Monday, 28 June 2010

Christian volunteers help out Buddhist temple in Rochester

Carefest volunteers
Carefest volunteers Allison Loftus and Dave Sprenger work on landscaping at the Buddhist Support Society in Rochester on Saturday.
Michele Jokinen/Post-Bulletin

via Khmer NZ News Media

By Matt Russell
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

With simple actions — pulling weeds, mowing grass, planting hostas — a group of volunteers sent some big messages Saturday afternoon at the Cambodian Buddhist temple in southeast Rochester.

Around 25 volunteers from Carefest, an annual church-organized volunteer event, spent the day doing landscape work at the temple, which has been repeatedly targeted by vandals since it opened in 2003. Most recently, its mailbox has been damaged, shrubs destroyed, and security lights yanked from the ground.

One message volunteers wanted to send was that Christians care about people of other religions: It's an issue that's been highlighted amid vandalism at the temple, which last year included "Jesus saves" written in spray paint on the driveway.

"We aren't prejudiced," said 14-year-old Carefest volunteer Jon Harris of Rochester, echoing comments of other volunteers. "We care about everybody."

Now in its fifth year, Carefest organized the bulk of its volunteer work on June 19, when approximately 1,400 volunteers worked at 55 sites throughout the city, including Graham Park, the Women's Shelter, and the Boys and Girls Club. Work continued for an extra day on Saturday at the Buddhist temple and six other sites in Rochester, according to volunteer Terrence Forrest of Byron.

Carefest volunteers and monks both drove riding lawnmowers as they mowed the temple's 10-acre property. The volunteers weeded and mulched the temple's gardens, re-landscaped planters at the temple's entrance, and cleaned the temple inside, as well.

While the monks speak limited English, they were grateful for the volunteers, said Tracy Sam, a member of the local Cambodian Buddhist community.

"I was getting goosebumps because I was so happy—I was so grateful for people in the community coming to the temple and helping them clean the place up and make it look nice," said Sam, who noted there has been no new vandalism at the temple in recent weeks. "I feel so uplifted."

Volunteers wanted to help the temple "because they're our neighbors," and it follows the theme of Carefest, which is showing the love of Christ to the community, Forrest said.

Along with other volunteers, he also expressed concern about last year's "Jesus saves" vandalism.

"That's not how Christians behave—that's how Satan behaves," he said.

Other Carefest volunteers echoed Forrest's thoughts that, through their help, they could send a clear message that the harassment long endured by temple members is not what this community is about.

"It's nice to be able to help in these situations when bad things were done," said volunteer Eileen Byrne of Pine Island.

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