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Sikhs Ousted From Volunteering at Rescue Mission
By DONI GREENBERG
Coutesy: Dr. (Bhai) Harbans Lal.
Record Searchlight, Redding, California, Apr. 3, 2003
"The Good News Rescue Mission has notified local Sikhs that their services are no longer welcome. A Mar. 27 letter from mission director the Rev. Jim Dahl to Kawaljit Singh followed an earlier conversation between the men. Singh said Dahl's message was clear in the two-page letter. 'They basically said they didn't want people helping at the mission who weren't Christians,' Singh said Wednesday. Singh said that includes meals prepared by as many as 15 Sikhs and served to the mission's homeless. Free medical services donated by a Sikh physician are also no longer welcome, Singh added. Dahl explained that he and others, whom he declined to identify, were increasingly troubled with what they viewed as the Sikhs' self-promotion. Some churches have recently expressed discomfort with the presence of Sikhs, who have served three meals at the mission since shortly after Sep. 11, 2001."
" 'At first we had them there to help people know that just because someone has a turban and they're different doesn't mean they're terrorists,' said Dahl, who was named mission director Feb. 1. 'We've had them come back but it seemed they kept adding to the platform of Sikhism. We're not religious-based but Christian-based. And Sikhism is not a Christian-based religion. They come here wearing the turban. It was the promotional part - inviting the media - that got to us. And each time, there was more coverage.' Singh said the Sikhs never sought press coverage and that self-promotion is the antithesis of Sikh beliefs. The religion has the seventh largest number of followers in the world and 80 percent of them live in northwest India. 'We weren't there for personal glory or to promote our religion,' he said. 'That thought never entered our minds. Sikhs don't do that. Never, ever. The Sikh tenet is to share what you have with the less fortunate.' "
"Dahl said mission board members were contacted one by one in an informal poll on whether to accept the Sikhs' recent request to prepare an Apr. meal. Dahl said he didn't recall the exact board tally, but that out of the 30 to 40 people contacted - board members included - only one or two had misgivings about ousting the Sikhs. William McCurry, a mission board member and family practice physician in Redding, said that while he initially agreed with Dahl, he now has second thoughts. 'Maybe this wasn't the best decision in the world,' McCurry said. 'I can't speak for the whole board, but I do have some reservations that we were so quick to change our previous point of view and not allow the Sikhs to come for purely humanitarian reasons.' "
"Doug Latimer, vice president of the mission's board, said he was not polled and first learned of the issue Wednesday after two 'respected women pastors' brought it to his attention. Latimer said he's heard 'about three versions' of the story and has called an emergency meeting today with the executive board to discuss the situation. 'My belief is that the Good News Rescue Mission is an inclusive organization, and we want help from the community to feed the homeless and downtrodden,' said Latimer, Shasta County's chief administrative officer. 'I haven't seen any letters and haven't talked to anyone in the Sikh community.' Singh said two recent requests to address the board were refused by mission staff. Had he been allowed the opportunity, Singh said his message would have been simple."
" 'We need more understanding among different people,' he said. 'We're children of the same God, the same light source. We respect everyone's religion and opinion. To us, everyone's equal.' Meanwhile, Dahl said his stomach is 'tied in knots' over the potential negative impact the decision might have on the mission. Dahl said the 'easy way out' would have been to say nothing, and allow the Sikhs to volunteer at the mission. 'They're great people and they serve the best lunch,' he said. 'I love their curry. But it's not a matter of the food being lousy or that they're bad people - because they're good people. It's a matter of Sikhism and not connoting that the mission is anything other than Christian based. The good news is that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light, and anything contrary to that that's taught or promoted is contrary to the mission.' "
"Singh said he's not bitter with the mission's decision. In fact, he hopes for dialogue with the mission board and a peaceful resolution. 'Frankly, I'd rather not have this conversation,' Singh said. 'We don't want to make waves or be combative. But when we face issues like this it shouldn't just be a story in the newspaper and forgotten. We should work this out. We shouldn't just sweep this under the rug.' "
"Reporter Doni Greenberg can be reached at 225-8237 or firstname.lastname@example.org."