God Calls the Available

BY BEVERLY ZIEGLER | October 5, 2018

My first few months here in Dar es Salaam were marked with feelings of inadequacy. I worried daily if I was cut out for Jesuit Volunteer life in Tanzania. Adjusting to new “simple living” standards felt awkward. Learning to communicate in Kiswahili seemed impossible. Navigating the dense city felt overwhelming. And working alongside a fellow JV with a year of experience under her belt left me feeling incompetent. I was well outside of my comfort zone and wondered where I had lost my confidence and sense of self.

Until one day, when I began to channel a saying I’d learned a few years ago when I’d spent a summer teaching at a Jesuit school in Gulu, Uganda. I had somehow been put in charge of a Taekwondo club and I felt underqualified for this task, considering that I hadn’t really practiced Taekwondo since I was a kid. However, my program advisor, a wise and spirited man named Bill, reminded me,God calls the available, not the able.”

It is a mindset that reminds me to step outside of my comfort zone: to do what I can with what I have and to be available. This apostolic availability, as the Jesuits call it, has played out in adjusting to life here in my community and in my work.

After confiding in some fellow Jesuit Volunteers about these challenges, I realized that many had felt the same. I began leaning into the discomfort. How would I ever know what I could do if I failed to step outside of my comfort zone? Thus, I began constantly reminding myself—Bev, you chose this, and you’re growing from it.
Now, I am over nine months into my time here. I’ve regained a better sense of self, I’m learning my way around the city, and I’m slowing speaking more Kiswahili. I’m feeling more at home here and in my neighborhood and work communities. I’ve got one of my favorite motivational playlists (aptly titled YOUGOTDIS) on repeat, I’ve befriended neighbors and co-workers, and I’m continuously working on that balance of self-love and challenging myself. Yet, I am still learning to ride the wave that is being available, even when it is unexpected.

At a friend’s house learning to make coconut milk for dinner.

By learning to be available, I am practicing accompaniment. So far, I have come across plenty of instances of hardship. The family whose house floods during rainy season. The student with low grades who has an unstable home life. The fellow JV who has had a rough day at work. While I am usually not able to solve the problems I see around me, the best thing I can do is simply to be present. Presence is a huge component of life in Tanzania, as people place immense value on time spent together. Western lifestyle ingrains a sense of hurriedness and productivity that is not as customary in Tanzania.

Jesuit Volunteers at the Jesuit Vows in Arusha, Tanzania.

While there are times when I feel I’d rather be working on a project or reading a book than visiting with a local friend or playing with the neighborhood kids for an hour or two, I’m learning that these moments of presence are what build community. While I still have not made time for this as much as I would prefer, I have still found immense value in taking a slow walk home by pausing to chat with neighbors rather than speed-walking the five-minute trek between school and home. Even though I am not able to solve the problems of the world, I can at least be a listening ear or a smile of encouragement. And these moments of positivity are contagious. If anything, I can share this joy and this time.

Beverly with students and staff at the annual Loyola “Sports Bonanza.”

One component of a JV experience is that nothing ever goes quite as expected. For me, this has taken the form of new roles at work. A few months into my placement at Loyola High School, I was asked by the headmaster become the Head of Sports Department. This felt like a huge responsibility in overseeing all sports activities of the school, particularly the annual school-wide “Sports Bonanza.” While I’ve been an athlete for most of my life, I was nervous to take on this new position. I’ve never run a sports program before.

This required a new level of navigating the ins and outs of school policies and politics, leading a group of teachers who have been here longer than me, and honing some serious organizational skills. It also required an understanding of how to do all of this within the context of Tanzanian culture, something that I have only become more accustomed to in the past few months. But even more than that, this position requires time, which is the number one thing I have to offer.

Considering how busy the other teachers are with families and fuller teaching schedules than myself, the position made sense. Yet again, here God was, calling me to be available, even if I did not feel completely able. In being available to take on this position, I have learned to be open to collaborating with others, to be humble in my mistakes, and to sometimes just go for it and hope for the best. Our Sports Department was able to put on an awesome week of Sports Bonanza for the students, and I’m hoping to use our success as momentum for empowering students, especially girls, to put effort into sports at school.

Whether it is taking on a new position at work or spending time with my community, being present is the best way I can think of to do what I can with what I have. Thank you, Bill, and God, and the world, for constantly reminding me that even if I do not feel able, I am available, and sometimes, that is enough.

#JVReflects explores the intersection of faith and justice from the perspective of JESUIT VOLUNTEERS serving as long-term volunteers both domestically and internationally with Jesuit Volunteer Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest.  Reflections specifically focus on the cornerstone values of the Jesuit volunteer experience: spirituality, simple living, community, and social justice.

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