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Cultural immersion project

Culturalimmersion project

CulturalImmersion Project

Iwanted to immerse myself in the culture of Christians. As a Muslim, Ihad never been to a Church before the cultural immersion project. Istarted by researching more about the Christianity, and I discoveredthat the religion has different denominations. I chose to visit twochurches, both of which are located in my neighborhood. The firstChurch that I went to was the First Congregational Church inMontclair. I wanted to join their Sunday service to enable me tohave a first-hand experience of their way of life. On one Sundaymorning, my husband accompanied me to the First Congregational Churchin Montclair. We went before the service began and spoke to theReverend about the reason for our attendance. We requested her toallow us to join them in the Sunday service. The Reverend was amazedby our intentions and welcomed us to join in her sermon. After theservice, we stayed for the coffee hour and talked to the congregationand the Reverend as well. The second Church that we went to was theFirst Reformed Church of Little Falls, where we also attended theSunday service. I wanted to experience the different Christiandenominations.

Goalsand Objectives

Oneof my objectives as a Muslim was to observe and understand thedifferences and similarities between Christianity and Islam. Besides,I wanted to utilize the opportunity to know more about my neighbors,particularly their religious perspectives. In the United StatesChristianity is the major religion. Hence, I wanted to have a deeperunderstanding of some of its foundations. My first goal was to knowpeople who do not share the same religion and culture as me. Mysecond goal was to break down the biases that people have towardMuslims. I figured out that once they know me, I will be able toconnect with them and talk more about some of the biases andstereotypes that they might have towards Islam. My goals were thesame for the two churches that I attended.

Feelingsand Reactions

Ihave to admit that in the beginning, I was scared. First of all, mymajor concern was that I had to appear in a Church fully dressed as aMuslim. Additionally, I had scanty information about Christianity. Iwas also scared of the reactions that I would get from thecongregation. I kept wondering how they would perceive my intentions.Would they be scared if I am asked by the Reverend to stand up andaddress them? I literally could not sleep the night before I went tothe Church. I could not find the energy to approach the activityalone hence, I requested my husband to join me. When I first toldhim that we were going to the Church for my project, he thought thatI was out of my mind. It took me days to convince him to accompanyme but in the end, he accepted, though reluctantly. I choose twoChurches that were open to anyone irrespective of their denominationor sexual orientation so that I would have a relatively easy timeinteracting with believers. On one Sunday morning, in October, wewent to the First Congregational Church of Montclair. We firstencountered the Reverend who was standing at the door greeting thebelievers as they entered the Church. She welcomed us to join thecongregation. She was such a warm person and accorded us greathospitality. I told her that we would be joining her sermon if shedid not object. She said that she was happy to see us and gladlyrequested that we join other people also in attendance. At thisjuncture, my mind started to relax as a result of the warm welcomethat we received from the Reverend. However, it was still too earlyto tell if the congregation was convinced that we did not have anyill motive. I was amazed by the friendly congregation because theydid not know us and neither had we encountered any of them before yetthey all treated us like lifelong friends. The elderly ladies came tous and said that they needed more people like us to be frequentingtheir Church. The only thing that I knew about Christianity was thatthey believe in Jesus Christ and their holy book is the Bible. I wasalso acquainted with some of their holidays, such as Christmas, GoodFriday, and Easter Monday. I had no idea of how the worship wouldstart or progress. The service began with prayers from the Bible. Theprayer was almost similar to the one we read in the Mosque. There wasa choir that sang the worship songs. The Reverend gave a sermon aboutthe story that is also found in Quran about Ishmael. Immediatelyafter the sermon, they prayed for the sick amidst them by calling outtheir names. After the worship was over, we went to the coffee hourto talk with some of the people who attended the Church service.Together with my husband, we were surrounded with many people askingabout our religion and why we had joined them in the sermon. We hadgreat conversations with the congregation, and they promised uslong-lasting friendships. They also told us that this was a greatidea because they had an opportunity to know more about our religion.I went to the same Church for two Sundays consecutively and spenttime with the Reverend and the different members of the congregation. The second Church that we attended was the First Reformed Church ofLittle Falls. It was more of a family church. I joined their Sundayservice as I had done with the first Church. I explained to theReverend about my cultural immersion project. She remarked that itwas such a great idea and that they wanted people like us to beknocking on their door more often. There was no choir to lead theworship session. Instead, the Reverend`s husband was singing worshipsongs while playing the piano. Their house shares the same gardenwith the Church. Moreover, the Reverend informed us that she had beenattending the same Church since she was a child. Some of the elderlyladies had known her since she was a teenager. After the service, westayed for the coffee hour and utilized that opportunity to conversewith the members of the congregation. We were surrounded by peopleasking many queries about Islam. I was amazed by their desire toknow more about my religion. I must admit that I had a breathtakingexperience interacting with the members of the two Churches.

