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Warm Hearts and Hard Starts: A Reflection for World Refugee Day

world-refugee_Day_14It was a nice break from the usual slogging through ESL and cultural orientation material. Today, instead of practicing introductions, writing letters and numbers or learning about job expectations, we gathered with the students we were tutoring and worked on an art project together.

 With a few paper cut-outs, red, yellow and orange tissue paper, magnet strips, and some glue, my weekly service site group and the dozen or so students at the Southern Sudanese Community Association (SSCA) created something truly beautiful: autumn leaf magnets covered with balls of tissue paper, in various designs and patterns.

Every week my co-coordinator and I took a small group of Creighton students to the SSCA to help tutor refugees in ESL, cultural orientation and job training classes. Actually, all of these were usually combined into one class, taught by one very patient, very joyful volunteer, a recent college graduate named Ben.

Every week we practiced introducing ourselves and saying where we were from, wrote numbers and letters, learned job-necessary vocabulary and prepared for the citizenship test. Our success depended on the students’ ages, newness and levels in the class.

As someone who has never had to flee my country for safety reasons, and as someone who would probably struggle to find these students’ native countries on a map, it was uncomfortable for me, at first, to spend two hours working with people I could hardly communicate with, whose lives I barely understood.

Despite all of this, friendships were forged, not only between the students I tutored and myself, but also between themselves and one another. And the more I engaged with this community, the more I felt a part of it and felt a desire to be in solidarity with them.

It was amazing to watch the students build a community between themselves. They all came from different countries (mostly Burma and Bhutan) and were fluent in different languages, but they always found ways to help and joke with each other.

Humor, it appears, can travel across other languages. When someone mispronounced an English word, or when something that Ben was teaching sounded funny, they would all look at each other and laugh. If a fellow classmate was struggling to get something right, they would all chime in, either in imperfect English or in that student’s native language, to help explain it.

Despite the language barrier, there were always ways of connecting with the students. Laughter and joy are things we can understand no matter what language we speak. The students spoke through wide grins, bright eyes and a willingness to laugh at themselves as they stumbled over words. It was a language I could understand and return with my own laughter and smiles.  Every so often I’d ask a student to teach me a word in their native language, which made me feel the most connected to these resilient, storied people.

They always impressed me. Day in and day out the students got themselves to class, often while balancing jobs. They had this determination that could not be quenched. All of them were older, but they had the hope and humor of elementary school students.

The more I got to know the students, the more I could envision what their lives were like before immigrating to the United States. It was hard to imagine spending  almost my entire life in a country and suddenly having to flee it for another because of violence and corruption. At these students’ ages, learning a new language was hard, being forced to adapt to a new culture was scary, and not knowing anyone was terrifying.

Yet these refugees never gave up. They never gave up the love and pride they had for their home countries, nor did they give up their project of making this country their home. To get to be a part of that project did so much more for me than I probably did for them. As I taught the students, I learned from them about a world beyond my own, a world that challenged me to love and be in greater solidarity with its people.

Even with all of this, it was still nice to take a break from the hard work and just have fun by doing an art project together. I was astounded by the woman I partnered with for the project. Every time I finished one of my little leaf magnets, I’d look down at it in pride, thinking, Wow, this turned out better than I thought it would. Then I’d look at my partner’s leaves and admire her creativity. I could never have come up with the kind of designs she had on her leaves. They were beautiful.

At the end of the class, as I gathered my leaves and said goodbye to the students, my partner took one of my leaves—my favorite of the three—and then took my hand, looked in my eyes and smiled. When she let go, one of her beautiful leaves was in my hand. A way to remember each other, a symbol of solidarity, an icon of her warm heart and the hard start she was overcoming.

Anna Ferguson
Student Coordinator
Class of 2015

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Mercy & Forgiveness

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When someone hurts you, most of the time our initial reaction is anger. We get upset at the fact something bad happened to us because of another person’s action(s). Usually, if it was a complete stranger that hurt us it is easy to let go and move on. We vent about it to our friends and family, sometime allow it to bring us down for the day, and then move on.

But what happens when the person that hurt you is someone you are close to? What happens when this person is someone you trusted? What happens when this person is someone you care about? Then what; then how do we react?
Often times we have the same initial response: anger. However, the anger that is attributed to this situation, unlike the first scenario, is anger that is a result from the feeling betrayed. We are no longer upset about the objective portion of the situation; we are upset at the trust that has been severed. Sometimes we allow this anger to take hold of us. If this happens, resentment and hatred for the individual who hurt us usually occurs.
Today and every day, though, we are asked to be merciful and loving like our Father in heaven. Mercy doesn’t have room for hatred or resentment, neither does love. Mercy asks us to forgive, even when we believe the person doesn’t “deserve” to be forgiven, and love asks us to love, not because someone has ‘earned’ our love, but because we are dedicated to making love apart of our character. This means to love even when someone is difficult to love. To be merciful and loving is a difficult to understand and even harder to put into action.
During this Lenten time, I challenge us to take a serious look into our lives. Are there people in our lives we have not truly forgiven? If so, let us ask God to take this period in our lives to reshape our hearts into hearts of love and mercy. I also challenge us to ask ourselves this question: have we hurt someone and have not asked for forgiveness? Although we are called to have mercy and forgive those without being asked for forgiveness, saying I am sorry never hurts. It is never too late to apologize.

