If I really cared about helping people, shouldn’t I be doing this everyday?
I think these are familiar questions we may have had from time to time, especially if we like to be involved in different forms of humanitarian or philanthropic services. I, as a Christian who is called to “love the world,” and “take care of the orphans and widows,” have these questions always lurking around in my head, waiting for opportune moments to commandeer my attention and take me on a downward spiral towards hopelessness and despair.
Let’s be real. When faced with the scope of human pain and suffering in our world, our most ardent attempts to address the needs of a few homeless people, or even if it’s 100 homeless people, don’t even make a splash in that ocean of human tragedies. It’s reasonable to give up when faced with such odds. Might as well not try.
Yet, the Gospel encourages and exhorts Jesus’ disciples to do just that. Try. Keep trying. Keep surrendering. Keep serving. Keep caring.
Why? How can the Gospel encourage such idealistic virtues in the face of reality? A reality where war and violence is growing more and more rampant. A reality where children are forced to fight as soldiers and kill their own families. A reality where young girls are abducted and forced into sex slavery. A reality where refugees and asylum seekers are exploited for cheap labor. A reality where, apparently even with enough wealth and resources in the world, a large majority of the people living in this reality will barely scrape by.
While visiting Against the Current (my former a capella family), I overheard them sharing their experiences and thoughts on service. (They were currently in a week of service around Boston and it is customary for each member to share what was on his or her heart). They were asking the very same questions we have asked in the past. Questions that eat away at our hope and faith. Questions that burden us like heavy, rain-drenched coats, weighing down on our soldiers. Questions all too real.
Our usual responses in the face of these questions are usually attempts to explain that these problems are just too big, or attempts to justify that we have done all that we could and that we simply can’t help everybody or solve every problem. All true words, but still, many times, these are simply unsatisfactory answers. Too cold. Too calculated.
After we’ve counted and weighed our efforts and balanced them against the number of people helped and the number of people we missed, we do some quick math and we pop out a neat number. A nicely packaged answer with all the right wrappings and adornments on the outside, but frankly, a completely empty box.
All of our rationales and quantifications will never provide us with a satisfactory answer. If we think we found it, honestly, we’re fooling ourselves.
The Gospel provides an all too different answer. It exhorts Jesus’s followers to keep trying in the face of reality, because we are not alone. Our efforts and hearts aren’t the only things trying to move this world. If anything, the only reason we have these urges to go out and make the world a better place is because God is already moving towards that goal and our hearts are resonating with His, whether we like it or not.
If we get stuck trying to quantify our acts of service and measure success in terms of numbers, we will always fail in helping the world. Numbers are cold and exact. There is no grace in numbers.
However, service isn’t simply about the acts, the amount of money raised, or the number of people helped. It’s about the heart. With what kind of heart are you out there serving others and with what kind of heart are you serving God?
If you are serving with an earnest heart, seeking goodness and trying to make the world a better place in what little way you can, then rest assured that you are a partner in God’s works and He is more than pleased. I believe that when He sees a heart like that, all he wants to say is, “well done my child,” but what usually get in the way of us hearing that joyful message are all our self-condemnations and criticisms.
We forget to give thanks and look to God, and we start off by looking at ourselves - at what we’ve done, or rather, what we’ve not done, or what we couldn’t do. We need to stop that. It’s not about us and it’s not about what we can and can’t do.
It should be about whether or not you have a heart that is willing to reach out and help another out when the opportunity arises. It should be about whether or not you are able to say, “Here I am, send me.” It should be about how big your heart is and is it a heart that yearns for what God yearns. But, we forget all this.
It’s easier to slip into our calculations and objectifications. We like to neatly label and quantify things. We want to KNOW that we are doing good - input effort, output change. However, in such a system, there is no room for God to work.
When faced with walls that we can’t overcome, we immediately sink into despair, but why not look at it as another opportunity for us to call on God and be able to witness God’s majesty moving on our behalf. We weren’t meant to shoulder the world and all its sufferings. How dare we even try. Yet, that is what we try to do too often than not. We give up hope in the face of the mounting human tragedies, because we are too caught up thinking about what WE can and can’t do.
