Diverse in Faith, Same in Spirit

Volunteering as a Muslim in a Christian Church

Volunteering at a church was something that I started back in fall, 2022. I saw a bunch of people from different faiths waiting outside the church and I knew they were different from me just by the way they dressed. My interest piqued as I saw people from my religion too. I stepped inside the church to know what people from a different religion were doing at a christian church. After talking to one of the volunteers, I learned that they were distributing food and expressed my eagerness to work with them. And guess what? They welcomed me with open arms.

That’s how I began my journey as a volunteer at Faith United Methodist Church in Fargo. Every second and fourth Fridays of the month, volunteers distribute food provided by the Great Plains Food Bank. I was not an absolute necessity there but they did not say no to me. My Islamic faith, brown skin color, typical Asian accent, nothing about me concerned them. There were volunteers who used to call me “sweetheart”, an adjective I am not worthy of.

Now, if I talk about my personality, I am not an extrovert or introvert. I belong to the category of ambivert, considering the fact that I blabber a lot once I feel comfortable around people. Looking from that perspective, volunteering is not in my comfort zone. Volunteering needs you to talk and be nice to people who you have never met or talked to before. So, it did put me in a place where I had to navigate challenges regarding greeting and meeting new people and work with them and for them.

Eventually, I was the volunteer who talked less but did follow what others were doing. People volunteering there were always the first ones to smile at me and give me instructions about what to do next. They used to question me about my family members, my country, and the subject I am majoring in etc. They wanted to get to know me. Those volunteers are the perfect examples of making strangers feel at home. Looking back on my experiences there, I have learnt a lot from the volunteers whose every endeavor is meant for making a difference in the world.

Volunteers everywhere hold on to the same mantra, which is their willingness to assist and support others in need. If you join a volunteering group, it is likely that you’re going to meet people who foster the same beliefs as you. I always considered that I lacked the means to make any changes. Whatever I own is not enough to bring any difference to this world. It is true that we alone cannot do much. But together, we are an army. With little effort from everyone’s side, we are capable of doing anything.

As it was a church and I am a muslim, I felt awkward at the beginning. People there were on the older side. With age comes wisdom. And with their wisdom, they understood that I was feeling awkward. They made me feel I was one of them. Interactions with them in that church made me realize that we are the same. Working with people from different religions helps individuals overcome religious bigotry that we have been exposed to over the years through different sources, such as the media.

Frankly, group work has never fascinated me. Everytime I worked with a group, I ended up disliking everything about it. But in volunteering, I never experienced that. Working there made me feel like we were marching towards the same goal, which was putting others’ needs before ours. Those volunteers helped me realize that I do not need to know people to work for and with them. All that a volunteer needs is a willingness to support people who need that.

There was a volunteer who used to forget my name due to her old age. She used to call me “Fahida, Fatima, Faminda, Faida”. Once she told me “Sorry that I keep forgetting your name, but I think you understand that, for some reason, I like you”. I said “yes, I understand that. You don’t have to worry about my name. No matter what you call me, if I understand that you are talking to me, I am going to respond to you”. Her attitude taught me that you can be nice to people by confessing certain things to them. Whatever is stopping you from giving hundred percent to someone, share your intentions and limitations too. Tell people that you love them. It does change the game.

If you ask me, what have I acquired from my volunteering days there? I have learnt numerous things. Volunteering has instilled in me that no matter what, if we are willing, we can make a difference just by our presence. It is always challenging to break the usual cocoon, but once you do it, the adventure is worth it. Meeting all those people would not be possible if I had not dared to be in a place which is supposed to be for people of a different faith.

As I look different, my skin color and my clothing, my subconscious mind reminds me that I am different. But my volunteering experience prompts my mind to believe in something else. It invokes the feeling that if you throw yourself out to stand up for others, the world is yours. There is no place for religious bigotry, no matter what the media says or propaganda surfaces about Muslims and other people from other faiths.

Looking back on my journey, I see that every small step contributes to something really great. Through our little efforts, we can bring forth positive changes in our communities. I hope my story will encourage others to step up their volunteer efforts. Volunteering does not accept much from us. It needs our willingness to aid those who need our support, and presence.

When the world is divided into different sects for differing faiths, we can be the bridge of togetherness to set the right environment for our future. Instead of focusing on how different we look and what we believe in, we can hold the lamp of humanity by working together. What if we do not have the means to be an assistance? Volunteering is the answer!

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