Dear God,
As we continue on our Lenten journey, create in us hearts of mercy and love. Help guide us in acknowledging people in our lives who we need to forgive. Help us also recognize those whom which we hurt. Give us the courage and strength to not only give forgiveness but to also ask for forgiveness.
In your name,
Amen

Christine Prissel
Class of 2014
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Student Coordinator

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Food to End Hungers

Hannah
I have to admit, this past month of weekly fasting has been difficult for me. I’ve slipped up a couple times- forgetting what day it was, grabbing a meal with friends, or just going about my daily routine. I’ve become so used to what I have, that I don’t actually realize what I have. However, when I did stick to my fasting commitment, I was keenly aware of what I didn’t have. I recognized the deficit of food as it kept popping up in the back of my head. In short, I was hungry.

Our immigrant brothers and sisters know hunger, although it is not only a hunger for physical food. Hunger can take many forms. A hunger for safety, a secure job, and a living wage that insures one’s own family doesn’t have to suffer more hunger. Hunger can be a deep yearning for community, love, and acceptance from others. Many have a hunger for justice, or maybe simply the humble hunger for peace. The often quoted biblical passage, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” takes on a new meaning. We can give and receive the food of justice and peace; food for the body, mind, and soul.

Through the past few weeks, I’ve begun to look at my own small hunger as a metaphor; a symbol for the broader, more critical and intense hungers that our neighbors are facing. Of course, the differences are obvious. My voluntary act of fasting is in sharp contrast to the fact that the hungers of immigrants are involuntary. Fear and hardships thrust these yearnings upon them. My brief moments of hunger don’t even scratch the surface of the immense longings others are experiencing. But I was still hungry, and even though that doesn’t make me fully understand, it makes me think. It gives me a base from which I can grow in solidarity with immigrant men and women.

We all have the ability within ourselves to help end hungers. There is more love and compassion inside each of us than we know. We can give it from one open heart to another. With it, we can feed the world. And, much like the biblical story of the multiplied loaves and fish, we will always find that at the end of the day, we are left with more than what we started with.


Hannah Mullally
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
Ignatian Advocacy Team Leader

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Fasting for Others

Leah Schaffer
I recently wrote a reflection for CU Campus Ministry Justice Walking’s group about what Pope Francis had to say about Lent in his Ash Wednesday homily. Since he can say it better than I can, here’s what he had to say about fasting:

“We must be careful not to make a formal fasting, or one that in truth “satisfies” us because it makes us feel as though we have all in order. Fasting makes sense if it really affects our security, and also if a benefit to others comes from it, if it helps us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends down to his brother in need and takes care of him. Fasting involves choosing a sober life, which does not waste, which does not “discard”. Fasting helps us to train the heart to essentiality and sharing. It is a sign of awareness and responsibility in the face of injustices, abuses, especially towards the poor and the little ones, and is a sign of our trust in God and His providence”

I really love what he has to say here. First of all, I feel like in the U.S., when we like to have so much control over our lives, that even when we fast we try to be in control! We have so many options in our society, when it comes to food, clothes, TV channels, and we are in control of so much. I think fasting is a way to take away that control, and make us feel for even one moment what many others, especially immigrants, feel every day.

I also like how Pope Francis says that fasting only makes sense if it benefits others. Although it may seem like a personal practice, fasting should lead to a life where we live better for and with others.  It’s hard for me sometimes to understand why or how my religious or spiritual practices might benefit others, but I think that this is the most important part of prayer and fasting. In a way, we could say that Jesus’ time spent fasting in the desert benefitted others because it prepared him for his ministry to others afterwards. I think we can learn from this as we attempt to fast for others.

Fasting teaches us about “essentiality and sharing.” It’s when we cut out the things in our life we don’t need, that we truly realize we never needed them. And lastly, Pope Francis says it’s a sign of awareness and responsibility. We must be aware of the struggle of the poor and immigrants, and we are responsible for working for justice.

Leah Schaffer
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
Campus Ministry Intern

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Fasting Trips

Tony HomsyBecause service trips are more than dipping celery in peanut butter, and fasting is more than not having your hot chocolate on Fridays. Let us take a deeper look on those two kinds of “spiritual journeys” and discover how we fast and serve beyond a designated time. People wait for lent to fast, this authentic desire is similar to those who are waiting for fall/spring breaks to go on service trips. Desires are holy when they are leading us toward God as St. Ignatius of Loyola told us in his Spiritual Exercises.

