Between 2008 and 2014, I had the privilege of sitting in the Conversation for Social Change Circles as a participant-facilitator. I experienced and witnessed transformation among the participants, in levels none of us ever dreamed of. These conversations were started by the Maryknoll Sisters Peacebuilding team, which I was part of, and we invited people of diverse backgrounds to have a conversation with one another in a non-evaluative space. In 2010 we held similar conversations in the Rift-Valley, one of the regions in Kenya which were affected negatively by post-election violence in 2007-08. These spates of violence have become recurrent – almost every five years whenever there is an election cycle. So, people were tired of the pain, almost to the point of despair.
Just like in the first reading, when the prophet Habakkuk addressed his concern to God regarding the violence the Israelites were going through at the hands of the Babylonians, the participants of the Conversations for Social Change in the Rift Valley area raised a voice of anguish and complaint to God: “How long, O LORD? I cry for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab 1:2). The post-election violence of 2007-08 had claimed the lives of their loved ones and destroyed their property. Many became internally displaced people (IDPs) in their own country. Indeed, they had faith, and this faith was tested. Yet, they were able to cry out to God to intervene and restore peace and harmony in their midst. For them God had the power to end the injustices, yet, they were shocked that this cycle of violence recurred every time they had general elections. Their resilience was in their faith, just like Habakkuk, who took it up with God and demanded an answer. They too wondered: has God abandoned them? How come the innocent people - children, elderly, and women are suffering?
Habakkuk reminds us that even when we experience God’s silence, God is still aware of the pain and the suffering of God’s people. In his complaint, Habakkuk hears God’s response; “write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time…if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late” (2: 2-3). This was assurance for the Israelites that God had not abandoned them, and it was necessary to have that vision of hope written down as a reminder that God has always been with them. And even now, when their suffering has overtaken them, they are reminded to have something written down, to keep their faith alive.
Faith has an amazing power to transform our lives from a situation of despair to a hopeful one. Faith has the ability to empower us to act, to believe in the power bigger than ourselves, which is working within us to achieve a better future. When something is written down people have something to go back to; or when a story is told and retold it becomes part of people’s lives, like a point of reference to remind future generations of the faithfulness of God, especially in difficult moments. This metaphor is reflected in all the Israelites’ history, highlighting many ways God has intervened for them and rescued them from oppression and suffering. We too, are familiar with the inspirational stories in our family, community, and nation which keep our hope alive in times of difficulty.
Faith is a powerful image for people who feel powerless, to be able to imagine a new future, where they can regain their power again, where they can reconnect and feel whole once again and see the possibilities of the present. Faith involves a prophetic imagination to be able to imagine new symbols and new images which will motivate and inspire people to act in ways that transform structures of injustice into processes of justice and freedom. Faith calls for patience and perseverance, and that’s why God insists that we “write the vision, wait for it, if it delays, keep waiting, because indeed it will come” (2:3). This is the faith which keeps the hungry, the elderly, the sick, and the marginalized hoping for a better future. Indeed, it is the same faith Jesus’ disciples are longing for, after realizing that there is no future without forgiveness.
It is not surprising that the disciples appeal to Jesus: “Increase our faith!” (17:5). Jesus does not give his disciples an easy answer to their request for faith. And the amazing thing is what even a little faith can do. Jesus told his disciples if they had faith “the size of a mustard seed” they could command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and moved to the sea. This is an image Jesus is using to illustrate the power of faith, no matter how small that faith is. He is aware that it is when we believe in something that we are able to realize it. Indeed, Jesus is not talking of a magic way of doing things, rather it is the role faith plays in realizing our vision, dreams, and desires.
Any social transformation takes time; it involves conversion of the heart before it translates into action. Changing the structures of injustice does not happen overnight. People need to have compassion with one another to keep their hope alive. Today Jesus reminds us that faith is necessary for a meaningful life. Unless we have faith in God’s power within us, it is not easy to live the Gospel values of forgiveness, service to one another, and love of God. This is the same message that St. Paul urges Timothy to remain strong in the Spirit of faith. It is not easy to see our interconnectedness and the suffering of others, unless our faith in Jesus is increased and strengthened. Indeed, to continue with our ministry as disciples, as servants whose service is to transform the oppressive structures in our community, we ask Jesus, “Lord increase our faith.” Amen.
Sia Nyasari Temu, MM
My name is Sia Nyasari Temu from Tanzania. I lived in an intentional intercultural community in Nairobi Kenya for 13 years. I am professionally a science teacher, specializing in mathematics and physics. I joined Maryknoll Sisters in 2003. I worked in Kenya as part of the Maryknoll Sisters Peacebuilding Team between 2006 and 2014. I have facilitated intercultural living workshops in both male and female religious houses in Kenya. From 2008-2014 I was a participant and a facilitator of Conversations for Social Change Program in different parts of Kenya which were experiencing conflict. I earned a Bachelor of Art in Theology from Jesuit School of Theology at Hekima University College (Hekima is a Constituency College of Catholic University of Eastern Africa) in Nairobi. Currently, I am applying my knowledge and experience in theology with women religious as well as lay people in a parish. I continue practicing intercultural living in my own community as well as facilitating other diverse groups in creating space to allow to allow all voices to be heard.
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