Thursday, March 24, 2011

Missionaries of Faith

Recently, a group of my friends were discussing their upcoming summer plans. I overheard many of my Jewish friends making plans to travel to various summer camps and beaches for the hot summer months and could easily relate, as I am preparing to do the same. The responses from my Christian friends, however, really caught my attention.
“I’m spending one month in Tanzania and spreading the gospel to the hapless villages there,” said one of my friends.
“I’m traveling to Russia and volunteering with the Vocational Bible School to repair one of the orphanages there,” added another devout Christian.
“I’m flying to Haiti with a church group to rebuild the fallen communities and teach the Bible,” mentioned another friend.
While my religious friends have the same opportunities to explore summer camps and shopping centers over their summer breaks, they have chosen to represent their faith internationally and overseas. Rather than spending their money on new summer fashion trends, they have spent their entire year hosting fundraisers and awareness projects in hopes of buying plane tickets to volunteer at their particular locations. Some of them travel with church groups or their families, and others are solely by themselves in devastated countries. Whether their journeys are organized or spontaneous, my friends have been enthusiastically anticipating the mission’s trips that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Considering that the primary purpose of mission’s trips is to spread the gospel in order to spiritually save the souls of others, I wasn’t surprised that my synagogue doesn’t offer such experiences. Judaism does not emphasize the idea of sharing texts in the Bible to surrounding third-world countries, nor arranges volunteering opportunities in Tanzania or Russia to promote G-d. I know this because I’ve tried looking for an experience like that of a mission’s trips. I’ve researched every Jewish and Interfaith program for opportunities to share my faith with those in need of spiritual healing. I’ve called numerous faith groups, varying from student cultural programs to the Jewish federation, but have yet to find the ideal mission’s trip for me.
I am truly in awe of the numerous churches and Christian centers that offer students with the opportunities to travel world-wide to promote their faith. Pastors and administrators spend endless hours and effort organizing successful journeys in order for their congregants to step outside of their comfort levels and see their faith shine through in every country. Since the concept of mission’s trips has been created and pursued, Evangelical Christianity seems like the fastest growing religion today. Even after all the flights are booked and the money is raised to travel, the foundation of mission’s trips still remains clear: faith is needed all around the world.
There must be some aspect of volunteering internationally that bothers Judaism, but I have yet to see any problems with putting a little fundraising effort into a life-altering idea. Along with churches, there are Jewish communities all over the world that could use some spiritual healing. Synagogues promote the concept of “Tikkun Olam,” or preparing the world, by placing a few recycling bins in their front lobbies or hosting a canned food drive. While I applaud these local efforts, I have yet to ever leave my comfort level in regards to representing my faith. The idea of “Tikkun Olam” has no given boundaries, and we can create the impactful experiences that not only sustain our faith, but take it to an even greater level. Like Evangelical Christianity, promoting our faith is not limited to any one zip code. We can begin slowly, first sharing our faith to local communities, then stepping outside the comfort and boundaries of our current cities to spread our morals all over the world. Judaism can reach every corner of the earth if there are enough faithful people to travel beyond their comfort levels and cover those distances. Any Christian missionary could tell you that the goal of spiritually enlightening people has a far greater effect than the unfamiliarity of the particular country. Nothing stands in the way of a motivated, faithful Christian missionary who wants to cater to a community in need of spiritual healing. I can only pray that Judaism will have the same mindset one day. Along with Evangelical Christians, we all have the ability to be missionaries of our faiths.
Though my synagogue does not spread Judaism to Tanzanian communities, I only hope that one day, we will reach that destination. We have every opportunity to promote our faith in every community, nationally or overseas, but must have the same motivation and courage to take our faith to that level. We cannot allow financial and mental issues hinder us from sharing our faith to the world. We can either choose to remain active in our local communities or be inspired to take our faith to the next level, but until we make that choice, the world will continue to be in need of spiritual healing. Communities could always use a few more missionaries of every religion, and we have the ability to represent our faiths everywhere. Only then will the world truly be a brighter and more faithful place in which to live.   

