While most Ohio Wesleyan students will spend the week of spring break working or relaxing, seven small groups of students will dedicate their time to mission, service and leadership.
Each of the seven spring break mission groups have unique goals, whether it is working for justice, engaging with other cultures or helping restore small communities.
The Chicago Group, however, has goals that are both abstract and intangible: students will be spending the week in the inner city of Chicago where they will focus on the Muslim community in America and interfaith dialogue in the midst of complex tensions.
Senior Mary Slebodnick, who is serving as the team’s reflection leader, said she is very passionate about interfaith work.
She is hopeful the trip will enrich her commitment to understand religions beyond her own.
Slebodnick said her team will be working with three pivotal organizations in the inner city of Chicago, including CAIR, the Council of American Islamic Relations, whose goal is to promote cooperation between all different faiths.
Slebodnick said her mission team is very different from the others.
Slebodnick said because her trip is dealing with complex interfaith issues, their goals are hard to verbalize.
“We have one of the more complicated trips because we are totally education based,” she said.
“A lot of the other trips, which are service based, such as the team aiding in Hurricane Katrina recovery or the team working in El Salvador at orphanages.”
Slebodnick attended a speech at Capital University in Columbus last fall by Eboo Patel, the founder of Inner Faith Youth Core, another group the mission team will be working with next week.
She said Patel said something that has stuck with her: “It would be nice if everyone said something they found beautiful about different religions,” he said.
Slebodnick said she grew up in a church where Christianity is the absolute truth.
“There was always that hang-up in the background,” she said.
“You feel like you are supposed to convert others to Christianity.”
She said she struggled when her younger sister, at age 15, told Slebodnick she was an atheist.
“She was dead serious, and she was not changing her mind. It was very painful for me having to think of her going to hell or anything like that.”
Slebodnick said it is the “put your money where your mouth is moments” that make the idea of interfaith more real.
She said throughout her life she has had several situations like these, where interfaith has enriched her life and her understanding of her own background.
Slebodnick’s desire to aid in interfaith mission work was reinforced when she visited the Lakota tribe in South Dakota.
“During this trip I learned how Christianity wiped out the Lakota culture,” she said.
Slebodnick said that people think the Lakotas are fine now, but the fear still lingers there.
“A lot of Lakotas still think that if they practice tenants of their original culture that it is satanic,” Slebodnick said.
“And that was really sad for me to see because their religion is so rich.”
Slebodnick said her interest in interfaith has helped her to realize the commonalities between all different religions.
“When they talked about their creator I felt like they were talking about my God,” she said.
Her personal experience understanding her sister’s desire to be atheist and spending time with the Lakota tribe that aims to suppress the Lakota tribe’s religious beliefs, motivated her to be a reflection leader on the trip.
Junior Tori Schlaudt is also a part of the Chicago Mission Team.
She said she thinks interfaith relations are incredibly important globally and locally because the world today is becoming more and more diverse.
“Many people are ignorant about the Muslim faith (myself included before this trip) and some even think that all Muslims are terrorists due to 9/11,” Schlaudt said.
“In order to have genuine, loving relationships, it is important to understand interfaith dialogue,” Slebodnick said.