Let me set the scene. We’re out on a hill in the middle of the Alaskan tundra. The sun is just setting at 11:30 pm, and there are monstrous mosquitos flying around our huddled group. Suddenly, a Syrian man stands up, smiles, opens his arms wide as if embracing the annoying insects, and makes us all roll with laughter. This is Tony Homsy S.J.
For two weeks, Tony was in Bethel, Alaska using his photography skills to help create a documentary. Not only was he in Alaska, but he was also just about as far away from his home country of Syria as he could be. He was literally on the other side of the world.
“Funny story,” he said when I asked him why he chose to come on this trip. How Tony ended up in Alaska actually happens to be the fulfilment of a joke he made with a friend a year before. While Tony was still studying in Lebanon, his friend was studying in Paris.
“Okay, I’m going to Alaska,” Tony said when his friend started teasing him. He never thought it would actually happen. What was once a silly exaggeration became a reality when he signed up for the Backpack Journalism course about six months later.
Originally, Tony is from the largest city in Syria, known as Halab to locals and Aleppo to the rest of us. It’s been awhile since he’s seen his family in person. In fact, it was May of 2013 when he last saw is brother and July of 2012 was when he last saw his sister. Despite all of this, Tony still manages to be the most joyful person I’ve met.
“Wherever you are, live with joy.” This is what Tony told me he learned while he was in Bethel. At first, he said he was skeptical about how people could spend a part or all of their lives in Bethel. Then, he spent a day with a man named Arvin. Tony could see that, even though Arvin was living in the middle of nowhere, he was still filled with joy.
“Not because he was wealthy…just because he embraced his life.”
For the past year, Tony has been a student (more specifically, a special student as he makes sure to tell us) at Creighton studying photojournalism. Photography and journalism are not new interests for Tony. He’s been practicing for years now. For him, it’s become much more than a hobby.
“I feel like photography and digital journalism is not just service, but it’s more of like a vocation,” he said. “This is the special gift that God give to Tony, and Tony, if he is Ignatian person, he needs to go more.”
And what a gift it is. Anyone who has seen Tony’s photos knows that he has a very special talent. Photography holds a special meaning for him, which he effortlessly conveys in each snapshot. For his daily Instagram photos, he tries to select a photo and a single word that embodies what the day meant to him or the most meaningful part of his day. You can visit Tony’s Instagram here.
We all like to joke about Tony being a Jesuit. He loves to give it right back to us too. One of my favorite moments on the trip was when I had just borrowed Tony’s bug spray.
“Thanks Tony,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”
“Ah, that is the Jesuit way,” he replied. “We share. You want bug spray, I give it to you. You want to use my Macbook…”
“And you give it to me?”
“Ahhh no!” he shouted. “Are you crazy?”
But in all seriousness, Tony exemplifies Ignatian spirituality. He is constantly searching for God in all things. As Tony sees it, nothing, not even the mosquitoes or a town in the middle of nowhere is out of God’s reach.
“We embrace everything that leads us to God,” he shared. He embraced Bethel, and he will embrace Syria when he returns in August. Embracing life and joy is something that Tony seems to do better than anyone. Through his talent in photography and his wonderful sense of humor, it’s easy to see that Tony will continue to help people live their lives with joy.