The Jesuit Antiracism Sodality East
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:16–17
As I write this reflection, I am preparing to board a plane that will take me to New York for the UN Water Conference–the first gathering of its kind in over 40 years. But as I pack my bags and send last-minute emails, I am finding myself frustrated and angry about how difficult it is to engage in an event like this for citizens of African countries. One of my many roles is to help the 22 Jesuit social and ecology centers in Africa access and influence the spaces where global policies are made. But this feels like an impossible task when UN meetings are held in the United States. Over the past few weeks, three of the six people I was supporting have been unable to obtain visas, even with a specific invitation from the UN and with funding already secured. As the news of these failures trickled in, I became increasingly angry and embarrassed to be from the United States. Regardless of the quality of our group’s intentions and the quantity of our resources, there was nothing we could do to overcome the obstacles set up by my own government–a government for whom keeping out people with dark skin is apparently more important than global democracy. I am left feeling helpless, frustrated, and inadequate.
I was recently invited to visit a friend in her family home. Her village is about six hours from Nairobi by car, but it feels worlds apart. It is the kind of place where the presence of a visitor, and particularly a white visitor, is big news. It is also the kind of place where news travels fast. My first morning there, I woke up late, having slept well after a long journey the previous day, and, indeed, my presence had become widely known. As I exited the house into the central area of the family compound, I found around a dozen children sitting on the ground in neatly arranged rows. They had clearly been waiting for me, and an immediate hush settled over the group when they registered my presence. They stared with wide eyes at my white skin and my straight hair. “Habari zenu?”, I asked with a smile. “Nzuri,” they responded in unison, shocked that a mzungu could greet in this way. I, too, was shocked. Was my presence really such a big deal that I was the highlight of these kids’ day? And, more to the point, what if we all responded to difference this way: with wonder, with curiosity, and with a desire to be in relationship?
This month’s reflection was provided by Bryan P. Galligan, SJ, of the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA) in Nairobi, Kenya. If you would like to volunteer to provide next month’s reflection, please contact Sean: email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this reflection do not necessarily reflect those of Jesuits USA East.