The Words of the McLackand Family
RYS staff and participants pose for a photo at the end of their service project.
The first national Religious Youth Service (RYS) was held in Chiengmai in the north of Thailand from October 17-26, 1989. Participants represented all the major universities in Bangkok and Chiengmai (20 Buddhists, 2 Muslims, 4 Unificationists and 5 other Christians). They were divided into two groups, led by former participants of the international RYS, who were so inspired by their own experience abroad that they eagerly helped us prepare and conduct the first RYS in Thailand. Two CARP members also helped support the RYS group leaders, neither of whom belong to the Unification Church.
Chiengmai University, where we stayed for the first two days, gave us a very warm welcome. Not only did the vice-rector and several professors of the university attend the opening ceremony, but also religious leaders from all the major religions in Thailand spoke to the participants and gave their blessings to the project. The orientation program prepared the participants for their task: to build a village cooperative to store grains, fertilizer, and the like.
After the orientation, everybody enjoyed the typical Chiengmai "Kantok Dinner" with traditional northern music and dances. By this time, the ice was broken and all the participants introduced themselves joyfully to each other.
Learning about different religious traditions.
The next day began with an early morning service. One of the Buddhist participants led a traditional Buddhist chant. Each morning a participant of a different religion guided the others according to the practices of their religion. To our surprise, all participants were very eager to share their religious traditions as well as to learn from the others about the other faiths. Every evening the participants gathered in two lively discussion groups sharing their religious views and experiences.
The second day was dedicated to a religious study tour visiting a Buddhist temple, a Muslim school, a Protestant university and a Catholic cathedral. The participants were impressed by the warm welcome we received at each site and the informative lectures by the leaders of each place. When it was time to say good-by to the chairman of the Interfaith Forum and his wife, Professor and Mrs. Kirti, it felt as if our own parents were leaving, though we had stayed together for only two days.
On the third day, we left for the Forest Monastery Darapirom, which runs the foundation for rural development. They helped us to coordinate the RYS project with the villagers. After an inspiring talk by the abbot of the temple, we left in small trucks over bumpy roads to our destination: Nonggai Village, 40 kilometers north of Chiengmai.
RYS honors several Buddhist monks.
The villagers awaited us with a simple, but delicious lunch cooked by the housewives who took care of our physical well-being throughout our stay in Nonggai. Afterwards, "Father Ai," the head of the village committee, explained to us briefly about the village and how the cooperative could help them solve their economic problems. Then everybody went to work. Tools, materials and experts were provided by the villagers, funds and manpower by us. Originally, the villagers were quite skeptical how much our students would be able to do, but much to their surprise, our participants turned out to be quite professional and absolutely dedicated. They completed two projects, the cooperative and a play- ground for the village school, within the given time without much assistance from the villagers. There was even enough time to join the village festivities in memory of the great king Chyulalongkorn, with sports and games in the afternoon and campfire in the evening. RYS participants, workers of the rural development foundation and villagers, young and old, men and women, all joined together in joy and laughter.
On the last day, the villagers performed a very special ceremony, during which the old people of the village put strings around the wrists of the participants giving their blessings to each one of them. The string symbolizes the bond of heart through which we are bound together for eternity.
Participants busy at their work project.
The Regional Director of Southeast Asia Reverend Byung Wooh Kim and his wife, the RYS Project Director in New York, Reverend John Gehring and the President of the Thai Unification Church, Dr. Lek Thaveetermsakul, who arrived later in the day, were welcomed with the same moving ceremony. During the Dedication Ceremony, Reverend Kim explained the goals of RYS. His vision of this first RYS as being just a seed which should spread throughout the country caught fire among the audience and became the main topic during the Closing Ceremony, which was held in the Chiengmai Orchid Hotel the next day. The Vice-Governor of Chiengmai, who with 30 other dignitaries stayed for the entire ceremony, said that this project will be an example for others and pleaded with us repeatedly to come to his province again. This spirit of the Closing Ceremony was one of total success and the participant testified to the love and unity which they experienced among themselves, as well as the love and concern from the elders, professors and leaders. Anucha Somchit, one of the group leaders, concluded his experience with the remarks: "What we learned is to love each other and that's what RYS is all about."
The Religious Youth Service (RYS) is entering its fifth year since its inception at the Assembly of the World Religions in 1985. Currently, the RYS is active in preparing for a major international project in France in July, 1990.
Based on the success of its four large international projects in the Philippines, Portugal, Spain and Italy, the RYS has expanded its outreach in cooperation with the International Relief and Friendship Foundation (IRFF).
RYS has begun to connect the foundations it has built worldwide to a plan that will bring RYS to each of the regions of the world, and eventually to each nation. Toward this effort, a project was held in India in 1989 which brought both RYS alumni and new candidates from several nations in South Asia to work on an interfaith service project.
Responding to this success, members of IRF and IRFF in Thailand worked diligently to organize the first national level program in Southeast Asia. The success of both these projects has laid the foundation for the development of other national projects and much larger regional projects.
Noting the enthusiasm created among participants, staff and advisors, and their willingness to work on organizing future projects, the growth of the RYS vision of interfaith service and cooperation seems bright.