Let us humbly and joyfully proclaim our weaknesses and limitations. It is in our weakness that His strength is made perfect. After we have done all that we could, when we get to the point where we simply can’t do anymore, let us get on our knees to cry upon our Lord and say, “Lord, it is in your hands now.” I can’t help but feel hopeful and joyful just thinking about how the heavens will open as God will move mountains and oceans to come to His children’s aid. This is our God. This is who we forget in our despair.
There were so many thoughts running through my mind. There were so many things I wanted to say, but I kept thinking my inadequate Arabic skills wouldn’t have been able to carry my message.
And while I sat there with my thoughts, my friend reached out to you and tried to comfort you. She saw someone who needed a kind hand on the shoulder, a kind word (regardless of what language the words came in), an assurance that things will be alright, and I’m absolutely certain that her kind words and gestures reached your heart. You may not have comprehended all she was saying in English, but you definitely knew what she was saying. Thank God expressions of love and compassion are not subject to language barriers, and thank God there was someone who sought to express compassion without worrying how it may sound.
We were both sure the last thing you wanted to be doing that moment was driving around your friend’s cab for him. You probably wanted to just drop everything and run across every border and wall that stood between you and your son. All those days spent reminiscing about your days in Nablis, hoping and dreaming that one day you will return, all the longing of those days could not have equaled the pain you felt today. It was no longer about nationalism. It was no longer about a stolen land. It became about your son. A scared little boy who needs his father by his bedside as he lays in the hospital. But you couldn’t be there. You were stuck driving us to the 2nd Circle.
Your stifled cries and hidden tears became for me the cries and tears of every parent who couldn’t help but stand powerless in the face of circumstances. Victims of situations. I, who is too young to have a family of my own, can only imagine your pain, but I will never forget you.
In your moment of torment and weakness, you said and did several things that I will never forget. First, you told us, “Thank you. Good woman, good man,” simply because we listened and tried to comfort you. This reminded me that even strangers can be there for one another. Nothing should keep us from reaching out to someone in need. A stranger’s word can be the exact words you needed to hear. A stranger’s hand on your shoulder can become the comforting hands of God.
Then, as you began to explain your situation, fighting back sobs, you still gave thanks to God as you turned the volume up on your radio to hear the call to prayer. I assure you that your act of faith will stick with me until I die, and I am confident your prayers will not fall on deaf ears.
My friend and I wish we could have done something more. We too can’t help but feel powerless when we hear stories like yours. When we come face to face with the brokenness and the pain that is so real and tangible in this world, it feels utterly hopeless. However, in those moments, I think we all have a decision to make - to either throw in the towel, or to fight the darkness in what may seem like a futile battle as we wield our idealisms and hopes as our swords and shields.
I wish that my friend was there when I gave you our gift. I for one will never forget your face, never forget the pain in your voice, never forget the hope in your eyes. You exclaimed, “Too much! Too much! No!” Still, I couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t enough. Sure, some may say our humble gift won’t fix anything, but I don’t think that’s why we wanted to give it to you. We wanted to fight this losing battle with our hopes and idealisms, in order to briefly cast away the darkness that was surrounding you so that your faith in the future as well as the present could be restored. Let’s be real, nothing is going to get fixed over night.
However, fortunate for us, I don’t think you were looking for two people to hand you a neatly packaged solution tonight. I like to think you just needed a couple of friends to be there for you when life threw you a curve ball. Thank you for the honor of letting us be your friends in your time of need. God be with you and your son.
My apartment is about 37 degrees (F) most of the day, and drops below that during the night. This is how it is for many people living in Amman during the winter. This is the norm and you learn to deal with it.
There are a lot of things you can do to try to make your situation better. Even though your building may not have central heating, you can always buy space heaters (and there are so many different kinds of these). You can get a rug and some nice drapes even. Anything to take up empty tile space and act as insulation.
