International Director discusses mission of JRS

In an interview with Rome Reports, Fr. Peter Balleis, S.J., the International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service, recounts the defining moment that called him to help others.

Fr. Balleis also discusses the Jesuit Refugee Service three-pronged mission to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world.

For Peter Balleis, director of the Jesuit Refugee service, providing relief to refugees around the world is threefold.

Peter Balleis, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service:
A triple mission. To accompany, to serve and to advocate. We only advocate or speak on a situation on behalf of refugees if we are also working in that situation with that refugee. We don’t talk somewhere in the air. A lot of advocacy works is on the ground in the field. Individual cases who need to get their food to ration carts who don’t know the system works or with local governments.

The organization has been sending relief to refugees worldwide for 29 years. Balleis grew up on a farm in rural Germany. He still remembers the defining moment that called him to help others while on a trip to Africa.

Peter Balleis, Jesuit Refugee Service:
I still remember the first hand of a beggar in Akuru in a station asking for something. I was a bit helpless, what to do now? You know, seeing the poverty in Kenya. That challenged me saying I think I should…I can’t just make my normal career. I should respond to it.

JRS’ aid includes education, health services, and visits to refugee camps worldwide. Though JRS considers itself a faith-based organization, Balleis says the organization’s mission is not to convert refugees to Christianity, but rather to offer them help in the most extreme of situations.

Peter Balleis, Jesuit Refugee Service:
Before you hand out the services you make people into Christians, this is not our line. No way. The love of God, our service is there for everyone. In most situations the refugees have been non Christians or are not Christians.

JRS is active from Africa to the middle east. It’s loaned its share of aid and service to the neediest of scenarios including Darfur, Iraq and now Sri Lanka.

Peter Balleis, Jesuit Refugee Service:
One of the biggest pains, suffering and conflict is Sri Lanka. The war goes on almost 20 years. The Jesuit Refugee Service works there almost since the beginning of the nineties. Then there was a ceasefire and again and now its becoming a total onslaught on people on both sides.

Sri Lanka’s civil war has left thousands displaced across the country. Balleis says his organization has been successful in providing aid to the crisis here because of special help from locals.

Peter Balleis, Jesuit Refugee Service:
A lot of our collaborators are themselves refugees or teachers from the local population who, when people have to move from here to there, move with them and start immediately the village school again, and that’s something very touching but its very painful to see.

What’s certain is that Balleis and the Jesuit Refugee Service will continue to bring relief to people in all corners of the world regardless of their faith.

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