Catholic high school’s spiritual leader does not take for granted the partnership
forged with the greater, local community over nine decades.
Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., President of Fenwick High School
Ninety years ago next week, the Dominican Order
established a college-preparatory secondary school on Washington Blvd.,
bordered by East Ave., Scoville Ave. and Madison St. When Fenwick High School
opened on September 9, 1929, some 200 boys ventured through its wooden,
church-like doors. Many of them walked to school from their homes in Oak Park
and on the West Side, while others coming from farther away in Chicago took
Over these many years, Fenwick has survived and
thrived, despite the Great Depression (which started six weeks after the school
opened!), world wars and changing times, including enrolling female students in
the early 1990s. However, the mission at the outset has stood the test of time:
Guided by Dominican Catholic values, our priests, instructors, coaches,
administrators and staff members inspire
excellence and educate each student to lead, achieve and serve.
Fenwick today has a co-educational enrollment of
nearly 1,150 students as well as two Golden Apple-winning teachers on its
esteemed faculty. Our school’s impressive list of alumni includes a Skylab
astronaut, Rhodes Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, a Heisman Trophy recipient and
other leaders making a positive influence locally and internationally.
From our beginning, Fenwick and Oak Park always have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. “Fenwick and the Village of Oak Park have a long history of working together,” Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb has stated. “From its inception, our fortunes and our futures have been intertwined.”
As an investment in our future in Oak Park, last month we began construction on a six-story parking structure seeded with generous funding by former McDonald’s CEO and alumnus Michael R. Quinlan, Class of 1962. By next summer, some 325 cars will be taken off the streets, so to speak.
“With this new garage, Fenwick will be taking a major step toward reducing its impact on the neighborhood,” Mr. Abu-Talen noted at the August 13 garage groundbreaking ceremony. The private school “has always worked to be a great neighbor …,” and “also is a key partner in the development of the Madison corridor.
“Fenwick has been a great contributor to Oak Park in many ways,” the Mayor continued: “first, as an educational institution of national reputation; second, as a Catholic school filling the needs of a diverse and inclusive community.”
We are, indeed, proud of our racial and socio-economic diversity. More than 30% of our talented student body identifies as something other than Caucasian, and we provide nearly $2.5 million in need-based financial aid annually to our students through the generosity of many benefactors.
They come to Oak Park
As Mayor Abu-Taleb notes, “Fenwick always has been a reason why many families choose to live in Oak Park — and the reason many others visit the Village and support our local economy.” Last school year, our students came from more than 60 cities, towns and municipalities, including these top 20:
Fenwick Graduation: 2018 Hometown: La Grange, IL Grade School: St. John’s Lutheran Current School: The University of Wisconsin-Madison Current Major: Animal Science (Pre-Vet)
Summer Internship: I do not have a formal internship through the university this summer, but I work as a groom for a few Argentine polo pros. I gain experience through working with the horses as well as by assisting the vet when the horses need treatment. I am also involved in a biomedical research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This lab work will extend through my entire undergraduate schooling.
Career aspirations: I aspire to go to go to vet school.
Fenwick achievements/activities: I was a member of the National Honors Society, Tri-M Honors Society, Friar Mentors, was an Illinois State Scholar, a Eucharistic minister and was on the State Team for WYSE. I also ran track for three years and was in choir for four years.
Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on you:Mr. Kleinhans had the most influence on me. I learned a great deal in his physics class, but most of all I learned from his example as a role model, teacher, mentor and WYSE coach. Some of my favorite class memories are from his “feel good Fridays” where he connected life experience to prayer and the importance of being a genuine person while working hard and enjoying life.
Fenwick class that had the most influence on you: AP Biology with Mr. Wnek was one of my many favorite classes. Mr. Wnek is a fantastic teacher, and what I learned set me up for success in college biology and other lab work.
Fenwick experience you would like to live again: I would relive the whole experience. From classes, sports and clubs, to friends, I had a great experience at Fenwick. I am extremely grateful for the community and for the way it set me up for success in college and in the future. I am thankful for the relationships I formed with teachers and the way that impacted my growth as a student and as a person.
Fenwick alumna’s post-Mother’s Day reflection on how being a good neighbor
means loving your neighbor as yourself.
