Unification News for November 1996
West Africa Hosts RYS & IRFF Programs on African Challenges: Food and Religious Harmony
by Adza Mould-Barrytown, NY
"Good luck, you have your work cut out for you," was Mrs. Akosua Perbi's reaction, Lecturer in History at the University of Ghana, Legon, when she saw the diverse religions represented by the 35 youth gathered for this Summer's Religious Youth Service (RYS) project in Accra, Ghana.
She was speaking on Attitudes Towards the Family, from a Christian perspective, sharing the panel with a Muslim scholar and an African Traditionalist. Many of the RYS participants were surprised to see three eminent religious figures discuss their faith with sincerity and vigor, yet without animosity to each other.
Other topics for discussion during the twelve days of the project included: A Look into Ghana, Past and Present, led by Dr. Austin Asamoah-Tutu, and The Role of Interfaith Activities in Building Peace, a talk given by Sheik Sibaweihi. Our education on the history and culture of Ghana continued with field trips to the National Museum, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum (itself built on the site where Independence from Britain was proclaimed in 1957) and Independence Square.
Numerous other discussions were led by RYS staff and team leaders. Some insights were gained by participants through role-playing regarding the physical and emotional effects of pre-marital and extra- marital relationships.
The Accra project, which focused on the construction of a six-bedroom staff accommodation at the IRFF Agricultural School site at Kasoa, was unique (as all RYS projects are) in that two half days were set aside for an Inter Religious Federation for World Peace (IRFWP) Seminar and a Fish Powder Seminar.
This was a project as much about inter-organizational cooperation as about "inter-religious dialogue and action for world peace," the theme of Ghana's RYS.
The theme of the project emphasized dialogue and action. Taking action first, the building project at Kasoa provided the perfect vehicle for the expression of this goal. RYS veterans and "newbies" alike, both the philosophical and the practical, invested themselves in "ramming" the foundation, unloading cement, digging and carrying sand and mixing and pouring concrete. Always the participants worked together. At one stage there was a train of six workers carrying head-pans of sand. Such interaction provided an opportunity to forge friendships. The hour-or-so travel to and from the work-site provided another opportunity to bond together, with the Ghanaian youth leading jama-a responsorial and jocular singing-which energized everyone who felt fatigued.
Based on the friendships thus forged, dialogue took place naturally around meals and in groups. One Muslim participant from the University of Cape Coast testified that his preparation for the RYS consisted of research on points of contention between Islam and Christianity. Moreover, he brought with him the various books and materials that would help him defeat any Christian who brought up these issues. He was ready for battle!
Predictably, he was greatly disappointed to discover at the orientation meeting that there were Hindus, Buddhists and Unificationists, as well as Ahmadis and Christians of various hues.
This complicated the issues and ruled out a two-way argument. By the third day, he was happily sharing his faith with new-found friends, exploring Hinduism and worshipping with Ahmadis. Having developed such healthy respect for each others religions, we visited various important religious sites in and around Accra.
The Hindu Monastery of Africa is a quiet haven in Odokor, a bustling suburb of Accra. The day of our visit happened to be one of celebration at the monastery, and we were warmly received by a packed congregation. The leader of the Monastery, Swami Ghananand Saraswati, whose son was one of the participants, gave us a blessing in the form of food gifts from the offering.
We next visited the Ahmadiya Muslim Mission which was likewise uplifting. The modern exhibition center gave us a brief but thorough overview of worldwide activities of the movement, followed by a durbar reception by the ameer, Maulvi Wahab Adam. There followed visits to the main Christian centers of worship, Holy Trinity Cathedral, where incidentally, I was baptized many years ago, the Holy Spirit Cathedral and the Wesley Methodist Church.
The Fish Powder Seminar was designed to introduce Fish Powder Concentrate to Ghana as a way to supplement the people's protein needs, and especially to make it available in crises areas of the African sub-region. Mr. Serge Samouel, representing International Seafoods of Alaska, was on hand to share both the vision of Rev. Moon for fish powder as well as the technical aspects of the product.
The many parliamentarians and ministers present were enthused with the fish powder, asking many questions after the presentations. The Deputy Minister for Agriculture (Fisheries) expressed his interest in the technology and offered the support of his department to explore avenues of investment. Two tons of Fish Powder donated by ISA and IRFF was allocated to various government agencies under the umbrella of the Ministries of Social Welfare and Health. For their part, the RYS participants could see in action the religious ideal of living for others.
The following day was to be one of dialogue. The IRFWP/WFWP Conference brought together leaders from many faiths to share their vision and hope for world peace. These included keynote speakers from Roman Catholicism, Islam, Bahai, Independent Christian, Hare Krishna and African Traditional Religions. A message from Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak (World Mission Director of the Unification Church) was read on his behalf by IRFF representative and UTS student Mr. Clive Wright.
The evening began with a challenge by Adza Mould, the event's master of ceremonies and also a student at UTS, that the RYS youth gathered in Accra see themselves as the cutting edge of inter-religious dialogue. There were many dignitaries present from government and religion. Unfortunately, many were turned away due to the tremendous response. The advice given to the IRFWP/WFWP organizers by the Chairman of the function, Prof. Assimeng, was, "Peace is too important an issue to cater for only 250 guests! Moreover one day is too short. Next time it should be at least a week." With the positive response of religious leaders to reinforce their cause, the RYS youth returned to complete work on the foundation of the school. This years' RYS project in Ghana was, for the first time, a truly international gathering, with participants from Japan, USA, Nigeria, Britain, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. This added dimension inspired much interest in the media, with the religious programs on the radio giving extensive coverage.
Moreover the religious leaders who came to our programs were moved by the sincerity of the friendships formed. On a personal note, and because of my interest in the world's religions, the reverence that all the participants showed whenever we visited holy sites, and the genuine interest they had to inquire into the various beliefs and rituals they encountered was most heartening.
We hope that the Summer 1997's project can multiply a spirit of toleration and love among the many religions in Africa. to all the 1996 participants, we say Ayekoo!
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