Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Beneficiaries and Aging

Grandma Hazel Ruth, a volunteer for the Foster Grandparent Program, stepped into my office today to fill out some paperwork. One of the forms she needed to complete was an insurance beneficiary form. The purpose of the form is to designate an individual who would receive some monetary compensation in the case of the her death while under the Foster Grandparent program.

Hazel Ruth looked at the form with a puzzled expression. She blurted, "Well I can't fill this out." Inquisitive, I ask her why.

"Well I have no one to designate as a beneficiary."

I find Grandma Hazel Ruth to be one of the sharper volunteers in the program so I hesitate to explain to her some possible options, such as family members or close friends. My hesitation proves wise as she continues, "I don't have anyone who would receive this money. My son told me not to give him any money or put his name on any forms because it creates complications with the Sherrif's Department, his employer."

"Grandma Hazel Ruth, who did you have on your form last year," I question.

"Well I had my teacher from the classroom I work in because she was the person I knew the best. I suppose she was my closest friend. The problem is that the teacher has left the school and I am working with someone new. I would guess the new teacher would find it odd if I designated her as my insurance beneficiary. I don't know anyone well enough to put on this form."

We decided to leave the form blank but the whole encounter struck me with profundity. Age and relocation brought with it isolation and lack of intimate relationships. Besides the time that Grandma Hazel Ruth spends at a transitional homeless shelter in downtown San Diego, she doesn't spend time with other human beings. If she does, she doesn't really know them and they don't know her. Those relationships at her place of volunteering, 15 hours per week, are the most important relationships in her life. I hope someone is there to be on my insurance beneficiary form when I am old.

Introspective Questions

I have been working on applications for international volunteering. Primarily I have been looking into organizations that do peace-related work in the third world. One of the Christian organizations I am applying for asked a few questions in the application that caught me off guard. It's not often that I think about the tenets of my faith, about what I truly believe. It took me quite awhile to shed all the layers of thoughts in my head, and here's what I came up with...

What do Jesus Christ and the Christian faith mean to you?

The Christian faith and the person of Jesus Christ provide me with hope. Amidst a world with so much pain, struggle, and suffering, I know that redemption and restoration lies in Christ. Death will not have the last word; on the contrary, the kingdom of God is at hand, and coming in its fullness, and life in its fullness will reign supreme. This hope that lies in Christ compels me to work towards the restoration of creation, by loving human beings and caring for the Creation.

What is your concept of Christian witness?

God is love. Therefore I believe Christian witness to be the demonstration of that love. Christ’s ministry was to serve the least of these with unconditional love, and as imitators of Christ, that is our Christian witness, to serve others with the love that is God.


Describe significant factors in your development as a Christian. Explain how this related to your desire to serve.

The majority of my development as a Christian came during the years of my undergraduate studies. Through my study of theology, as well as sociology, I was challenged to step outside my wealthy-suburban-American paradigm and see the world through a different lens. My studies, coupled with various experiences with the homeless, the developmentally disabled, refugees and immigrants, the mentally ill, and other marginalized populations, tore my beliefs regarding Christianity to their foundations.

I began to struggle with the disparity between a North American Christian’s lifestyle compared with that of a Christian in the third world. I saw beliefs taking precedence over actions and this became a concern for me. Rather than excepting the primacy of belief, I came to understand loving others with the love of Christ as the primary display of my faith. Maybe the most important aspect isn’t the specific belief I hold about the trinity, but maybe what’s most important is emulating the life of Christ and proclaiming freedom, liberation, and restoration to humanity through works of mercy, justice, and love.

As I continued to gain knowledge about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, the first world and the third world, the majority and the minority, I desired to make a difference. I desire to be an instrument of God’s justice and peace to those in the world who need it most.

What is your attitude toward the use of force in resolving conflicts or achieving objectives, whether personal, group or national? What is your attitude toward the military and participation in war?

I am vehemently opposed to the use of force in resolving conflicts. The ends do not justify the means; but instead, the means are inextricably tied to the ends.

I believe that violence will not overcome violence, but will instead breed greater violence. Contrastingly, love will overcome violence and when love has won its victory, peace will reign.

I believe that we are all created in God’s image and I see violence towards my neighbor as contrary to the message of Jesus Christ and to the will of God.

In terms of the military and participation in war, I am opposed. In participating in the military my primary allegiance would be with the United States of America, which I believe is sinful. My primary allegiance should not be to any nation-state which is defined by artificial borders and people groups; instead, my allegiance is to the kingdom of God. The purpose of the military is to protect the interests of a nation-state through the use of coercive violence; I believe this institution to be the single greatest purveyor of evil in the world. My participation in the military would contradict my allegiance to the kingdom of God, and would also contradict my brotherhood and sisterhood to my fellow human beings.