Howit impacts me as a counselor

Myvisit to the two Churches was an eye-opening experience. Before myimmersion project, I had no idea the role Christianity plays in thebelievers’ lives. The experience impacted me in many ways. Onelesson that I learned by completing this project is that whenever Ihave an elderly person as a client, I have to find out his/herreligious perspective about his/her condition. In the two Churchesthat I went to, I barely saw any young person. They were populatedmostly by older men and women who were in their 70`s. It is importantto know about your clients’ religion before entering into aprofessional relationship with them (Korsinek, 2016). I think myChristian clients would be amazed to encounter a Muslim therapist whohas adequate knowledge of their religion. According to Korsinek(2016), knowing about your client’s religion will help you inbuilding rapport with him/her, especially if he/she is a senior.

Thesecond way my interaction with Christians impacted me as a counseloris that I became aware of my biases and stereotypes towards peoplewho do not share the same religion as me. The first Church that Iwent to had a rainbow flag and some of its members were gays andlesbians. I had my first conversation with a lesbian at that Church.I did not know that she was a lesbian until I asked about herhusband’s whereabouts. This is one of the several mistakes that Imade during my immersion project. I should have inquired about herpartner. However, it made me realized that I had some misconceptionsabout members of the LGBT community. I did not know much about thehomosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered people hence, I tried tostay away from them. However, after some time, I was able to connectwith them. My interactions with members of the LGBT community helpedme to overcome my bias toward them. I now view them as ordinarypeople who only differ from the rest of us by their sexualorientation. In my counseling career, I now know how to offer therapyto the LGBT community and the things that I should avoid mentioningbecause they may be offensive to them.

However,I come across some microaggressions but fortunately, I knew how todeal with them. For example, some ladies asked me if I had hairunder my Hijab. Other female friends asked me about my co-wives.Ilearned that as a Muslim, I must be ready to be misjudged andnegatively stereotyped by some Christians. However, I overcame thosemicroaggressions easily. I learned that they were just asking out ofcuriosity and were very enthusiastic to learn more about my way oflife as a Muslim. As such, I learned not to get offended by thestereotypes that are promoted by the media. I am now well-equipped tohandle any client who might insult me on the basis of my religion,though in a professional way.

Advocacyproject

Thepeople from the two Churches that I went to were enthusiastic aboutexploring more about Islam. The members of these Churches expressedtheir desire for meeting more Muslims to enable them to increasetheir understanding of Islam. I am part of a group known as the PeaceIslands. It is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promotepeaceful coexistence between the different cultures and religions ofthe world. It is formed by Turkish-American Muslims. It coversvarious issues involving religion and has a branch that majors ininterfaith dialogue. My advocacy for inter-religion interactionstarted when I spoke to the coordinators of Peace Islands. Iintroduced them to the two Churches that I had attended during mycultural immersion project for them to conduct interfaith dialogues.Since both of the churches wanted to open their doors to more Muslim,we organized to have an event that would bring people from the tworeligions together. I told the Reverend in the First CongregationalChurch of Montclair about my plan for an interfaith meeting. Sheloved the idea and wanted to meet the Peace Islands’representatives right away. On November 16, we had an early dinner atthe First Congregational Church of Montclair and all the members ofthe Peace Island attended. We bonded with each other through sharingdinner that was sponsored by the Peace Islands. The organizationsalso had a slide show of a prayer in Arabic. The two groups had anin-depth conversation about Christianity and Islam. A prayer was madeby the Reverend after which all people in attendance came together onthe dinner table, and we got to know each other. There was also musicbrought by the members of the Peace Islands and which was gladlyappreciated by the Church congregation. I have received severale-mails from the congregation that it was a great dinner and they arelooking forward to having more interfaith programs. I feel honoredhaving gone into a church as a Muslim and had a lovely time.Moreover, advocating for a union between the members ofTurkish-American Muslim community and the Christians from the FirstCongregational Church of Montclair was a great experience. I realizedthat I share several values with my new Christians friends. I am surethey had some misconception toward Muslims but at the end of theproject, these myths had been cleared.

TheFirst Reformed Church of Little Falls was also interested in meetingthe Turkish-American Muslims. I introduced Peace Islands to thisChurch as well. They came together and brainstormed about a programthat would bring the two groups together. The Peace Islands membersjoined the First Reformed Church of Little Falls’ Sunday service,and one of them was given the opportunity to speak to thecongregation of Christian believers. The Peace Islands’ membersbrought finger food to share with their Christian friends during thecoffee hour. The two groups discussed many issues regardingChristianity and Islam. The congregation got to ask specificquestions about Islam, and all their queries were answered to theirsatisfaction.

Inconclusion, I have to say that I enjoyed meeting people from othercultures and religion. The experience has a profound impact on me andmy career in counseling. For example, the project brought to myattention the bias and stereotypes held by both Muslims andChristians towards members of opposite religion. I am optimisticthat I will participate in more cultural immersion projects in thefuture.

References

Korsinek,S. (2016). The role of religion in counseling. Accessed on November28, 2016.http://www.counselingpsychology.org/role-religion-counseling