Thursday, February 17, 2011

We can change the world into what we dream it to smile at a time

Could love not be captured more beautifully than in the smile of a child! Physically these children may have next to nothing but they have the whole world in their tiny hands. They have a world where there is no war, but peace; a world where when you fall down there is someone there to pick you up; a world where wealth is shared and you never eat alone; a world where communities welcome the stranger and our house is your house; a world where suffering is turned into joy; a world where peace comes from holding no grudges, forgiving and moving on. A world like this is not a dream or a fantasy. It is possible. We can cross over the stream and get our feet wet. We can embrace our neighbour and show love in the ways that only we as an individual can. The answer is not in how much we do for others and how many projects we undertake, but simply in the amount of love we pour into every person that we encounter, into everything that we do. With love we can create this world into the wellspring of love and joy that we envision it to be. Throw away the old-self, put on the new, arm yourself with the shield of righteousness and step forward into a battle to fight for what you believe we as human beings should be living for: a world where love is present and felt each day which could be as little as receiving a smile from a passing stranger. And with God we will not lose battles because He is always the Victor!

"La vie est un combat"...a reflection on my year in misison

I have taken out into the deep and have seen many things that my heart did not want to feel, that my eyes did not want to see. I stepped into a world so far removed from my own, so vast in differences that all I could do was jump in and take part in what lay before me. Just as Tennyson writes in his poem Ullyses, “I am a part of all that I have met,” so was I in the little town of Aru, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a country where life is ruled by simplicity, family as the rock, God as the centre and joy which springs forth out of suffering. When you make yourself vulnerable and put yourself into positions where you know there is a high chance of failure, growth will take place. I learnt that by making the effort to enter into the lives of these people I made a greater difference than I thought. The ridiculous Lingala that I spoke or the way I ate their food, held their babies, imitated their hand shakes and attempted to wear their cultural dress although made me feel incapable at times and silly brought much joy to their faces. I believe that by slowly entering the culture of another’s we come to learn from each other. I am thankful God gave me the courage to become vulnerable in this way. This year I experienced many times of frustration mainly based on the misconception that I had to “do” something and accomplish great work here in Aru, D.R. Congo or else my mission was useless. Soon enough I realized that the Devil was putting these thoughts into my mind and that despite my feelings of uselessness or, “this is a waste of time,” which Sr. Daniela would kindly remind me was just “teaching me patience,” I decided I would focus on relationships and putting more love into everything I was doing, including my many hours spent selling bread at the bakery. It was in these moments where I felt true freedom, not freedom that we think of in North American society which tells us we are free when we have no cares, no work, no expectations, we can go where we please, buy what we want and we will be “free.” The freedom I felt was an interior freedom, as though nothing could tear me apart or push me over; I felt an inner strength that was with me throughout every moment of the day. This I can attest to the words of Canadian philosopher and founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier which says:
“To be free is to put justice, truth, and service to others over and above our own personal gain or our need for recognition, power, honour and success. When we cling to personal power and success, when we are frightened of losing social status, then we are in some way denying our humanity; we become slaves to our own needs, we are not free.”
When we are afraid of losing face, being insulted, ridiculed and feeling powerless we are not free, we are imprisoned in our own beings. God created us to be imitators of Him, and did Christ ever fear away from ridicule and insults? Never. If we look at Jesus in the New Testament we see numerous examples of how he was bold, and not “nice” (as Tomas from Czezh would say), and never timid. Christ gave us power from the Holy Spirit, a spirit not of timidity but that of strength and power. We need to take hold of this gift of the Spirit and cultivate it. I am realizing here in metropolitan Vancouver how much work I have before me. I need to carry with me always this spirit of strength so that others may see that with faith in God one has more strength than any quick-fix or addictive drug. The strength to face the darkness comes from within. We are all children of light. In Aru I saw more light than I have ever in my life. Their light is always shining because this is their only lifeline, they have nothing else, God is everything. At home here in the trendy city of Vancouver you walk down one main city block and see classy women and business men holding their Starbucks coffee while plugged into their ipods and you walk down the next and it is lined with drug addicts, homeless aboriginals and prostitutes. There is a light in all of these people despite their different exteriors and masks worn. We are all children of the light. Maybe some people just don’t know it. It is up to us to let them know. I was a missionary in Africa but I am still a missionary and will carry my bright new light to those who live in darkness, as I hope do all of you.

To finish I would like to share the words of St. Teresa of Avila who encourages us on our missionary journey:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
No Hands but yours;
No feet but yours:
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out into the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
...Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”

Friday, November 26, 2010

Learning How to Live

I see the faces of little ones full of joy and enthusiasm as they run carelessly through the long grass; I then take hold of their hands which grip mine tightly and I wish deep in my heart that their future’s could have more hope than what I see before me. I see their eagerness to go to school but the brightness finishes at high school. Most likely after they will get married and if they are girls they may be abandoned by the father and left to look after their young children by themselves. If they don’t have the opportunity to go to school they will end up working in the fields the rest of their lives or selling tomatoes at the market. I feel much pain for the youth here who have to grow up in a country with such huge barriers before them: lack of opportunities to study and to work, corrupt government systems etc. Not only the youth but also the adults here who have to support their families and try to find the most means possible to get their kids through school. I feel a slight sense of guilt as I prepare to leave to Canada where I know I will have things much easier than the Congolese people. It also is difficult for me to say goodbye to those who are truly suffering in the present moment and knowing that their situation will continue since there are no other possible means here to help them. For example Mado, the young girl with hydrocephalus, who is left day after day by herself in her bed with little attention from her family, will most likely continue to live in this condition. Despite my efforts to talk with the family and tell them how they should look after her and bathe her more often etc., it just doesn’t seem to get across to them. It crushes me to know that some things will not change; people will continue to feel rejection, go to bed hungry, lack money for proper medication and for education. The reality for these people is one that unfortunately will take a lot of time to improve. Little by little I hope that the Congolese take some pride in their country and start making some changes. All I can do is hope that I have given encouragement and some knowledge that will help them in their lives.

