Friday, October 4, 2013

Life in Uganda: Update Seven

It’s been a long time coming, but I am finally reading Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen. My brother and sister have highly recommended this book to help me think about community development, poverty and life in general. And since they are both doing amazing work along these lines, I figured I should listen to them.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much further than the first pages without needing to pause and think. He talks about the definition of compassion; to suffer with.

Often it feels like the entire point of life in America is to avoid suffering. This is particularly evident in the SkyMall catalog, which I usually end up spending a lot of time looking at on flights. (It's strangely addicting, and I am obsessed with the wall-size map!) But overall, it's full of completely unnecessary things. For a mere $400, you can buy a window cleaning robot. $160 will get you a touchless sensor toilet seat. We love gadgets and anything that will make life more convenient. But what we don't like is when life is hard, when it turns out that all of the appliances in the world don't erase the difficulties. 

Nouwen talks about how we often take this anti-suffering mentality into relationships.  “We want to forge our identities by carving out for ourselves niches in life where we can maintain a safe distance from others. We do not aspire to suffer with others. On the contrary, we develop methods and techniques that allow us to stay away from the pain.”

I have never liked suffering or pain. By nature, I am the girl who wants everyone to be happy, hates conflict, and refuses to go to the Holocaust museum or watch Hotel Rwanda. I have always wished life was a continuous party filled with glitter and balloons.

One of the hardest lessons of the last decade has been to come to grips that I live in a broken world. Although there shall be a time where there are no more tears or suffering or pain, we do not live in that time. God has walked gently with me, pulling me down the path of suffering, sometimes my own, and sometimes entering the pain of others through counseling and relationships. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I am now much less afraid of suffering and much less shocked when problems appear.

Being in a tiny village here has awakened me to an entirely new kind of suffering than I was used to seeing at home. The general living conditions here are different than anything I've ever seen, and this isn't nearly the worst of Africa. I’m learning that confronting poverty in a community, corruption in a country, and endless amounts of seriously messed up situations in an entire continent is another way I need deal with suffering, instead of avoiding it and pretending it isn’t here. 

I have found I have more questions than answers and I’m not sure how to really suffer with people when I will get on an airplane in a few months and fly away. I promised some of my friends that I would not be the person that would move to a third-world country and lay on the guilt trips about how much we have and how little these people have, etc... So I maintain that promise, this is not a guilt trip.

But I see how it is easy to want to have quick answers to make me feel like I am fixing problems. I also see the temptation to want to throw money at the situation in order to temporarily relieve pain.

Although quick action might make me feel like I am really doing something, I know it isn't sustainable or helpful in the long term. For now, I’m hoping to keep thinking about what it is to be truly compassionate, to sit with some questions, and to be thankful I have had this chance to live here and learn to love these incredible people. 

I would love to hear your thoughts. 

love, jackie 


  1. Thanks for the reality check! At all times and in all places offer hope to those that are suffering. Hope is a gift from God himself. May God continue to grant you wisdom. Love, Dad

  2. Hi Jackie, I hope this doesn't come off as too creepy, but I stumbled across your article on TGC and I just wanted to say that it was very encouraging and sobering. There was also a link to your blog at the bottom so I read through some of your posts, which were very encouraging as well! Your trip sounds amazing. Your mini bio on TGC mentioned you worked at The Master's College (I grew up in Valencia) so I got excited :). I'm similarly spending some months in China at the moment, which is why your article spoke so loudly to me. Just had the urge to say thanks, so thank you! (I couldn't find an email address so I'm resorting to this comment box) Blessings!

    1. thanks stephanie! that is really encouraging- hope all is well in china! thanks for your kind words.


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