My situation sounds quite unfortunate. However, all the things I just listed off are things that I can do. I can do them, because I have the resources and the means to. What would happen if I didn’t? I would freeze.
Such is the case for many refugees living in this city. They have no means of making their situation any better. They may have moved into a small dingy single room apartment without any insulation and heating, and that is what they’re stuck with now in this winter. They are very cold in their apartments and they will continue to be so, bearing the cold, hoping for the winter to end when it has just begun.
Luckily, there have been many people who have recognized this plight of the refugee community, and the Sudanese refugee community in particular. Somehow, word got around and people (including myself) pitched in enough money to buy heaters for as many of these families as possible.
Yesterday, I took part in delivering some of these heaters to some of these refugees. It was snowing, raining and hailing, and the need for these heaters were never more dire.
Apartment after apartment, room after room, we would deliver these gifts to those in need. Apartment after apartment, room after room, I witness how these people live. Sometimes 9 to a room. Sometimes in a makeshift room that once may have been a storage space on the roof of an apartment building. Sometimes with no electricity. Such are the living conditions of the people who have fled to this country to look for second chances, a new beginning.
At every home we visit, we find more and more people who need these heaters. People who were unable to reach the community director. People who have just recently arrived. People who are simply forgotten.
It’s hard to say whether our heaters will make a lasting impact in these people’s lives. All I know is that there were people in need of help, and there were people willing to lend a hand and support them. I’m so thankful for those people. Yes, eventually they’ll run out of kerosene in the heaters and the refugees will have to come up with ways of their own to purchase the kerosene. Nor is a heater supposed to be a solution to their situation. These heaters will be temporary alleviations to the suffering they must face everyday. Brief moments when they can feel just a little bit of warmth during cold winter nights.
I hope that in those brief moments, they will remember that they are not forgotten. I have witnessed myself that there are people in the world who may not be able to do everything to address the plight of a certain people, but when the opportunity shows itself are ready to act. I realized then that we don’t need grand sweeping plans to alleviate poverty, hunger, or any other form of suffering. We need our brothers and sisters to be ready to act when there are others in need. We are all capable of ending poverty, world hunger, what have you. Not by ourselves individually, but together. We are capable together.
This all sounds super cheesy and naive to me, but I can’t think of a better, more effective solution. I don’t think it can ever be the responsibility of a select group of people to take care of the poor and those in need. It should be everyone’s responsibility to do SOMEthing, however small that action may be. To be men and women for others.
Of all the way I can describe my experiences teaching at the school, the description that I resonate most strongly with is ‘humbling.’
This isn’t the kind of humbling you experience when you’re in the presence of a hero, or when you hear the story of a martyr who died selflessly standing up for his beliefs.
No. I’ve learned a different kind of humility. I’ve experienced a different kind of humility. A humility not derived from comparing yourself to another. A humility that comes from simply being stripped down and laid bare. A humility that presents itself to you in the most honest and vulnerable moments. The kind of humility that is true to yourself.
I feel as if it would be incorrect to say that my experiences at this school have humbled me. Rather, I want to say that humility emerged from the dry soils of my heart.
Sure, I work with a few very dedicated and amazing teachers and administrators. But, it is not they who have humbled me. It would be more correct to say that my students have humbled me, but still it would not be completely accurate.
It is hard to put in words, but to put it simply - forget about the semantics - through teaching my students, I have learned a different kind of humility.
A humility that derives from the realization that I am not ‘just’ one of many teachers that these students will have in their life. Even if I may be one of 30-40 different teachers in their lives, my responsibility to them is not any less than if I were to be the ONLY teacher they ever have.
A humility that derives from the realization that even if for those brief 2 hours a week my students are in my classroom, they deserve the best of me. During those 2 hours, I can make an impact and a difference, for better or worse. In a matter of 2 hours, I can instill in them courage and belief that they can conquer the world, or feelings and thoughts of ineptitude and worthlessness.
