A Man of Compassion
I met Raj, a Sri Lankan Hindu asylum seeker, about nine years ago at the the Solihull Welcome drop-in center for asylum seekers when I was attending the home office reporting center nearby. He and his family had just been evicted from their apartment and literally had nowhere to go. I helped him find other organizations that could help him and gradually things improved. He had to check in every two weeks to the Center, and that is where we chatted, usually about legal and other technicalities related to his asylum status. Occasionally Raj would ask me about my own history, my motivation to help asylum seekers and my faith. I was mindful of the context where we met and the vulnerabilities of those we aim to serve there, and I was always slow to discuss faith matters. One day he asked me straight out, "Why are you doing this work?" Once again, I found myself giving a very brief, "shy" answer.
A couple of weeks later, Raj arrived with some religious literature, and he made this declaration, "Mauricio, you are doing this work because of Dayaa (compassion)," and he explained that the Sanskrit word Dayaa is the value that treats all living beings as one's own self, wanting the welfare and good of the other living being. He also said, "Jesus was a man of Dayaa" and then said, "Are you a Jesus to me? I think you are."
I was dumbfounded and could not reply immediately to his question. Part of me resented his purporting to explain to me (he being a Hindu) my faith and my motivation for doing my work. But his question touched and haunted me, and we moved to become close friends. He would invite me to his temple, and I invited him to our Church activities. Hearing that my daughter was finding some of her studies difficult, he offered free tutoring in biology to her at our home. Each time, knowing his financial position, I prepared a small envelope of thanks for him, and each time he would return it on his next visit.
Two years ago, Raj got official refugee status in the United Kingdom and moved to another city, so we no longer see each other regularly. Nevertheless, our friendship endures.
Mauricio Silva is a Columban lay missionary living and working in England.