What does it really mean to be an Interfaith Campus Ambassador? This is the question that I asked myself at the end of my semester commitment to the World Faith CASE, three months that seemingly flew by in the midst of seasonal changes, senior thesis writing, and my own integration back in to the culture of the United States. But there are certain snapshots of memories that have stuck with me as my most impactful moments while being an interfaith leader.
It all began in the basement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish college students standing in a circle, stepping in and out as we answered questions without using our voices during orientation. We were enthusiastic and shy at the same time. I was proud that I was the one who established the “safe space.” While I had an interest in interfaith work for awhile, this was the first time that I was actually leading it. The whimsical dreams and soft kittens of the idealistic vision of interfaith harmony would meet the real world. This was the start of the practical realities of being an interfaith leader.
It was too good to be true that the MSA, Latinos Unidos, and International Students Association were hoping to host a documentary showing about a Latino Muslim rapper in the United States. But realities set in when the MSA did not support the message of the documentary, the International Students forgot to book the venue, and all of my planning, attempting of networking, organizing, and emailing became meaningless when support for the project disintegrated. I was bummed. My plans, foiled. My interfaith leader bubble was popped. Logistics got the best of me in a new school with a commuter community that ran at the speed of Brooklyn.
What does it mean to be an interfaith campus ambassador, even when your interfaith project falls apart? To me, it meant making deeper connections. Classmates began to come to me and talk about their faith more openly. Suddenly, people who I had known for years were showing me a different side of them. It was a side that they knew I would respect, a side that usually has no place in the rush of every day life.
Being an interfaith campus ambassador meant planting the seed of the possibility for interfaith service in people’s minds. It meant engaging late night talks about the necessary knowledge of one’s self and one’s own background and how each action must be grounded in that story for the strength of interfaith engagement to become healing, and not just a general universal human rights movement. It meant being a student voice that wanted to see communication and collaboration on a socially segregated campus.
Although my initial plans fell through, I still ended up organizing a service day with my Global College community working on the same community garden I had found previously through the Day of Interfaith Youth Service. This project was much more meaningful to me because it was giving support to people who really needed the extra hands. In interfaith work, adaptation is the most important aspect to keep in mind. I came into my position as a campus ambassador full of expectations, and learned through trial and error about the ways I could make a difference in such a short period of time.
As I volunteered with two different groups at a community garden in Harlem, I saw the grounding effect that service has for people to communicate and share. I clipped tree trimmings while discussing life plans for post-graduation with women of different faiths. I laughed and joked while carrying wood, hammering nails with my classmates. Using our own energy collectively, we worked together so that schoolchildren would be that much closer to having a vegetable garden and a place to learn about nature in the city. Knowing that multiple communities were strengthened because of my small commitment to service made the interfaith CASE worth it all.
Contributed by: Molly Greening, Christian, Global College, Interfaith CASE 2011