Learning Circle

Before convening your Learning Circle, review our suggestions for how these groups can be structured. Please read through the discussion guide on this page before convening your Learning Circle, so participants know what readings to complete by the time of each discussion.

Each of our Learning Circle discussions includes two sections. The first section will help your group think about and discuss one of the reflection exercises in each unit of our Study Guide. The second section, “Destination Discussion,” is tailored to support conversation around learning materials specific to your destination.

Gather: Invite people to sit quietly for a moment and take a few centering breaths. Light the chalice, and offer opening words. Allow a few more moments of silence. Invite members into a brief personal check-in.

Part I: The Struggle Against Injustice (50 minutes)

Work In Pairs

Ask group members to open their journals to their responses to Ivan Illich in the essay, “To Hell with Good Intentions.” Break into pairs to share your responses to Illich.

Still in your pairs, consider this question: How does the individual person of good intention fit into and cope with the larger context that has been created by colonialism and many decades of inequality?

After 15 minutes, bring your group back together.

Large Group Discussion

Read together the following policy and philosophy on donations. (You might pass this document around, and have different voices take turns with the reading).

UUCSJ Donations Policy and Philosophy


Participants on UUCSJ experiential learning journeys are asked to refrain from giving money, goods, or promises for future aid to all individuals and partner institutions you meet during the course of your journey. If you have been inspired by your experience, we ask that you contribute directly to the UUA or UUSC and earmark your gift for the partner institution you wish to support.


UUCSJ and our parent institutions (UUSC and the UUA) have built relationships with our partner organizations based on mutual respect, transparency, and reciprocity. Financial assistance is one important way in which we support the work of our partners, and most of them receive monetary grants from UUSC or the UUA. However, such grants are the culmination of a long process of discernment and conversation with our partners about their goals and strategies for their work.

Technical assistance is often provided in conjunction with the grant. At the conclusion of each project, UUSC and UUA managers work with their partners to evaluate the project’s effectiveness and ways in which future projects could be improved. Often partnerships are maintained for five to ten years or more, and include many cycles of program grants and reviews.

As a participant on a UUCSJ program, you will likely be deeply inspired by the work of our partners. If your journey takes you with us to a country in the Global South, you’ll also be exposed to poverty and suffering that feel pointless and cruel. You may find yourself feeling guilty about your own relative wealth, or about your role in an unjust global system that provides wealth for a few and deprivation for the vast majority.

The urge to provide money (or assistance in the form of goods or services) often feels like the logical and most immediate way to tackle this unjust system. You may even see a particular need, and feel the impulse to plan your own project: With $500 for supplies and my friend who is a skilled engineer I could permanently fix this well! Or: My host has been so kind to me, I’m going to set up a scholarship to support her kids in school!

But it’s not so simple to unravel the layers of the unjust systems in our world. Giving money is an important way to help. But when it is given impulsively, it can create rifts within a community and warp the institutional relationships we’ve worked hard to build. Our partner organizations are in a much better position than are short-term visitors to distribute contributions among their members in a fair way, always keeping in mind their long-term goals of justice and sustainability.

Money carries with it power, and too often financial arrangements between the Global North (North America and Europe) and the Global South (the rest of the world) result in patronizing or romanticizing those in the Global South. Our long-term partnership model attempts to mitigate the worst of those dynamics.

It is therefore our policy that participants not give money or goods directly to our partner or to individuals you may meet while on a UUCSJ program. If you are moved to support the critical work of our partners, please do so with earmarked gifts to the UUA or UUSC, so that we can sustain both the work and our respectful relationships.

Questions for discussion:

  • What are some ways you can imagine good intentions causing more harm than good, if participants were to give money or goods impulsively during their journey?
  • What are some ways you can imagine being uncomfortable with this policy once you are in the host country?
Carrying the Questions

This is the last time your group will meet before travel, so it’s an opportunity for those who will not be on the journey to support your traveler(s) and to plan ways that you will hold them in care as they travel.

The exercise of “Carrying the Questions” helps foster a good support network, and enables your traveler(s) to bring meaningful inquiries from home on their trip. Since this is an exercise that begins before, continues through, and extends after the journey, it opens doors for your Learning Circle to engage the pressing issues of injustice in your own community.


  1. Put a piece of butcher paper or other large writing pad up, and have available some regular-sized paper as well, for use at the end of the exercise (for the latter, you might seek out some special stationery, as this will be carried with your travelers on behalf of the group).
  2. Ask your group to think back over your discussions together, particularly as you have talked about the specific destination and justice issues your travelers will experience. Ask people to suggest the key questions that have stuck with you. These can be related directly to the place that your traveler is going, or focused on the issues of injustice that your own community engages or hopes to engage. Record all the questions.
  3. After five minutes of brainstorming, look at the list of questions you’ve generated. Collectively, begin to distill some of the key themes you see there. Ask together: Are there ways to frame these questions so that our travelers might hold them in mind and heart, and seek out answers to bring us on their return?
  4. Narrow your list to a few questions generated from those key themes. Once you’ve distilled it to two to four questions, invite one of your members to write them on the nice paper you’ve set aside. This is what your travelers will carry with them.
  5. Gather around your chalice, with the questions you’ve chosen next to it. Join hands in a circle, or stand with your arms around one another. Invite first all of those who will not be traveling to speak a word or phrase of blessing for the travelers. You might begin with a common phrase, such as: “My wish for you on this journey…” or “On this journey, may you…” After all non-travelers have spoken, invite your travelers to speak their own hope or blessing for the journey.

End your gathering as you usually do, with closing words and extinguishing the chalice.

Other Suggestions

We suggest that members of the Learning Circle who are not traveling themselves spend the week remembering the travelers, considering their journey, and reflecting further on the learning that’s happened together so far. Pay attention to news local to the country/region that they are in. Consider what parts of your learning are echoed in the news stories that get told, and consider what is being challenged. What are you wondering about now, listening to the news, that you might not have noticed before?

Most UUCSJ participants are involved to one degree or another in their local congregation. While your travelers are away, we encourage you to use the opportunity of Sunday worship to lift them up for remembrance during Joys and Sorrows or other opportunities your church may offer.

Begin to consider how you will welcome your travelers home. The Learning Circle is a group of people who have metaphorically (and in some cases physically) journeyed together. Part of the sacred trust of this group lies in the ability to ask questions that matter, and to listen with deep attention to the responses. With this in mind, while the traveler is away, keep on the back burner of your mind some questions that matter, that carry a sacred weight, to offer as a guide for your traveler to reflect their experience back to you.

Part II Destination Reflections (50 minutes)

Note: The first part of this Learning Circle for Unit 6 is longer than usual, to help your group to wrap up and prepare questions for your journey. Destination reflections are offered here, but if your group is pressed for time you may find it more important to complete Part One.

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