Home Sweet Home

9 Nov

I know that I have been away from my blog for a while now, but I hope to write a bit more frequently in order to continue to share about my life here in Nicaragua…

With December quickly approaching, I am coming upon the time of entering my 2nd year as a Jesuit Volunteer, which means many things—receiving new volunteers and beginning a new JV community, saying goodbye to my current 2nd year community mates as they complete their time as a JV in Nicaragua, reflecting on my first year and looking at ways I can mover deeper towards my goals of accompaniment and solidarity building, and also receiving visitors from home.  In December I am expecting a visit from my boyfriend and in January a visit from my mom and one of my aunts.  I am very excited for the opportunity to share my life with them.

Upon thinking more about this time of visitors, I realize that there are many loved ones I will not be sharing my life with in Nicaragua, tangibly, that I really wish to keep including in my time here.  So, I have decided to kick up my blogging a bit with things I am thinking about and doing as well as share with you all some photos of my house and community that I have been meaning to post since last December!…

For now…here is the house I live at and the people I live with!

It is a space I am so grateful to have and share with my JV community mates and Nicaraguan friends, but it is also a place that we, as JVs, struggle with—particularly when it comes to living out our values of simple living and social justice.  It is definitely much larger than the houses of our Nicaraguan neighbors and friends and it is behind a large wall that can make one feel pretty removed from the neighborhood community.  It certainly requires additional effort to reach out to people in our direct barrio and to make the house feel approachable, but we are continuously working the bridge that structural divide and thinking of ways we can be mindful of the privileges we have through the house that many Nicaraguans do not have access to.  Here are a few: each person having their own bedroom and having a space to retreat to for time to be alone, a refrigerator, garden of green space, a large living room area to host gatherings, living next door to a school and therefore not having a lot of loud noises at night, and having guards at the school who also watch over our house because we rent from the school…the list can go on and on.

Hopefully, in this short amount of space you are able to picture a lot of what my community and I think about in regards to our very tangible privilege of our living space…it certainly is a part of our daily reflection as we seek to build community in Ciudad Sandino.

Outside of House…we have two entrances, this is the one I enter and leave out of most

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Once you enter the white gate, you enter our garden area and patio…the other house you see towards the right is a house that hosts three Nicaraguan teachers from the school we rent the house, that is across the street.

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This is our sala or living room (pictures taken last december).  I took these pictures last December so hence the xmas spirit (though we have xmas lights and streamers up year round).  You can see we have space to sit and chat as well as a section where our large dinner table is.  We have dinner together almost every night as a community.

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 Along the wall of the living room we have our library filled with lots of great books on justice, spirituality, theology, history, and other pieces of literature…without a tv as a distraction (as well as no schoolwork)…I have really enjoyed the pleasure of leisurely reading. You can´t quite see it, but it extends with an ironing board filled too!

 

Behind the bookshelves, you can see our kitchen. Complete with stove, microwave, and toaster oven…though we try to really not use those electrical appliances very often.

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Here is one aspect of communal living, for me, some of the less enjoyable aspects…our chore wheel and cooking & watering schedule.

 

As you leave the other door of the sala, you enter our laundry space for hanging clothes…this covered, yet open space has really come in handy when we need to have our clothes dry in the rainy season.  We have a laundry washer, but we actually wash our clothing by hand instead as a way to save electricity and water.

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 Our phone (which we share as a house of 5 without cell phones) is also a part of the laundry area.  So, Mom and Garrett…here is where you can picture me sitting when you call!

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As you exit the laundry area, you see our lovely hammock that is always a nice stop when just coming home from work or to nap in on the weekends.  That door behind the hammock is the one that leads to my room!

 

As you can see from the hammock picture, we also have a mural that was completed  by the JV community before I came.  Many JV houses have murals that each volunteer then puts their handprint on…here is ours:

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Translation: Walker (or traveler), there is no road.  You make the road by walking.

Here is our lovely dog, Muñeco with my community mate, Adrienne (2nd year).  Image

 As you enter that door you see behind the hammock, you see this!


