Tag Archives: God

10-A Letter to Posterity

Ugandan children posing when we started to take pictures at Kigunga Catholic Church

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is. It’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to, but it doesn’t really.

And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along. Something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel whole, something to make you feel loved. And the truth is, I feel so angry, and the truth is, I feel so f—ing sad, and the truth is, I’ve felt so f—ing hurt for so f—ing long and for just as long I’ve been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why. Maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own.

Well, f— everybody. Amen.”

This heart-wrenching sentiment comes from Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman. It is as close to a representation of a thought I think a refugee would have. It gives me great hope. When I visited the settlements, most of the refugees didn’t feel this way. Even though they faced the worst possible parts of God’s plan, they didn’t come to despair and bitterness. Hope was still alive.

Of all the principles I’ve seen here, love is the greatest. Even though there is so much differentiating us from them, they welcomed us with open hearts. In every settlement we went to they gave us beautiful performances that showed us their wounded heart is still beating. Most of the people whom we smiled at gave a warmer smile back. The children would follow us as if we had been in the village since they were born. It is this love in the midst of such hardship where I found God dwelling among His people. As Jesus said, love your enemy. In the hearts of these refugees, I could see the word made flesh. They didn’t become like the enemy and turn to hate, but have moved on and are trying to improve their life. In the schools and settlements, we learned that there is a mixture of tribes. This has allowed them to get past tribalism and see the humanity in each other. Such a vision of love goes beyond the explanation of psychology, sociology, and all the other -ologies.

While I have been in Uganda, I have been inspired by the refugee’s faith. After seeing their homes burned, family members killed, and children starved, the refugees still have a faith with a burning intensity that is unquenchable. Instead of turning to nihilism, these people have clung ever stronger to their faith. Their Masses are hours long, there is “God” written on many signs, and the name of Jesus has power here. Their faith is where they find hope. Their whole identity has been destroyed, and their tattered family serves as a reminder. They have become strangers in a strange land. Their faith is their only hope that things will get better. I can see from the way they talk about God that His word is writ on their hearts. Their faith is where they draw the strength to forgive and pursue a future. My experience has shown me that their religion forms the bedrock of their identity. Dumbfounded by such faith, I had to ask Sharon, a radio host and journalist who we interviewed, what do the South Sudanese think about why God allows such suffering. She said that suffering is just a test. We know God loves us and it is just the devil that is trying to tempt us through suffering. We hear God loves us on the radio, TV, and in person everywhere.

If Jesus came here, there wouldn’t be much change. Not because the settlements are so holy but because Jesus focused on eternal life. He didn’t free the Israelites from Rome. Even though he criticized the scribes and the Pharisees, he never overthrew them. Instead, he got crucified by them without protest. The way Jesus focuses on the next world gives me great hope. If the King of the universe lived on earth, he didn’t change the political, social, nor economic structures. He changed hearts. I don’t have to try and fight all these structures that will crumble under their own weight of wickedness. I have to be like Jesus and help my neighbor through small acts with great love. After all, he died on a cross after being abandoned by his followers, and he is still worshiped today. You don’t have to change 7 billion people. If you change one person, you change the world ( Butterfly Effect). The one-person changes another who changes another. Before you know it, you were a small yet integral piece in the big change.

Some may think the refugees are useless and a burden, but they aren’t. When I see these human being insulted, I see it as an insult to the whole of humanity. A refugee is a human being who is searching for a future after they have been forced from their home. Just like any other human being, they want to protect their family and give a future for their children. Just like any other human being, they want their human dignity back through simple acts like listening to their story. Unlike every human being, even though they have nothing, they still give what little they have. The richness of humanity amidst such poverty could make the hardest heart soft.

The situation for the refugees is like the night. It is a dark time for them where they cannot see very well. There are stars to guide them, but these don’t provide enough light such that there is no darkness. Although the night is quite terrible, it is not permanent. There will be change. I can already see the crack of dawn. These refugees are coming to Uganda to build their future. One great sign of the passing night is the settlements themselves. They are far better now than they were five years ago. Now when refugees come, the UNHCR has a very systematic and organized way to assist the refugees. There is change for the better whether we realize it or not. Coming to Uganda for 18 days, I have found the solution to the refugee crisis. The solution is time. It might take one year or 300 years, but it will get there eventually.

