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So I was reading through the American Infantryman’s Edition of the Gideon Pocket Bible (given to me by my sophomore year roommate Dave Simnick while he worked at the Pentagon), and a series of verses really popped out at me/stayed with me even after a night of sleeping on them. They are as follows, Acts:30-38…

30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31″How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”[a]

34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”[b] 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

(As drawn from the NIV of the Bible at: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%208:30-38;&version=31;)

Now, this is a famous verse in some circles for the apparent theological meaning. It is the anecdote of a man interested in the matters of Christian religion, and looking for someone to teach him the specifics and help him understand what he is reading. I think this is a beautiful meaning, and I personally know people who are sort of in this situation (some of whom don’t even realize that they are reaching and striving for a sense of religious fulfillment and connectedness).

A entirely different set of meanings became clear to me after reading this and considering my present situation. First of all, since written Hebrew and Arabic are nothing at all like the English character set, I essentially play the role of the Ethiopian every day, every new place I go: “how can I understand the signs if I don’t have someone to explain it to me?”

Similarly, all of the academics I am participating in this semester are indicative of the “how can I without someone to explain it” sort of wisdom drawn from this passage. By no means do I take this to mean that the only way a person can improve or get better is with someone else to help them – there are plenty of people in the world who make significant strides with self-improvement, and I make every effort to be amongst them. At the same time, though, it seems that the only way a person can truly make progress at any given pursuit requires the input of another person at some point (whether it be speaking Hebrew like I am learning to, or any variety of things like learning how to do one’s job).

It is precisely the sort of person in these verses, those paragons of humanity who still desire to improve their situation no matter how difficult life gets, who in part motivate me towards a career in the organization of international religious aid work. And paradoxically, knowing that some people can be so set on improving their lives and those of their neighbors also motivates me to want to work with those people of the world for whom hope seems to have tarnished beyond recognition.

I suppose that what I am trying to say is that this place, those verses, and a strong sense of vocational calling all seem to be pointing at a similar end: that of working to improve the situations of other people on this Earth, that they might lead a more fulfilling and Godly life as a result. The specifics of how I might do that as a career are still falling into place, but it is nice to have some semblance that I should even consider asking other people to help me understand my calling/life/reality, as the Ethiopian did, is already blessing enough. Here’s hoping and praying that I understand enough of the explanations I get to act on them to the fullest possible extent.

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