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Interfaith Camp Plants Seeds of Understanding, Friendship in Youth

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A group of elementary schoolers, grades first through sixth, planted a Gold Star magnolia in front of the city’s mosque June 12. It will grow next to another tree planted by a different, though connected, group of children.

Dozens of youths from Eastern Mennonite University’s (EMU) Interfaith Peace Camp planted the first tree a few years ago. It now stands taller than many of the students attending this year’s camp.

One of the kids, Kate Weaver, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Linville-Edom Elementary School, said she loves “everything [about Interfaith Peace Camp],” but enjoyed the group’s visit to the Islamic Center of Shenandoah Valley most.

The mosque, located on Country Club Road, is one of many destinations visited during the weeklong event hosted by EMU’s Center for Interfaith Engagement.

The campers also visited the Jewish community’s Beth El Congregation, a Valley Friends Meeting (a Dayton-based Quaker group) and Park View Mennonite Church, among other local religious institutions.

This year’s theme at Interfaith Peace Camp, which started as a pilot project in 2008, was “One Tree with Many Branches.” The theme reflects the camp’s mission to promote the building of friendships and understanding among local children involved with different Abrahamic faith traditions.

Camp Quotes

Philip Hart, an 11-year-old seventh-grader at Thomas Harrison Middle School, said he enjoys the camp “because there are lots of fun things to do … and we learn about different traditions.”

Ed Martin, director of the Center for Interfaith Engagement, said he believes the camp “demystifies” other religions and “promotes understanding and respect.”

“It’s so important to know about each other’s religions, because there’s a lot of misinformation, a lot of fear,” he added.

Tree Of Life

Before the tree planting, which symbolizes the interconnectivity of different faiths, the students learned about Islam from some of the mosque members.

“Islam is about serving `the other,’” Ibraheem Rasoul explained to the group of about 35 students. “In our community here, regularly we try to serve the greater Harrisonburg area.”

Rasoul also explained why Muslims often address each other as “brother” and “sister.”

“We’re all essentially from the same grandfather and grandmother, and we’re all brothers and sisters.”

His message resonated with Weaver, who said, “The coolest thing that I’ve learned so far is that all these churches communicate with [each other, but] they have different Bibles.

Watch a video on the peace camp…

Courtesy Daily News Record, June 15, 2013

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