“That khawaja, he’s the pilot.” I overhear these words returning to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) center with Stephen, a refugee who helps provide psychosocial services. As we walk, Stephen chuckles, translating the phrase: khawaja means foreigner. Many humanitarian workers are foreigners who come and go, like pilots and their planes.
In Maban, South Sudan, home to 150,000 refugees spread across four refugee camps, the temptation of piloting in and out is real. The transformative work JRS does is a small piece of a larger, complicated puzzle. And, the heat can be overwhelming. Being separated from close friends and comfort foods can be isolating. Hearing stories of suffering and abandonment is heartbreaking. Plus, the violence and high levels of insecurity are threatening. So, yes, there are moments I wish to be a pilot.
Reflecting on the Gospel, I realize how easily Jesus could pilot into the lands of milk and honey, only to leave after challenges and threats intensified. He could have toned down denouncing injustices. He could have lightened the radicalism of his love.
Yet, Jesus chose to stay with the marginalized and excluded. And, he did so amid humiliation and persecution. At any moment, he could have avoided being ignored, stigmatized, criminalized, and assassinated. Instead, Jesus entered into our world to explicitly stand with outcasts and the oppressed to ignite justice and love. Jesus did not pilot out; he landed the plane and remained grounded, with us.
Jesus challenges us to embrace radical discipleship, requiring us to place our lot with the disparaged and persecuted and inviting us to “go and do likewise.” How am I called to break free from the temptation to pilot through challenging and heartbreaking realities facing our world? How do I remain, like Jesus, with refugees, orphans, widows, etc., and break open doors of justice and peace in our world?
Matt Ippel, S.J., is a Jesuit-in-Formation of the USA Midwest Province and is currently working with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Maban, South Sudan, after spending the last few years in Latin America. He enjoys biking and running, loves to explore new and familiar places, and delights in coffee and craft beers with friends.
Matt Ippel, S.J., es un jesuita en formación de la Provincia de USA Midwest y actualmente trabaja con el Servicio Jesuita a Refugiados (JRS) en Maban, Sudán del Sur, después de pasar los últimos años en América Latina. Le gusta andar en bicicleta y correr, le encanta explorar lugares nuevos y familiares, y se deleita con el café y las cervezas artesanales con amigos y amigas.