Why I Still Believe

Joan Hanawi - Ecuador


January 31, 2012

Although Global Citizen Year is a non-denominational organization, we all come from different places, different backgrounds, different beliefs. Which is exactly why his words echoed in my mind that night as I tried to determine if I had heard, let alone understood, correctly.

“You have no idea, but you came at exactly the right moment. I don’t think you realize, but you have helped me today much more than I have helped you. You’ve helped me much more than you’ll ever truly know.”

10:00 PM and we were just leaving the office. My incessant questions and confusion about simple tasks had amounted to more than twelve hours of work in one day. But not the type of work you’d expect in a development apprenticeship. Instead of working in the field, planting cacao; or in the classroom, managing a room full of mischievous kids; or in a health center, catering to the needs of an underserved population, I had spent all day in a beautiful, well-lit, thoughtfully decorated office working with the latest graphic design programs on the newest version of a Mac desktop. Needless to say, I had been comfortable.

Early that morning, I had left my hometown of Tena to work with the designer of our office’s publications in a neighboring town located about two hours away. I had met our designer once before, but I still didn’t know him well. From the first impression, he seemed to be “buena gente”—pensive, patient, intelligent. Definitely living in a more comfortable economic class than others I have encountered in my time here. We spent all day conversing, getting to know each other, working. Which is why when we left the office that night at 10:00 PM, his words caught me completely off guard. I looked at him in surprise, my face reflecting the questions racing through my mind. As I opened my mouth to respond, to try to deflect the comment, he continued, “You see, things haven’t been going so well. Honestly, I haven’t been in the office lately. I haven’t been working. When you called me this morning to ask about the address of my office, I didn’t know what day it was. I had forgotten you were coming, but when you called, I pulled together all the strength I had to try to put forward my best effort. For the past couple months, things have been pretty rough. I’ve had a lot of problems. But today, finding out that you were a Christian, that we share the same faith, that I could have something so uniquely distinct in common with someone who comes from so far away has been one of the biggest comforts I’ve had in a long time.”

I continued to stare at him in disbelief, as I tried to remember how he even knew what faith I held. Suddenly, it hit me. A five minute exchange we had had that morning was sparking this confession. He had asked me what type of music I liked to listen to, and followed that question by asking me to classify the genre of music he was playing at the time. After he defined it as the product of Christian artists, he confirmed that he listened to this genre because he also shared the same faith. Excitedly, I extended the commonality of our faith, but this camaraderie was quickly pushed to the side as heaps of design questions and decisions shoved their way into the center of our attention.

Still reeling in the weight of his words, I was so shocked. Taken aback. Honored. Blessed. It’s very easy to forget that simply because people do not live in poverty does not mean that they are problem-free. No matter where you are, who you are, or what you do, we all struggle, we all prosper. We fail, we succeed, we learn.

He continued, “It’s hard to live this life sometimes. It can be lonely.” Immediately, the prior feelings of self-significance diminished as I looked at him timidly and softly shared my agreement. Remembering the responsibility my self-proclaimed label entails, it weighed on me that the past year has definitely pushed my faith. However, this singular experience reminded me why I still believe. It is so easy to see only what you want to see in others. To believe the façade of equanimity that so many have perfected. To be oblivious to pain. But more often than we’d like to admit, it’s right there and very badly hidden. The only problem is that no one takes the time to see it.

As a very dear friend said to me in response to this encounter, “Some people need saving, and some people need to save someone.” I’m not quite sure which role I played that night. All I know is that somewhere in the midst of all that saving, I was shown exactly why I still believe.

Joan Hanawi