Monday, July 15, 2013

Mil Gracias!

My flight is booked (6am Logan Airport on 9/6/2013!), my arm has been shot up with oodles of antibodies, and we have typhoid pills in the fridge sitting next to the butter and cream cheese.

I wanted to take a quick second to acknowledge everyone who has lent their support and dollars to send me to El Salvador in September. Without you, not only would our fridge be filled exclusively with food instead of pharmaceuticals, but our future work with Cristosal would never happen.

The official fundraising total is now $6,947! Only $3,053 more to go! If you would like to give (and don't forget, most of this money came from small donations), please visit the Support tab on the homepage.

A todos, mil gracias por su apoyo.
Especialmente, gracias a

Bishop Rickel and the Episcopal Church of W. Washington, especially
St. John's in Kirkland
St. Luke's in Ballard
St. Thomas in Medina
Trinity Church in Seattle

And to some stellar individuals:
Anne Perls
Barb Clagett
Beth Roberts
Brittany Holmberg
David Teachout
Eben Pendleton
Elana Riffle
Gadadhara Pandit
Gavin Gourley
Hans Adomeit
the Ismans
Jesse "Dangerface" Hunter
Jessica Breznau
Kyle Bryan
Mark Larsen and Anchor QEA
Mindy and the Spitz family
Paul Bowen
Peter Rowe
Sam and Nancy Riffle
Sam Bernstein
Shelley Mannlev 
Tim and Maureen McQuown
Tom Perls and Leslie Smoot
Travis Perls
Tom Bennett
Victoria Diaz-Bonilla
Zac Accuardi

You're awesome! 

Con amor,

Monday, July 8, 2013

A labor of Love

Here it is - the long overdue, impossible-to-write summary of our two week training in Stony Point, NY (see photos from last blog post).

As you know, I've been struggling to write a post that authentically captures the incredible friendship, community, love, and opening I experienced over our two-week training. We were lodged up at Stony Point, a gorgeous retreat center surrounded by trees, simple cabins, gardens with fresh cucumbers and arugula served at dinners, and free-trade coffee available all day long. We were there as a whole unit - all 26 members of the Young Adult Service Corps - students, spouses, scientists, and artists from all over the US, who have taken a year from college, quit their jobs, moved from their homes, all to embark on this slightly crazy but incredible journey. We also got to goof off, learn with, and generally annoy our fellow Young Adult at Heart Service Corps members (pronounced with a British "Yaaaahsk"), including Mom and Dad (aka Tom and Dianne Wilson) who are living in El Maizal, El Salvador!

People asked me what we were doing at training. I told them honestly, I have no idea. I thought it would be about how to take public transit, or how to avoid being robbed in the big cities... practical stuff. Turns out David Copley and the rest of the YASC staff had a few more items on the agenda. It feels like I've been stretched in every direction so that my laughs can echo louder, my sense of empathy and compassion can now be felt in my toes, and all the rules about how community and identity work have been tweaked, challenged, and transformed.

I'm a scientist by training. New concepts in chemistry or the geological origin of Death Valley don't necessarily require you to wrestle with your personal views, your sense of identity, recognizing and honestly dealing with where you have put up walls and barriers that keep you separate from others. During the training, we had to come face to face with our own limitations, our own stigmas and prejudices. 
For me, I had to recognize very early on that, though I had signed up to work for a faith-based organization, I was still holding on to a lot of old, unfounded ideas about Christians and mission work as a whole... the faithful are brainwashed, Christianity and science can't mix. I had decided to play the part but still push away any of the philosophy for fear of becoming the very thing I had spent my life criticizing and distancing myself from. When we had to write out our learning goals on the first day, among my four I declared that I wanted to learn how to relate to Bible stories. It boggled my mind that there are millions of people out there who use this ancient text to guide their modern lives. I felt like that idiot in the modern art museum who only sees a blue square while everyone around you is ooohing and aahing at its complexity. I wanted to see what everyone else saw, if only to be able to communicate and share a common understanding rather than pushing people away through my own resistance or ignorance.

And so I asked questions. It seems blindingly obvious, but for me, it was a hard thing to admit that I was the minority, the one who didn't know. It was also hard to admit that I might be wrong; that my prefabricated ideas about Christianity and religious organizations as a whole might be blindingly incorrect or generalized. My fellow YASCers were saints (pun intended... get used to it, I'm a big fan of the corny jokes). Margaret told me about how she deals with the more controversial texts in the Bible; Paul shared with me about what it's like to be a gay, black man seeking ordination; Carlin explained how a sermon on conversion doesn't automatically mean evangelizing the masses, but could just be a conversion of self. Tweaking and twisting your own ideas, what you believe to true about others and your own limitations, to make yourself more available to others.

Maybe best of all, I realized that when people say "God", they don't necessarily mean some white, bearded dude who lives in the sky. I was lying under an enormous elm tree at the center, looking up at the sunlight passing through whispering, green leaves, and I remembered the day I chose to study environmental science. I was in Peru, at Machu Picchu, sitting along one of the terraces that faced away from the ruins, looking out at the valley. The land fell away almost immediately to a river thousands of feet below, cutting through enormous mountain pillars of rainforest. All the sounds, the feel of the wind, the grass underneath my feet... it was all so magnificent as to make me feel blissfully tiny, a blip in this incredibly complex, created world. And I realized that that's God. That's what everyone's talking about. We may say it different ways, but that is faith. It's my faith.

I know this is a long post - thanks for sticking around. I could go on and on about what we did - singing under the stars (Spice Girls and Justin Bieber anyone?), playing with PlayDoh to create a diorama of our journeys (ours included a giant Popsicle stick man with a bow tie), visiting a synagogue, Catholic Mass, a mosque, and a Buddhist Center... did I mention the endless supply of coffee?

Instead I'll summarize. My fellow YASCers are family. I have rarely been in a space where I felt so safe, loved, connected, challenged, and inspired. It has left me deeply moved, and incredibly excited for the year to come. I still have far more questions than answers, but I do know that I have an extraordinary community behind me to ensure I am prepared for all I can prepare for, and open to the challenges that will inevitably come my way.

That's all for now.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Photos from Training!

We just finished up two weeks of training in Stony Point, NY. We had an incredible, almost indescribable time together... which is why a longer blog post is coming in short order. In the meantime, I thought you at least deserved some photos!

 Stony Point is a gorgeous retreat center with organic farms, jogging trails, and never ending coffee (my Seattle side was very happy). All the Young Adult Service Corps volunteers and the Young Adult At Heart Service Corps volunteers (pronounced "yahsk" as the Brits say) were there. We learned as much from each other during our break hours as we did in session, discussing cross cultural challenges, what it truly looks like to humbly serve a community drastically different from what you're used to.

The whole gang outside the Monastery in upstate NY.
Visiting the oldest synagogue in NYC (oddly placed in between the fish markets of Chinatown).
Click here to see the full slideshow!

I hope you enjoy the photos, and I promise to give some more stories soon!


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