By Quiwana Reed Bell ’96
I was born the snowy winter of 1979 in Maywood, Illinois, to Jacqueline and Ronald Reed. My father, Ronnie, was born and raised a tough bi-racial kid from the west side of Chicago, near Pulaski and Roosevelt. My father never knew his mother.
My mother, Jackie, was born and raised in 1950 Natchez, Mississippi — a famous plantation town near the ports where slave-produced cotton and sugar cane was once exported. She is the oldest of seven children and grew up on family-owned land that also included homes for her grandparents (both paternal and maternal), aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors, who were like family. Her father, Oliver, was a handyman and janitor with a stuttering problem and a heart of gold; and her mother, Josephine, was a stern yet dignified seamstress who also worked for more than 20 years at the pecan factory. Her family of nine lived in a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house. They went to church on Sundays. They socialized and cared for each other. They didn’t have much but never felt poor. They were a community. And they were happy.
My mother left Mississippi after high school, after
having a child out of wedlock with a man who was unwilling to marry. She came
to Chicago in the summer of 1969 to visit her Aunt Mavis, her dad’s older
sister. She lived on 13th and Pulaski in a brick two-flat building
on the west side of Chicago. Aunt Mavis had 10 children of her own with her entrepreneur
husband Ed, who ran an auto mechanic shop. Although they owned the entire
building, they lived in only one of the units which had two bedrooms, one
bathroom and a back sun porch. Ten kids, two parents and now visiting cousin
Jackie from Mississippi all in one unit. The block was lively. People sat on
their stoops in the evenings for entertainment. The kids would play loudly up
and down the streets. Neighbors knew
each other; supported each other; fought and gossiped about each other. It was
a family. A community. And they were happy.
During her summer-time visit, Jackie met Ronnie, who
was a friend of her cousin Roger. They quickly fell in love and married only
three months after meeting on February 14, 1970. Jackie never returned to Mississippi to live.
In Mississippi still was her infant son, Derek. He had stayed with her family while
she traveled to Chicago. This was not a big deal. The family was seen as a
unit. Jackie’s son Derek was not her property, but a member of a larger family
unit where everyone contributes, supports and belongs.
This was a sentiment taught to my mother very early on in her childhood. She was born in segregated Mississippi where black people were still forced to live separately. This separation, however, was not all bad. Black communities had viable businesses — bakeries, dentist offices and insurance companies. It was a community where people looked out for one another. I would often hear stories of how if one person on the block killed a cow, then everyone on the block would have meat. Similarly, during my summers that I spent in Natchez, MS, I would often hear my grandmother say, “Go run this pot of greens that I picked and cooked over to Ms. ‘So and So’s house.” It was natural to share. It was natural to help others. It brought happiness. My mom never felt poor. She didn’t have a lot of fear and anxiety. Her family lived in peace. Even amid all the stuff going on in the world — they were shielded in “their community.”
Black folks have always had to be communal with each
other in America in order to survive:
We had to help each other as we were packed
like cargo at the bottom of slave ships.
We had to help each other as we sang songs
together in the long days in the hot cotton fields in Mississippi.
We had to help each other as we navigated
our way through lynching and rape and beatings.
We had to support each other in demonstrations
and boycotts fighting for equal rights.
We had to support each other through
redlining/housing and employment discrimination.
Today we still have to support each other through families being ripped apart as a result of mass incarceration, disinvestment of neighborhood schools and economic opportunity, and the resulting crime that plagues our communities.
Cookies Are Not as Sweet as Search Engines Want You to Believe, Says 19-year-old DePaul Freshman
Editor’s Note: 2018 Fenwick graduate Nick Bohlsen, of Oak Park, is finishing his freshman year at DePaul University in Chicago. Bohlsen wrote this paper last semester for his “Writing Rhetoric and Discourse 103” class, earning an “A” for his effort. (A Networking Infrastructure 263 course also used a more detailed version of this report.)
By Nick Bohlsen ’18
In our modern society, our lives are becoming more intertwined with the Internet. We shop, watch television, talk to distant relatives and conduct business intercontinentally thanks to the Internet. The Internet is undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions in history, but it is not a paradise like the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the major search engines advertise it as.
As you browse through your aunt’s random photos on Facebook, for example, you may notice that the advertisements seem to be tailored to show you products that you may be interested in. They are not there by accident, but intentionally placed based on the data that web browsers and sites collect on you. As we visit sites, they start to collect key identifiers that puts us into various advertising categories. These key identifiers are called “cookies.”
