I left off last week’s journal asking the question what can I do here? What am I doing to serve God and the world that God loves? Before writing another journal entry, I have to be honest and say that I don’t have a comprehensive step-by-step answer to those questions. I really do think that they are questions I must constantly ask myself. My internship in Burkina was a valuable time for me to think about my role in the world, but I hope that my thinking about how to serve the world is not limited to that experience. I hope that God has much more to teach me, and I hope that a clearer vision for my vocation will take shape as I go through more experiences.
I discussed in my last entry some of the strangeness of coming back to Greenwich, and seeing a lot of wealth and extravagance around me, and the realization that I am perhaps more a part of that than I would like to be. I have a tendency to look at my surroundings and secretly think of myself as better for understanding things that they don’t understand, etc. And while I certainly need to be reminded that I am not any better than anyone for having spent five short weeks in Burkina Faso, I can perhaps share something worthwhile by speaking meaningfully and honestly about my time there.
But I do hope that I don’t think of the issues and problems that I was thinking about in my daily work with Save the Children (SC) as something that I am no longer a part of. I was recently helping SC’s Westport, Connecticut office write summaries for other country plans for the EveryOne campaign. I summarized the country plans for India, Pakistan and Nigeria. And doing so reinforced the fact that child mortality is an enormous issue. In one country alone, there are government actors, NGOs and individuals working hard to achieve these goals, often with unfortunate results. And then there are so many other countries dealing with the same thing. I think about the sad fact of rampant child mortality in so much of the world and I feel sadness about the brokenness of our world. I long for a time when there will be no more disease and justice and peace will embrace, and broken social structures will not produce cyclical violence. I watched the movie Crash the other night with my family, and throughout the movie felt a sadness for the brokenness of the world, and the sin that we are all a part of, the sin which we all partake in. The movie constantly reminds one of how much the world needs forgiveness, how much the world needs Christ. While watching I thought of Bonhoeffer, “It is only when God’s wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one’s enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts.” I really do not know and cannot speak of what it feels like to be truly confronted with an enemy, someone who has raped your wife or killed your father. In fact I cannot even speak of what it is like to witness a person confronting their enemy. But as I hear stories about terrible injustice I can imagine how one wants nothing more than vengeance and death on the enemy. As Bonhoeffer reveals, loving one’s enemy is not a happy thing that you feel good about. It’s not a community service project. It is deeply painful. But this is why the world needs Christ.
Wolsterstorff speaks, as I have mentioned before, about the longing for another world. He talks about how the church has often (tragically) taught a theology that doesn’t focus on this world. As Christians, our longing for the kingdom of God is real and undeniable. It should be. But, “it is only when one loves life and the earth so much that without them everything seems to be over that one may believe in the resurrection and a new world” (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers). The Christian life and vocation must involve turning towards the world. I spoke with a former U.Va. professor about the tension of academic work and more concrete work. I do think that a proper concept of Christian vocation must take into account our desires and skills, and I think an academic vocation is not a cop-out from “real” justice work. And yet, I have sensed already how easy it is to withdraw from the world into academia. And I think that truly turning towards the world must involve a constant process of asking oneself how might I be withdrawing?
I spoke with a friend of mine who took a gap year and lived in parts of Africa and India during that time, and we talked about the many philanthropic efforts at our University. And while a fraternity philanthropy event may do some good to raise money for an organization, etc., a true understanding of my own vocation must go beyond extra-curricular community service. All of my work and study should be oriented towards that vision. So coming back from Burkina may not mean that I get involved in more community service projects on grounds, although it might. But I hope, importantly, that it makes me think about the vocation where I can serve God. That process involves thought about my desires, no doubt. And it is not a process that can be abridged into a quick answer. But I hope it is a process that God will continue to lead me on.