An update from Stephen, a Perkins School of Theology student studying in South Africa:
As the days go by here in South Africa, I am wrestling with the idea of hope and “hopelessness.” I am having a tough time defining what hopelessness means in the South African context. Hope can easily be diminished due to specific reasons. Maybe it’s the loss of a very important member of your family or friend, or even the fact that your favorite sports team can never reach the point to winning a championship.
The point is that we have all found out what it means to have less hope in someone else, or even ourselves in some cases. My true quarrel is found in the attempt to define what hopelessness is for a person whom you do not know or have not gathered enough information about over time. I did not want to come to South Africa with any presuppositions about how the people are handling their problems with poverty, HIV/AIDS, political struggles and other things, but I do recognize that these situations are real and are happening.
At the same time, I feel that it is important that we should not automatically define hopelessness for others until we actually interact and have dialogue with what they perceive hopelessness to be. The smiles and giving spirit that the people I’ve interacted with in Durban may hide the anguish that they deal with on a consistent basis, but maybe it is their strong spirit that eradicates the thought of being “hopeless.”
Hopelessness may not even be in some of these peoples’ vocabulary, so I believe it is important to first hear firsthand accounts of what hope and hopelessness means to a person or a group of people before making any assumptions. It helps clear space for proper dialogue and understanding between you and others.