Reflection Archive

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Taking on the Rockies

1912378_10152208827572870_834156329_nI pushed open the doors, stepped foot inside the St. Francis Center in Denver, Colorado, and took a gasping breath. I turned my head up and was greeted by the sight of around 700 people staring at me. I could only think of one word to describe how I felt: intimidated. Feeling that many eyes on me, I decided to turn right and walk up to the desk that was labeled “Intake.” As I reached the desk, I was greeted with a smile and a few words, “Is this your first time here?” It hit me, then, that you never realize who you are until you are mistaken for someone else. It didn’t matter where I was from, what ethnicity I was, how old I was, ANYONE could be homeless, because it could happen to ANYONE. Make no mistake about it, I was not offended. I gained insight. I knew then how much I was about to discover.

The St. Francis Center is a homeless day shelter that provides mail services, a clothing room, access to a phone, storage, and other basic necessities like showers and laundry. All of the Denver group got split into pairs for the first two days and were assigned a location. My partner, Eric Stanek, and I were a bit disoriented as we walked into the staff break room, awaiting a coordinator to tell us further directions. After about twenty minutes we were equipped with name tags, and given our first job, the clothing room.

This was a more one-on-one interaction with the guests. Our job was to stand behind one of the counters and get t-shirts, underwear, and pants from the shelves according to what size the customers wanted. Of course being a girl, when a man is saying size 36 x 32 you are absolutely distraught over what this means. I tried to make small talk with them, smile and tell a joke. Relating to the guests was a way I could give back, let them know I wanted to be their friend, not just give them things. Like a mutually beneficial relationship, I slowly let myself gain knowledge from these people who were, in many ways, probably wiser than me. You don’t expect them to offer you anything, you are there to serve, but you acquire understanding from real events, from real people and their experience.

Our next work site for the day was at mail services. It was chaotic but worthwhile. One of my most distinct recollections was of a man named Thomas. Like every other person that came up to the window, Thomas told me his full name and asked politely if I could check his mail. I examined his I.D. to verify his name and went to search. Three minutes went by before I returned with his mail. I handed him his envelopes and wished him a nice day with a smile. He took the letters from me and said with sincerity, “Thank you Gwen. Heaven must really be missing their angel.”

He walked away while I was still in bit of a state of disbelief. I have reflected on that moment dozens of times since then, each time realizing something new. He wasn’t trying to be cliché; he was stating his gratitude for my aid. I learned that something as small as having an address to have your items mailed to, something that we might take for granted, could mean so much for someone. I found that the power of a smile might be enough to shine a light on how one person cares for you. Most importantly, I grasped how going on my service trip might not change the world, but I could make an impact, even a small one, even on just a single person.

Reflecting on your trip is a great method to experience it through the past of what happened, the present of what you learned, and the future of how you want to take that and let it change you. Being intimidated is a scary thing. No one ever really wants to be put in a situation where they don’t have full control. Sometimes you just need to let go and experience. St. Francis Center did intimidate me when I first entered, but the wisdom it has given me will continue to assist me in my future endeavors, especially service.


Gwen McElhattan
Class of 2017
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

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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Remembering the Border

El Paso Spring Break Service & Justice Trip at the top of Mt. Cristo Rey.

El Paso Spring Break Service & Justice Trip at the top of Mt. Cristo Rey.

My alarm buzzes, I roll out of bed, stretch as my feet hit the floor and I open the shades. Sunshine and a pang of longing greet me. I flash back to a memory already four weeks old: Waking up in sunny El Paso, TX.

Four weeks after my Spring Break Service & Justice Trip in El Paso for a border immersion, it’s not the personal stories I’d heard from migrants and those who work with migrants, it’s not the three hour hike up and down Mt. Cristo Rey, during which I participated in a Migrant’s Stations of the Cross, and it’s not the desert meditation I had at the border that I think of first.

Instead, what my heart aches for most each morning that I wake up these first weeks back is the simple yet powerful setting in which all these experiences took place.