Even though we aren’t directly intervening in the lives of the refugees, this documentary is a still doing a lot of good. Herbert, our guide, has said that just our very presence means everything to these people. They are powerless and stereotyped. The fact that a bunch of students from around the globe came to see what their life was like and share their stories with others really means a lot to the refugees. Humanizing their struggles gives them a level of humanity that has been stripped from them by their government. It acknowledges that people care about them. I could feel it in the interview. They would show it throughout our whole time with them. For me, this time that I have spent with them was priceless, it was life changing.

9-Plato’s Allegory of the Tomb

Sign before going to our rooms at hotel in Moyo

According to Elon Musk, it is easier to create another civilization on Mars than to prevent a third world war on Earth. The Mars path requires a revolution in technology, while the Earth path requires a revolution in human nature. I agree with Musk.

When I hear about the atrocities of war, I am filled with disgust. I think I feel disgust because I can’t imagine how could someone stoop to such bestial levels. However, the real reason I’m in disgust is because I know that I would do no differently if I was in their position. The thick veneer of comfort deludes me from the Lord of the Flies. I have been born in the lap of luxury. I have been born into the wealthiest .5% of the earth. I want to justify my position, feel like I responsible for it. I want to say that I would never sink to the levels of the 99th percentile because I am better, that is why I have been so blessed. But, if I had been born in their position, I would be no different. If my whole family was born so poor that my father makes less than a dollar a day, and one day a war breaks out where my whole family is killed except for me, and I find a pinch of solace in a militia because at least they feed me, and I feel powerful for the first time when I hold a gun to a women not much different from my mother, and I see how I can make her do whatever I want; I see how I have another human beings’ undivided attention for the first time, then do I finally feel important; I finally feel like a human being.

Everything in Africa is giant: the land, the humanity, and the suffering.

God

God gave gifts that I am supposed to use to help others. But how can my limited gifts hinder the limitless evil springing from human nature. Life is but one long wailing cry into the silence of the universe. How can good survive such irrepressible evil?

For a long time, I have struggled with the question of evil and suffering. I have always gone to the book of Job and said I have no idea what I’m doing. God is God. I could never understand his plan. Today I see the worst details of that almighty plan: starvation, rape, genocide, etc. Most of these people are forced into these conditions. A child didn’t willingly say they wanted to see their whole family being murdered in front of their eyes. I don’t know if I can say to that child, God allowed your whole family to be murdered in front of your innocent eyes because it is part of a bigger plan. God loves you even though he just let this happen. In that case, what differentiates God from Hitler?

If Jesus came down from Heaven today and walked among these people, he would be crucified again. He is the King of the universe yet won’t save these people from their suffering. He might restore the legs of those who stepped on a landmine. He might tell the orphan children that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. But when the people ask for him to end the war so that hundreds of thousands more will be spared, will he deny them? Yes, for his Kingdom is not of this Earth. How can a single mother who has to hear the cries of her starving children submit to such a King? Will she and the thousands of other victims of the crisis not want to persecute such an imposter? Are these the bones that form the foundation of the Kingdom of God?

Does God really exist? How can he be omnipotent and loving but let such unnecessary, unredeemable evil to exist? This is a crime no punishment can justify. Baptism means nothing in the face of such evil. Good is nothing but a tool of evil.

Sheath your anger o powerless! It is not Christ’s fault, but our own! What good would it be to kill this unblemished scapegoat? God is not omnipotent. Jesus could not transform the hearts of the Pharisees. God can’t stop the war. He can’t save us from ourselves. God doesn’t need to create another flood. Our own wickedness forms an ocean that will drowns us all. We have created our own flood that will bury every olive branch! We have put nuclear weapons, the power to destroy our own world, in the hands of lizard brained apes.

Faith?

Would you, the refugee, trade places with me? Not know God and have no problems on earth or know God and have the worst suffering on earth? If you choose to trade places, do you truly have faith, or is your faith just a coping mechanism for your incredibly irrational suffering. Is faith just a function of need? The lower one’s need, the less one’s faith. It gives the illusion of control back to the powerless. In a world drowning in uncertainty, faith parts the sea of uncertainty and creates a rock of certainty that one can walk on.

American mindset

I am unwittingly American. The American mindset is so deeply entrenched in my perspective of the world, I was determining good and evil through its lens.