 The door that my towel hangs from leads into the bathroom that I share with fellow 1st year community mate, Elspeth.  (Another very atypical aspect of our house compared to other houses…each two rooms has its own bathroom and shower.)

And here is my lovely community!! 

From Bottom row to Top…

Elspeth(1st year) and Adrienne (2nd year)

Tony (2nd year), ME, and Bianca (2nd year)

We are on retreat in La Garnacha

 So, I hoped you like the brief tour and that you can maybe picture a little bit more where I am living with my 4 community mates.

 Hope to be posting more blogs soon…

A Glimpse of My Day

9 Feb

Some people have requested a “day in the life” blog post. I wasn’t sure how to capture that in one post, but I did create a sort of guided meditation for all of you if you’re interested. I think it will give a bit of a glimpse of my day to day, but I also want to note that I am not trying to paint a “reality” of what it is like to live in Nicaragua. I am only one person and view my day through my personal lens, which means privileged and as an outsider. If you’re interested…read each bullet point and then close your eyes to try and picture what it might look like and what you might feel. I’d love to hear your reactions, but I’d especially love to learn about what your days look like if I were to do the same activity.

Thanks for the interest in my life, please know I am always eager to hear/read about all of yours. Sorry for the length!!

• Wake up at 7:00a.m. (sometimes feeling rested, but as of late still feeling tired), eat oatmeal, read a brief entry in “All the Saints” as a daily devotion, and then leave house at 7:30a.m. to go to the bus stop.

• As you walk your 5+ minutes to the bus stop, you will pass many Nicaraguans, who have probably been working out of or in their house for many hours before you awake.

• You get to the bus stop, not having to wait too long for one to come by since you have 3 different options to take to work (unlike one communitymate who has 1, very infrequent option and no set schedule to follow for buses.

• You race to get onto the bus and it is already filled with many people. You travel (or climb over people) to get to the back of the bus after paying your C$3 cordabas bus fare (22 cords to US$1).

• You hit the side of the bus if you cannot make eye contact with the driver/money collector so you can get off at your bus stop (about 15 minutes away from your house).

• Exiting the bus, you can see the colorful mural that marks the walls of Pajarito. You cross the 4 lane expressway (with caution…don’t worry, mom!) and immediately see co-workers and residents walking around through the gate, as you smell the delicious breads and postres baking in the panadería.

• Entering the gate, around 7:50, you greet the guard as you sign-in into your very own, (and passed down from 2 JVs prior) green notebook.

• You are immediately greeted by name, hug, and/or kiss of a resident/a couple of residents on your walk to your area.

• As you enter your area, you greet the other 7 co-workers (5 of which are Nicaraguan, 1 volunteer from Japan and another from Germany) who are also in your area. Placing your backpack on your chair, you plan or prepare for your day: Cutting strips of magazine for recycled jewelry class, mapping out yoga poses, picking the books you will read, and reflecting upon whom you feel could use additional attention and presence.

• You walk around the different dormitories greeting residents and co-workers…picture the smiles, tears, laughter, screams, friendly and sometimes uninterested responses or encounters.

• Begin your activity and exude all of the positive energy you can give to the residents, wishing you felt you had more to give.

• After pausing for a quick merienda or snack of cookies, fresco, or fruit, you continue with an activity…this time, it’s your storytime corner and you dive into, pretty animatedly, the lives of the characters in your story. You insert questions about the colors on the page or the characters in the story…and maybe even throw in an action/song that makes you feel a bit more like yourself at work and gets laughs from residents.

• It’s 11:30a.m. and you travel to Hogar Ositos to help with lunch. Depending on if the food is already in the hogar, you might journey to the kitchen window to help pick it up or start right in breaking down/mashing/shredding the meal for the 3 residents you feed. Grab a towel to place as a bib for the resident you have fed for the past month and will feed for your 2 years. Explain the dish and that it is time to eat with a smile and comforting voice (although they might not be able to understand you or respond…it feels most dignified that way). Serve the meal spoonful by spoonful. And after, have your resident open their mouth and pour in the water or fresco. Picture fast eating days and others very slow, depending on the food or day of the resident.

