The last few days I have been helping the Jesuit Commons -- Higher Education at the Margins project by scoring some admissions essays. These essays were written by residents at the Kakuma refugee camp in Northern Kenya, and Dzaleka refugee camp, in Malawi. The candidates are applying to a Diploma in Liberal Studies program offered by one of the Jesuit schools, in a collaborative effort among all of the American Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
Though I cannot divulge any of the content from the admissions essays, I do think that the question which the potential students must address says a lot about today’s readings (and vice versa). The question asks candidates to comment upon a quote from past President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania:
“Those who receive this privilege therefore, have a duty to repay the sacrifice which others have made. They are like the man who has been given all the food available in a starving village in order that he might have strength to bring supplies back from a distant place. If he takes this food and does not bring help to his brothers, he is a traitor. Similarly, if any of the young men and women who are given an education by the people of this republic adopt attitudes of superiority, or fail to use their knowledge to help the development of this country, then they are betraying our union.”
In today's first reading, two very different scenarios are laid out for us. The first scenario is mayhem: Burials, loud lament, and men and women dragged out of their homes to eventual imprisonment. The second scenario: Healing, relief from unclean spirits, curing, and great joy all around.
Which scenario would we choose to work within for our own ministries? Most of us would likely choose the second one. All of us want to perform our ministries in places where peace reigns, where our efforts are appreciated, and where we are most effective. We want to bask in the joy.
How many of us would choose to live and work in the scenario where the very act of ministering to God's people puts us in physical danger?
I think about the refugees who have written the essays I've been reading. Certainly, their experiences have been more of the former. They have been dragged out of their homes -- literally or figuratively -- and are eking out a meager existence in a camp just to survive. The expectation will be, once they have received the education for which they are applying, that they must return to their people and help in any way they are able.
This all brings back to mind a young man – a Jesuit scholastic – that I once knew many years ago. We studied and broke bread together, and shared many a laugh and a good time. I had lost track of him a few years after he returned to his native country in South America. Then I heard he had died. He had "fallen" off the roof of a building.
Education can be hazardous to one's health, especially if that person follows the advice of President Nyerere.
Perhaps the question is not, "which scenario would I choose," but rather, "which scenario does the Lord choose for me?" And: "If the Lord chose the first scenario for me, would I answer His call and accept it?"
For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in peaceful places like the U.S., it seems there is not much we can do for those who are less fortunate. But there is always something we can do. I got the idea of scoring the admissions essays by following one of the projects in the Jesuit Commons Website. There are dozens of other such projects there. Perhaps there is one that might strike you as particularly compelling.