But I would ask myself: Why haven’t I fasted during Lent since I had joined the Society of Jesus? Have I lost my desires to do what I used to enjoy before? I became satisfied with my decisions once I realized that I need to spread the butter on the whole toast and not just half of it; I am looking for “life time” fasting and service. My commitments were growing deeper, and my desires didn’t like time framing. I want to be with the bridegroom all my life and be exempt from fasting, like it says in Mark 2:19: “Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.”

In fact, we all seek the same longing! Fasting and service are not the means to an end, but are actually instruments leading us to Jesus. Those who are waiting, they have already picked the tickets, they have the inner desire to live something extraordinary during their daily life, this is why it is hard to frame our spiritual experiences by time, because they are steps of our long spiritual journey, another lovely step we live based on our former experiences, and moving us forward. This dynamic could be summarized by three simple steps:

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Live:

Live the Experience. God provides us with daily surprises, but especially those who put themselves ready to receive more; those who go on service trips or those who fast for Lent. They send a message saying: “Here we are Lord” (1 Samuel 3). Their hearts will be tuned to touch God’s gifts in this extraordinary time.

Relive:

Once we are deep in this specific experience, our eyes will be opened. We start remembering our former experiences and we start connecting all the dots together. We realize that all things are connected, from the first time we had this inner desire and followed God’s call up to this very moment.

Review:

Reviewing what we have already experienced helps move us forward by taking a step back. This is essentially a spiral move that leads us forward and deeper to the future through looking at God’s presence in our lives today. As the daily examen is always openning us towards tomorrow, reviewing our service trip or our Lenten fast puts us in front of God’s tremendous love by askinging: What shall I do next? Which is the very question St. Ignatius of Loyola shares with us in his Spiritual Exercises.

Our spiritual journey has the same dynamic all the time, whatever we are doing – fasting, service, spiritual retreat, etc. – we grow deeper, asking for more, the real Magis, which asks: How can I love God and the other more fully? We start with a simple action, then we realize our desire that become reality like a seed that has blossomed. We are on the road with Jesus, on his journey with us, and with the whole church, toward the kingdom of our Lord.

Tony Homsy, S.J.
Jesuit Scholastic

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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A Response to Suffering

Ian Fallon
In a pre-Lenten CCSJ Ignatian Advocacy meeting, a co-worker and friend of mine asked for volunteers to fast during lent. We were told we would be fasting with the “Fast for Families” campaign that is appealing for comprehensive immigration reform because our current immigration system breaks families apart through technically lawful yet morally irresponsible arrests and deportations.

I thought, “why not?” I assumed we would be fasting in an effort to show solidarity with migrants who flee starvation and poverty in their home countries, and I still think that’s a part of, but certainly not all of, it. My following questions were, “how will this action impact the immigration debate?” “Will it at all?” “How will denying myself food convince my legislative representatives that our immigration system should be welcoming instead of discriminatory?” For answers to this question, I looked to a historical faster who brought about great change through hunger strikes and fasts.

Mohandas Gandhi fasted for a lot of things in his career as an advocate for the poor. He fasted for just wages, social unity and an end to violence: all very lofty goals in a world as fractured as ours was then and is today. He was revered by most Muslims and Hindus in India as an extremely holy man for his rejection of his humanity and obsession with overcoming human weakness. Because of his prophetic place in his country, his people came to a standstill every time Gandhi punished himself for his society’s sins. India was so attached to Gandhi as a spiritual leader that they were forced to stop, reflect and discuss on the occasions where he threatened his own health and well-being in response to social systems he deemed unjust.

None of us are prophets as Gandhi was, but we all have a reason for fasting this Lenten season. Food is, obviously, essential to human survival, so, without food, human beings suffer. How are our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters suffering in our society? The formal immigration system discourages people from applying for visas and citizenship because usually it takes years and a small fortune to navigate the red tape that is involved in being able to come and stay in our country. For this reason, migrants find ways around our walls and guns in the attempt to find a life away from poverty, violence and oppression. If they circumvent the system, like many do, they often find a new kind of oppression here in a country where supposedly all men and women are recognized as equal. Upon arriving in the United States they often encounter the suffering of being separated from families, heritage and social services because they “didn’t follow the rules” or “didn’t wait in line” like the good immigrants did.

There are many parts of the immigration question that deserve further conversation and discussion that I could not include due to a few space constraints (of which I am fairly certain I have already exceeded), but I do know that migrants are oppressed in our country. I’m deciding to fast periodically throughout this Lenten season because our immigration policy needs to change, and fasting with a community that is advocating for just reforms of this system helps me understand what fasting means.

Ian Fallon
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Student Coordinator

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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