During Monday's gospel reading, we heard:
'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'Of course, I think most of us have good intentions in our hearts, but we do not necessarily know how to go about making change in the world. Let's not fool ourselves, this calling by Christ is not an easy one.
I think a lot of my time at Seattle University was spent asking myself what was the best way to serve.
I became involved with Habitat for Humanity, having a wonderful trip to Yakima, WA, my freshman year of college. We truly began from the ground up--we began with a dirt lot and built the foundations from scratch. That year, we were building for a Latino family. The mother looked so happy and grateful as she saw our group building her home, and she would come by once and a while to cook us a Mexican meal. Her son of about 6 years old at the time would also come along and play with us. Seeing them gave us greater reason to work hard at this new home that we would provide for them.
Part of the Habitat program is 'sweat' equity. Recipients of housing are expected to pay-it-forward not only by providing labor to their own houses but also that of future Habitat owners. Inherent in Habitat, then, is the expectation that you will serve others because of what you have been given. I think Habitat is a wonderful program to be involved with.
Since the building of these houses takes time, our group was only able to witness the initial stages of the house. It was only a year later, when I led the next group back to Yakima, that I able to see the house fully built. Seeing a newly built house versus the memory in my mind of a dirt lot gave me a lot of hope for the future.
Sometimes when you serve, though, you do not witness the house come to fruition. You plant your seeds and hope and have faith that they will grow in the future.
I spent much of the time my junior year of college fundraising for a campus ministry sponsored group called PIE (Philippine Immersion Experience). As the name implies, it was not necessarily that our group was going to the Philippines to serve. Rather, we went to immerse ourselves in a different environment and culture--to witness life outside of the US, to see for ourselves the realities and conditions that our brothers and sisters live with.
I saw firsthand children 5-6 years old barefoot begging for spare change. I heard from a group trying to redevelop the forestry of the country that, of the original rainforest of the Philippines, only 5% existed. I saw worn down, shanty houses that seem like they could fall over if I pushed it with my hand. In contrast, I also saw malls comparable to our nicest in the US. Those who attended the Jesuit University--Ateneo de Manila, tended to come from the higher classes of society (not that much different here either). A mere wall can divide the very rich and the very poor.
Yet, I witnessed a lot of hope in that country. An organization, called Gawad Kalinga, is similar to Habitat for Humanity. Yet, it's mission is broader in scope. I found a video on YouTube that would probably describe it better than I can.
I had the privilege to advocate for this program my senior year when Seattle University hosted the National Conference for Hunger and Homelessness, the first time that it has ever come to the West Coast. I shared not only the vision of this organization but also my own experiences and reflections of GK (as did my other fellow PIE members). I look fondly at the few days that I stayed with a host family in one of the GK communities in Payatas, which is more known in the Philippines as being a garbage dump site.
Then, before I entered the Jesuits, I was awarded a fellowship to NY called Humanity in Action. I felt the program would give me a fuller and richer experience of the problems we face. Originally a program based in Europe, my year was the first year they were doing a program in the US. We looked at issues of racism, immigration, matters of religion, etc. What I found most enriching was that it was not just Americans involved in this program. Fellows from Poland, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark were able to give their outsider perspective on the American experience. I paired with a fellow German to write a paper at the end of our program, which you can find here.
Having had these various experiences, I don't feel like I all of a sudden have all of the answers to today's pressing questions. Far from it. At minimum, I can say that I have at least given some of these questions some critical thought and have had an experience here and there.
Ultimately, it is my faith that inspires me. This is the lens through which I see the world, not merely as a matter of habit from childhood, but which stems from actual belief after sustained inquiry. Hopefully, after the long training that the Jesuits provide, and with the inspirations of my past, I will be more effective in my ministry and can spur and inspire future leaders for our world. AMDG