Cookies are generated with every single move that we make on the Internet and hold data relevant to what we are doing: data such as passwords, credit card information, items in an online shopping cart, and more. The data gets stored onto the local machine and waits for the next time it can be used on the web. In a perfect world, this data would never be accessed by anything other than the website that originally generated the cookie. Our world, especially our online world, is not as safe as we would want it to be. The question that is raised is should internet sites and search engines be allowed to track all of this sensitive data? Should they be allowed to send this data to advertising agencies to be able to specifically target our interests? The simple answer: absolutely not.
One of the larger issues with cookies is the amount and kinds of data that is being tracked. As mentioned before, cookies are collections of data that track what we do on the internet. This data can be something as small as our search trends to something more personal such as credit card information or social security number. Editor John Rockhold, in his article titled “How the Cookies Crumble” published in Wireless Review on June 15, 2001, quoted Jason Catlett, the president of Junkbusters. Junkbusters was a company whose goal was to advocate for consumer privacy in an era when the internet was an emerging technology. Catlett said, “Cookies were meant to be a way of storing shopping-cart information, but they quickly turned into an all-purpose surveillance mechanism” (Rockhold). This surveillance system was originally designed to work as a “working memory” for sites to make our lives easier.
Cookies have evolved into something more than that now. Advertisers on the internet are now using the data from our cookies to see what we are interested in. According to Stephen B. Wicker and Kolbeinn Karlsson, writers for The Association for Computer Machinery magazine, there are many processes in the background that put our information up for auction. Simply put: Our data gets sent all over the web to categorize our search trends, build profiles (or update ones that have already been built on our data) based on the data that was tracked. Advertisers then look at our profiles to see if displaying their ad will be cost-effective. The advertisers that find our profile attractive bid on the ad space, an advertiser wins the bidding, and their ad gets displayed on your screen. All of that happens within 100 milliseconds. (Wicker & Karlsson, 70)
Internet ad delivery is a complex process involving multiple redirections, synchronizations of user information and an auction, all in a few tens of milliseconds. (Wicker & Karlsson, 70)
According to Jane Quinn – writer for Newsweek who published the article “Fighting the Cookie Monster” in February 2000 – these profiles have plenty of our data. Her example: Say you’ve sought information about a debilitating disease, spent time in a chat room for recovering alcoholics, or gambled online. The Web sites you visit may be attached to your personal name, address, e-mail address or even phone number. Technically, searches can even be launched for key words … that you might have left in a chat room or on a public bulletin board. These records — the intimate and the mundane — can trail you for life, like Marley’s chain (Quinn).
Advertising agencies usually like to share their databases with one-another to build the perfect digital picture of you, increasing the amount of information they have from you (Quinn).
The benefit of allowing the advertisers and companies that use this data is that we will never see an ad that has no meaning to us; nor will we ever see an ad more than once. They also claim that there would be fewer free sites on the internet without the intensive tracking (Goldsborough). The one that benefits the most from this agreement, however, is the advertiser. At the cost of our information, they display advertisements to us that they are more likely to get us to click on them. They get more money from their advertisements and more of our information to target us even more efficiently. That is a parasitic relationship in which the parasite gains while the host loses.
Another reason these sweet morsels of our personal data should not be so readily accessible is the possibility of our private information becoming not-so private. Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn – the inventors of the internet – were not worried about security in their initial designs. They viewed the internet as one happy place where everybody would play nice with each other and be responsible. As we know, that is not what the ecosystem of the internet is today. As this data is being sent back and forth on the web, it is possible that someone can break into the system and intercept our personal information.
One potential problem, according to Reid Goldsborough who is a writer for Tech Directions, is that, “…the theft of the user name and password information by hackers who could then access your bank, credit card or other account” (Goldsborough). These kinds of breaches are more common for mainstream sites such as Yahoo and Google; the smaller sites are much more prone to security breaches. These “third party” sites can have intentional data breaching code built-in or can be exploited by an outside user that is interested in your data (Goldsborough).
