Joseph, John Lewis, Malala and more

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 30, 2020

The example of ancient Joseph as someone for whom life was repeatedly the pits, but for whom those pits placed him in the right place at the right time to be God’s agent of life and hope (last week’s column), certainly drew some inspiring responses from our readers. I’d concluded that column by asking whether Joseph’s example brought any recent public figures to mind.

One of our newest email coffee companions, Pat Reid from Michigan, picked up on the news of U.S. Congressman John Lewis’s July 17 death. The civil rights champion was an organizer of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in which he was brutally beaten. “From the review of his life it sounds as though he was certainly in the pits many times,” Pat said. Yes, and out of those pits emerged the landmark Voting Rights Act and his legacy of being revered as the conscience of Congress!

Or who can doubt that Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai is also one of those who rose above life’s pits to affirm a better way for many? Why, even her family name is prophetic of her legacy. “Yousafzai” means “descendant of Yusuf” in her Pashto language of Pakistan. The name has its origin in the same ancient linguistic root as our hero Joseph’s name. Malala herself was, so to speak, a descendant of Joseph!

And then there’s this response I received from Calgary coffee companion Janyce Konkin. As president of Peace Africa Alliance Consulting, Educating and Training Centre (PAACET), a not-for-profit peace organization in partnership with a colleague and board members in Africa, she writes as a knowledgeable voice for immigrants. Janyce wrote:

YOU ASKED for recent examples? How about the entire scenario of immigrants who are forced from their homelands and must flee to new countries because of wars, dictatorships and persecution for beliefs? Each one of them exists in this "pit" that could be compared to the slavery of Joseph. They must go through many trials on their road to freedom, including learning a new language, a new system of living (individualism compared to their original collectivism), upgrading their education – most often working the most menial of jobs while doing so. They face many trials and tribulations regarding racism and bigotry for being outsiders, and I am sure you will agree that this is becoming worse in today's terms with the current upsurge of fascist leaderships.  

And then you quoted Joseph: “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here. For God sent me before you to preserve life.… Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.… So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.”

And as you commented, “Joseph had found himself in the pits on several occasions. But those pits had allowed him to be at the right spot at the right time to be God’s agent of life and hope for his tormenters."

I believe many of these immigrants see exactly as you have written – that God sent them here to preserve life, even though harm had been intended to them, but God intended it for good in the long term. They have found refuge from famine and war, and a home-away-from-home. These pits have allowed them to be at the right place at the right time, to not only learn new ways but also to help us to learn new ways – to see everyone as human beings with equal rights and responsibilities. 

I often say to the immigrants I work with that their job is not only to integrate into our system but also to teach us how to integrate into theirs so that we are all integrating and learning new ways and understanding of differences, instead of making only them assimilate. This understanding is a necessity if we are to become a truly global and integrated humanity.

Also, without generalizing too much, many of the immigrants are not only becoming educated with advanced degrees, but they are using those degrees to help build stronger societies, whether here in their new homes or also influencing matters back in their original homes. They continue to bridge the gaps in so many ways by sending money back home to ensure not just survival of their remaining families, but also to ensure education of the new generations. They also build schools and medical centres for their home communities, ensuring advancement of techniques and knowledge, sharing their new-found methods and wisdom in order to "be God’s agent of life and hope for his tormenters."  

So, that's what your weekly column has made me think of today. Thanks for the reflection.

Janyce Konkin, MA
President, PAACET


© 2020 Warren Harbeck

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