What is so compelling about Mother Teresa, about Shane Claiborne, about Dorothy Day, about the thousands of saints who have lived among the people they served?
That they lived among the people they served. I think after the "poverty" section of Faith and Action, many of us as students (wife of lecturer included) felt that our class conclusion is that relationship is the best means of rectifying poverty---material poverty, spiritual poverty, relational poverty, etc. I remember a line in a psychology text book in college that has always stuck with me "proximity is the number one determinant of relationship". Now obviously with the explosion of internet connections, etc, I'm sure there are arguments that this is not as true as it used to be. But nonetheless, the common sense reality of this statement has been very true in my life. Whether it is friends from my neighborhood as a child, or friends on my halls in college, or my neighbors now (in my mid-thirties), it is true that we know and care about the people that are literally close to us.
So, we all concluded that relationships is the most natural way to "help" people--- that when we have genuine relationship with others we are more able to assist in relevant ways, to not become false "saviors", to know the systems that oppress and work to change them, to act from love not guilt, to rectify environmental stresses that relate to our communities... Therefore, if we are called to serve a certain population in need (materially poor, socially poor, lonely, widowed, orphaned, mentally ill, etc), we must be in genuine relationship with them (best done by living in proximity to them). And if we don't have that specific call, then we are called to address the "poverties" that are occurring in our home communities by pursuing relationships that lead to wholeness for all.
What is so unique and meaningful for USP students is that for one semester they are genuinely in relationship with Ugandans, as family members, as fellow college students, as residents at UCU, as members of church, and diners at local canteens (snack shops), as shoppers, and footers (ones who walk everywhere), as ones with privilege and perspective, and ones who are in need teaching (hand-washing, peeling matoke, killing chickens, hoeing a garden, etc). For this semester, unlike in a short term mission trip, students are living as a college student among college students in a college town. Like their life at home, but in Uganda. This relational reality closes the gap, moves us from those with answers or help to those who live in the midst of all the struggles and all the joys.
As a class, we'll soon move to the topic of compassion, and in echoing this conclusion that we came to in the poverty section, we'll see that our christian compassion is not about stooping down to help the unprivileged, but rather stooping down to become one of the "unprivileged." Christ's salvation of us was not possible without his incarnation--taking on our human form. And so we also, are not called to save others from our outside position but rather to share salvation with each other from within the community.