I was looking at the world through a materialist lens. People here live in huts, bad. People here don’t have air conditioning, bad. People use second hand clothes, bad. I was judging the world through American culture. Even worse, I wanted to bring people into this materialist consciousness. I had firsthand experience that American life was good. I forgot there are other ways of living that are good. I have not been seeing Africa but a twisted version of reality where everything is wrong. The people here aren’t backwards. It was my thinking that is backwards. Something isn’t backwards just because it is different from American culture.

If I look at the world from a Christian perspective instead of a materialist perspective, I discover that Uganda is a country far richer than the US. Most Americans are indifferent, insecure, have a deeper hungry, lack gratitude, and turn in on oneself. Faith in Uganda is blazing while it is flickering in the US. What do I say to the refugee? I say you are rich. You are blinded by the world, by America’s materialistic fantasy. You don’t need to come to America to be happy.

If you have one friend, you are richer than a king.

America

Seeing it as America’s fault shields the true criminals. All the corrupt politicians become like innocent sheep. Moreover, seeing it as America’s fault dehumanizes the local people. They need America’s help and can’t help themselves. It recreates the image of the white man’s burden. All the NGO activity creates a soft imperialism. It mitigates the effects of the crisis which simultaneously allows the cause to perpetuate. It creates a dependency.

The evil we see is blinding. How can we find a good solution? Do we know the good solution? Are we God? We were born in America by chance. Do you think we know the answers? Do you think we can save you?

All earthly transactions are in terms of problems. You exchange one set of problems for another set of problems. There is no solution with no set of problems. Such is the human heart that it can make a hell out of Eden. Some blame original sin while others blame the evolutionary baggage.

To a refugee

What I would say to a refugee? Your dream is to come to America and fulfill your dreams. Let’s say it happens, then what? Do you help other refugees or are you just helping yourself? If you want to help other refugees, you don’t need to come to the US. Just turn around and you can help. If you are helping yourself, it is understandable. Almost all people want to help themselves and their families. But, why should I choose you over the other refugees?

Nevertheless, you will probably have to stay here in Uganda. You probably won’ be able to fulfill your dreams. That’s great! As Nick Vujicic said, if you don’t get the miracle, you can be the miracle for someone else. You don’t have to fulfill your dreams. You can become a teacher. Maybe one day you inspire a student. That student fulfills their dream and tells you about it. Maybe if you two had the same dream, then the student can let you see what living the dream was like. For example, if you dream of being a pilot, then maybe the student becomes a pilot and lets your fly one day. That seems more probable. That seems better in the long term.

Even if you come to America, dreams don’t always come true. Hollywood is made of fantasy, not reality. The world doesn’t care about you. You can have talent like Van Gogh or brains like Tesla and end up penniless on the street. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Time will reduce your struggles into at most, a page of an encyclopedia, then a footnote, and then you will be like the rest of us who have gone before you, irretrievably forgotten.

It is a lie that we are of all inestimable value. Tell that to the business man, tell that to the president, tell that to the chef, tell that to the innkeeper. Our value is based on scarcity, division, and judgement. Look up at the stars at night. If one of those stars is gone, the world won’t notice. It’ not just you that doesn’t matter, it is also me and everyone else. You are just one of 1.4 million refugees in Uganda, one of 7.4 billion people, 7×1027 atoms of 1080 atoms in the universe.

Hope

Hope is the most valuable and scarce resource in my mind. The South Sudanese civil war doesn’t seem like it will end soon according to everyone I talked to. Even when it does, it will have created a lost generation. Even in Uganda, which seems stable in comparison to South Sudan, there is a dictatorship and rampant corruption. There is peace now, but what will happen when the dictator dies? Will there be a struggle for power?

Regardless of war, life is still not good in Uganda. Those below the age of 30 make up 78% of the population but had a 64% unemployment rate in 2012. The low supply and high demand of jobs means wages are low. The low wages mean people are just getting by. They can’t save to improve their life. All their money is spent on things they need to survive. A perfect example of this is the teachers. Some teachers in Uganda get payed $150 a month for working 12 hours a day. They have too many students face many struggles like a lack of scholastic materials. There are many people willing to take their job, and they might not be able to find another job.