A humility that derives from the realization that my students deserve a better teacher and mentor than the one I currently am. I am far from the ideal teacher, and it is when I think and reflect upon my students that I realize that I have so much more room to grow. No matter how great I eventually think I am at teaching, the fact will be - I have yet more room to grow, and I will strive to improve myself as a teacher, because I will know that my students deserve the best.
A humility that derives from the realization that no matter how much effort I put into my work, almost all of the time, nobody will know. It is between me and God. At the end of the day, all I have is my integrity. Either I will go to bed with the assurance that I gave my 100% in prepping for future lessons, or I won’t. My students will never fully realize the amount of work I put in or not put in, and the same applies for my coworkers.
A humility that is not dependent on external circumstances or factors, but a humility that is derived from a deeper realization of myself. God has laid me bare before myself, and I am humbled.
God is showing me who I am, as I am, and I am humbled.
Humbled by the sheer amount of faith God has in me. He could have brought anyone into the lives of these students, but here I am led by Him.
Humbled and praying everyday for God to give me a bigger heart.
Humbled because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Humbled because I know God is with me.
Humbled because God loves me, and in my humility I have come to love God more.
Humility. I used to think humility was simply the full realization and utilization of the gifts and talents God has given us. However, now my definition and understanding of humility has been slowly deepened.
Perhaps, humility is being laid bare before God and self.
Whatever the definition is, it means nothing if it’s not in my life. I pray for more and more humility in my days. I don’t want this special project with God to end any time soon.
When I was a kid, Social Studies was always my favorite subject.
Even in high school, my favorite subject was US History, Econ/Gov, and World History.
These classes inspired me to pursue a degree in the humanities.
I always had an appreciation for learning about different places and people. Sure, memorizing dates and places can be tedious at times, but I was always fascinated by history and geography. Maybe because I wanted to travel to these far-off distant lands one day. Whatever the reason was, my Social Studies classes during my elementary school years molded me to be the person I am today.
Now, as a teacher of Social Studies, I have a newfound appreciation for the subject. I realize now that my Social Studies classes during my early years equipped me in ways I could not have imagined when I was younger. My Social Studies classes were not times spent simply memorizing factoids so that I can one day boast that I can list all the factors that led to the failures of the Reconstruction era in American history. If being able to efficiently memorize dates and events was all that my Social Studies classes prepared me for, then my Social Studies classes should be considered the biggest waste of my time. My Social Studies classes would have been a huge disservice towards my education.
As I teach Social Studies, I am now grasping why Social Studies is so crucial. It isn’t important because it’s history and geography neatly wrapped up together. It’s important because of what the latter half of its name suggests - ‘studies.’
Social Studies equips students with important and in my opinion necessary study skills that will stick with them beyond the class room. Skills that cultivate critical thinking. Skills that enable students to analyze and draw inferences from their surroundings. Skills that encourage students to ask ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ Skills that open doors that lead to those very far-off distant lands, to broader horizons.
I want to inspire in my students the same passion and love I have for Social Studies. I want to show them that it’s not about memorizing tidbits of information and regurgitating them back to me. I want to show them that Social Studies, if done right, is supposed to take them on a journey. It’ll enable them to think critically and to ask the right questions. It’ll give them the courage to use their imagination to imagine themselves in the shoes of other people. It’ll give them the skills they need to succeed in any field their hearts desire.
Social Studies is not just history + geography. It’s so much more.
I just hope I can communicate this to my students through my curriculum and my lessons.
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about tithing.
We’ve all been told - us Christians - at one point or another that we should give our offerings to God every Sunday. Somewhere around 10% of your income, or the weekly $1-$2 given to children by their parents to encourage a habit of giving offering to the church.
As I got older, I learned more about where this money goes. When I was a child, I always imagined that the money was somehow magically sent to God on a beam of light or that it was burned as an offering so that the money will reach God in the form of smoke. I knew God didn’t really need the money when heaven was supposed to be made of gold and clouds, so I figured it was all just another test.
