World Interfaith Harmony Week: Reflections on Faith and Volunteering
One of the phrases often mentioned during introductory speeches at conferences is that “this conference is a marathon not a sprint.” My Christian faith helps me pace myself throughout each UN Youth event, as I start and end every day with prayer. These few moments every day spent with God allow me to refocus my mind on actioning my faith through my volunteering. The vision of the organisation to empower young people is one I am passionate about, but the core reason I volunteer is grounded in my faith in which serving others is crucial.
UN Youth is non-partisan and non-religiously unaffiliated, which means that at each of our events we get a fantastic mix of people from many backgrounds. This diversity helps to bring new ideas into the organisation and encourages us to promote change in new and exciting ways. One of my greatest delights at each conference is the having opportunity to live my faith through service in a way that is not at all evangelical.
As we encourage delegates to grapple with major global issues, faith is a hot topic. Conflict, border disputes and political alliances often have roots in religion. The majority of the world’s citizens identify with a faith, and its cultural implications are far reaching. I hope through UN Youth we can portray faith as a powerful force in the lives of many, as opposed to the constant source of conflict it is often portrayed as in the media.
Facilitators are up early and late to bed; there are always snacks to prepare, resolutions to write and social activities to plan. Everyone is so passionate about empowering young people and it flows into their every action during an event. This is the sort of introspection and service that ensures UN Youth continues to grow and flourish.
One of our volunteers, Zoe Stawyskyj, recently facilitated on our Middle East Experience. She had a powerful experience whilst on the trip, serving as a fantastic reminder that openness and questioning are fundamental to the human experience:
“One of the first words people think of when they here Middle East is probably religion, right after conflict. I had written a workshop called Isaac and Ishmael: The Three Abrahamic religions, I had read the Quran, I was part way through reading the Bible and we had countless religious sites in the itinerary. But somehow, despite all of that, I wasn’t expecting it. It hit me. Hard.
At the first church we visited, I sat down on a pew and prayed. It had been a long time since I had done that. At the back of the church the delegates took photos of the artwork, taking in the atmosphere. And saw me pray.
How do you start a conversation on religion and spirituality, on the importance of belief, on that indescribable feeling that led me to pray? It turns out I didn’t need to. They had seen me pray. And that was enough.
Each of us came from a different religious place, some of us from different faiths and some of us from no formalised belief system. And yet in that conversation that nameless feeling was intertwined with a lot of what was said. From spirituality and belief, to community and upbringing, to mental health and, yes, to the conflict so prevalent in the region, religion was connected.
I define myself as spiritual which is mostly me saying that I’m not really sure where I stand, but that I’m open to the effect of those places and to discussion. And for me, on that trip, that made all the difference.”
As I witness facilitators working so hard for this organisation, I am reminded that belief and passion are the key driving force behind all change. No matter what (or even who) it is, I pray that delegates leave our events a little bit closer to finding out who they are, what they believe, and how they can use that strength to serve their communities.
World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017 ran February 1-7. It is an annual commemoration, having been adopted by the United Nations in October 2010. You can read more about the week here: http://worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com/