Service experience provides means to act for the greater good



Yvonne Nguyen

“Have a fun time!” my friends would say to me after I told them about the Service and Justice Experience (SJE) I was to embark on in El Paso, Texas for spring break. Perplexed, I was eerily unsettled by this comment. Nevertheless, I appreciated the sweet sentiment. However, I knew that I was going to live intentionally among marginalized undocumented migrants. As a part of the Border Awareness Experience through the Annunciation House, my venture involved living with the voiceless. 

Although my group grew closer with each meal and free time, during our daily reflection we vocalized the substantial weight of each story we encountered. The stories were potent, yet almost inconceivable. Living in constant fear of violence and death was not a fun joke to the people we met.This is the harsh reality for many migrants and refugees. In order to escape their life-threatening conditions for s, the people we met were forced to abandon their loved ones and possessions on treacherous, unimaginable treks. Each story was disquieting. 

After touching the man-made border fence between El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico, my SJE group and I became cognizant of how we regularly build walls and bridges between us and our brothers and sisters. Generally, as my group and I examined, we first build walls when we are attracted to comfort. We build walls when we forget that our liberation and ability to fully flourish is wholly dependent on the liberation of all marginalized communities, also known as collective liberation from liberation theology. We build bridges when we actively burst our bubbles of ignorance and ego, opening ourselves to genuine communication to others. Another manner in which we build walls is related to the way we dehumanize situations and humans. For example, when we reduce migrants to “aliens,” “criminals” and “illegals,” or even when we invalidate the humanity of border patrol, we are completely incapable of mutual respect or understanding. We build bridges when we recognize the humanity in everyone. We build bridges when we humble ourselves enough to admit our own wrongdoings and flawed nature.

For me, SJE is not about having fun. My SJE was not a retreat, ego booster or method to bolster my resume. The SJE was a profound addition to my learning as to how to observe, assess and act effectively on shortcomings in systems of oppression. Because of SJE, I have never felt more uncomfortable, and this is good. Instead of feeling guilty for benefitting from a system that serves me or comfortable in my bubble, I am more educated and empowered to serve marginalized communities with justice fueling me. SJE is about allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, uneasy and agitated. With this agitation spurred by the experience, you are better able to act for the greater good, starting first with critically evaluating yourself. In order to speak for the voiceless, you must be uncomfortable and restless.