i recently read a reflection written by one of my dearest friends, Charles Mansour, a resident minister at USD, who recently arrived back to the US from serving two years in Micronesia with Jesuit Volunteers International (JVI). this is only an excerpt from the 30-minute talk he had written, but after reading the moving testimony, i just had to share at least a portion.
this then gave me space to reflect on the Body of Christ (Community) witness talk that i gave my senior year of college at USD, an i am reminded of the scripture i ended with:
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.We are a part of one another. -1 Corinthians 12:26
and with that, here’s the excerpt:
|Charles and our other friends as them embark on the Camino
I did the Camino Santiago de Compostela with a few friends of mine after I finished my domestic volunteer work with the Providence Alliance of Catholic Teachers. The Camino is pilgrimage and was intended to be for us a 15 mile per day month long journey of walking and prayer, a way to encounter God in a deeply challenging (physically, mentally, and spiritually) avenue. The experience taught me a lot about myself, one thing being that your body is not made to walk for 15 miles a day for that long a time, but we managed. A real lesson I’ve learned over and over again is just how limited my concept of love and service really is.
Here we were, these great, faithful, servants of Christ, on a spiritual journey, committing ourselves to deeply exploring our faith for a month-long pilgrimage, and we failed to love a poor individual we encountered on the way.
One day, while we were at one of the pilgrim hostels, late at night, an elderly lady, sick and limping entered the hostel looking for a place to stay for the night. At first, since she was so late, she was almost refused, but upon seeing her desperation the landlord let her in out of pity. She wore tattered clothing, carried a purse, and was wearing plastic sandals (and there we were in our $600 gear we bought just for the camino). I looked at her and thought, there’s no way she could have walked more than 5 miles to get here. We went to bed, anxious by her presence, slightly fearful that she might rob us, or worse, try to engage us in conversation. That night she kept us up with wheezing and coughing. Great we thought, and a drug addict. Angrily, we awoke super early and departed for the next destination.
It was a short 8 mile hike, and we realized when we got there that the hostel was closed, so we had to walk an additional 12 miles to get to the next one. We arrived exhausted and ready to eat a sumptuous meal and hit the hay. During dinner, we contemplated what might have happened to the lady who kept us up all night the day before. By the time we finished up, it was pretty late and we retired to our hostel and locked the gate (we were told to open the gate for no one).
While we were sitting and laughing, we looked up and saw, to our great surprise and dismay the lady with the tattered clothes, purse, and plastic sandals had somehow made it the hostel. We were shocked, and I’m ashamed to say, we were even a little irritated. She began knocking on the door, and we began wrestling with what to do. We were told not to open the gate for anyone, since they won’t have paid for the night, and frankly, we didn’t’ want to open the gate. But how could we sit there in silence, ignoring her pleas?
A sadness overcame me when I realized just how judgmental and un-loving I was. We actually tried to ignore the knocking, and we tried to sit quietly pretending not to hear. Finally, we looked at each other and said, this isn’t right. What kind of spiritual journey were we on? How self-righteous were we? We opened the door and let her in and sat with her in silence. More out of guilt than love, we offered her a meal and tried to sit with her. Instead, she fell asleep right away and when we awoke she was gone in the morning. We never saw her again.
There’s a song that Jon Foreman from Switchfoot wrote. It’s called “Somebody’s Daughter” and it shares how every single person in this world, no matter how pitiful they end up, started as somebody’s child. I tried to imagine that woman in a flower print dress, dancing with her father in a field of grass, laughing, being and feeling loved and welcomed. Where was her father today? Who looked at her with those eyes? Who held her with those loving arms? Certainly, not me. I’ll never forget that woman, because she reminded me too clearly that I am called to see with God’s eyes and to love with God’s heart.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if with every person we encountered we challenged ourselves to see God in them, to acknowledge that they, too, are God’s children, that they are our brothers and sisters, that they are loved as much as we are, that they are as worthy as we are. Service is not just about doing things; it’s not just about getting off our lazy behinds and building houses and providing food for people; it’s about an attitude, a worldview, being a source of love that spreads to others. It’s about acknowledging our presence and place in the intricate web that is the Body of Christ.
|Charles’ backyard while serving in Micronesia
One of my greatest privileges has been my ability to travel and see the world. And I’ve taken advantage of that privilege, and the more of the world I’ve seen, the more I’ve become aware of just how much God calls me and all of us into service. There’s so many heartbreaking crises out there, and when I’ve immersed myself in them, it’s been some of the deepest healing I’ve experienced. God calls us into brokenness so He can be the one making us whole.
When I think about my time traveling on Semester at Sea, back backing around Europe, serving in Cairo and Micronesia, and even volunteering here in the States, one thing becomes increasingly clearer to me: I am called to love, and love is both a deep interior feeling but also an action. I am called to love the people here in front of me, those in my extended community, strangers, lost, forgotten, and even people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
The Body of Christ is a whole unit, and every living human is part of that unit, and we are intricately connected. I’ve often realized that one of my greatest privileges is that I can offer myself in service to the poorest of the poor for any given amount of time yet still ultimately have a choice to go back to the life that would await me here in America. That freedom, while a privilege, is a subtle reminder of the tragic disparity we face in this world, the reality that I can choose poverty or wealth while others are forced to live the lives that they were born with.
My privilege is my freedom of choice, and I pray that I always strive to use that freedom for the betterment of others.
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. We are a part of one another. –1 Corinthians 12:26