Although there is a way to reduce the number of cookies we have by deleting some, the settings that allow us to do so are usually hidden under multiple menus. That is also assuming that the user knows that they should delete their cookies every now and then, or that cookies even exist outside of the kitchen. According to the findings of Jeremy Kirk – a writer for PC World magazine – there are some very devious ways in which some of your most trusted applications can be turned by a hacker to exploit your cookies. He found that, “…some top websites using a method called “respawning,” where technologies such as Adobe’s Flash multimedia software are manipulated to replace cookies that may have been deleted” (Kirk). Adobe Flash is used on almost every website that we go to, including sites such as D2L [the cloud software used by DePaul and other schools]. Once the exploit in Flash has been run on your computer, hackers get every piece of information that you have ever inputted to the world wide web.
If today’s internet looked just like Cerf and Kahn’s idea, then we would not have this problem facing us today. As that view is virtually impossible to achieve, we must do all we can to protect our privacy in the digital age. Having our personal data stored and sent all over the internet is a very dangerous practice, and it is something that the public does not know enough about. It is up to us as users of the internet to do our due diligence and ensure that our privacy is being protected, and to reduce the number of cookies that are being generated based on our private information.
Goldsborough, Reid. “The Benefits, and Fear, of Cookie Technology.” Tech Directions, vol. 64, no. 10, May 2005, p. 9.
Kirk, Jeremy. “Three Devious Ways Online Trackers Shatter Your Privacy.” PCWorld, vol. 32, no. 10, Oct. 2014, pp. 38–40.
Quinn, Jane Bryant. “Fighting the Cookie Monster.” Newsweek, vol. 135, no. 9, Feb. 2000, p. 63.
Rockhold, John. “How the Cookies Crumble.” Wireless Review, vol. 18, no. 12, June 2001, p. 36.
Wicker, Stephen B., and Kolbeinn Karlsson. “Internet Advertising: Technology, Ethics, and a Serious Difference of Opinion.” Communications of the ACM, vol. 60, no. 10, Oct. 2017, pp. 70-77.
Pioneering perspective: Fenwick’s first black graduate reflects on the segregated life of his youth. “Mine is a difficult story to tell,” he says, offering a history lesson in the process.
Interview by Mark Vruno
School records dating back 64 years confirm that alumnus Richard Cochrane ’59 blazed a trail as Fenwick’s very first African-American student and graduate. Originally from Maywood, IL, Mr. Cochrane now lives in the sunny Southwest. In high school, he was active in student government (class treasurer and secretary) and played football and basketball (captain).
Last February, one-time Fenwick student turned educator Marlon Hall, PhD. shared his freshman-year experience of the early 1970s, when he endured verbal abuse and physical bullying – all racially inspired. In one of several replies to Dr. Hall’s guest blog, Cochrane pointed out that his memories of Fenwick were quite different and much more positive 17 years earlier:
“Dr. Hall, I appreciate your sharing your Fenwick experiences and the strength they gave you. In context, in 1950 the world-renowned chemist Percy Julian became the first African-American to take up residence in Oak Park. His home was fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day of that year and again in 1951. In May of 1954 the Supreme Court rendered the ‘Brown vs. Board of Education’ ruling. In September of 1955 I walked into Fenwick as a freshman, two years before the ‘Little Rock Nine,’ and I am black. There were no other black students and there would only be one more in the next four years. “Many of my experiences were similar to yours but the negatives were overwhelmed by the support of the majority of the student body, and the faculty support cannot go without mention. There were whispers and some name-calling and even a fight or two, but the Dominican family pushed, nudged and refused to let me think of anything but finishing. I was also aware of the financial burden that I was placing on my family.In return, I received an excellent education both academically and socially….”
Cochrane’s heartfelt response prompted our Alumni Relations Team to reach out. We learned that Rich is “happily retired” and soaking up sunshine in New Mexico. Our questions and his answers:
Richard, where did you attend college? Please tell us about your professional background and STEM-related career.
RC: After graduating Fenwick in 1959, I attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, where I majored in chemistry. While there I played freshman basketball and varsity football for two years until my knee gave out. I got a job in the coatings and ink industry and, eventually, spent 35 years with Sun Chemical Corporation. I held positions in lab synthesis, tech service, lab management, operation management and national accounts. I retired from Sun in 2003.
What was it like being the only black student at the Fenwick?
RC: In 1955, I believe my freshman class enrolled about 354 students and the school enrollment was about 1,236. As I’ve said, I found the faculty very supportive and the student body mostly treating me like any other student, with a smaller group either curious or distant. Only one of the other three students from my parish in Maywood [St. James, which closed in 2006] was close to me at Fenwick.
