“I think children are the most important community to explore in this work,” Kosik said, “because that’s when our thoughts and stereotypes about other people are forming – as very young kids. So if we can get there first, and set good examples, then maybe we can prevent some of those stereotypes and hate from forming.”
Kosik was pursuing his Doctor of Ministry degree at Claremont School of Theology when he was researching interfaith dialogue programs for children, but couldn’t find any. So he decided to develop his own as his dissertation.
He decided to start by creating a weekend retreat – a short program for 3rd-5th graders in his community in the San Fernando Valley. Kosik chose this age group because he thought they would be “the perfect sponge” for the kind of information he wanted to teach. The theme of friendship focused on how to develop friendships with people of different backgrounds.
After working with kids at his church for 10 years as associate pastor, Kosik felt confident in developing a schedule of activities for the participants, but faced challenges in encouraging families to participate at first. Many needed to be reassured that the goal of the program was not to convert kids to a certain faith.
After several months of preparations, Kosik was joined by 15 youth and parent chaperones, balanced from all three Abrahamic traditions, for a weekend trip to Loch Leven, the Disciples camp center in the Pacific Southwest region.
Kosik heard interfaith dialogue begin before the group arrived at the camp site. On the van ride a boy from his church turned to the Jewish boy next to him and asked, “So how is temple different from church?” The two boys talked about what they each do during worship, and then the conversation turned back to comic books.
“Kids aren’t threatened to ask questions like that,” Kosik said. “Everything is new for them. So they’re not judging what’s normal and what’s weird the same way that adults do. If we can put these conversations and experiences in front of them, they can take it in as information, without bias.”
Throughout the weekend, the youth and adults played games, made crafts, ate, and worshiped together. They wrote and performed skits about making new friends with someone who looks different.
That celebration of diversity, to Kosik, was the most important part of interfaith dialogue. “It’s tempting to focus only on what we can all find in common – but it’s important to be able to acknowledge and celebrate our differences. Kids have no problem doing that.”
“If we can present a positive image of the other unobtrusively it gives them a tool to use when they’re confronted with bigotry, to be able to speak to what they’ve experienced. Our goal with this retreat was more than just spending time together, but also learning to feel comfortable asking questions of each other in really easy, basic, and comfortable ways.”
The next step in this now-ongoing project is writing. He wants to expand on his dissertation research, and publish a book as a how-to guide for beginning interfaith dialogue with youth – including chapters on issues to think about when pursuing this work, as well as ideas for activities and conversation starters to begin.
“When you think about the stories of Jesus, from the Good Samaritan to the Woman at the Well, this is what he talked about – loving and caring for the other.”