In the background, tribalism lurks every ready to be stirred. Individuals do terrible things and are rightly criticized. But, the corrupt individuals shift the focus of the criticism on the tribe so that people don’t focus on his misdeeds. As the tribal identity card is played and emotions are stoked, tribe members get their hands dipped in blood as they violently act out their anger.  It isn’t hard for these corrupt individuals to play on the people’s frustration with their poverty and blame it on tribalism. The only way to feel powerful is through uniting. In the end, everyone becomes pawns in the hands of powerful people. In Africa, there is a phrase that goes, when elephants fight, the grass dies. The people are the grass. Even if they don’t die, they can get traumatized by the experience which creates problems far beyond the safety of the Ugandan border. Some can never feel safe again.

Me

How deluded can I be to call myself a good person? I see a bloated stomach and emaciated skeleton walking in front of me. How many times have I wasted food? How can I call myself good when I see such evil and decide to watch Netflix? I am a bystander. I tell the adult, God, about the bullying happening to this child in Uganda. Why does God let this happen to thousands of children a day? Why does God turn the other cheek?

My comfort is built on their misery. I am able to enjoy cheap products and food that I can throw away thanks to these people who have nothing, not even food. I might as well have just worn a shirt saying “I’m in the 1%, f— you”. It would have been more honest than wearing an orange shirt which doesn’t show the disparity between me and the rest of the world.

What differentiates me from these refugees? Privileges? Indeed, I am no difference from these people except by chance. These privileges make me feel like I have a responsibility to help underprivileged people. However, these privileges that I enjoy mean nothing. They can’t help anyone except myself. I find my Messiah-complex prideful and erroneous. I can’t save anyone. Helping others gives me a position of power. If I cannot help the starving child, then I have no power. I am as useful as a rock. I might as well not even be alive. I wish I were a blade of grass so that I wouldn’t hurt anyone. The only animals that make food of us are maggots. All other animals can’t stand the corruption of our flesh.

Conclusion

Although I realize this on an intellectual level, I don’ understand it in my heart. I am still crushed when a person asks me for help and I cannot give it to them. I wonder how God feels?

Peace in the valley

image
The wall

Located in the valley of a desert, Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora is a place where hardships are suffered but the light of God shines. It is a land of harsh heat during the days and cool, brisk nights. The sun is ablaze at high noon and the stars shine bright during the stillness of night.

I have witnessed first hand from migrants the difficult journey that they have embarked on. I have shed tears with them, I have laughed with them, I have prayed with them. I have walked along a portion of where they walk in order to cross the border. I see their faith lift up not only their own spirits but their brothers and sisters around them. I do not think I have ever witnessed God’s wondrous works in such a way that I have witnessed in this border town.

On a long drive back to our house tonight, I couldn’t help but reflect on my life. From as far back as I can remember to the present, the amount of blessings and opportunities I have been given is humbling. The support of my parents and family is unreal. I would not be the person I am today with out my friends, neighbors, classmates, teachers, and family. I want to thank all of you who read my blogs and for the comments and prayers. I really do appreciate the support especially on this part of my journey.

Sitting here, looking up to the stars shining bright on this suffering earth I feel hopeful that one day this world, this country, this Nogales will be a better and safer land. Many people we have interviewed talk about the youth of the world. I can see what they mean by how the youth of this world are our hope. Looking into the eyes of my fellow classmates and others that I come across, I see the hope, the vision, and the will to make our world better. My hope is to tear down barriers of race, gender, religions, and countries. The wall that stands no more than 5 miles from where I am right now is a symbol of a corrupt, divided human race.

Even in the shadows of the mountains around, God is here in the people of Nogales. You can see it in theirs smiles, their eyes, and their attitude towards life. People here do not have that much but what they do have is God and for many, that is what sustains them. The migrants especially have this sense of strength and hope that radiates off of them. It amazes me how strong in faith they are even in life’s toughest situations. They still believe and trust in God.

Cross painted by migrant
Cross painted by migrant

My prayer is for these migrants who risk all they have to try and live a better life. For the world and all of its cuts and wounds that bleed and blister. For an end to all divisions and divides that cast shadows on the earth. And for the strength and courage that I see in the people of Nogales and the migrants who pass through it.  Amen.

