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New outlooks in New Jersey: Interfaith interaction uniting religions and individuals

Stake communication director has witnessed the impact of fostering friendships and faith through her new calling

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During Ramadan, the Muslim Center of Middlesex Country mosque extended an invitation to attend its iftar dinner to break the fast. Women were give hijabs to wear. At the dinner, Wynante Sewell, East Brunswick New Jersey Stake communication director, smiles.

Provided by Wynante Sewell


New outlooks in New Jersey: Interfaith interaction uniting religions and individuals

Stake communication director has witnessed the impact of fostering friendships and faith through her new calling

unnamed_3.jpg

During Ramadan, the Muslim Center of Middlesex Country mosque extended an invitation to attend its iftar dinner to break the fast. Women were give hijabs to wear. At the dinner, Wynante Sewell, East Brunswick New Jersey Stake communication director, smiles.

Provided by Wynante Sewell

In East Brunswick, New Jersey, a series of ongoing interfaith events at a Muslim mosque and a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse has members of both faiths experiencing increased communication, connection and a greater appreciation for each other.

“There never has been a time where the need was greater for people of all faiths to work together,” said East Brunswick New Jersey Stake President Dirk Lindeman about the Muslim interfaith events that started earlier this year and are continuing this fall — and hopefully beyond.

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Carver Wickman of the Eatontown 2nd Ward bishopric and Imam Raouf Zaman from the Muslim Center of Middlesex County stand together at the center’s mosque, during a symposium on racism, Feb. 27, 2022.

Wynante Sewell

In November 2021, Wynante Sewell was called as stake communication director, charged to look outward to connect with the community and with people of other faiths. Through a series of events that she has coordinated, the stake has gained a greater sense of camaraderie and understanding about religious groups in the area.

One woman Sewell reached out to was a less-active Latter-day Saint woman married to a Muslim man, allowing Sewell to ask questions and gain a better understanding of the Muslim faith. It prompted the creation of “Our Friend and Neighbor,” a program bringing together Muslims and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to share beliefs and foster friendships.

As planning for the event commenced, Sewell got in contact with two Muslim imams, who extended an invitation to a Feb. 27 symposium with people of different faiths to share beliefs on racism.

She and stake members attended, with Carver Wickman, first counselor in Eatontown 2nd Ward bishopric, who spoke at the symposium. It was Sewell’s first time at a mosque, calling it “unique and a great experience to see” as a Muslim prayer took place mid-program. Muslim believers were willing to accommodate and share, helping others to get to know them, making for a “wonderful time,” she added.

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East Brunswick New Jersey Stake members observe participants from the Muslim Center of Middlesex County as they pray in the Primary room in the stake center on May 22, 2022.

Wynante Sewell

On April 11, stake members participated in a Muslim iftar dinner — the meal with which Muslims end their daily fast at sunset during the annual monthlong period of Ramadan. Latter-day Saints attended the event, as did state and city leaders.

“We had a great time,” Sewell said of the evening with those from the Muslim Center of Middlesex Country. “They had a panel — we were able to ask them questions — and they talked about Ramadan.”

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East Brunswick New Jersey Stake Relief Society President Lynette Jensen wears a hijab on April 11, 2022, for a Muslim iftar dinner.

Wynante Sewell

In addition, guests were able to witness Muslims praying, and women not of Muslim faith had hijabs placed on them.

Lynette Jensen, the East Brunswick Stake Relief Society president, said one Muslim woman expressed concern about messing up Jensen’s hair with the hijab, the head covering used by women of that faith.

“I learned something from that expression of respect. It would not have bothered me to have it off my face, but she shared something sacred to her in a way she felt would suit me best,” Jensen said. “Our souls connected. I knew that when she called me ‘sister’ later in the evening.”

The full-time sister missionaries who were in attendance spoke highly of the event and the individuals they met. Sister Bryna Foutz of the New Jersey Morristown Mission said the missionaries sat with two Muslim women and connected immediately.

“We were all just children of God laughing around a table together,” said Sister Foutz, who called her new Muslim friends “sisters” and added they were beautiful and inspiring. They have continued to stay in contact since the event.

The opportunity provided a place for the two groups to exchange questions and conversation about one another’s beliefs and, for Sewell, to better get to know her “brothers and sisters.”

“You could really feel the Spirit there,” she said. “It was really strong.”

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Sister missionaries and Muslim friends sit together at the East Brunswick New Jersey Stake center for the Muslim iftar dinner on April 11, 2022.

Wynante Sewell

Toward the end of this month, stake members plan to visit the mosque and meet once again, Sewell said, adding that the stake is looking to continue the Our Friend and Neighbor series with a Jewish community next.

Sewell hopes more local Church members will participate in upcoming events. “This is something I feel is new and different, but I think it’s something that’s well-needed to break down barriers and stereotypes or just get to know each other as people.”

Sewell said she looks to create friendships with individuals of other faiths and looking forward to a continuous type of “gathering” where others become more aware of the Savior, the sense of family among all people and that “we’re connected in a greater purpose.”

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Carver Wickman, left, of the Eatontown 2nd Ward bishopric, and Imam Raouf Zaman, center, from New Jersey’s Muslim Center of Middlesex County, speak with an attendee at the Feb. 27, 2022, symposium on racism, held at the center.

Provided by Wynante Sewell

As more interfaith interactions take place, more bonds and relationships will form because a greater, growing familiarity, Sewell said, adding that it will decrease the unknown and uncertainty of other religions and people. “We are one, in a sense,” she said, “because we want to be connected to God, and we’re going about it in different ways.”

Stake self-reliance and welfare specialist Bobby Tyler spoke highly of the new interfaith interactions. “It reinforces our belief in Heavenly Father’s plan for all His children to be kind, tolerant and humble enough to learn of similarities in our approach and understanding of our divine creator and to respect the differences that lead us all to Him.”

Tyler said he looks forward to continuing efforts that will nurture such relationships, believing it will encourage love as well as dedication to spiritual growth.

Sewell said her calling has her recognize the similarities with others and rely heavily on the Spirit, with her testimony growing throughout the experience. “I find that the best thing to do is just to kind of align myself with the Savior, and then everything else kind of falls in place.”

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Women from the East Brunswick New Jersey Stake and women from the Muslim Center of Middlesex County mosque stand together for a photo at the New Jersey center’s mosque on Feb. 27, 2022.

Wynante Sewell

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