On the first day of school, when I went to the office to pick up my class schedule, the staff called back one of the students I was with to ask if I was really going to attend school there. A notable few of the upper-classmen were kind enough to offer short words of encouragement. If I missed the Madison St. bus, I would walk west until the next bus came and would often find the Oak Park Police close behind to make sure I reached Harlem Ave. The single greatest factor was the Dominican community. I got the feeling that they would not let me fail (or even consider quitting).
Did you have a sense that you were making “history” at Fenwick?
RC: I had no sense of making history but there was a constant feeling of not being totally “at home.” Remember, at that time Oak Park had a population of 62,000 [there are 10,000 fewer residents today] and had only one black family — and their home had twice been bombed.
Father Mike looks back at how the Fine Arts program got its start at Fenwick nine years ago – and how art plays an integral role in a well-rounded education.
By Fr. Michael Winkels, O.P.
A valuable part of an educated person’s life should include an interest in and appreciation of art. That is certainly true of a Fenwick education. Besides Science, Mathematics, English, Foreign Languages and History, an understanding and appreciation for Fine Arts helps to complete a well-rounded student in the Dominican tradition. The Dominican motto is Veritas or “Truth.” The search for truth encompasses all aspects of human experience. In a Dominican school, art is one component that is essential in the formation of our students as they seek veritas.
After my ordination in 1976, a Sinsinawa sister encouraged me to explore my interest in art. In 1979, at the encouragement of the Order, priests who have been ordained three years were encouraged to begin studying something complimentary to theology. I enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where three years later I received a B.F.A. degree in Studio Art.
At the invitation of Fr. Richard LaPata, I joined the Fenwick community in 2000, working in the area of Technology. I continued working in my art studio whenever I could find the time. In the Fall of 2010 I was asked to develop a Studio Art program. With the support of the school and several generous financial donations of one of our families, we gradually purchased the necessary equipment and supplies.
The program started out modestly with seven students the first semester. From the beginning it was our intention to not just study about art but to introduce students to a variety of ways of helping them make art. The “Survey of Studio Art” class was the first class offered. It has remained the backbone of the Studio program. In this class, students are introduced to 11 media: drawing (pencil, conté crayon, charcoal), water color, acrylic painting, ceramics, wire sculpture, screen and block printing, digital photography and batik. They gain a wide range of experience in both two- and three-dimensional art as they learn about the theory of color, understanding of shading and value, negative and positive space, composition, form, texture and perspective. At the end of the semester they choose one media that they particularly liked and do a more detailed project as a final. As I remind the students even today, you will not be good at or enjoy every media we do, but I guarantee that they will like something in the Survey class. And that has proven to be true.
After students complete the Survey of Studio Art class, they can sign up for a 2-Dimensional and/or a 3-Dimensional Studio Art class. Each of these classes can be taken at four different levels. Students continue to learn and develop in their favorite media as well as improving their artistic and creative skills. At each level of these advanced classes, students learn additional art media, e.g., etching, aquatint, lithography, stained glass, ceramic wheel work and making of mobiles.
Each semester, the classes end with an Art Exhibit of all student work. Invitations are sent out to family and friends inviting them to come to school to enjoy the fruit of a very busy and productive semester. It is a joy to see the smiles of confidence on students faces as they hear family and strangers comment on their talents and hard work. Many students are surprised at what they have been able to accomplish and are gratified for the opportunity to expand their educational opportunities.
Brian Hickey ’12 returned home to Western Springs, IL, from North Africa earlier this month. The Fenwick and Valpo alumnus reflected on his past four months teaching refugee children in Djibouti:
December 28, 2017
Although there is no evidence of Christmas in Djibouti, our community was able to celebrate and reflect on the Word becoming flesh. After living in the birthplace of Jesus for a year, Christmas will never quite be the same. There is a power the mind can hardly comprehend in experiencing where love came down in the form of a baby boy in a place that animals feed. In a few days, I also hope you get to celebrate the gift of life we have been given in living another year in this world.
It is easy to constantly have the difficult moments or stories at the forefront of my mind when speaking or writing about my experiences in the Middle East and Africa. However, there are also moments of joy and triumph amidst many personal challenges or communal problems that come living in an underdeveloped country. In the spirit of light coming into the world at Christmas to overcome darkness, I will highlight a few of these moments from the past four months.