Each morning in El Paso I’d wake up in a rather barren, chilly bedroom in the Columban Mission Center—the Columbans, a Catholic religious order comprised of both priests and religious sisters, emphasized simplicity in their sparse living conditions as well as sustainability in the limited heating and cooling energy sources they use. I’d rise, say a quick prayer of thanks for a new day and look out the window at the sun rising over the Segundo Barrio, the “Second Neighborhood.”

The Segundo Barrio is a mix of modest houses, industrial buildings, run-down shops, palm trees and desert. The border is within walking distance of the Columban Mission Center. Churches and Mexican grocery stores fill the streets downtown, which always seems cluttered with people and street vendors all rushing in different directions. The International Bridge stretching between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico is perpetually backed-up with eager families trying to reach each other from both sides.

The Segundo Barrio was the setting for a week that profoundly affected me in ways I am just beginning to understand.

A migrant woman cooked my group dinner and shared a harrowing tale of how she had to flee Juarez for her life and the safety of her family.

 A young man pursuing a social work degree at the University of Texas in El Paso shared his passion for, and the pain involved in, working with unaccompanied minors who cross the border.

An older man committed to social justice rallied my group and challenged us as he talked about the work he does with Annunciation House—a migrant shelter across from the Columban Mission Center. This man, Reuben, showed us the ways we unwittingly contribute to a system that oppresses migrants.

On our last day in El Paso, my group met and played with a large number of migrant children from Annunciation House for over an hour. In the melee of beautiful sunshine, shrieks of joy and laughter, and children running in every direction, we realized just how connected we are to each other, that we are all brothers and sisters yearning for love.

Nearly every moment that brought me to tears, filled me with anger, gave me sweet joy and set my heart on fire happened at the Columban Mission Center in the Segundo Barrio—or atop the mountains overlooking it all, overlooking two cities—El Paso and Juarez—that really function as one.

My week on the margin, living nearly up against the fence of the border, revealed stories and experiences of brokenness and courage, inspired me to love bigger and advocate for a more just and humane immigration system that keeps families together and provides safety for the most vulnerable.

Every morning I wake up, I think of El Paso, of the Segundo Barrio and the people I met and the experiences I had there. I feel El Paso on the warm, spring breeze, I see the people I met there in the faces of others here in Omaha, back at Creighton University, and I hear them asking me to remember it all.

Every time I open the shades here in Omaha, I’ll remember waking up and looking out the window at the Segundo Barrio, and I’ll carry the people and their stories in my heart as I pray for, and do as much as I can to contribute to, just immigration reform. The sand may be shaken from my shoes but the migrants’ stories will never be shaken from my heart.

Anna Ferguson
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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Our Call to the Cross

Ian Fallon

A Reflection on the Salvadoran Civil War


On November 16, 1989, in the midst of El Salvador’s brutal civil war, six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were assassinated by a Salvadoran death squad at the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador. The Jesuits had been identified with the rebels in El Salvador, who were fighting for freedom from their oppressive militaristic government, and were gunned down because they opposed this system. The soldiers arrived at the Jesuits’ home in the early morning hours of the 16th. They rounded up the priests and made them lie face down in the garden. Next, the soldiers searched the rest of the house and found their housekeeper and her daughter, whom they then killed as well.

In my later Sunday School years, I was taught that Jesus was killed because he stood up for what he believed in, and that he urged us to love one another. I see this exemplified in this story. The Salvadoran government was blatantly and systematically murdering their own people, and the Jesuits and the people of El Salvador told them that what they were doing was wrong. They were killed for speaking out.

I often ask myself why I had not heard of the story of the Salvadoran martyrs until I got to college, and the answer is troubling. I believe that we do not hear these stories, because we simply do not want to. In our lives, we distance ourselves from struggle, and distance ourselves from these questions because we are afraid of the call. We live in a very broken world, and it is difficult to see our oppressed brothers and sisters struggling to survive every day when our own lifestyles of excess serve as such a stark juxtaposition to the lives they lead. We run from the cross because the cross is uncomfortable.

