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This Our Exile:  A Spiritual Journey with the Refugees of East Africa by James Martin, S.J.;  Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Books.   219 pp. Paper $18.00

                 Each of the twenty-nine chapters in this book reads like a short short story, a vignette in the two-year ministry of Jesuit Brother James Martin in Nairobi, Kenya.   We meet missionaries and refugees; we gain insight into the struggle of refugees to survive and thrive; we travel to distant villages; we watch Brother Jim’s spirit deepen and broaden.

                 Brother Jim worked with the Jesuit Relief Service, with the assignment to help refugees set up small businesses.  Refugees came from Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Mozambique and Liberia.  Assistance consisted of supplying tools and raw materials, help in managing money, and finding markets. 

                 We share Brother Jim’s initiation into the ways of the poor—searching through garbage, for example, for useful or precious items.   After throwing some magazines and some Jesuit community newsletters into the trash, and lighting the already smoldering garbage heap with eucalyptus leaves (for odor control), he noticed the community’s watchman scavenging the burning dump.  Later, he found pictures of Jesuits torn from a newsletter on the wall of Joseph’s shack.  “I am so happy,” he said, “to be having your friends in my house.”

                 This incident reminded me of two learning experiences I had.  One was in a rural area in Nicaragua.  I was with the women making tortillas, and thought to try my hand at it. I failed, and we all laughed at the clumsy gringa.  As I left, I picked up the small squares of waxed paper used to separate the patties of dough, and threw them into the garbage.  In my peripheral vision, I saw a woman retrieve them, wipe them clean, and place them with other squares for future use.   A second incident occurred in a street in Kabul, where garbage was heaped up.   I saw a man search the heap, and hold up a piece of lettuce, which he ate.  

                 Is it important for preachers to read of these realities—or better yet, experience them?   Can they be reserves for preaching to us comfortable middle-class citizens of the United States?  Of course, there are plenty of similar stories in pockets of our own country.

                 Brother Jim, it seems, never stopped learning.  On one occasion, he scolded Specie Kantegwa, a Rwandese refugee, for selling the sewing machine she had received from the JRS to begin a business.   Specie explained that the Maasai watchman of their slum, in a fit of rage, had slit the throat of her sister, and she was left to care for her niece.   She had no money for food, and sold the machine to raise money.    “After Specie finished her story, she lifted her face from her nursing child and turned toward me.  ‘Now Brother,’ she said calmly, ‘That is why I sold my machine.  May I have a new Singer so I can be starting over?’”

                 The book includes lush descriptions of Kenya’s countryside as Jim and three Jesuit friends travel to Mombasa, an eight-hour, bumpy ride from Nairobi.   And, in contrast, it contains graphic descriptions of Nairobi’s slums, complete with evocation of the smell.

                 This is a good bedside book.   The chapters are short, and their resonance remains in a reader’s mind and imagination.  Maybe best of all, James Martin has an enviable gift for story telling.

Pat Chaffee, OP

Racine, Wisconsin


Book Review Archive

Just click on a book title below to read the review.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)

 

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• This Is Our Exile •
• Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in and Age of Globalization •
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• The Priesthood Of the Faithful •
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• LITURGY WITH STYLE AND GRACE •
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• We Speak the Word Of the Lord •
• KINGDOM, GRACE, JUDGEMENT... •
• Great World Religions: Islam •
• FULFILLED IN OUR HEARING: HISTORY AND METHOD OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING. •
• PARABLES FOR PREACHERS - YEAR C •
• Of Books and Preparation •
• After Sunday: A Theology of Work •
• A Captive Voice: The Liberation of Preaching •
• GOSPEL LIGHT: JESUS STORIES FOR SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS •
• Written Text Becomes Living Word... •
• Voicing the Vision: Imagination & Prophetic Preaching •
• The Death of Innocents •



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