Saturday Morning Soccer
It rarely rains in Djibouti. However, when it does it usually pours for a short amount of time and produces huge pools of water and minor flooding due to a nonexistent sewage system. This can cause frustration and annoyance. It poured briefly one Saturday while I was serving breakfast to our boys at Caritas. On Saturday mornings, we bring about 40 of the boys to an open area to play soccer.
The “field” turned into a slippery mess of rainwater, mud and cement. This only enhanced the fun as we slipped and muddied ourselves for a couple hours. All the boys were able to laugh at themselves and each other. It didn’t matter that we do not play on a real field, have proper equipment or are competing for a prize. We had one another.
5th Grade Mohamed
Mohamed is a new student at the school this year. When school began in September, he knew only a few English words. He soon became overwhelmed because everyone in the class was way ahead of him and he would usually sit in class all day staring off into space and not doing anything. Honestly, I sometimes wondered how long he would stay in the school. You would never guess this is the same student I have in my class today.
I’m not sure if I said something that gave him a spark or something else clicked for him, but Mohamed has become the hardest working student in the class. He is always trying to understand what we read or work on in class. Whenever he comes to ask me a question and subsequently understands, a giant smile comes across his face as he gives me a fist pump.
This smile and proclamation of understanding is another moment of joy that sticks with me. Mohamed also enjoys testing me with written Arabic words as I continue to try to understand the language. I believe most people, especially kids, are not “bad” or “dumb” but just need someone to believe in them.
Several times per week, I enjoy going for a run in the morning. There is a small stretch of sand along the sea on my running route. Many of the street children sleep on this stretch of sand along with other homeless people. It is obviously striking to see these boys waking up and wandering the streets before going to Caritas.
Often times as I run, I’ll hear the boys shout in my direction off the road. They love telling me at Caritas that they saw me running as well. The moments of great joy are when they come and run barefoot beside me for a distance. Many people driving or walking give a funny look to a street kid and a white westerner running together. However, they do not understand our relationship. This is always my favorite part of my day.
As you [may] know, last year I lived and worked in Bethlehem in the West Bank. Even more than my time in South Africa and Zambia, Bethlehem will always feel like home because it was my first full-time job and I built many close relationships. Three weeks ago, I had tremendous sorrow as old neighbors, close friends and former students felt neglect and betrayal due to our country’s announcement about Jerusalem. No matter one’s opinion about the announcement, the consequences are real for all those I came to love in Palestine. I could hardly believe my eyes as I saw a video, directly outside my old apartment, of the aftermath of a truck coming into Palestinian territory and mowing down residents before crashing into another car.
All the students I was able to communicate with in wake of the announcement and initial protests were certain that the 3rd Intifada [Palestinian uprising] is imminent. They feel that they will be even more forgotten by the rest of the world and lose the few opportunities they have. A family, who was always generous in taking care of me, is in danger of shutting down their restaurant (next to the separation wall) for an extended time due to constant protests. Other friends will be negatively impacted by what the announcement will do to the tourism industry in Bethlehem. Please pray for peace and that our leaders are cognizant of our neglected Christian brothers and sisters in Bethlehem as well as all Palestinians.
Finally, as the New Year commences I invite you to seek joy in every situation. Like the day of muddy morning soccer, forget what you don’t have and focus on what you do and the opportunities in front of you. Just as Mohamed has done, stop thinking about what you cannot do and chase the dream or opportunity you believe is too difficult or inconvenient. Just as I am energized by running with migrants and refugees, seek out a marginalized person or people group to invest financially or with your attention and time. This will bring you more energy or joy than simply investing in yourself.
A baby born, on the run from violence, in the Middle East has brought more meaning and light in my life (and hopefully yours) than I could have imagined. That light overcomes complacency or darkness in our lives and leads us to our final destination. Invest in that relationship this year whether it is investigating the doubts you have or spending more time with Him.
February 13, 2018
For as long as I can remember, I always eagerly anticipated springtime and the weather getting warmer at this time of year. Perhaps, it was just looking forward to March Madness, high school tennis season or our annual Spring Break trip in college. I am sure you are looking forward to getting rid of the snow and embracing warmer weather and sunshine. In Djibouti, the weather is getting to that point in the afternoon when you cannot be outside for more than five to 10 minutes before beginning to sweat.
