Jesuit Father Gary Smith has dedicated more than 50 years of his life to serving the poor, including the last dozen in African refugee camps in Uganda, South Africa and Kenya. He says that working with the poor in U.S. cities, such as Portland, Tacoma and Oakland, prepared him for his work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Africa.
“It gave me a viewpoint of how the church had moved toward the poor. All the personalities you find on the streets prepare you for all the personalities you find in the camps. Human beings are human beings,” Fr. Smith says.
Now back in the states, Fr. Smith recently spoke with The Oregonian about why he’s drawn to Africa: “There are the poor and there are the poor. My experience in the refugee camp is that people there have no address, no money, no documents. The degree of poverty is very different.”
Fr. Smith also discussed working with refugees from other faiths. He said working with Muslims was not difficult. “They believe in the absolute, the creator. They want help discerning how God is moving in their lives,” he says. “They saw me as a father, someone who wanted to listen to them very attentively. These students knew the Quran, and they rejected extremists out of hand.”
Fr. Smith also spent time helping refugee students work on an online diploma program through Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, which is run by Jesuit universities and JRS. “When you work with really bright refugees who want nothing more than to be a man and a woman for others, there is a great sense of accomplishment in that,” Fr. Smith says.
To read the complete interview with Fr. Smith, visit The Oregonian website.