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JRS Online Retreat: Day 23 – God Present in the Dreams of Refugee Children
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

As you begin your prayer today, remember that you are in God’s holy presence. Become aware of how God gazes on you all the time, how tenderly and powerfully God regards you. Ask God for what you want in prayer:

Ask the Father to draw you into a deep experience of the Risen Jesus who will call you to a life of deeper compassion.

Reflections for Prayer

Sr. Joanne Whitaker, RSM
Former Regional Director
JRS Southern Africa

23 November 2010 – The children in the primary school at the Osire Refugee Camp in Namibia sat for their classes wherever they could find space – under the trees (if the teacher could find a tree), in the food distribution center, as well as in the classrooms with a roof and walls. There were too many refugees for the limited number of classrooms. The returning refugees in Katanga in southeastern Congo listened intently to their teacher even though they sat on the dirt floor in a classroom missing one wall, with no windows, bullet holes in the walls, and a meter high insect mound growing next to the damaged chalkboard.

I often wondered how they endured such conditions, freezing during the winter and boiling during the summer in Namibia or wondering if the walls would collapse around them in Katanga.The children taught me how they did and why. They knew that education was important if they were to move from the trials and sufferings of life as a refugee to a new life when they returned to their home country or resettled to another country. Their time in class relieved the sameness and boredom experienced by most refugees forced to live in the confines of a refugee camp. As one child told me, "School is the most exciting thing I do."

I’ve seen the truth of their belief. When the Angolans returned home at the end of their 27-year civil war, many became leaders in their communities and qualified for jobs because of their education. Many studied in schools where English was the medium of instruction and lived in refugee camps with large numbers of French speaking refugees.  When they returned they were proficient in English and French along with Portuguese, the language of Angola. One young woman educated in Namibia moved into a position as secretary for a senior official at one of the international organizations in Angola. One young man became manager for a large supermarket in Luanda. Many secondary school graduates were hired as teachers for schools in rural areas of the country. (This was an improvement in a country where most teachers in rural schools had not finished primary school.) 

The refugee children hoped that their time in the refugee camps would end and they would enter a new life rich with possibilities and new experiences.  Do we believe in the risen Jesus and his promise of new life?  Do we listen with compassion to children asking for our help to realize their dreams? 

Address God as a friend speaks to a friend. 

Talk to God about your response, your own needs and your deepest desires.

End your prayer with the Our Father, the prayer Jesus taught us.

Suggested Reading for Prayer

1 Timothy 4: 7-10  

Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. For this we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children. There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires." ~  Nelson Mandela