40th Anniversary: Hospitality on the journey that lights hope and joy

18 January 2021|Yosep Yonal, Youth Coordinator at Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Yonal during a home visit in a refugee camp.

“Teacher, take a rest first! You have traveled a long way to visit us, you must be tired! Take a seat and here is a cup of tea for you!” A refugee teacher welcomed JRS staff as soon as we arrived in the refugee camp. The hospitality showed by a refugee teacher welcoming JRS touched me, personally, and I never forget the first visit to that camp. That is the beginning of my story as JRS serving refugees.

I joined JRS in mid of 2010 as a volunteer to help in data collection based in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. With gratitude and honor, I would like to mention Fr. Joe Hampson, SJ who allowed me to join and became part of the team and assigned me to work in two camps which then given me opportunities to have more interaction with refugees living in both camps that JRS has served.

It was an exciting moment for me, as always, to have the first encounter with refugees whom I only heard and read in the news during my school time. The first moment I entered the camp, I met the refugees, I talked and shared experiences with them. It fulfilled my dream. It is a joy that we are here for them! Yet, the dream was not stopped there, it continues its journey.

Reflecting on the inspirational parable of “The Good Samaritan” has brought my experiences with refugees to become more authentic and refresh my motivation again and again. Being on the same journey with “The Good Samaritan” that helps a suffered-man on the road, it is clear to me that both JRS and refugees have been helping me to learn more, feel more, and contribute more, which is in other term called “Magis”. The story was often presented during important occasions of JRS all over the world. I believed it laid the foundation of JRS’s spirit towards its vision and mission, and most importantly manifested in the 7 core values of JRS that include “Hospitality”.

A Journey happens for a reason. At once, a few years before I worked with JRS, I experienced a pilgrimage as a form of formation. The pilgrimage setting was extremely challenging where I was sent in pairs to walk about 270 km in 7 days and begged for food day by day to fulfill our hunger and to continue the journey until we reached our destination. Every day, our journey is a hope whether we will have food to eat or not, whether we will face heavy rain or hot burning sunshine, or even whether the villagers will allow us to stay overnight in their shelter or not. In short, it brought us joy every time we beg for food and people generously give us food to eat, as well as a place to sleep. I called it “Generous Hospitality on the Journey”.

What brings me close to the refugees is 'Hospitality'. Hospitality is a door for bigger things to come. It could be bigger hope, bigger joy, bigger opportunities, but also bigger challenges and bigger sacrifices. However, through reflection, prayers, and discernment, it all turns into bigger blessings.

10 years serving in JRS, I come to understand that ‘Hospitality’ for JRS is not about receiving and accepting but rather about giving (generously). JRS has a unique characteristic which is to go on the mission where the greatest needs are! It is JRS that is in its journey to meet the most needed to accompany, serve, and advocate them. A quote said by a refugee during the celebration of the 40th anniversary of JRS in the camp: “Many of the refugees have been successful and become leaders and JRS may not know that! But they all know they are successful because of JRS’s contribution.”

Lastly, I am so grateful and glad that I am part of this mission. I am happy to join the boat of JRS on its journey to refugees. JRS has given me opportunities and spaces to grow for being professional in the field and most importantly to grow as a human with an inclusive mindset.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2021

Yosep Yonal