The Words of the Gehring Family

The Ongoing RYS Experience

John W. Gehring
September 10, 2010

There is both a power and a beauty inherent in the actions of young adults linking together across national, cultural and religious barriers to offer substantial loving service for those in need of a helping hand. For the past 25 years, the Religious Youth Service, or RYS, has provided a channel for young adults of all religions to express the highest virtues of their religion, through the practice of selfless service towards communities in need.

RYS was inspired by Dr. Sun Myung Moon who, in November 1985, reminded an audience of 600 religious leaders and scholars at the Assembly of the World's Religions in McAfee, New Jersey that,

"Rather than dogma, the essence of religion is love and love is best demonstrated through acts of selfless service to others."

On the eve of the first Gulf War, he reminded the Second Assembly of the World's Religions that,

"Within the power of love comes the capacity to heal, forgive, and to transform a world growing ever more cynical. In this age, for a religion to thrive, it can have no enemies as it must demonstrate the heart of a True Parent and be capable of embracing all children as if they were its own."

This desire to practice the love of a true parent is what the RYS strives to create for its participants and the communities it works with. It is within the spirit of love that it can encourage young men and women of all faiths and backgrounds to come together and serve 'strangers' as family members.

Dr. Moon's challenge, made more than a quarter of a century ago, has since been taken up by nearly 10,000 young adults from over 100 nations. RYS volunteers shine as true ambassadors of peace in that they embody the spirit of loving service and model the highest teachings of their respective religions. RYS creates an environment where young adults can confirm their commitment to reshape this troubled world.

Through their personal experience, volunteers gain experiences of living as a community shaped by shared religious values such as respect, compassion, hard work, commitment and, most important, love.

It is in identifying with these universal values and striving to make them the norm that trust and friendship develop between the volunteers and with the larger community in which they are working. National, cultural, and religious differences seem to melt away through the shared efforts of those involved in RYS projects.

Since the first project in the Philippines in 1986, religious leaders, educators, students and young adults from every country, culture and religion have joined nearly 200 RYS projects held in 63 nations. The central goal of the program over the years has remained consistent -- "We are demonstrating to a cynical world the true religious spirit; it is a spirit of cooperation and service where the power of love remains the true source of its vibrancy."

Serving in St. Lucia

On August 6-17 in the fishing village of Anse la Raye, St. Lucia, over 30 volunteers from eight nations came together to serve one of the poorest communities of that nation. This seaside community, though attracting tourists, is marred by deep pockets of poverty and the problems often associated with poverty.

Social transformation has been rapid in Anse la Raye as the 1980s brought with them the introduction of electricity and, in 2010, the still-narrow village streets were filled with pedestrians speaking on cell phones. Whereas once people came together regularly to share games, music and stories, the current environment of Anse la Raye is not as community-friendly and often promotes greater separateness and feelings of isolation, especially for the elderly.

Together, what are we trying to accomplish?

One central question that filled the RYS organizers' minds when they dialogue with community members was, "What could the RYS volunteers do to help pull this quiet community closer together?" There were many real and necessary material needs in the village needs that required attending to, and our volunteers were capable of helping in some of those situations.

Beyond the apparent material needs of the village, there existed another level of need, harder to define, yet even more essential. The village needed to reclaim its sense of community spirit.

This spirit was once strong and the elders remembered it well, but a new spark was needed to help bring the generations together again and rekindle the cooperation and pride that make a community special.

The RYS volunteers from the community and from communities around the world did help generate a spark. That spark was enough to stimulate a spirit and energy within the Anse la Raye community that would last well beyond the period in which the volunteers worked on the homes, schools and facilities in the community.

The effect of the labor itself impacted the community, but the way the service was offered by the volunteers touched something even deeper and greater than the sum of the actual labor. The volunteers' character, spirit and actions generated a level of friendship, unity and cooperation that attracted the admiration and involvement of community members from all ages and backgrounds.

Working with the community

One feature of this project was that the work became progressively more of a community effort that involved volunteers from both the local community and the RYS. The growing work force required additional work assignments and this presented new challenges that were met in creative ways by the work director, Mario Glasgow of Guyana.

The growing local involvement provided a varied and multidimensional learning experience for the volunteers. Those that came to Anse la Raye, as well as those that were from Anse la Raye, had a chance to listen and learn from each other and to better discover what made their village a special place to live.

UPF's work with Friendship Americas

The RYS environment tends to open hearts, and those that came to Anse la Raye from various countries learned to open up to each other's stories and grew in understanding more about the lives and the situations facing those from other nations and backgrounds.

Friendship Americas was part of a Universal Peace Federation effort to build friendship and cooperation within the nations and among the people living in both North and South America.

The St. Lucia RYS was the 31st Friendship Americas project and was soon followed by the 32nd Friendship Americas project in Haiti. The return of RYS to Haiti in late August was in part a shared response to the tragic earthquake that devastated that Caribbean nation in January of this year. 

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