Eventually, we learn that there are actual practical applications of the offering gathered during services - utilities, rent, pastoral income, etc. That’s the point where I got some sense of responsibility and stake in the church. I was an investor and the church was my investment. If I loved the church and wanted it to continue to operate, it made sense that I put in money towards the church - put your money where your mouth is.
Now that I’m earning a salary and living on my own, this whole topic of tithing materializes into a very real issue, and not just some theoretical concept I can keep pushing further and further into the future - “I’ll start tithing when I make my own money, ” “I’ll start tithing once I’m settled,” etc.
I have no excuse to not tithe now. It used to be the case that if I were to tithe, I would be tithing my mom’s money and not the fruits of my own labor. Now that I reap the fruits of my labor, I feel the obligation to start tithing the customary 10%.
However, I am finding it ever harder to give my offering to God. I wonder if it’ll get harder as I make more money. You would think that the more money you make, the more you’d be afford to give, but I’m finding it that the more money I make, and the more self-sufficient I’m becoming, the harder it is for me to give freely. I can’t help but have the sneaking voice whispering over my shoulder, “If you give this 10% now, just imagine how much more God is going to give to you. You should give now since your going to receive more later anyways.”
It seemed like a harmless voice. An honest voice. If I’m completely honest, I can’t help but think that God will give back more than I give to Him. However, I don’t want the fact that God will always give more than He takes away to be the basis of my giving. God’s giving doesn’t always come in the form of material goods, so in actuality I have no guarantee that I will be better off financially by tithing, but I’m human, and I can’t help but have these thoughts.
I am learning firsthand the depth of the poor woman’s heart in Mark 12. I make 1000JD a month. About 150 of it goes to transportation, another 110 towards my rent, another 150-200 towards food, and another 50 for utilities. This leaves me with about 500 JD towards whatever else I want.
10% is 100JD.
After I did the math, I immediately thought, “God doesn’t need all of that money. It’s symbolic anyways. I need it more than God does. I’m still not financially stable.”
It’s true - I’m not completely financially stable. I’m not as stable as I wish I would be. I have to pay a 350JD down payment for my apartment, which doesn’t leave me with much this month. I can justify my not giving 100JD this month.
But I can’t help myself asking, “Why go through the whole process of making excuses and justifications? Why can’t I just give?”
The poor woman was in a far worse financial situation than I am now. Yet, she gave. She gave it all - apart from the clothes on her back - she gave it all. Sure, she may have done the math and realized if she gave what she had, she wasn’t going to afford food that day. Forget about rent - she didn’t even have a place to call home. Yet, she gave it all.
She trusted her Father. She put her faith in her Father and believed that He would provide. Her actions spoke on behalf of her faith.
And here I am. I have money in my wallet and in my bank account. I have an apartment (granted it’s unfurnished, but still). I can afford food. I have clothes on my back (not just the same measly outfit she wore everyday). And here I am. Unable to give freely. Trying to come up with 100 reasons why I can’t give it back.
All because I’m not comfortable enough. I’m not stable enough. I’m not secure enough. When will it be enough?
I realized, it never will be enough.
My soul will be restless until it rests in His arms. It will never be stable, secure, safe, comfortable enough until I put my faith in God first.
I can’t let my faith be dependent upon my financial circumstances, or any external factors for that matter.
I will give. Yes, with a heart that is not completely giving and scared. With doubts and insecurities I will give. I will give this imperfect offering in such an imperfect manner, all in faith that God will teach me how to give better as I continue to give.
Today marks the end of my first week as a Middle School Social Studies teacher. I am employed by an American private school located in the west side of Amman. It’s a lot to take in at one time and I’m still trying to absorb it all.
The school bases its curriculum on the Massachusetts Education Standards and tries to raise students of the highest caliber - lifelong learners and global thinkers who will become responsible citizens with leadership qualities and universal values who have a sense of pride in one’s cultural identity. It’s an ambitious goal, but one I can’t help but hope that the school succeeds in reaching.
