By Sarah Wurst
In May, I graduated from St. Ambrose University in Davenport with a B.A. in fine arts, English and theology. Then, after a summer of hiking in the deserts of North America’s southwest and house sitting for my parents in Grant, Neb., I packed my bags and moved to Montana.
I had been accepted into Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, the place where JVC was founded. In 1956, a few Jesuits began working with Native Alaskan populations, starting the network of volunteers which expanded throughout the Northwest in the 1960s and is now a worldwide volunteer service. One-hundred-fifty Jesuit Volunteers are working in the Northwest this year, dedicating a year of their lives to the JVC values of spirituality, simplicity, community and social justice.
During the week I spent at Camp Adams (a small retreat center outside of Portland, Ore.) for orientation, I was honored to meet and spend time with JVC founder, Father Jack “Blackie” Morris, SJ. One night in the dining hall, Fr. Jack wrote the following quote by Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in my notebook, “The kingdom of God is a kingdom of danger and risk, a kingdom of eternal beginnings and eternal becomings, of open spirit and deep realization, a kingdom of holy insecurity.” At last the theology I was looking for, outside of my expectations and knowledge and comfort zone! I was going to be living exactly what I had glimpsed in Ecuador, walking with the poor and oppressed as Catholic Social Teaching calls us to do, and finding out what Mother Teresa meant when she said, “The Christ of the Cross is the Jesus of the Streets.”
Those were the intentions and expectations of the journey that I embarked upon more than three months ago. I am now living in a trailer in community with three other volunteers on the Crow Indian Reservation in St. Xavier, Mont. We still do not have electricity with the winter months approaching. We all work at the Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy, which is in affiliation with the well known St. Labre Catholic Indian School. My time here has reopened my eyes to the magic of the world. I am seeing this place through the eyes of the children that I work with in school, and thus through the eyes of my own inner child. There is a fine line between this world and the Kingdom of Heaven. I am living in a very intense present, with very little notion of what tomorrow will bring. In this situation, I have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, and every moment is a learning experience, a service and a celebration. My community members have exhibited intense flexibility and open-heartedness in dealing with our own flimsy housing situation, while serving others in much worse situations.
During my time at St. Ambrose, I helped found the Students of St. Ambrose Anti-War Committee and took a trip to Washington, D.C., for a protest. On that trip, I met another student activist who introduced me to a quote by Assota Shakur. His quote sums up the hope that I have felt in my first three months of service, in actively living out the values of simplicity and solidarity with the poor, and in celebration that the Holy Spirit is an ever-present force in the world. Shakur said, and I cheer, “I was caught up in the music of struggle, and I wanted to dance.”
(Sarah Wurst is a 2011 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. She is spending a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana.)