• Then, it’s your time to eat, but before you leave Ositos…give an applause to/praise 3 other residents because they have finished all the food on their plates (they are 5 years old and are able to feed themselves). You won’t be able to prevent your smile when those same 3 ask for “un beso” and point to their cheek before you exit and they nap.

• You’ll eat the same food as the residents and will sometimes eat inside with those who work in your area or eat outside with the two younger co-workers who are in your area.

• After lunch, you can take a workplace accepted nap at your desk to rejuvenate for the afternoon’s activities. You’ll pretend to be still sleeping and get tickled by two residents who like to sneak up on you. Immediately, you’ll be filled with both laughter and acceptance.

• Continue with your activities or help with a co-worker’s activity. Maybe even help with some English homework of one resident…which may or may not include belting “my heart will go on” by Celine Dion (solo) because they need to practice it for class :)

• Have a random chat with one of the educators and feel filled with excitement to be building relationships with co-workers and Nicaraguans.

• You leave the conversation and are greeted by a resident…they have invited you to join them/purchased a piece of cake or glass of soda for you…and you are again, filled with love.

• Next, you see a resident you wished you had spent time with as they look lonely sitting by themselves.

• End your day at Pajarito with saying goodbye (hugs and kisses) and collecting your belongings from your desk. Head to the gate to sign-out and step out to the bus stop. Wave to the cooking staff and the residents you can see from the other side of the fence.

• Step on another crowded bus and watch your worksite’s walls become smaller—filled with love and a mind full of thoughts about those I leave behind.

• Walk home from the bus stop—waving to the two women you’ve befriended at their tortilla stand.

• Sometimes travel for your once a week trip to the internet café, or home to quickly change for your run at the school next door, or if it’s Friday…head to the kitchen since it’s your night to cook.

• After dinner as a community, you might have “community” or “spirituality” night if it’s Tuesday and Thursday night, respectively. You might also have the night free—which might mean journaling, writing a letter, reading, listening to music, playing a game, studying Spanish, or chatting with a communitymate.

• Around 9:00p.m., begin getting ready for bed and then hopefully drift off to sleep to get the much needed rest for the next day. But before falling asleep, give thanks for another day in Nicaragua and for the ability to learn and to build relationships.

Repeat (really, in never quite the same way) and embrace the beautiful lucha of your new life.

To Love and Be Loved: 1st Week of Work

18 Jan

This past week marked the beginning of an integral piece of my time in Nicaragua and life as a Jesuit Volunteer—my first time at my work placement.  And let me just say, I could not be more excited about the fact that I left Pajarito Azul with a huge smile everyday this week and last week, so much so, that the crowded bus rides home could not dismantle it.

 

Pajarito Azul, as I described in a previous post, is a residency of around 100 people (niños y adultos) who have mental and/or physical disabilities.  It is a place that provides protection for residents who were in at-risk or abusive situations, as well as a home for those who have been abandoned (a majority of the residents).  There are 8 different dormitories at Pajarito with around 10 residents in each.  There is also a finca (farm) not too far from Pajarito with 15 male residents that I will spend time with, más o menos twice a month.  Each dormitory at Pajarito has one educadora or care-taker at a given time and these women work 24 hour shifts, meaning that there is a new educadora each day, but many of the women work twice a week in their dormitory or hogar.

 

As a residency, Pajarito provides many services.  Some residents attend school outside of Pajarito during part of the day and many of those residents, including others, have educational reinforcement time at Pajarito with teachers.  There is also a space for physical therapy with 3 physical therapists, a psychologist that works one on one as well as in groups with residents, a full-time nurse, a center for making handcrafts with teachers, a graphic screening center, and bakery where some of the residents work (the products created at these last 3 places are sold to help Pajarito run).  And of course, another service being volunteers.  That’s where I come in.  My job will be organizing and running activities with various residents for additional mental/physical stimulation, as well as general time with people and affection/attention.  Some of the activities include giving massages, storytime, walks, recycled jewelry making, recycled card making, yoga, sports, coloring, etc.  Another aspect of my time will be working directly with 10 or so residents in a group called Casa Base.  My time with Casa Base means that I will accompany the residents outside of Pajarito to a house in the surrounding neighborhood for various activities each Wednesday.  The purpose of Casa Base is two-folded; it both enables residents to get outside of Pajarito, while also making residents a part of the larger community in hopes to break stigmas surrounding those with special needs.  I am very eager to begin this activity in February.

