Seeing yourself in the faces of the poor
‘They treat us how they see us.’
That phrase became a defining theme for the group of Micah Centre students, instructors, and friends who travelled to Quest Mexico for 10 days.
On our first day in Cuernavaca, our guide Gerardo led us to La Estacion, a squatter’s settlement in the heart of the city. There we met Justino, a father and grandfather who was born in La Estacion and has lived there his entire life. His joyous hospitality could not mask his fear that he and his family would be forced to leave the renovated train car they called home by powerful political and corporate leaders in Cuernavaca. He shared with us his feelings of powerlessness, and his fear for his children and grandchildren. At one point, a student asked Justino, “Why are they treating you this way?”
Justino answered, “They treat us how they see us.”
We treat others how we see them. And all too often, either in Mexico or at home in Canada, the truth is that the poor are treated as disposable because they are seen as disposable—if they are seen at all.What a contrast to the visions of Matthew 25 and Psalm 72, two texts we spent time reflecting on as a group in Cuernavaca. Over its history, the church has seen Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 as an invitation to encounter Jesus himself in the face of the poor, the stranger, and the imprisoned. “Just as you did to them, the least of these, you did it to me.”
Psalm 72 makes the audacious claim that a good and just king will “save the needy from death, and rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” What a claim—that God sees the blood of the poor and powerless as precious.
During our time at Quest, our students encountered instance after tragic instance of people being treated as if their blood was far from precious. But we also encountered many who see the world as the God of Psalm 72 and Matthew 25 sees, such as the peace activists from ‘Movement for Peace with Justice’ who spoke to our students, who were willing to put their lives on the line so that no more students or mothers or sons disappear.
At the Micah Centre, we have the privilege of creating space for the King’s community to encounter worlds they may otherwise not see, to hear voices they may otherwise not hear, so that they may learn to see our world and all of the places and people in it as God sees them: as precious and worth our best efforts to ensure justice and practice solidarity on their behalf.
Because Justino is right: “They treat us as they see us.”
Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning is director of the Micah Centre. This piece is his reflection on the centre’s annual trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico through Quest Mexico, a non-profit organization devoted to creating social justice and peace through experiential education.
Every February, students at King’s can spend eight days in Mexico taking part in Quest Mexico. Students spend nine days talking to and visiting villages, markets, squatter settlements, historic sites, and more. Through these direct encounters between students and the people of Mexico, Quest works to cultivate mutual respect and a sense of our common humanity, sharpen participants’ understanding of their role in the global community, and encourage participants to incorporate this understanding into their lives.