The discomfort we feel when we are forced to come face to face with the poor a gift. I believe it is a sign that human beings were created to serve one another and do everything within our power to lift our brothers and sisters out of the shadows and into the light of a better life. The discomfort is not something to avoid, rather, it is something to be thankful for, and it is a tool we can use to motivate us to assist the marginalized as they climb down from their crosses.

Do not fear the cross. Embrace it and live it.

Ian Fallon
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
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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September 11th – Why I’ll Never Forget

Jeff Blog
Growing up, watching television wasn’t part of my family’s morning routine. By the time I got up, showered, made my lunch, ate breakfast and read the comics, it was time to head out the door to school. So, twelve years ago when my mom turned on the television when she got back from dropping my sister off at school, I immediately migrated to the living room because I knew something had happened.

Before September 11, 2001, I had no idea what the World Trade Center was. Yet that day, as the television showed footage of two smoking buildings in New York City, it didn’t matter. As a sophomore in high school, I wanted answers about these buildings, and as the broadcasters tried to make sense of the situation, it was the one thing they couldn’t provide.

We tried to talk about it at school that day, and while some teachers indulged us, most just encouraged us to go about our business as we did every day. It’s hard to experience a tragedy through television because movies and cable regularly show fictional tragedies of a far greater scale. Eventually the line between real and fake blurs, and people become desensitized to what’s actually happening out in the world.

At least that’s what happened to me. I’m not proud to say that beyond the initial fear for my own safety, I was easily able to forget about what was happening on the other side of the country because I had no frame of reference to comprehend it. I was able to move on, because a few weeks post-tragedy the television cameras moved on and my life was once again normal and safe. Many others didn’t have that luxury.

Ten years later, I had the blessing of doing campus ministry at Saint Peter’s College (now University), and my perspective changed. Saint Peter’s is a small Jesuit Catholic institution in Jersey City, New Jersey – just a stone’s throw away from the Hudson River and Manhattan. My first weekend on the East Coast, my Dad and I took the PATH train to the World Trade Center stop and were able to see the construction happening on the Freedom Tower, the site where the World Trade Center towers used to stand. Suddenly, something that happened ten years previous seemed a lot more real.

What really changed me, though, was listening to the stories of colleagues and students as they vividly recounted their version of the events of September 11, 2001. I heard stories of those in elementary school as they looked out over the New York skyline and saw smoke billowing up from a place it wasn’t the day before; I heard from parents who frantically left work and fought traffic because they knew that the only place their kids would be safe was their arms; I heard from priests who tried their best to stay composed as they comforted the people losing their minds because the safety and normalcy of every day life had been shattered. Everyone was affected because everyone knew someone who died in downtown Manhattan that day.

My high school vantage point on the West Coast did not afford me the intimate look at the grief and loss that millions of people felt that day. The oppressive blanket of patriotism that irritated me as it emerged in the days following, I learned instead was a great city trying to be strong enough to support a country that just needed to grieve and cope with a profound loss. The theme of “Never Forget” became a cliché in my world, but it was far from that for the folks of New York and New Jersey. It was a curse and a prayer: “Dear Lord, I want to put this day out of my mind forever, but the memories just won’t erase. And the pain that numbs as time passes never really leaves completely. As you bore your cross, please help me bear this one.”

I am proud of my Angeleno heritage, and wouldn’t change it for the world. But today, I wish to forsake it so that I might stand more closely with my brothers and sisters of New York and New Jersey. I only spent a year there, so I won’t pretend to understand the entirety or complexity of emotions felt on this anniversary, but I have a better idea now than I did 12 years ago. Though I can’t be there with you, know that in Nebraska there’s a little piece of New Jersey in my heart that because of you will Never Forget.

