is that they who are serving you are being paid for it. Our politicians and those working in government departments are supposed to be serving us, the people. They are called "public servants." Yet they are being paid for it and maybe are seeking other rewards that center upon self.
What then is the meaning of "true" as in the expression "true service"? To give and to forget repeatedly with no thought of receiving any personal reward. Saints like Mother Teresa practice true service. Unlike others, saints donít calculate how much they will give-they give everything. They give until it hurts. They give to the point of feeling like they have nothing else to give. This means to reach the zero point, creating a vacuum within. An understanding of physical law tells us that air will move from a high pressure area to a low air pressure area. Godís Spirit that permeates the universe represents the absolute minus and naturally is drawn to the absolute minus -- the person, the saint, who lives purely for the sake of others, transcending all boundaries.
RYS creates an environment where participants are encouraged to practice true service. At least they are encouraged to try it for the period of the project and reflect upon the results.
Mini Training Programs
In January 2002 I accompanied Rev. John Gehring, the International Director of RYS, to New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa. In those places we conducted two-day RYS Leadership training programs that incorporated a two-hour mini service project.
Particularly in developing countries like Tonga and Samoa, the mentality that is widespread is one where in the people expect aid/help to be provided to them by governments and aid organizations. John and I came in and asked participants to create a vision of how they would like their nation to be like in 2025. Through brainstorming a vision was formed. The overall vision created in each case was one in which peace and harmony were central. Then we asked participants to list the barriers in their country, that is, their problems that hinder the realization of the vision. Then we asked them to list the kind of values that are needed in order to go beyond the barriers and realize the vision. Next the importance of character education was introduced, since to create a culture of peace, we need men and women of good character.
Further brainstorming led to the crystallization of concrete projects that could be implemented by participants within a three month time frame. Self ownership of projects was a high priority as was a plan to form a committee amongst participants as soon as possible.
Toward the end of the two day program, a mini service project was conducted. In Tonga, the task was to pick up rubbish on the foreshore adjacent to the International Dateline Hotel. This was an experience that was significant in the minds of many. The former Prime Minister, Baron Vaea, participated in the entire two day program including the clean up. Also involved in the clean up was a member of the royal family. The involvement of Baron Vaea and the member of the royal family inspired many who never dreamed that they would "come down and mingle with us commoners" (the words of one participant).
In Samoa -- with 29 Christian denominations plus other faiths such as Islam, Bahai etc. -- participants commented that they simply donít come together except, for example, when they share a joint Christmas Day Service. For different faiths to work together on social service projects is, in Samoa, pioneering new ground. Yet at the end of the two days they were buzzing with excitement thinking of the possibilities.
This is the inspiration I find in RYS!
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