The days can certainly feel long, but, as usual, the weeks and months have been going fast. Spring is almost here! The following are a few happenings/highlights since my last update.
In early January, we loaded up a few buses and took the Caritas boys to a nearby beach (away from the beach where many of them sleep). We spent most of the day on the beach playing soccer, throwing a football, blasting music and swimming in the sea. We also enjoyed lunch and snacks. At the end of our day at the beach, the boys received Christmas gifts consisting of shoes/sandals, a shirt, pants and some candy. This was the only Christmas gift that they received. I know this day will most likely be the highlight of the year for each of the boys. It was also probably my favorite day thus far in Djibouti.
As you can imagine, there are many stories from Caritas that stick with me. Rhakeem, only about four or five years younger than me, was a bit slow and off when I first met him. He would always seem to be just staring off into space, and he kept a small notebook with the names of the people at Caritas to remember. Sometimes, he would come up to me and say (in broken English) that his head was banging. Younger boys, not knowing any better, would say that he is crazy.
Rhakeem could be considered an ‘economic migrant’ when he fled desperate conditions in Ethiopia. Soon after, Rhakeem got in contact with a human smuggler that would bring him by boat to Yemen. Due to the instability and civil war in the country, many African migrants and refugees take the risk to go through Yemen in hope for greater opportunities in neighboring countries. They certainly do not know the true dangers that await in the war-torn country and are given deceitful assurances by the smugglers.
Although all the details are not known, when Rhakeem arrived by boat to Yemen he was held hostage possibly by smugglers or another group in the country. He was raped and struck in the head by an AK-47. Rhakeem was rescued by an aid organization and brought back to Djibouti, but not without certain brain damage and emotional trauma from the experience. Somehow, he made it to Caritas. Early last month, he was brought back to Ethiopia by the international migration force in Africa to hopefully receive the treatment he desperately needs. I always enjoyed interacting with Rhakeem. As with many here, it is frustrating and frightening to think about his needs and not knowing what his future holds.
Last month, Caritas hosted the inaugural “All Brothers and Sisters 5K Race.” When the idea came up for something like this in early October, I was skeptical that it would come to fruition because events like this do not typically occur in Djibouti. We brought the event to the proper authorities for permission and it took them a month to respond to approve the race. Three days before the race was to occur, the local authorities said we had to postpone because the president had a meeting the same morning. The government certainly does not like to make things easy for outsiders, especially when a Christian organization is seeking cooperation with an event.
Nonetheless, the race was rescheduled for the following Friday and we had over 250 people come, including several foreign militaries, kids from my school and others, a running team from Caritas, and ex-pats from NGOs and embassies. The event focused on bringing everyone together from Christians and Muslims to locals and foreigners. There is often tension and prejudice toward different groups in Djibouti such as Christians being referred to as ‘criminals’ or ‘pigs.’ It was a great event to experience these different people groups coming together in the name of Caritas.
As winter turns to spring, we also welcome the season leading to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years later, we exalt and give our lives to a man given a criminal’s death on a cross. Of course, this was not just ‘a man,’ and the Roman capital punishment was only a tool to magnify what our Heavenly Father did to destroy death. I am not sure it can be fully comprehended that the creator of the universe did this for you and me to have abundant life at the present moment in the year 2018.
It is so easy to only stay focused on our own concerns, comfort, present or future. I know I can become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of severe poverty, despair or violence in the region that it is easy to just freeze and want to give up. However, this is when the knowledge of Christ comes to the forefront of my mind and the acknowledgment of the power that lives within me becomes fully alive. We are wasting our time if we are not making an impact for Christ wherever we are planted.
Whether working at a hedge fund or a faraway country, realize the space around you is to be used to bring Heaven unto earth. Look to the things that are above our culture and situation. Focus on what transcends current circumstances and remember that our victory has already been won. There is nothing left to claim or prove that can be greater than what has already been obtained.
April 10, 2018
Almost eight months ago, I set off to a country I did not know much about except that it was surrounded by war-torn countries: Somalia and Yemen. I certainly won’t forget walking off the airplane in Djibouti in the middle of the night and feeling like I’ve entered a sauna. Djibouti has had unique challenges and a culture distinct from the other countries where I’ve served. The days sometimes felt long, but the months went by quickly. In a few days, I will begin the 36-hour travel back to Chicago.
