Saturday, May 17, 2008

Light a single candle

Stanley Goh is seeking God's Will in his life. Presently, he is in India working with the poor. He shares with us the following reflection of his time there.



I came to India with high hopes to do good for the local community that I’m living with and to effect as much change as I can for the time that I’m here. I've been here for about 3 months. Recently, I was starting to get a little disillusioned with the work that I’ve been doing and the people that I’ve met. As with all places in India, yone is faced with the huge disparities in income and lifestyles and feel that there has to be something one can do for the people around.
I work with about 70 students from the villages around where I am and conduct classes to help them get ahead in whatever they may do – some may go on to higher education while many others are preparing to start working pretty soon. I felt that I could do more, that I could try to work with a bigger and broader group of students from a wider area. I see poverty along the streets and people living in canvas tents by the roadside. Sometimes, I feel a sense of loss, of being useless, of not being able to do much there. There’s much to be done and here I am stuck with this programme to work with my group of 70 students. This got me down for a while and I kept wondering where and how I could go beyond this count of 70. It seemed that I came all this way for just a small little project.
This sense of not being able to do more was put into perspective over the past week by a few events that made me re-examine these thoughts. First was a conversation I had with friends who told me that our work should not be subject to the normal calculus of the corporate secular world. The fact that we can help 70 means that the 70 have benefitted and we should not look at the fact that we are unable at the moment to help the 71st. It’s not about an all or nothing game but something that we do. If I can serve one more person then great but one should strive to do one’s level best for the 70 that I’m working with and not worry so much about the others that I’m missing for the moment.
This idea is echoed in a book that I just finished reading. In Wise & Otherwise, Sunda Murty recounts little vignettes and anecdotes of her work in an NGO and has this to say. Faced with a number of situations where traditions and inertia thwarted her work, she began to lose hope in her ability to help others. It was her father who told her that every one extra person that she helps counts. She ends the section by writing,

It is more difficult to recognise our weaknesses than our strengths. Don’t aim for the sky. Keep your feet firmly on the ground and work around you. There is so much misery and gloom, but it is better to light a single candle than to remain in darkness. Try to light as many candles as possible.

This helps me see things in perspective. There’s always something else that we want to do and there’s always another person that we think we can help, but in the process we might lose sight of what we’re supposed to do in the first place. By worrying about helping more, we can lose sight of those that we are here to serve in the first place.
The image of the candle and of lighting as many candles as we can struck me as something that we should always try to do. One should not worry about lighting a roomful of candles when we’re sometimes momentarily unable to. Rather, being able to shed light on a room with one’s work will allow us to spread God’s love. After all, Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; he will have the light of life’. (Jn 8:12) We’re called to spread this light so that others need not walk in the dark. I’ve learnt that one shouldn’t worry about how much light we’re spreading for the moment as long as we are actually in the act of spreading that light.
In our unworthiness we continue to strive. Peter publicly acknowledged his sinfulness at the shores of Lake Gennesaret but at the same time found the strength to leave his life as a fisherman to follow Jesus. Sometimes we need to be able to look beyond this unworthiness and inability to do more and do what Peter did, follow our Lord unreservedly. Only then will we be able to fully do the work that we are called to. My reflection some days back about that very scene helped me to put things in perspective. This has given me to a better sense of purpose in my work here. As long as I know that I’m doing my best for the people I’m working with here, then I can continue to explore ways in which I can help more candles to stay lit. In this way I’m contributing to the lighting process. Indeed, I don’t worry about the number; all I am asked to do is to focus on the act of lighting.


You may wish to keep Stanley and his work in your prayers.


1 comment:

Fr Philip Heng,S.J. said...

Dear Stanley,

Thanks so very much for your insightful and beautiful sharing. Yes, do keep up "lighting" the candles . . . for our "little candles" are the different rays of the great "Easter Candle" of Christ our Lord.

Jesus did not try to convert everyone. . . yet, He persevered to the Cross on Calvary. In His moments of "discouragement" and "desolations" He drew strength from His Father's Love and focused on what He came to do . . . to spread the Good News to the communities He visited. . . He "did His best" and left the rest of humankind to the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to unfold His Father's Will . . . and then entrusted His Mission to 12 Apostoles who were mostly fishermen . . . with much "weaknesses".

Yes, Stanley, do keep up all the good work for the "70" under your care . . . Our prayers are always with you.

Do visit and continue to contribute your reflections in this blog to keep us all connected.
God bless

Fr Philip