Tag Archives: faith

On Suffering

Image taken from Flickr.
I would like to pretend that every day in Africa has been a joyful one, that I always manage to encounter a light in addition to the dark suffering I’ve witnessed from the South Sudanese refugees and the Ugandan people. I wish I had it in me to continue sharing inspiring stories or silly impressions from my Backpack Journalism journey, but I find myself struggling to write such cheery entries authentically. I’m sure my friends and family are curious about why I’ve been so silent while the other Backpack Journalism students have been so diligent with their posts.
The truth is that whenever I attempt to update my blog or articulate my emotions, I feel a shadow growing over my mind, darkening my every thought. I cannot blame Africa for my depression, although my emotions have been compromised after listening to the trauma experienced by refugees during their flight from conflict, as well as the troubling social conditions that reinforce human rights violations against women and children. I am trying not to let sadness overwhelm me, but there is a dull ache in my heart that keeps thwarting my efforts. It’s as if I need to learn — all over again — that the grieving process is out of my control.
On Wednesday morning, one of my childhood friends killed in a car accident near Creighton University. She was such a bright and spirited individual, with a heart that beat for social justice, a mind that cracked with humor, and a smile that lit up the entire room. Now she is gone.
Her death devastated us. Many friends from Omaha and Folsom alike are still reeling from shock, and to me, the tragedy is inconceivable. I’ve been stuck in a foreign country gathering bits and pieces of information where I can, and regretting that I couldn’t be there for the vigil or the funeral. It almost doesn’t feel real. A part of me still imagines that I’ll see her walking around campus once I return from Uganda.
I’ve thought about suffering a lot these last few days. It seems to follow us everywhere. It’s in the children whose stomachs are bloated with hunger; it’s in the eyes of the Northern Ugandans who remember the horrors inflicted by the Lord’s Resistance Army throughout the region; it’s in the words of the displaced refugee who has lost everything; it’s in the activists who know that the most vulnerable (women and girls) are perceived only as commodities, not equals. And it’s back home where we’re mourn lost loved ones.
Whenever we interview refugees or the people who work closely with them, we always ask how they reconcile with God in the midst of their suffering. Most Eastern Africans are deeply religious, so the question is always one they eagerly respond to, although their answers all differ. Some say  God is not responsible for the world’s suffering and that humans are to blame for the tragedies that befall us. Others argue that Satan tests our faith by striking us with disease or violence. There’s the popular theory that all suffering is evil and will continue if we don’t obey God. It all feels very Old Testament.
I don’t think it’s possible to make sense of suffering. There isn’t a rhyme or reason. There isn’t a way you can end it for everybody. It just is.
Still, one conviction about suffering remains consistent no matter who you speak to here: God is there, experiencing it with you. The Africans say that He does not abandon us when we suffer. They say that He feels your pain and stays with you, even after the darkness has been lifted. They say that if you trust God is there, you will still find a glimmer of hope in a sea of suffering. And in a sense, there is comfort in believing that I am not alone.
I am suffering quietly. I will feel it, and I will trust that God is there with me.

Cultivating Change

While I pack my bag for the final time, I think about the things I am bringing home with me. I am not only bringing home several bumper stickers that support the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office or a beautiful cross painted by one of the migrants. I am bringing home the stories, the smells, the exciting and disappointing events of this trip. I am bringing home the seeds of change as one of our interviewees so eloquently put it.

These seeds are perhaps the greatest gift because they grow each time they are planted. Every time our group tells a story or shows our film, we are cultivating change. And like any plant, the seeds we sow must be tended to; therefore our group must never grow complacent. A difficult task in Nebraska, so far from the border and its problems, but the people we’ve encountered while on this trip will undoubtedly stay with us for the rest of our lives. Their stories will guard against our complacency and motivate us to continually agitate for change.

The group (although not all pictured) enjoyed one last day in Arizona at the Patagonia State Park on Thursday.
The group (although not all pictured) enjoyed one last day in Arizona at the Patagonia State Park on Thursday.

As a writer whenever I am surrounded by people with such fascinating and heart-wrenching stories it’s difficult not to write about them in some form. But in the context of a blog I struggle to pen even one story because their depth beyond what I can encompass successfully in 500 words. In addition because I cannot separate my emotions from these stories it is impossible for me to accurately compose them for a general audience. Maybe one day I will be able to write about them with enough emotional distance to be coherent, but for now their sheer intensity is so overwhelming I am unable to do them justice.

As a videographer (although I certainly wouldn’t call myself that) I have learned to capture reality in its raw emotional state while contributing to a project I hope will plant seeds of change. I am proud of our group for the massive stockpile of footage that we have collected together in expectation of creating this documentary. And I am proud because I know that this group has worked hard over the past two weeks to illuminate the dark side of immigration in the United States.

As a person I have learned that hope is something both fragile and resilient. There is hope for reform along the border, even if the road to it is long and arduous. The people at the Kino Border Initiative inspire me to believe in the idea of humane migration as a possibility because they hold onto hope with the tenacious grip of faith.

In short planting seeds of change is a slow process that yields bountiful rewards to those who tend them. Each person, each discussion, each hot desert hike, waters the seeds and cultivates change.