I’ve seen the effects of war and hunger, hopelessness and despair, but I’ve also seen sacrificial love in people providing for one another. I’ve seen differences in nationalities or religion transcended by a desire to counter suffering. I’ve seen the power of friendships in walking through whatever comes one’s way in life. I’ve seen joy in what looks like massive struggle. The following is what has stuck with me since my last update.
Walks of Life
Throughout my time in Djibouti, I’ve been fortunate to encounter people from various walks of life. I’ve met a team of people that have spent time in the some of the worst humanitarian situations in our lifetime. I heard firsthand accounts of ISIS in Mosul, blown-out cities in Syria, deep despair in South Sudan, and death of children in Yemen. I’ve met Yemeni and Somali refugees trudging through their new situations after having their lives uprooted by violence and war.
While I’ve formed friendships with members of the military from several countries, I also am friendly with people who sleep on cardboard during the night and see me when they begin their day on the street. I’ve truly experienced that as iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens another with one deep friendship I’ve had in Djibouti. I’ve walked with boys trying to survive life on their own on the streets of a foreign country.
Life Lost, Saved and Found
Last month, we received word that a 1st grader at our school had suddenly died. The boy had a high fever and his parents took him to a hospital. The hospital injected him with medication before being directed to another hospital. The next hospital also injected him with medication and it is believed the mixed injections probably killed him. Obviously, it was pretty shocking that a healthy young boy would suddenly die within a couple days of being sick. Many of the people here attributed the death to simply being “God’s (Allah) will.” They do not know that the God we know brings abundant life and is not a thief in taking the presence of this young boy from his family, friends, and school.
In addition to the work with the boys at Caritas, there is also a small medical clinic at the facility for the poor, migrants and refugees. Recently, a foreign pediatrician from one of the militaries was at the clinic for the day. A Somali woman came in to seek sustenance for her baby. The pediatrician checked on a cleft on the baby’s face and stated that the baby had to get to the local hospital immediately. While the woman was hesitant to go, it was determined that if the baby did not get treatment that day she would probably die. Thankfully, the child received the necessary treatment to keep her alive.
Over the past few months, there has been a local addition to our Christian community. A Djiboutian police officer, Ayele, in his late 20s has been volunteering at Caritas and been around our compound quite a bit. He comes from a Muslim background (as do nearly all Djiboutians) but has come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and was first attracted to Christianity due to our services to the poor and vulnerable. There is certainly animosity toward Christians in Djibouti so, especially as a government employee, Ayele will face persecution in his decision to follow Christ. He will be baptized in a few weeks. Ayele’s story makes all the difficult conditions and challenges in Djibouti worth it.
At the beginning of August, I will continue my mission in a different capacity than Bethlehem and Djibouti. I will be attending the University of Notre Dame to study Global Affairs with a specialization for two years. I could not be more excited to join 35-40 talented students from around the world at Notre Dame. We will be interacting with policy influencers such as former White House chiefs of staff, CIA directors and heads of states. It will certainly be a change to go from the Middle East and North Africa to a place I’m quite familiar with in ND, but I’m eager for a challenging and rewarding experience in preparing to further impact the world for the Kingdom of God.
It is difficult to find the right words to finish out this last update. The last few years have left me shaking my head in wonder of how I’ve been able to have these life experiences I could never have even imagined several years ago. Yet, I realize this all blossomed from my knees in Stellenbosch, South Africa, as I said “yes” to God to take me where my trust is without borders.
The day after Easter I shared the story of Jesus from start to finish to my class as I further explained why we did not have school on Easter Sunday. I received numerous questions from my Muslim students and the class was as quiet as it has been since the school year began. I could tell it had a major effect on at least two Muslim boys in the class. One of them stared off into the distance for five to 10 minutes after asking if we will meet Jesus in Heaven if we make it. Another boy was asking me more questions the next day.
I know the Gospel shook those in my class to their core in hearing, for the first time, the radical way God seeks to have a relationship with us. If you had the cure for cancer would you not want to tell everyone about it? Well, we have the cure to laying down all bitterness, ego, pride and shame to live life abundantly and proclaim the good news of the empty tomb. We know the cure for death and have the ability to live forever. We have the opportunity to make decisions to impact lives that will echo into eternity.
Thank you for all your support and encouragement in many capacities over the past few years. As I’ve written, this could not have been possible alone.
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20