 

But now, back to this past week…

I entered Pajarito this past Monday a little nervous, but very excited.  Upon entering, I was immediately greeted with hugs and kisses from residents who had remembered me from the two other short visits to Pajarito my first week in Nica, which really helped to eliminate any remaining nerves I had.  I met with my supervisor to learn a little more about Pajarito and to go over my orientation plan.  We decided that I would spend 2 days in each hogar (dormitory) in order to get to know residents and educadoras.

 

This past Monday and Tuesday I was in Hogar Ositos with some of the younger and more physically disabled residents (the ages in Ositos range from 5-19).  I took many of the residents for walks around Pajarito’s grounds, read, and played.  Ositos is also where I will help with lunch distribution during my time at Pajarito.  Helping with lunch consists of mashing/pulling apart the meal to make it easier for residents to eat and then feeding a couple of the residents who cannot eat on their own.  My next two days were spent in Hogar Gaviotas #1 with women ages 17-37.  I did many of the same activities with these residents, but also gave 2 yoga classes and a couple of massages to other residents.  Additionally, I was also able to accompany some residents to mass this past Thursday at a church that is a 30 min. walk from Pajarito.  I will help with this activity when it occurs every 1st Thursday of the month.  Similar to Casa Base, this is another way to get those in Pajarito a part of the larger surrounding neighborhood as well as stimulation for residents.

 

As I mentioned previously, I had a wonderful week in which I truly felt as though I have started to develop relationships with the educadoras and residents.

 

Pajarito is a wonderful place overflowing with so much love, hope, and beauty.  I also believe my work here to be challenging in many ways, as Pajarito is also paradoxically a place where many residents lack: friendship and attention, as well as the ability to express oneself (some only expressing themselves in the form of screaming, hitting, or other aggression).  There is also the difficulty that comes with caretaking in general—helping to feed or be with residents who cannot control their body or bodily functions.  It can be jarring at times and requires gentle patience with myself and others.  However, despite these emotionally challenging aspects and various injustices, I left and leave Pajarito filled with love.  And that is the message—that no matter the situation, I need to be a well of love for each resident, opening up myself to give and receive love. Because that is the justice each person deserves, to be loved, and where I can “situate myself right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away” (Fr. Greg Boyle).

It was a great week and this week is also proving to be equally wonderful—it’s a great feeling to be eager to get back to Pajarito each day.

First Month In

4 Jan

As many of you may know, this day marks my 1st month in-country! My past 3 weeks have been filled with two different homestays and another homestay that was connected with a week of language school. I’m going to talk a little bit about my homestays. The first homestay was in my barrio, Ciudad Sandino and the second was in a more rural setting called Arenal.

Although homestays were something I had experienced before having been in Nicaragua, they were something I was nervous about before I left for Nica. I stressed about doing them solo, missing cultural cues, and of course, wished I had studied better in my Spanish classes. And maybe it’s because I has so many anxieties about the upcoming stays in the U.S., that when it actually became time for me to leave my house in Ciudad Sandino for one, I was excited. I suppose it was because I had stressed all I could and had finally come to terms with the fact that I might make mistakes, certainly in terms of my Spanish, but also in other ways…and it was okay. I thought about how I couldn’t get any better at Spanish unless I practiced and that my families would understand I did not know everything about the culture. But mostly, I thought about how I had never before regretted stepping outside my comfort zone.

So, I headed to my first homestay in Ciudad Sandino which was about a 20 minute walk from my house. Immediately, I was welcomed by two smiling faces—Alondra and Diego, my newest younger siblings. A little after just having entered the house and meeting my mom, Doña Nubia, I was already receiving hugs from Alondra and instantly made any leftover anxieties dissipate—this would be a great time with this family. And it was. I spent 3 nights and almost 4 days with this family and quickly found that relationships could be built, despite my broken Spanish, through authentic listening, compassion, and a desire to learn. I was able to communicate…I learned about their lives and shared with them about mine. We went to the market, Mayor’s office, and park. All this time was spent learning and engaging in a culture different, and yet also similar to mine. We even went to the Circus, quite a treat for Alondra and Diego, and something that I expressed great gratitude for including me…despite the fact that I would be okay not experiencing the circus again :) Their kindness and generosity was definitely a lesson in trust and in understanding a piece of the Nicaraguan culture. I wished that I could spend more time with them, but am very excited that I can frequently visit and develop a stronger relationship with them over the next two years—they even invited me over for Christmas!

