The Journey with Our Neighbors
I changed the title this week for a couple of reasons that will become apparent. For now, I ask you, the reader, to pause before continuing and ponder the word “Neighbor”. This week I was introduced to a young man…“James, one of the lost boys of Sudan”. It was further explained to me that he was recruited into the militia at the age of nine and after a few years of witnessing atrocities not fit to speak about, he and a number of his friends ran away, and became hunted fugitives. James and a couple of these young children made it to a refugee camp where they spent years waiting to be approved and accepted by a host country. For James, San Diego became his destination. James has been given a room in the home of a caring family who are also refugees. My encounter with James happened when he arrived at St. Luke’s while we were unloading the truck full of fruits and vegetables we had selected from the Food Bank. James had his arm in a sling and looked as though he was not feeling well. When I asked him if I could do anything to make him more comfortable, he replied, “Just Pray for Me and the Men that Hurt Me”. I was thinking he meant the militia in his home country and said a pray of intercession on behalf of those in harm’s way throughout the world. However, when I finished, he explained, “I was mugged a few nights ago and when they found that I had no money, only an old phone a friend gave me, they beat me more and one guy cut me”. He showed me his wound….This “neighbor” of ours was cut from the top of his left shoulder down to below his armpit. He required more stitches than I could count. And yet, James had already forgiven the men that hurt him and wanted to pray that they would find peace in their lives and not hurt other people. I have no doubt that James is a walking, breathing example of Grace, and I pray we all journey toward the love and peace that James, this “neighbor” of ours, shows.
I also had the opportunity to speak this week with Mary, another “neighbor” in our community. Mary was explaining how she and two other families had been saving for a down payment to purchase a car that they could share. She told me, “last week a friend told us about a man that had good cars and would take what we had as a down payment and allow us to pay off the balance over time”. Mary and her friends trusted this man “friend” and went to look at the car that they thought would be perfect and gave the man their accumulated savings with the expectation they could come back the following day and pick up their car. Unfortunately, when they returned to the lot where they had seen the car and made the down payment, there were no cars on the lot, and have been unable to find the man who took their money, or their trusted “friend”. Mary went on to say, “I have been at zero before and will start again”. She did express her frustration and the hurt she felt, as she, her friends and children thought that once they left their homeland behind, they would be in America, safe and able to live in peace. She continued, “It is better here, but you need seven sets of eyes to be safe”. There needs to be a way to add protection for these “neighbors” from those who put their self-centered desires and greed ahead of doing what is right.
My time tutoring was a breath of fresh air! I was presented with the ongoing challenge to help young students learn how to use English words like: worse, enough, used to, world, etc., in complete sentences. Fortunately for me we had a number of props at my disposal. Their snacks of popcorn and strawberries created opportunities for the students to see and understand how words they were given have a place in their vocabulary. An old globe not only gave them a view of the earth, but gave the tutors a lesson in where these young new “neighbors” have lived the 8 to 12 years of their lives. I lack the words to describe the looks on their faces when they gained an appreciation for a new word they could use when trying to communicate. Let me just say that it was awesome to experience! All the students this week were given the opportunity to use their artistic and writing skills to create thank you notes for the people that donated books they were allowed to select and take home last week. The artwork and written notes covered a broad spectrum of ability, but the one thing that came through loud and clear was their appreciation.
My playwrights from the last few weeks, who have been working on a play about bullying, appeared to be suffering from “spring fever”, and when I said it, one of the older girls said we had “too much chocolate”. I guess some things catch on faster than others. After a couple of gentle reminders that we had work to do and we needed to get back to the script, I went quiet!!! (For those who know me, it was not easy). Suddenly one of the students said, “We are not being respectful”. A teaching moment presented itself and I asked the students to explain what is important to them when they are having a conversation with someone. The list included: look at the person, allow the other person to speak, not interrupt, listen to what the person is saying, ask for clarification. These were some of the points the students brought up…..a list that is really good for all of us to keep in mind. One of the students who had not commented, suddenly blurted out, “don’t have attitude”. Another student clamored,” you are retarded” and yes, another teaching moment presented itself. We had the opportunity to explore the hurtful impact that words can have on “our neighbor” and many other words that some people use and should not. This, along with the other learnings stated above, have given me pause through the week to think about and explore how we can add a “VALUES” section to our summer program. Tutoring affords us the opportunity to help our children master reading, writing and mathematics, but also can plant seeds for how to grow and live in peace and love with “our neighbor”. And I know that we will get back to the play.