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A World of Faith

A young religious activist and his ambitious plan for global harmony

Email icon  dalal.moosa@nyu.edu

Frank Fredericks was on a long, wandering trip through the Mediterranean, visiting friends and learning Arabic, when he heard a news report that would change his life.

It was a humid summer morning in coastal Larnaca, Cyprus, where he’d just woken up after a working a long night shift at a restaurant. On the news, he heard that Israel had just bombed Beirut’s International Airport. Lebanese Hezbollah fighters were firing guns and rockets. Soon, thousands of Lebanese-Americans, fleeing by boat, would land in Cyprus.

Fredericks, a recent college graduate who had been working on a paper about Christian-Muslim relations, decided to help. He called the American Embassy, and was dispatched to an evacuation camp in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital. There he handed out food supplies, helped at a medical clinic and listened to arriving evacuees tell their angry stories about Israel’s bombing of towns in Lebanon.

“Lebanon was a madhouse,” Fredericks recalled. But through the chaos, something came into focus.

“You find these people in the evacuation camps—a thousand people in one room, rich and poor, Sunni and Shiite, Christian and Muslim, kids and old people—they were all together, equal, no divisions.”

Fredericks, who went to a Christian high school, decided on the spot to begin a group to promote interfaith harmony. In the fall of 2006, he founded the organization World Faith. Its mission: “To reveal the humanity of the other.”

Today Fredericks, a native of Portland, Oregon, runs this small but flourishing not-for-profit from his New York City apartment. World Faith dispatches local students to soup kitchens and food pantries, and to coordinate international volunteer exchanges.

“We have three goals,” Fredericks explained. “One is action itself and community service. Two is interfaith dialogue, and three is utilizing the media to counter religious extremism and prove that we can use our religious traditions for peace-building efforts rather than division, war and hate.”

World Faith recently hosted its first international exchange program, the Lebanon Project. With $12,000 the group raised, Fredericks accompanied three Jewish students, two Christian students and three Muslim students on a trip to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon’s Beqa’a Valley. They visited schools, and worked with Palestinian children to create art and plant trees.

Josh Martin, a British Jew, helped found the project. He’d spent the previous winter helping Israelis left bereft by the 2006 conflict.

“While there, I wondered about Lebanon, specifically the hundreds of thousands of refugees and others whose lives were directly altered because of the violence,” he said. “No one appeared to be doing anything to help out.”

An attempt to found a chapter in Lebanon fizzled, but since then fledgling chapters have formed in Cairo and Sudan, with plans for a presence in several other U.S. and international cities.

Next World Faith is planning an international exchange in India, to encourage Americans to volunteer at orphanages and clinics, and to work with Hindu and Muslim young people in regions of religious conflict, around New Delhi and Ahmadabad. The group will also make a documentary. The project is the brainchild of Chicago interfaith activist Soofia Ahmed.

“The youth are really rising up,” said Ahmed, 22. “They’re really seeing how big of an issue religious pluralism is, how faith is being used for destructive means, but how it can also be used for productive ones.”

Frank Fredericks runs a not-for-profit devoted to global interfaith understanding.
Photo Courtesy of Frank Fredericks

Palestinian boys paint their version of peace at a Chtoura, Lebanon, primary school, as part of a World Faith project in Lebanon. Photo Courtesy of Frank Fredericks

Palestinian girls in Lebanon show off their paintings of peace. Photo Courtesy of Frank Fredericks

Peace mural, a joint project of students in Lebanon and members of World Faith. Photo Courtesy of Frank Fredericks