A Human Being

Today I met a man while visiting the Kino Border Initiative’s Comedor in Nogales, Mexico. The Comedor is a place where migrants who have been deported back to Mexico can go to get a couple of hot meals twice a day, as well as any other help and assistance that they may need. It’s a place of refuge for those who have no where else to turn after they’ve lost everything, and it’s filled with volunteers who care greatly about each individual and do their best to make them feel important. The inside of the Comedor is covered with posters that all start with “Tengo derecho a…”, stating the rights that everyone in that room deserves to have. The people who work at KBI do everything they can to make sure those who were deported understand they have these rights, and help them share their stories of the trials they’ve faced resulting in them being back in Mexico.

The entrance into Mexico in Nogales, with the Kino Border Initiative Comedor located to the bottom left underneath the sign
The entrance into Mexico in Nogales, with the Kino Border Initiative Comedor located to the bottom left underneath the sign

Today I had a conversation with someone who kindly pulled me off to the side away from another conversation I was listening to. The first thing he said to me wasn’t to ask my name, or to ask how I was doing. Instead, the first thing he did was shake my hand, look me in the eyes, and ask: “Are you a Christian?” I was somewhat caught off guard by this question, not expecting this to be the beginning of our conversation. I hesitated for a moment in answering him: I haven’t been a practicing Catholic since I was in middle school, and even then I never really considered myself a devout Christian. But given the fact that this was the very first thing this man asked me, I knew he must care deeply about his faith, and was looking for someone to discuss the matter.

Today I lied to man about my faith and answered him with a smile: “Yes, I am a Christian.” He immediately began to confide in me, and we dove into conversation for the next several minutes. His name was Francisco, and he had been in Nogales for the past 2 weeks. He was separated from his wife Roxanne, who was stilling living in the United States, about 3 months ago after he was detained and deported back to Mexico. His son, Daniel, is currently living with his sister in a city 8 hours away from Nogales, and hasn’t seen him in awhile either; he missed his 7th birthday in the middle of April, and wished that he could have been there to see him. His son will be taken to his wife later in the month, since he has all of his legal documents, as does everyone else in his family but him.

Today I saw the personification of determination in Francisco. Despite everything that has happened to him, he kept assuring me that he would see his wife and son again. “I know I’ll get my paperwork soon, and I can see my family again. I know it’s possible with God.” He asked me to pray for him and his family, and to keep them all in my thoughts. He also told me to pray for everything else in this similar situation. “I’m not the only one going through this; there are so many others that are going through different things, and they all have their own story.” And he was right: just earlier in the Comedor we heard stories of other migrants who were just recently deported and what had happened to them. Some tried to hitch rides on a train but fell off, almost dying. Some tried to walk through the desert, only to be detained after the grueling journey defeated them with dehydration and exhaustion. All different people with different stories and different backgrounds.

Today I heard but one example out of hundreds of thousands of stories about the hardships migrants face when it comes to finding a better life. I saw how much his faith mattered to him that he would ask me, someone he believed to be a Christian, to pray for not just him, but for all other migrants facing the many different facets of injustice. I admired his devotion to his religion, that he can have so much faith in God and still be so optimistic to see his family again, and ask of others to have faith in his mission as well.

Today I prayed for a man after years of not practicing any religion, in genuine hope that he will see his family again.

Today I met one man out of so many others who just want to reach a better life across the border.

Today I met a human being.

Faith That Does Justice? Faith in Injustice?

After 72 hours of backpack journalism bootcamp, I lie in my bed absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed at how much information we’ve received, but confident that we’re making notable progress.

So far, we’ve spent some time learning about the art and technique of videography, foundations of feature writing, and introductory theology. More than anything, I feel as though today marks a huge turning point — the foundation has been set, and it’s time now to dive in.

We all have the skills now to “fake it ’til we make it” and from this point forward, I feel as though we’ll be applying these last three days of information constantly, pushing ourselves to live and breathe light meters, to begin to raise questions about our own personal definition of church, and to think about how to ask those same questions of others in a respectful but intentional manner.

Much to my surprise, I’m pretty excited to see how the theology class ties into our project. I was expecting videography training, dos and don’ts of interviewing, and a crash course in good storytelling, but the biggest curveball for me so far has been wrapping my head around tying theology into our agenda.

We’re working our way towards a better understanding of ecclesiology — the study of church. Specifically, we’ll be discussing the definition of church within the context of border culture in Nogales.

This past fall, my understanding of church expanded tenfold when I was blessed with an opportunity to travel to Philadelphia to join a million and a half others in celebrating Pope Francis’s visit to the US. As we held hands and recited the Our Father, giving each other peace in the streets of downtown Philadelphia, I had goosebumps witnessing faith and mass ritual bring people from all over the world together in prayer. My own definition of church changed that day, and I’m looking forward to seeing how migrant culture challenges that even further.

Christian traditions are practiced all over the world, but with each culture brings a new interpretation and understanding of faith and community. As we continue to prepare ourselves technically and emotionally for this border immersion experience, I have found myself newly ecstatic to experience and absorb a new and different definition of “church,” as understood by the people of Nogales.

In the midst of such trial, transiency, and systematic injustice, how do migrants keep their faith? How do those serving humanitarian purposes in that area find strength to keep working towards a distant goal? How do those negatively affected by an increasing number of immigrants strive to live like Christ?