Morning at the Comedor

Vulture in our backyard in Nogales, Arizona
Vulture in our backyard in Nogales, Arizona

This morning we met with Joanna Williams who took us to the Comedor in Mexico. I was very surprised how easy it is to get into Mexico. All we did was walk along the sidewalk until we were in Nogales, Mexico. We didn’t have to show a passport or even talk to a single person. The lines for vehicles were very long to get into the United States because people wanted to get to work.

Once we got to the Comedor, eight of us went inside to help with breakfast and eight went into Nogales. I stayed and helped with breakfast which was a great experience. After making the plates and serving them I talked to a man who is from Mexico City.

Joanna was helping me translate because i know very little Spanish and the man I met knows no English. He was telling me how he left his home because his weekly wage went down $20 US dollars. I asked where he worked and he said he was a welder for a automobile company. He worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week.

He arrived in Nogales two days ago. He has family in Sacramento and Florida but neither would help him and his family back home. He decided that his conditions back home weren’t good enough for his 2 daughters. He didn’t tell his daughters that he was attempting to cross the border. He only said that he was going to a near by city. I asked where he gets his strength from and he told me his daughters are his joy and world. He told me, “God’s greatest gift to me was my daughters and I love them.”

He hopes to cross the border once he can get enough money to hire a guide. Saying goodbye to him was sad in a way because I will probably never see him again and also because I will never know if he will make it across the border. I was also filled with inspiration because he made a 2 day journey by bus, alone, in order to get to this point. Hearing about how the Mexican authorities in both Mexico City and a town just south of Nogales would stop him and search him and how he had to pay them 100 pesos not to get in trouble and another 100 pesos to help him. This is just a snippet of one persons story. There are hundreds if not thousands more that never get told. I hope to keep you all posted on these stories and more that I come across.

Waves of emotion

Like I said in my reflection in class today… I can’t believe today is Friday already!  This week has flown by so fast.  Coming into this week I had fears that we were going to have 9 hour days full of lectures.  In reality, we have had some lectures but the majority of the time has been devoted to hands on education.  From learning the basics of filming to setting up interviews, it has been a hectic but enjoyable week in the classroom.

So far I have had mixed emotions about this project.  From the moment I signed up for backpack journalism I have been excited to be behind the camera.  That is where I feel the most comfortable and have the most experience. But interviewing is something I am a little nervous about.  I have absolutely no experience in journalism so having the opportunity to interview someone down at the border is terrifying to me.  I would really like to give it a try so hopefully I will have enough courage to step outside of my comfort zone and do it.

One of my biggest fears is going all the way down there and not doing justice to the people of Nogales.  We have tremendous power as journalists in portraying situations and in forming opinions.  It is our duty to tell the truth and not to mix the message of the people of Nogales and the surrounding area.

We talked in class about how you can feel a sense of guilt when going into areas of poverty.  The thought has crossed my mind but I feel that it is my duty as a privileged person to tell their story in a way that is not harmful or misleading.  We also talked about how everyone in the class is in the top .8% of the world’s wealthiest people.  This comes with tremendous power that can be used for doing good or bad.  It will be interesting to see what I am feeling throughout this journey.  The experience in and of itself will be beneficial for me both mentally and spiritually.  We are going down to the border to present a story and to depict the reality of life on the border and of the immigrants who cross it.  To see their daily struggles up close and personal will be a life changing experience.

With all of these emotions and fears, how will I stay strong through this journey?  My answer is simple.

God.

The one who died on the cross and who forgave our sins is my confidence.  I have had times in my life where I didn’t think things would ever get better but through it all God was always there.  My past experiences are part of the reason why I am considering being a theology teacher.

Another reason for my confidence are my classmates.  I know that we all have each other’s back and if I needed help with something someone would be there.  The community that we have built is already good but I am excited to see how far we will go.

I will be going somewhat off the grid for the next two weeks.  Besides the blogs I will be writing and the occasional check in with my parents I will not be using my phone.  I believe this experience will be enhanced greatly without our first world distractions.

I hope you all keep up with our journey as we embark tomorrow morning on our own pilgrimage to Nogales, Arizona and Nogales Sonora.

Note:  CU backpack journalism now has a Snapchat!! Not only can you read our blogs on this website but you can also follow us on Snapchat.  Below is the QR code.

CU Backpack Journalism official Snapchat
Official CU Backpack Journalism Snapchat