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eternal Faith

Today, life can change in the blink of an eye. One day, you could be content and overjoyed with what you own and the next day be left with absolutely nothing. While there are no distinct reasons for the changes in life, it is up to us to make the best of those situations.
Just two weeks ago, my good friends had everything they needed and appreciated the blessings brought in their lives. They had lived happily with two loving parents and a firm relationship in G-d just two weeks ago. This family was optimistic and kind hearted, with no reason to feel empty or doubtful of theology. Then suddenly, with no preparation or sign, life changed for this family in the blink of an eye. Just one week ago, a sense of emptiness fell over my friends’ home, and due to various health issues, my friends lost their mother and are now counted among the other “mourners of Zion.”
Since the funeral, one, reoccurring thought has crossed my mind every time I see them: Where was G-d during all of this? What did my friends do to deserve the sadness brought into their home? Why must they feel this sudden suffering in just one week? How do we, as the friends and family, sustain enough faith in order to encourage mourners to keep faith?
While I usually turn to the book of Job for comfort, the verses just seemed so nonchalant in regards to this particular tragic situation. Usually after a loss of something minor, I would think of the famous verse in the first chapter, “Adonai natan v’Adonai lakach, y’hi shem Adoni y’vorach,” or “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” but G-d couldn’t have just “taken away” the beautiful mother of my friends so causally. It’s safe to say that though I am na├»ve, I do not understand the thoughts that must run through G-d’s mind before giving and taking.
While I struggled with my faith under these circumstances, my two friends remained unusually optimistic. I’ve seen more smiles than tears, more memories shared than silence, and more laughter than fits of anger. Of course there was initial sadness that a wonderful life was lost, but now, there is more happiness when thinking about the wonderful life that has lived, and will continue to live through the optimism inside my friends.
Rather than turning to atheism, my friend taught me a valuable lesson from this tragedy. She encouraged me to never feel regretful in life and to never take anyone for granted. Life can change in the blink of an eye, but the memories and love you feel with people are everlasting. She even trusts G-d to help her carry her mother’s legacy forward, while others would usually turn to doubt. Just one week ago, I was inspired by someone who appreciates life even after the shock she experienced. Today, I feel blessed.
Since then, I have yet to find any theological answers about the mysteries of life. I have yet to find the cures for cancers, illnesses, and other medical procedures that change lives so quickly. I have yet to miraculously relieve the state of shock that was suddenly brought into my friends’ home. I have, however, formed a new respect for the optimism expressed by the friends and family of these mourners. I have felt a new level of pride for my local Jewish community that gathered every night of the week to form a minyan, or a stable support system, for this family. While we all grieve for this loss, we all still carry a sense of hope that our optimism can assuage the shock and sadness that entered our lives just one week ago. Perhaps rather than relating the verse in Job to one person, we can relate it to the feeling of happiness that affects us every day. Perhaps G-d gives us instant and evident happiness on some days, and happiness that we must delve into further on other days. I realize that this past week, the happiness wasn’t as evident as a materialistic pleasure or the joy of having everything we needed two weeks ago, but the indirect happiness was found through the strong community formed around this family, and the sense of optimism and hope discovered within it. Never again will I take anyone in my community for granted.
From this moment forward, I can only pray for more comfort and love to be sent to my friends’ home. I pray that G-d will send clarity and reason to this family, as to why such shock entered their lives and continue to remain present in their lives. I pray that we will take the wise words of my optimistic friend and never take anyone for granted. Lastly, I pray that we, the Jewish community, will be able to find happiness even in the darkest of times, creating optimism and hope for the future. As I take comfort in knowing that there is not only a reason for every event that happens in life, but also a community that will support each other during those events. Life can change in the blink of an eye, but faith, hope, and optimism found within a community are everlasting.