Defining and understanding religious faith
“Every person on the planet has faith in something,” Chantal Huinink believes, “whether that’s religious faith or a faith based in societal values.” In her opinion, “religious faith has to do with particular beliefs and assumptions about the way the world works, who God is and how we are to function because [of what] we believe or know who God is.” Huinink is a registered social worker, focusing her work on spiritually integrated psychotherapy. She’s also the Coordinator of Organizational and Spiritual Life at Christian Horizons, a non-profit, faith-based organization, as well as a speaker and advocate for the rights of differently-abled people.
“For me”, she begins, “not only as a Christian but as a woman who lives with disabilities, I found that faith is a source of strength and purpose … When we talk about faith experiences, it’s about learning to integrate who we are with exactly what we believe.”
Theological concepts can sometimes go over a child’s head. To have one or two weeks in a faith-based experience geared to specific age levels can be especially awesome.
What’s the value of religious faith?
At its best, religious faith goes beyond mere personal belief and extends outward in expressions of selfless love and a deeply spiritual response to the world around you. Religious faith teaches morals, ethics and respect. It can teach children to treat others as they would like to be treated, and it’s based in a sense of community, wherein people are accepted and respected equally.
Huinink knows personally that life has many bumps in the road, but faith can help smooth those. Born with Cerebral Palsy (CP), faith has been crucially important to carving out a successful life, a “miraculous” journey, in her words. She’s completed a double Masters in Social Work and Divinity, spoken at international conferences, and she’s been featured as a “changemaker” in Christianity Today. “We all have struggles,” she says. “There will be problems that come [at any age]. I think the earlier you can be exposed or committed to a faith-system that kind of makes the world and the suffering within it make sense, the earlier you’re able to cope better.”
How will my child learn about religious faith?
“Whether it’s religiously-oriented or not, I think that kids are always developing their faith from the moment they’re born,” Huinink says. “If they happen to be blessed with a faith community that supports them and nurtures them, then that will impact their world view, what they come to believe and ultimately, how they live their lives.” She correctly separates religion from faith, with the former being a set of doctrines, the latter a more personal expression closer to spirituality.
Religious camps may encourage belief in specific doctrines, but the faith community in each camp setting may be as different from one to another as the spectrum of colours in a rainbow.
She’s hesitant to generalize about all religious-based camps. However, with respect to those she knows personally, she says, camp can tailor “spiritual beliefs and values … to specific age brackets and specific activities that children enjoy.” Her own experience at camp was pivotal to her spiritual development. “At the age of 9, I attended Christian camp,” she says. “Religious concepts were brought down to a level that I could understand… At that moment, my faith became not just my parent’s faith, but something that I could ascribe to.” She began to truly understand how to apply faith concepts in her own life.
“The fact that I have a disability plays into every sphere of my life - social, spiritual, mental and emotional,” she explains. The Christian camp she attended “wasn’t specifically for children with disabilities, however, they enfolded me into an activity-based program that was meant for able-bodied active children and they adapted it so I could not only be participating but be fully included and loved.” To her, this was a huge testament, “not only about the other children and staff’s love for me but God’s love for me as well.”
How can I support my child’s religious faith?
You can support your child’s development of religious faith by exposing them to a faith-based community, whether that’s through school, camp or some other means. “I think one of the main advantages of being in a faith-based community is that it’s a chance for the old and young to interact. However, theological concepts can sometimes go over a child’s head,” Huinink believes. For this reason, she emphasizes the importance of camps. “To have one or two weeks in a faith-based experience that’s geared to specific age levels can be especially awesome. We all have spiritual questions...so to take the questions of children and value and nurture that curiosity, specifically in a camp environment...is really important and special.”
Furthermore, you can support your child’s religious faith by creating an environment where your child feels comfortable to ask you questions about their religion and other religions. Be patient with your child as they explore their curiosity and strengthen their faith.
Want your child to enhance their religious faith?
There are many camps that focus on religious faith. These camps strive to educate campers on religious doctrines and values so they can implement these teachings in their own lives. In addition to learning more about one specific religion, religious-faith camps teach children the importance of inclusivity and a sense of community. “I think that the biggest testament to who God is - whether you see Him through Christian eyes, Jewish eyes, Muslim eyes or another religious system”, says Huinink, “is how the people that worship or believe in Him act and respond to the needs of their community.”