I teach 5th graders, 6th graders and 8th graders. I teach kids with dyslexia, learning disabilities, and emotional problems. I teach kids who know English, Arabic, and French. I teach kids who don’t know anything. I teach kids who take 12 subjects a week. I teach kids who always forget to bring their books from home. I teach kids who forget my instructions and rules within the first five minutes of class - sometimes it’s not their fault. I teach kids who are picked on and feel like they are ostracized because they don’t know English that well. I teach kids who brighten up and overflow with joy once they grasp a concept or a lesson. I teach kids who act out because they want attention since they don’t get it at home. I teach kids who have great parents. I teach kids whose parents who are my colleagues. I teach kids that have horrible parents. I teach kids that have extremely rich parents. I teach kids that are rich in general. I teach kids who would probably trade their wealth to have more time with their parents. I teach kids who think I’m Chinese. I teach kids who ask me why I don’t yell at the students who misbehave more. I teach kids who need constant supervision. I teach kids of ambassadors and politicians. I teach kids who aren’t afraid to pull that, “Do you know who my Dad is?” card on a teacher. I teach kids who are about to learn really quickly that it doesn’t matter. I teach kids who hate learning English. I teach kids who get dropped off by their drivers and maids - never their parents. I teach kids who probably have a better relationship with us teachers than they do with their parents. I teach kids who always get everything they want. I teach kids who get nothing that they want from me, except what they need. I teach kids and kids will always be kids. I love each and every one of them.
I pray God can give me a bigger heart. A heart worthy enough for these kids.
Our minds work in very interesting ways. I am just now finding that for the past two months, my mind, without my telling it to do so, has been pushing back the thoughts of this day. It knew, well before I realized, that today was a big day. Yet, it tried its best to keep my thoughts of today at bay for as long as it could. Perhaps, it knew that my constant obsessing over details, my elaborate paranoia, and my inclination to play out a thousand different scenarios for every situation would not be helpful in the least bit in my preparing for this next step.
Do I have fears regarding this next step? Absolutely.
Do I have reservations and uncertainties? More than I would like.
Am I hopeful? Sometimes.
But here I am. There’s no going back. I’m off to Amman again. I think I have about one thing set in stone, and there’s still much room left for going over details. However, I’m at peace with the fact that I have an easier time answering “Why are you going to Amman?” than “What are you going to do in Amman?”
What will I do there? I don’t know. A lot of things. Maybe nothing at all. I may end up helping refugees in some small way. I may end up with absolutely nothing to do. But I take comfort in knowing why I’m going to Amman.
My ‘why’ is not a practical one. Putting another gold star next to my name was definitely not one of my reasons for deciding to take this next step. Could this all somehow work out to help me in the future? Sure. People have told me it would look great on a resume. Perhaps they’re right. But that’s not my ‘why.’ If I’m a hundred percent honest with myself. I don’t even think it’s because I want to help refugees. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to do that, but it’s not my ‘why.’
My ‘why’ is simple and concise, but at the same time complex and vague. Perplexing too. But it brings me peace. I am not afraid.
This next step is one of many small steps God has laid out for me to take. I don’t know where it leads. I may wander around for a bit, but I know I won’t be lost. This is just another small step God wants me to take with Him. That’s all the ‘why’ I need.
“Show me where it hurts, God said, and every cell in my body burst into tears before His tender eyes.
He repaid me though for all my suffering in a way I never wanted:
The sun is now in homage to my face, because it knows I have seen God.
But that was not His payment.
The soul cannot describe His gift.
I just spoke about the sun like that because I like beautiful words, and because it is true:
Creation is in homage to us.”—Rabia
This hiatus will soon come to a close and I will again find myself pouring out my thoughts, reflections, and observations onto this digital archive.
Next destination: Amman, Jordan [along with other countries in the area}
Purpose: to learn, to experience, to grow
This study abroad is going to be a big step in my life. After I come back, I will be halfway done with my Junior year, wholly invested into my majors and academic goals, and starting ‘one shoe in’ towards my life goals.