Somehow, I managed to finish reading Jean Vanier’s Encountering ‘the Other’ over the past weekend (mind you, it is a mere 62 pages long). Various chapters focus on concepts of trust, forfeiting power, disabilities and inequalities, fear, listening and communication, peace, celebrating differences, as well as reconciliation and change.
Reflecting on these concepts could turn into a series of blog entries, as I’ve made more notes on this book than I have taken in certain classes this term. In short, I encourage anyone involved with Beyond Borders and anyone with an interest in social justice to read Encountering the ‘Other.’ (And hey, it’s only 62 pages!) Vanier stresses the importance of relationships, of community, of encountering what we do not know. He beautifully writes that ‘to live is to risk,’ that overcoming fear can change our lives in unimaginable ways. As I prepare for my time in Ukraine, this is encouraging – I hope to embrace the bumps and pitfalls of this journey just as much as the excitement and the highlights. I fear that the truth is, no matter what I do, I will not be prepared for what I will encounter. This is just a plain and simple reality. All the awareness and research I could ever do between now and my departure will still leave me at a loss in Ternopil. I don’t think that I can fully comprehend or realize how I will be changed by the time I return home mid-August.
Most of us have been drawn to Beyond Borders because, in some way, we hope to break out of the ordinary, out of of the comfortable lives that we have here in Waterloo. We hope to be able to make a positive difference in a completely different culture, as crazy and/or naive that sounds. Over the past semester, I have read about the works of Jean Vanier, of Mother Teresa, of Marc and Craig Kielberger, and of Shane Claiborne (founder of the Simple Way, author of The Irresistable Revolution). These individuals have also lived as ‘ordinary radicals,’ each having a profound impact on the lives of others.
As a class, we have been told (warned?) that we are not going to single handedly change the communities that we will enter into this summer. That our various experiences will more than likely have a larger influence on our own lives than the lives of those we will encounter in Ukraine, in Ghana, in Ecuador, or in Honduras. But part of me is (naively) hoping for something bigger, hoping that through our ordinary actions we will have opportunities to empower those around us to make greater changes.
Mother Teresa did ‘small things with great love,’ Jean Vanier humbly lived among the disabled and the broken, the Kielberger brothers continue to promote children’s rights, and Shane Claiborne has spent time in Iraq, India, and Philadelphia passionately pursuing social justice and ideals of the early church. I think that we have more power than we realize, that small changes really do add up and eventually have a greater impact than we are initially aware of.
I originally wrote this post for TernoJen, a blog that followed my preparations for and experiences in Ternopil, Ukraine.