In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” the Lasallian Region of North America is featured. The ministry is Bethlehem University in the Holy Land and the Lasallian Volunteers are first-year LVs George Boateng and Jarred McKinney. George is a 2018 Graduate of Boston College with a bachelor’s in History and Sociology and Jarred is 2018 a graduate of Emory University with a master’s in Global Religions.

WHAT IS BETHLEHEM UNIVERSITY?

Bethlehem University is a Catholic co-educational institution in the Lasallian tradition whose mission is to provide quality higher education to the people of Palestine and to serve them in its role as a center for the advancement, sharing and use of knowledge. The university emphasizes excellence in academic programs and the development of students as committed people prepared to assume leading positions in society. The university fosters shared values, moral principles, and dedication to serving the common good. Founded in 1973, current enrollment is 3,295 students with 77 percent female and 23 percent. Of those students, 76 percent are Muslim while 24 percent are Christian. Students come from the areas surrounding Bethlehem with 46 percent from Bethlehem, 44 percent from Jerusalem, 8 percent coming from Hebron, and 2 percent coming from other places in the region.

WHAT SERVICE ARE GEORGE AND JARRED PROVIDING AT BETHLEHEM UNIVERSITY?

George coordinates the English language tutoring program and works as a TA for an English class. Jarred spends most of his time tutoring in English, is also a TA for an English class, and writes and edits for the Bethlehem University newsletter.

WHY DID JARRED AND GEORGE DECIDE TO JOIN LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

For Jarred, he felt called to the mission of both the LV program and of Bethlehem University. He wanted to work for educational opportunities for people who might not otherwise get them. He says, “I became a Lasallian Volunteer because I believe that everyone loves learning, the first step is just learning how to learn. So, there is no venture more worthwhile than to accompany students in the journey of falling in love with learning.” For George, a trusted mentor introduced him to the program. He felt it was the best way for him to continue with his passion for social justice. He says, “I have always engaged in the civil activism. I believe in using my privilege to help people not blessed as I am to share in my freedom and rights.”

HOW DO GEORGE AND JARRED TOUCH THE MINDS AND HEARTS OF THOSE ENTRUSTED TO THEIR CARE?

Many Bethlehem students have to travel a great distance to get to the university. The political climate in Palestine is very unstable and can be dangerous. George and Jarred, along with the Brothers and Lasallians at Bethlehem University, offer safety, stability and quality education to the students entrusted to their care. George says, “Bethlehem University encounters the same challenges every person and institution confront in the West Bank due to socio-political reasons. However, amidst these struggles the institution endeavors to provide an education that is academically, socially and psychologically uplifting because of the belief that a well-rounded education is the best vehicle for positive changes. The most important thing my students need from me is my attention and dedication.” Jarred speaks of his experience when he says, “I think Bethlehem University attempts to combat this by instilling the idea that although Israel may occupy their physical bodies and their material resources, they cannot occupy your mind if you do not allow them to do so. That is the power of education, it is a liberating, life-giving force, and I think Bethlehem University aims to embody that. My students most need from me is to see that learning can be play, it can be fun. This removes the pressure and emphasis on grades and allows the learning experience to be enjoyable.”

HOW HAS LIVING WITH THE DE LA SALLE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS IMPACTED GEORGE AND JARRED?

Neither Jarred nor George had experience with the Lasallian charism or De La Salle Christian Brothers prior to their service experience. However, both volunteers have very positive things to say about their community experience at Bethlehem University. Jarred says, “Living with the Brothers has placed an emphasis on prayer and paying attention to the happenings of my life. Thus, praying multiple times a day has led me to be attentive to the presence of the Divine in the world. If, then, I am attending to God, my self-understanding rests in God. But, there is a lot of grey-area in this. Living with the Brothers has helped me to see that this grey-area is, in fact, holy ground.” George shared, “My time with the Brothers has taught me that they are just like everybody else, but they live a life dedicated to education. My experience has instilled an appreciation to living simply.”

WHAT DO GEORGE AND JARRED WANT TO SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS ABOUT LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

George says, “The volunteer year should not be about you, but about the people you are serving and the mission of the place you are serving under.” Jarred says of serving for a year after college, “I think sometimes that we make things too formulaic. A leads to B, B then to C, and so on. Perhaps it is better to think about life as a pilgrimage.”