Our Blog

Our Blog provides an area where students or individuals are able to provide their stories and testimonials to their experience attending events or working on The Comparison Project.

Meet My Religious Neighbor Events

Hindu Temple and Cultural Center 03/08/2020

The second Meet My Religious Neighbor (MMRN) of the spring semester occurred on a warm Sunday afternoon on March 8th. It took place at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Iowa, and beyond discussing the religion itself, visitors were able to participate in Holi. Holi is the celebration of the banishment of the demon Holika and the triumph of good over evil. During this festival, they banish negative thoughts, emotions, and energies allowing the fire to consume them. The colors represent happiness and the sharing of happiness without judgment.

I have driven past the Temple many times given that it is on the way to my grandparent’s house. I was always drawn to the Temple and curious about the religious culture surrounding the establishment. I always noticed how beautiful the Temple was and unique to its surroundings. Situated in the middle of a cornfield down a gravel road, is a beautiful overarching Hindu Temple. The entrance on the side directs you to a room where you are able to leave your shoes and coats. After this, I joined a large group of people gathered in the main area of the temple, where statues of the gods could be observed. I had attended one previous Meet My Religious Neighbor Event and was pleased to see that this event had a much larger turnout. We circled around one of the main priests and listened to the history of the Temple in Madrid and Hinduism.

One thing was prominently repeated which was that Hinduism is more than a religion, it is a way of life.  After a while, a woman took over the tour. She guided us around the Temple counter-clockwise, beginning with Vishnu in the middle. During the tour, she introduced us to each God and their story. Unfortunately, as this was a larger event, I was not able to hear or see everything perfectly during the tour, but I am sure there was, even more, to be discussed. I will admit, it is also difficult to focus in these situations because you are in such a different and new environment filled with unknown people, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you attend and find yourself getting distracted by all the rich culture surrounding you!

– Ella Stafford
Freshman at Drake University studying Law Politics & Society, and Religion

Christ of Latter-day Saints 02/08/2020

I attended my first Meet My Religious Neighbor (MMRN) event at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2020. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints welcomed visitors warmly, extending their hand in greeting. We began with a tour, led by an elder. An elder in Mormonism is a worthy 18-year-old male. He led us to their “family search program” designated area. Here, a woman took over the tour and explained to us the importance of family to their church. This program allows members of the church and community to learn about their genealogy for free. They are always looking for volunteers that way they can be more available to serve their community. While I found myself caught up in chatting with her, our elder had taken the rest of the tour to the next part. Two sisters took over our tour, the term “sisters” is used to describe women of any age within the Church. The sisters I met were very kind, even complimenting my shoes. All the members of the Church were dressed pristinely, proud of their beliefs.

The two sisters led us to a room where members of the church share certain passages from the Book of Mormon and their connections to the scripture. This intimate form of sharing is provided for high school-aged children before they leave for school. During the event, they also showed a short clip about why the members enjoy going before school. One clear message became known: it made them happy. It was a good way to start the morning before a potentially dreadful day of school and to be reminded of God’s love. Next door, children were singing about being a child of God. About 14 children held microphones and let their voices ring true. It was quite the scene, though I am sure our presence looming over must have been frightening, their confidence was overwhelming.

Through the winding halls, we found a room that the sisters use to focus on their service. All the women are part of the Relief Society, a philanthropic based organization the women in the church created. Their focus is on expanding their faith, strengthening fellow families within the Church, and helping those in need. Certain women provide extra support to those struggling. The women provide such support by going to their home to visit or always being just a phone call away. This sense of community and family is central to the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints.

Though we also explored the chapel and baptism room, the most productive, and enjoyable part of the visit was simply sitting down and conversing with the missionaries. California, Illinois, Texas, and Utah are just a few of the places these young men hail from. This voluntary mission is encouraged by the Church, and it requires them to fulfill two years of service outside their community. While they were excellent conversationalists, they also love to learn. Specifically, about other religions. I thought I had a plethora of questions, but theirs were endless. Every member of the Church that I met possessed the same curiosity. While they encouraged us to return, they also maintained a level of respect for different religions and cultures. Previously, I had not interacted with a Mormon. This experience was enlightening and I am glad my first MMRN was a positive experience.

– Ella Stafford
Freshman at Drake University studying Law Politics & Society, and Religion

Tawba Tutoring Experience 02/24/2020

Throughout the past three weeks, I have attended tutoring sessions at Tawba Islamic Center twice a week. I drive myself and other students on Tuesday nights from 6:00-7:00 pm and Sunday afternoons from 2:30-3:00. I was very nervous about this experience, because I had never interacted with Muslims before, and I knew they had etiquette to abide by. Looking at The Comparison Project’s website, I figured out to dress modestly and remove my shoes.

Upon entering, there was a threshold where I was able to remove my shoes before entering the entirety of the building. I learned this act is due to ritual cleanliness, a foreign concept to me. While introducing myself to the adults, a little girl ran up to me and hugged me. All the children are very kind, but from what I’ve witnessed, it is difficult to wrangle them into a classroom. I don’t blame them, I’d rather play outside with my friends too.

Each student has a math and english packet, specified to their age and learning ability. I received a range of questions from counting to probability to pronunciation. Tawba Islamic Center is a richly diverse and contagiously joyful place to spend Sunday afternoons. Sundays tend to be the busier day, with 20-30 children attending. Children bouncing off the walls, pounding the window from outside, playful shrieking, and sweet goodbye hugs were all included within an hour of my time. As I left, the adults struggled to round up the rambunctious youngsters to prepare for prayer.

– Ella Stafford
Freshman at Drake University studying Law Politics & Society, and Religion