As my days have just about come to an end my soul really speaks to me. It is telling me: Lydia, it is not what surrounds you where your joy comes from but from within yourself. I can carry my joy wherever I go in life and this is something truly important. Yes I am sad to leave behind these people and the children but I know that I can help people wherever I go. Africa will forever be in my heart. It has been this magical land that has whispered words of wisdom to me and taught me the importance of life. It is not what we do but who we are. Our lives our short and we need to be okay with the fact that if we die today that we will be content with how much we have loves our neighbours and whether we have lived for ourselves or for God. This journey for me has been about learning how to live: to walk in the love of God, to breathe freely, free of pressure and stress, to live in the moment and not to miss the beauty that is right in front of you, to live always with God in our minds and to live in genuine gratefulness for every blessing that comes to us. Africa, you are a sweet melody to my ear; you open my suffocated soul to see the life in it’s purest form: living for the moment. The vivid clouds, the soaring hawks, the dragonflies that pause in the air and then dart forward in the dancing wind all paint an image on my soul. How can I return home and be anxious or worried about anything after living in Africa where one is transformed into a being that is free to love. I have realized how much the world’s mentality that wealth and riches will make you happy is the reverse. I am envious of these people and the freedom they have in their souls. I am envious of their strength to endure hardships. They are able to continue to live despite their sufferings: it is as though nothing can touch or break them a part.
My journey in the Congo has come to an end but will stay forever in my heart as I take on my next journey.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Possibly my last blog....Ciao Africa...until we meet again

As my time here is coming to an end here I am being confronted with many emotions. One year of my life living in a world drastically different than mine where I have come to learn the culture and language and now I have to say goodbye and leave this world for the one that I once knew. Fear is welling up inside my throat as if I have lost touch with what my previous reality was. It is not that I have forgotten the world that I came from but more like I have forgotten “where” I have come from. “Where” in the sense of where my heart, emotions, opinions, perceptions and outlooks were before I left. Now I am returning home with a new outlook on life, a new inner joy and a new desire of how I want to live my life differently. I did not leave thinking I could change the world by going to Africa but with the intent that by changing myself I could make a better difference in the world. Yes, many times I felt that my being here could really make a “change” and when I did not see any results my heart would sink and I would question why I was here in the first place. But after reflecting on these moments I realized that if I can simply learn to live better personally I will be able to help the people here in the sense of truly being a witness of love in action. Many people back at home talk lots about what they want to achieve in life but they lack the courage to “act.” Here it is easy to take action and show love, wherever you go you can pick up a child and hug them, give some spare change to a passing mamma or simply greet them in their mother tongue, visit those who are rejected and have no one to care for them and the list goes on. When one begins to put love in action a sense of freedom and joy wells up inside that can and one is able to battle evil that comes across one’s path. The sense of freedom I have gained here is not the freedom of doing whatever one desires but an interior freedom. My soul has been set free here: it has not been tied down, twisted or confused but rather has soared high because it has realized that when it lives only for God and nothing else and submits itself to the will of God it can break the chains of this world and nothing can attack it. This freedom is found amongst the people here who have struggled and taken their share in battles that for us seem like impossible barriers to face but with their inner freedom they do not become slaves to their poor situations in life but rather submit themselves to the will of God. Mothers who tell you how they have lost 3 or 4 of their children and yet continue to live their lives constantly in joy is something I will not forget. I will never forget Mamma Aurelia who after a stroke lost her ability to walk properly. Twice a week her sons would take her to see me and sacrifice their time for their mother. I visited her at her home where her family was all together eating and she said how the Lord has blessed her with her family. She never complained about her inability to be free and independent but always found the joy in what she had with her: her family and her interior freedom to soar with God amidst her suffering. I hope to carry this new joy and strength I have discovered here in Africa back to my new reality. I know that it will be a difficult route since the devil for me seems to lurk more profoundly in our society and is an expert in weaving lies for us to believe. I just pray that courage and fortitude will welcome me when I come home.
My life has been refreshed by the hot sun and the wind that touches my face always brings a smile upon my face. My eyes turn upward to the expansive sky; I then close my eyes and inhale the sweet air thinking to myself, “I am in Africa!” How many times I have told myself that one day I will go to Africa and now my dream has been made true and is now over…or maybe it is just the beginning of a new journey. My next journey my legs will scramble high, they will traverse along rough roads but eventually arrive with great confidence where the soft earth will carry me home. Thank you Africa for the inspiration you have breathed into me, for the stillness you have rested upon my soul, for the wellspring of joy that you have excavated from deep within me and now can no longer stop flowing, for the people who have taught me to embrace life for each moment, the children who have shown me that having much does not mean you will be happier. Thank you God for Africa, thank you God for continually filling me with your grace, power and courage, thank you for giving me the most amazing community to live and share such a strong experience with (I don’t think I would make it through this year without the support of my community who found patience with me, who laughed with and at me, who taught me much about myself and about life), and thank you for continually picking me up and encouraging me. Africa…I will miss you, but you are always there and maybe our roads will reunite again. The sun sets but there is always a sunrise bringing new light to a new day. I know that my heart is calling me home to Canada for the meantime.
Thank you to everyone who has followed my journey this year. I look forward to sharing it in person which is always better.
Take up the challenge to make yourself a better person each day and always remember to live in joy!