Reflections on an Interfaith Service Alternative Break

This originally appeared as an Interfaith Insight.

“This interfaith experience was just a glimpse into the way people understand life and their place in it. During the trip, I was forced at several moments to question my own assumptions; when Christianity is the only thing that confronts you in daily life, you become comfortable in assuming it’s the best decision and the only decision. Through the trip, I came to understand that faiths share the desire to find relationship with God and a way to live that relationship in fellowship with other believers — through love and celebration. More than that, I walked away with a lot to be envious about in other faiths, and a lot of new insight in how I approach my own relationship with God.”

This comes from Emily Johnson, a college junior who participated for her second time in Alma College’s Interfaith Alternative Break to Grand Rapids this past week. And here’s Will Donahue, a college sophomore, who reflected on the service aspects of the trip:

“By attending ceremonies, services, and gatherings, I more deeply realized the overwhelming good and parallel values that are at the root of many world religions. Along with taking part in outdoor housework and helping to feed those in need, I gained further understanding that people of faith share a common goal to better their lives and the lives of those around them through diverse faith traditions. Through interfaith action, we can support one another’s beliefs and traditions in a collective effort to improve the well-being of all.”

As I had mentioned in a previous Insight, we started the Interfaith Alternative Break at my alma mater—Alma College–as a way to celebrate the diversity of West Michigan, as well as to engage in service with that faith-based community. Another group of students came back this past week, where they stayed busy by learning from and volunteering with: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Habitat for Humanity, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, Grand Rapids Sikh Gurdwara, West Michigan Hindu Temple, Temple Emanuel, Guiding Light, and Masjid At-Tawheed.

As you can tell, it is an extremely busy schedule for only a three-day period. We realized after we tried this out the first time that it overwhelms the participant. But what we also realized is that it overwhelms the participant in the best way possible. As you can tell from Emily’s testimony, in our daily lives, we often go about our days without questioning our assumptions or ideas about the world around us, and without asking ourselves meaningful questions in order to clarify our own worldviews. An incredible personal and spiritual growth is possible from this “thick dialogue” that arises in interfaith work. Further, as the reader can tell from Will’s reflection, breaking out of the normal rhythm of the day and engaging in service with others leads to important realizations and understanding of the people and communities around you.

I am of the belief that often the greatest ideas are also the unexpected ones. You never know when you are going to hear an idea that will change your perception of the world around you, and help to shape your own worldview. That’s why I, and many others, do interfaith — these experiences lead to growth of the individual and an understanding of the world a person can’t get many other places. I hope the students in the Interfaith Alternative Break, the participants of Consortium last week, and all other supporters of Kaufman events are able to experience some of this interfaith inspiration as well.