Mary Stokes had her life ‘ruined’ by spending a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Communities. Thanks to what she learned about community, spirituality and social justice, she can never look on the world the same way as before. Her experience abroad this summer reminded her how much she had changed.
It’s true when former JVCers (people who did the Jesuit Volunteer Communities programme) say they are “ruined for life!” The programme “ruins” you by drawing back the curtains on a new window through which you come to view the world.
Throughout the year, the JVC year invites you to look at the scenery of social injustice, to take a telescope in order to see further, and then to find your own place in it all. It provides you with a platform of support and community which helps you to keep developing as a person. And finally, it gives you a parachute of faith for when you jump into the landscape below. When you land, people might see you as “different”, now that you have looked through that infamous window, and therefore you have been “ruined”. But, hopefully in a constructive and positive way!
When I parachuted out of JVC, I landed on foreign soil, so fulfilling a bubbling desire to travel which I have always had. I loved it initially. I relished the exotic foods, the perplexing languages, the company of fellow foreigners, and the unique sites we visited. There were many days that I had to ask myself: “Is this my life or is it a movie?”
After a while, when the novelty began to wear off, I yearned for the community and trustful friendships I had left behind. I often got annoyed with the injustices I saw, and I got quite frustrated with other foreigners who were so apathetic to these issues. Also, working just to make money got tedious, and the ex-pat social scene began to show its superficiality. Sunday evenings were haunting. I thought of everyone at home heading to the Gospel Mass. How I wished to have somewhere to share my values and my thoughts….
God writes everyone’s storyline with a good ending in mind. In my case it started with getting sick. Not too sick, but sick enough to highlight all my feelings and to get me to admit: “The movie’s over, I’m going home”.
My happy ending is ordinary life back here – just meeting a friend for a cup of tea or having a balanced discussion with a group of people or being able to reflect and pray with others on the same wave-length. I look forward to social events, like nights out, retreats, fundraisers, pilgrimages, and the Gospel Mass on Sunday evenings, which all have a deeper meaning and a greater aim. I even get a buzz doing things that I used to complain about!
As a young person living in Dublin, only for a short while, I feel blessed to have a broad and varied circle of JVCers and Slí Eile folk and a rich calendar of events to go to. You really appreciate these things more when you first step away, then step right back into that community which you have missed.
The travel bug still bites, and I feel a sequel to the movie coming on. But perhaps it will have a different theme this time!