Fr. Joe Thaler, MM, reflects on his work in Nepal and how God calls us to seize opportunities to serve God and our neighbor.
One of the projects that Maryknoll is sponsoring in Nepal is a year-long, live-in sewing and cutting program for residents of rural villages in Nepal who are differently-abled.
For nearly all the participants, attending the program is their first time venturing outside of their familiar places. Most have lived isolated lives in their families and communities, often due to the stigma associated with being differently-abled. Most have never had the opportunity to go to school and few have a skill that would enable them to be self-supporting and self-sufficient in society.
In Nepal this is a group that lives on the edge of the society, often the most vulnerable. Sadly, many will remain in this situation throughout their lives, but some individuals do make use of an opportunity presented to move out of this situation and take a second chance to embrace a life that will change them, their family, their community, and hopefully the nation.
Taking this “second chance” requires patience and trust amid great changes to the students' daily routines. Walking with the students as they adjust to the rhythm of the program requires time, care, and attention. When I visit the program, the mantra that I hear most often repeated from teacher to student is a gentle, “We have to try that again, let’s do it over,” as the teacher compassionately guides the student in their work. By the end of the program the students have gone through great transformation, and are prepared to go out and change the attitudes of their families and societies as well.
I am deeply inspired by the people in this program who have chosen to move out of their comfort zones and take another chance to build a better life. One example is Govinda, who currently runs the sewing program. Govinda was born with polio and was told that he could not attend school due to his disability, but still he crawled along the mountain path for two hours one way on school days to attend classes. I first met Govinda when he was crawling down the driveway of the University in Kathmandu hollering, “Father, Father,” as he came to meet me for the fist time in 1984. He was definitely moving me out of my comfort zone!
I have also learned a great deal from Paru, who at the age of three lost the use of her right hand and badly injured her right leg in a fire at her home, as well as from Indra, who at the age of 24 fell from a tree collecting fodder for his animals and is now unable to walk.
All three of these individuals did not let their life circumstances define them. They overcame fears and prejudices and moved out of their comfort zones to change and make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. They took advantage of second and third chances that came their way. Govinda now oversees the sewing program, and after graduation Indra and Paru have recently married and now operate their own shop.
In the reading today I see Jonah as being quite content in the life he was living. When God challenges him to change, Jonah refuses and runs away, but God gently calls again. Jonah was not ready for a radical change of life, especially one that called upon him to live outside of this comfort zone.
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes, “This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us.…in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.” I really feel this has been my experience with Govinda and Indra and Paru and so many others who have taken advantages of second chances.
Like the disciples who left their nets, we are also invited to and enter into an entirely new and full relationship with God within the Kingdom.
In is his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis reminds us that, “all of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives…. Mission is a constant stimulus not to remain mired in mediocrity but to continue growing.”
So, like Jonah, God calls each one of us by name to be attentive to the poor and the marginalized members of society, to be evangelized by the poor. We are given another chance to give witness to the saving love and compassion of God’s Kingdom.
And what is our response? Do we remain in the comfort of our homes and villages or run and hide? Or do we accept the call and say yes to the invitation of Jesus to overcome fears and prejudices, to change our lives and serve others? Like Jonah and the disciples, along with Govinda, Paru, and Indra, we are called to make use of opportunities to live out and to proclaim and give witness to the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Photo: Paru and Indra at work on their sewing projects, courtesy of Fr. Joe Thaler, MM.