BY TAIGA GUTERRES | February 27, 2017
“Go forth and set the world on fire.”
This little phrase is written on the inside of a journal that was given to me as I entered into this experience as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV). It’s a phrase that St. Ignatius shared with his Jesuits when they departed for a mission. Within the Ignatian community, it is pretty well recognized.
I remember this phrase being all over the walls and in conversations during my time at Loyola Marymount University. It brought me energy and motivation as I stepped out of college life and began my journey as a JV. “Go forth and set the world on fire.”
There’s a certain stigma around doing post-graduate service, a stigma I bought into as I was discerning what to do after graduation – the misconception that we choose to delay entering the ‘real world’ by doing a year or two of service. I saw the ‘real world’ as graduate school, as getting a job, as moving towards a career, but as I sit with my experience here in Punta Gorda, Belize, I can’t help but wonder, “How is this not the real world?” How is encountering poverty daily, working with broken families and single mothers, figuring out how to do my job best, and learning to love and live with strangers not part of the raw and real world?
Coffee in hand, I walk over to my office at the parish and sit at my desk. I open up a word document on my computer. At the top of the page I type:
TEACHER RETREAT OUTLINE
I crack my knuckles, take a sip of coffee, and proceed to stare at the blinking cursor for the next 15 minutes… and then decide the font is too small… and that it should be bolded and underlined.
I push out of my chair and decide to knock on Fr. Lou’s door.
“Hey Father, I was wondering if I could ask you for some insight?”
Sure, sit down.
“I’m having some trouble thinking of what to do for my retreat, do you have any ideas?”
Nope. Whatever you decide to do you have to make sure it plays on your strengths and that it’s yours. I’m giving you that freedom.
Freedom. As the Volunteer Director of Retreat Ministry here in Punta Gorda, Belize, I realize that in many ways, I have a lot of tangible freedom. My work structure is undefined. I have a certain sense of job security. When drama arises back home, there is a legitimate excuse to stay uninvolved. As a guest in this community for two years, I know my time here is limited.
And while this can seem great, it leads me back to the question, “So what do I do?” What do I do after forming this great relationship knowing I will leave in 4 months? What do I do to assess if plans I’d like to set in place in community will be sustainable after I leave? What do I do in the current U.S. political climate, unable to be at home to be with friends and family?
If I’m honest, many times it stops there. I’ll sit and ponder the question, and as time goes on and the routine of work kicks in, I end up doing nothing. Without TV or internet at home, it’s easy to stay disconnected from it all. I’m not bombarded with the news on TV or through personal conversation as I was back home, which can be both relieving and frustrating at times.
As I left my college community – a community that spoke the language of Catholic social teaching, of social justice, a community of mentorship and education—and entered this real world with freedom, I realize that many times, I feel lost. But it is this exact experience that helps me lean into my freedom. In recognizing that freedom is either my excuse to do nothing or my reason to do everything, at the end of the day, I end up in my room, open my journal, and see it again—”go forth and set the world on fire.”
Taiga Guterres is a second-year Jesuit Volunteer who serves as a Retreat Minister in Punta Gorda, Belize. He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Health and Human Science and is from San Marino, CA.