The Spirit of Social Justice

March 21, 2014
The Spirit of Social Justice
Jared Oubre

Jared Oubre, MTS candidate, spent much of his summer in 2013 with children who live on the streets of Managua, Nicaragua. The recipient of a Dana McLean Greeley International Internship from HDS's Center for the Study of World Religions, Oubre says he traveled to the Nicaraguan capital to put his theological education to practical use, building strong bodies, minds, and spirits among some of the Western Hemisphere's most vulnerable people.

"I drew lessons from Buddhist meditation, Catholicism, and the five pillars of Islam," says the former camp counselor from the East Bay area of San Francisco. "I was not evangelizing. I was asking the kids to think about the spirit in their own lives. We shared prayers over meals—both for the orphans and for the parents who had verbally and physically abused them. It was an important time to gather and be quiet for a moment before the children excitedly spooned down a warm plate of food."

Oubre's work at the the Los Quinchos Foundation—an orphanage outside Managua that offers street kids a structured learning environment—is the latest step on a path of service and study that has led him through much of Latin America and, most recently, to HDS. Fluent in Spanish, Oubre studied abroad in Panama, Nicaragua, and Peru and capped off his undergraduate degree in English and environmental studies at Williams College with a three-year stint in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. While there, he taught children to read and write, organized them into teams to build community gardens, and gave them the run of his house, letting them color and draw. As he observed village life, he also felt called to develop his theology.

"In the Dominican Republic, people had a sense of presence in their houses," Oubre says. "They really enjoyed being at home, and I hadn't been home since college. I needed to be centered, grounded. I thought I'd give theology a shot!"

When Oubre decided to apply to divinity schools, his Peace Corps director gave him a piece of practical advice. "He told me to go to the school that would leave me the least in debt," Oubre remembers.

At this point in his HDS career, it looks as though Oubre may graduate with no debt at all. That's because the School's extraordinary financial aid program provides him with a scholarship that covers full tuition and fees and enables him to supplement the aid with work at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

"I'm able to go to graduate school, and I'm grateful," Oubre says. "I've seen places where people live on so little. I didn't feel good about going into debt."

Oubre came to HDS for its academic excellence and multireligious approach to education. He wanted to expose himself to different faiths and to think about how they relate to his own religion, Christian Science. He says that he's been astonished by the diversity of the School's student community, which has dramatically expanded his understanding of different cultures and beliefs.

"One of the things I didn't count on was that I would have a gay Muslim black man as one of my best friends," says Oubre, "or a kid who dreams of becoming the first Latino president of the United States, and is so grounded in Catholicism that he will say the rosary and start crying."

Still, Oubre says that the most powerful part of his HDS experience is the way that the School takes education beyond intellectual rigor and interfaith dialogue.

"I want to learn at a different level," he says. "It's not just about being at school with people, but also praying with people. HDS provides an environment where I can ask someone if they want to pray. Until I do that step, I don't understand how their religion relates to me."

The work at Los Quinchos this summer was actually Oubre's second HDS-funded trip to Managua in six months. He visited the orphanage last January during winter break to study liberation theology with a group of 12 students and with Maritza Hernandez, associate dean for enrollment and student services, and Cheryl A. Giles, Francis Greenwood Peabody Senior Lecturer on Pastoral Care and Counseling.

The group talked about theology and social justice with Nicaraguan environmental activists, Jesuit priests, advocates for women's health, and rural peasants. Oubre was excited to see communities actively put the principles of liberation theology into practice, but it was the children of Managua who left the biggest impression—kids who had witnessed or been victims of violence, drug use, and rape.

"After just one brief afternoon of playing soccer and team tag games with these excited kids, my heart began to overflow with joy," Oubre wrote in his application for the CSWR's Greeley internship. "At the age of 12, most of them had lived a life working dawn to dusk, on the streets...they also showed...jubilant smiles when engaging in play!"

Oubre says he's grateful to HDS for giving him the chance to help the orphans of Managua find some quiet time to think beyond the loud city streets. After graduating this year, he wants to continue to combine theology with service and is interested in exploring immigrant rights and spiritual development in education.

"I want to know how to talk to people new to our country," he says, "to help them find spirit and solace. That's what interests me."

—by Meg Muckenhoupt