Finding the Light Within Us: My Journey to Compassion

When I interviewed in February 2018 for the administrative assistant position here at AFSC-Arizona, I had believed Quakers—often referred to as “Friends”—to be the folks that provided the world’s most delicious oatmeal. Little did I know how involved they are in tackling social justice issues all over the world.

As I sat across the table from my interviewers, I was informed that AFSC-Arizona is a faith-based organization. Furthermore, I came to learn that no particular belief, or non-belief, is required to be a Friend. As a Christian, this interested me, to say the least.

With compassion, we all have the hope of finding healing and restoration.

Upon being hired, I was further educated on what Quaker beliefs and culture were all about. I still had questions, however, so I decided to do a little research. What was all this talk of the “light within each of us”?

I spoke with several of my colleagues about their views regarding mass incarceration, and it all began to crystallize. Their personal stories and experiences communicated that—no matter how far we’ve strayed from our loved ones and communities—there is a light within each of us that cannot be extinguished. With compassion, we all have the hope of finding healing and restoration.

Frankly, when it comes to incarcerated individuals, their families, and their communities, many Christians in the U.S. have not taken seriously this belief in redemption. Jesus, however, when speaking of loving and caring for one’s neighbor, did not distinguish between the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-36 NKJV). He did not label or distinguish between “good and bad people” when he commanded us to care for one another.

I take this commandment seriously. Having grown up in a barrio in Albuquerque, N.M.—known for its poverty, crime, high dropout rates, and gateways to incarceration—I lived among many who would ultimately end up in jail or prison. I could easily have ended up alongside them.

Today, as I write this from my work desk, I count myself blessed to find an occupation that provides a way to care for my incarcerated brothers and sisters. The light in each of my friends and family who would eventually end up in prison is the same light that is in me. Loving them is akin to loving my God and myself.

By Jason Martinez, AFSC-AZ Administrative Assistant

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