On Sunday afternoon I participated in a Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County reception honoring twenty-two high school students selected by different high schools for their student peacebuilding efforts. The community center auditorium was packed with friends, family members, and other well-wishers. The crowd cheered and clapped as each student’s achievements were recognized and the student received a $150 reward plus an additional $100 to be given to the peacebuilding organization of their choice.
I immediately noticed the ethnic, religious, and racial diversity among the students being honored. One student was a recent immigrant from Vietnam; others were from the Middle East; still others were Jewish, African-American, Hispanic, Korean, and Caucasian. The auditorium was a virtual United Nations of students and families. This confirmed my recent comments about the rapidly changing demographics of Fairfax County. This is such a different world from the one I was part of when I was a high school student.
The most inspiring part of the evening was meeting the incredible young people being honored; hearing about the kinds of activities they’re involved in, and seeing the way the crowd celebrated their efforts. A sampling of their activities includes working at respect and cooperation between Jewish and African-American students, efforts to stop student bullying, assisting homeless people, working against international human rights abuses, language tutoring for recent immigrants, a poverty alleviation project in a village in Brazil, reviving a Gay Straight Alliance at one high school, and working with victims of sex trafficking in Northern Virginia.
It felt so good to learn that our congregation was one of the founders of the Student Peace Awards program nine years ago. I was glad to participate this year as our new pastor and I look forward to greater involvement in the future. I have recently been writing about the religious conviction that we’re a people of God called to bless all the peoples of the earth. The Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County is a grassroots effort to be that kind of people in response to real human needs.
I was planning to write about what Jesus and the early Christian communities teach us about being a people of God. I think of how they responded to the needs and aspirations of real people in their first century world. The story comes to mind of how Jesus, a Jewish man, interacted with the Samaritan woman he met at the well. I think of early Christians learning to relate deferentially to each other across the divides in their world and how they made an organized effort to help those in need among them.
Perhaps it wasn’t that different from the student peacebuilding efforts we were honoring at the Student Peace Awards reception on Sunday afternoon.