Accepting others' beliefs and cultures

Diane Raver | The Herald-TribuneMelinda Hartwell (from left), Anita Reynolds and Samuel Girod presented information on three different religions.

Learning about other religions and cultures will help create a better understanding among people.

During the April 22 presentation of "A World of Faith and Cultures in our Neighborhood" at the Batesville Memorial Public Library, three individuals explained how their lives changed after following a different path.

Finding happiness

“Samuel Girod, the oldest of 13 children, was born into a Swiss Amish culture,” read Katherine Taul, Ripley County Tourism Bureau executive director.

“At the age of 30, he suddenly realized that he had everything an Amish man is allowed to have … (but) was very unhappy and depressed. In September 2012, he walked away from his two properties and half ownership in a construction company. With a duffel bag in each hand, Samuel traveled from Indiana to Ohio, where he met up with Joe Keim (a former Amish member who helps people who left this religion). For the next two days, the two of them discussed God’s plan of salvation. Finally, on day two, the Lord opened Samuel’s eyes and saved his soul.

“Since then, Samuel has gotten married and now has four lovely children.”

Two months after leaving the community, Girod married Polly, who also used to be Amish.

He pointed out, “When you think of Amish, you think of good, hardworking people who farm for their living. The women are baking, sewing and gardening …. They can provide for themselves and live off the land. They have no electricity or plumbing and use outhouses.

“There are 308,000 Amish in the U.S. and Canada and parts of South America. Every three and a half weeks, a new settlement starts up because of a difference of opinion in rules and regulations. This way they get to make their own sets of rules.

“They have ordained ministers. My dad was a bishop, but I was not a good example to the community …. I am not welcome back. I’m excommunicated, shunned and can no longer go to family socializations unless I come back Amish.

“I still love them. I love them more now than when I was Amish.”

He revealed, “There are 40-plus different sects of Amish. The Mennonites are not Amish. The Amish broke off from the Mennonites in 1527.”

Starting a new life

“The Baha’i faith was founded over 160 years ago. It has spread to some 235 nations and territories and is now accepted by more than 5 million people,” Taul read.

“The word Baha’i means follower of Bahu’u’llah … the founder of the Baha’i faith. He asserted that he is the messenger of God for all humanity in this day. The cornerstone of his teachings is the establishment of the spiritual unity of humankind, which will be achieved by personal transformation and the application of clearly identified spiritual principles.

“Baha’is also believe that there is but one religion and that all the messengers of God – among them Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad – have progressively revealed its nature. Together, the world’s greatest religions are expressions of a single, unfolding divine plan. Human beings, not God’s messengers, are the source of religious divisions, prejudices and hatreds.”

This “is not a sect or denomination of another religion, nor is it a cult or a social movement. Rather, it is a globally recognized independent world religion founded on new books of scripture revealed by Baha’u’llah.”

Anita Reynolds became a Baha’i in 1977.

She announced, “This faith is somewhat unique …. Spiritual meetings occur every 19 days. We meet in homes as the Amish do.” At these gatherings, “we start with prayers. Then we discuss anything in the community that needs to be discussed. We may talk about children’s classes or what to do on the holy day. Then there’s the social part, which always includes some form of food.”

The Madison resident added, “We have eight temples. Our goal is to get one on every continent.

“When I first started studying this, I wondered what the catch was, but I haven’t found it yet …. We want to be one, to love all the world, to love humanity and to work for universal peace and brotherhood.”

Respected in the community

Melinda Hartwell was raised an Apostolic Pentecostal and converted to Islam five years ago.

“I was continuously searching for the truth and looking for answers. When I found Islam, I found my purpose,” she revealed.

“Islam means submission or surrender. It means peace and safety …. We say Allah, an Arabic word for God. Everything we do is with Allah in mind. Our religion is incorporated in everything we do.

“We believe in the oneness that was brought by the prophet Abraham …. We believe in Jesus. We cannot be a Muslim if we don’t believe in Jesus. He was one of the greatest prophets.

“We say that Jesus was a Muslim because he prayed to God. We do not believe Jesus died on the cross. We believe he ascended into heaven, and another took his place …. We commit to pray five times a day, and our sins are forgiven between each time we pray.”

How is she perceived in the community?

“I have never been assaulted and have always been treated with the utmost respect,” the Indianapolis resident announced.

“I’ve had people stop me and say they respected me for how I dress …. As Muslim women, we’re supposed to cover with loose clothing, but we all have free will, and some might wear skinny jeans with a scarf on their head.

“We accept everybody …. This is one way the media has wrongly portrayed us ….

“One reason I wanted to come today was to say that as an American, we can be Muslims and we don’t fit into the norm the media puts us into.”

Diane Raver can be contacted at or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.

Second in a two-part series

• Part 1: World religions explained, May 12