Jeff Peak
Assistant Director
Creighton Center for Service and Justice

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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Forgiveness

Haley Warren

“If we believe terrorists are past redemption, we should just rip up like 1/2 the New Testament because it was written by one.” –Shane Claiborne

A few weeks ago, I heard a talk by Shane Claiborne. For those of you who don’t know, Shane is a peace activist who advocates for non-violence on a personal and societal level. He believes in, and promotes, forgiveness because he truly believes that, “Grace has the power to dull even the sharpest sword.”
Today I did a little experiment. I typed in “Boston Bombings” on Google, and to no surprise, all of the articles I found started by talking about the bombing suspects, and the investigation to find out who we can punish for this act. When an act of terror occurs, the media focuses all of its energy on who did the act and how those people will pay for what they’ve done. It emphasizes the type of justice that involves finding a punishment that will harm the person who did the crime as much as that person harmed others. It’s all about that person getting a fair penalty for their crime. Our justice system does not emphasize forgiveness, but rather emphasizes people paying for their mistakes.

There is a quote on a poster that I’ve seen in many places around campus. It says, “All religions believe in justice.” However, the type of justice this is referring to is not the type that we observe in our criminal justice system in the states. While our system is discriminatory and revolves around profits and punishment, the justice of faith traditions is about love and forgiveness.

Trying to have someone see how they have hurt us or someone else, or trying to control how someone will act in the future, has nothing to do with forgiveness. The World English Dictionary defines “forgive” as to free from the obligation of. Forgiveness grants the person we are forgiving freedom. It grants them the freedom that they were born with a part of their human dignity. Forgiveness is not something that should be based off of what a person will do for us in the future or how they will change. Rather, forgiveness is a gift that should be given to everyone, and that everyone should receive as part of their dignity.

As Shane Claiborne says, “All of us are better than the worst thing we’ve done.” We are all human, and everyone makes mistakes. Some of those mistakes are small, and some of those are much bigger. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter; because God forgives everyone, and in our journey to be more like him, we should strive to forgive everyone as well.

By forgiving people for the wrongs they have done, we are not excusing the pain they have caused. I wish that whoever bombed the Boston marathon, had never felt the need to do so. But I also know that people cause others pain and suffering when they are in pain or are suffering. Humans hurt other humans when they don’t feel loved, or when they are craving attention. What if when violent acts occurred, we reached out those who had committed the act? What if we told them that we forgive them, and embraced them unconditionally instead of shunning them and dehumanizing them? What if we loved them regardless of how much they hurt us? How would that person react? Do you think we’d be getting to the root of what caused the problem in the first place-namely that the person didn’t feel loved? I do. We should all strive to forgive those who wrong us. Because we are all human, we all make mistakes, we are all imperfect. And regardless of our faults, God loves us, and in doing so, he calls us to love one another.

So even though forgiveness is one of the hardest things for us to do, I believe we are called to try and forgive everyone regardless of what they have done. Every person deserves to be loved, every human being is inherently good, and everyone has the potential to find redemption. Yes, forgiveness is hard, but, as Shane Claiborne says, “Every time, we can find the courage to love, when we want to hate.”

Haley Warren
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
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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Remembering Today

Amal shares her dream with the group.An excerpt from John O’Donohue’s poem “For the Traveler”
“When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home.”

Sometimes it feels as though the only way to be completely present in life is to travel and temporarily break-up from the current life we live. Being in a college environment where we are repeatedly asked questions regarding our plans for the future only adds to the difficulty of experiencing the present as it is given. Having to constantly think of and plan for the future, we sometimes forget to appreciate the present and all that surrounds us. We forget to travel outside our daily routines and do something that truly touches our hearts and connects us to nature and other human beings. Over the Easter weekend, I ventured outside my daily routines and spent some time having intentional conversations with friends and family and acknowledging the natural world that I live in. I had not realized how long it had been since I had paid attention to the ducks quacking or the changing colors of the clouds in the sky. I was reminded that I do not need to travel far to be present in today.

Amal Barre
Class of 2014
College of Arts and Sciences
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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