On this 5th Day of Thankfulness for the 10 Day Contest by Debbie Reynolds, I am thankful for being able to practice Religious Freedom in the United States of America as it was written by Thomas Jefferson, Author of the "Statute of Religious Freedom, adopted by the Virginia legislature in 1785." The Statue declared that "nobody could be forced to support any church, or suffer in any way for his or her religious beliefs."
Today, I reflect back to a time when I lived and worked at Camp Wyonegonic in Denmark, Maine. Perhaps, it was my second or third year of employment (1987 through 1992) when something special happened. I was asked to share a cabin with a Diplomat, a woman who came to America accompanying a group of young girls to experience summer camp and an educational experience from Russia because of the Samatha Smith Program Exchange Agreement between the United States and Russia. I admit, I was nervous, after all, I grew up during the Cold War. One day, I invited the Ambassador, my roommate to spend the day with me and I would show her around Maine. I recall asking her, did she want to visit Portland Head Lighthouse? Two Lights State Park? Bar Harbor? Dinner outside of camp? The Lobster Shack? A movie at the local theater in Bridgton, Maine? In broken English, she replied: "I want to step inside a Church and pray for world peace." Honestly, I was surprised by her answer. That was the day I recognized, I took my religious freedom for granted. This photo was not taken in Maine but I am reminded of this story every time I travel outside the United States. This Church was located in Lucerne in Switzerland where I recently traveled.
For those who don't know the story about Samantha Smith's legacy of peace let me tell you about an 11-year- old girl from Manchester, Maine who changed the world by writing a letter to Soviet President Yuri Andropov; then traveled to the Soviet Union in 1983. In her letter, Samantha expressed her concerns about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war and asked: "why Andropov wanted to conquer the world, and ended with "God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight." The Soviet President read her letter and invited her and her family to visit on April 21, 1983. They were there for two weeks. With publicity like that, you can only imagine how everyone around the world was talking about this incredible little girl.
Unfortunately, on August 25, 1985, six passengers aboard a plane crash landed at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Aiport. Samantha and her father along with six other passengers were killed. People were devastated and during my employment, a Samantha Smith Camp Scholarship Exchange Program was set up and children from Russia stayed at Camp Wyonegonic, Denmark, ME and its brother Camp Winona in Bridgton, ME. My children were the same age as the Russian children and they learned each other's culture and developed skills with an International Community and Staff from around the world. As for me, I was humbled to share a cabin with an Ambassador from Russia who was in charge of the girls from her country and together we all happily lived, in peace for several summers in Maine. And it was all because of one 11-year-old girl who had the courage to change the world by believing in peace.
©Patricia Feager, 11/20/2016