My homestay in the rural community of Arenal was a very similar experience. I had been to Arenal just the Sunday before my homestay for a fair put on annually by the community and was eager to spend more time there, especially after such a great homestay in my barrio. Arenal is about 2.5 hours away by multiple buses from Ciudad Sandino, but I did not mind it much at all, especially as it gave me and the other first years a chance to do some independent travelling.

Arenal and the surrounding sub-set towns are vibrant communities, brought together after the revolution, looking to further the revolution’s ideals and goals. They are agrarian societies and work to make themselves self-sustaining, organic, and in solidarity with one another. It has many projects that work to protect its culture and resources, like dance groups, literacy program, pharmacy, banking/microfinance program for women, and a cooperative for farming.

My time was spent with a wonderful family which included Maribel, Emillio, Emily, and Terresita. Maribel is a wonderful woman, who cares for her two great girls and community. She has her degree in the sciences and has worked as a nurse in hospitals in Managua, but currently works at the Pharmacy at the community center in Arenal. I absolutely loved my time with this family and really look forward to being able to trek to Arenal to learn more about my family and the community.

Homestays were a truly wonderful experience and a really great way to learn about the Nicaraguan culture from Nicaraguans. It is so wonderful to feel that, even through my broken Spanish and newness in country, that I can and have already developed so many relationships. They were great ways to step outside my comfort zone, to walk humbly, and to share myself as well as learn. This week officially marks my last week before I start work at Pajarito and will give me time to settle once again into my house, which really feels like home now.

So, it’s been a truly blessed first month in country…one that makes me very eager to continue to build community.

Arrival in Nicaragua

14 Dec

Although traveling with a heavy heart from saying goodbye to family and friends, my flights to Nicaragua on Saturday night (Dec. 3rd) and then Sunday morning ( Dec. 4th) went as scheduled. I arrived in Atlanta on Sunday morning eager to meet up with my fellow JVs living in Nica with me and with much anticipation; we boarded our Delta flight together and landed in Nicaragua to current Nica JVs jumping up and down in excitement outside of the airport’s walls. We loaded up Fr. Joe’s, our In-Country Coordinator, truck and headed to our respective houses to drop off our luggage. I had seen a couple of pictures of my house in Ciudad Sandino, but seeing it in person and being with the other JVs was really powerful and exciting. Our house, behind a fairly high wall/fence, is simple, but extremely spacious. There will be 5 (Me, the other 1st year, Elspeth, and the 2nd years – Adrienne, Bianca, and Tony) of us living in our house, each having our own bedroom and a bathroom to shared with one other person (minus Tony who has his own). We also have a guest room and bathroom, large closet for random things, a huge living area with our dining table, a good size kitchen, and even a large, green garden and porch! I really love the house and am eager to have a spacious, sanctuary from the busy surrounding areas of Nicaragua.

Monday (Dec. 5th) marked the start of In-Country Orientation and we’ve had a fairly busy week of various Nica, specific talks (Safety, Health, History of Nica, and Cultural Sensitivity) to help us 1st years gain greater understanding of the place we will soon grow to love and call home. This past week also enabled me to learn how to get around Ciudad Sandino and travel to the other JV house in La Luz, Managua (about a 45 minute commute). As some of you know, I will be working as an activities coordinator at Pajarito Azul. Pajarito is a residency and development organization for people with mental and physical disabilities, ranging from toddlers to adults. Some of the residents have been brought to Pajarito due to their families’ inability to meet their special needs and maintain contact while living at Pajarito, but a majority of the 93 have been abandoned. I am very lucky to have the current JV at my job/agency still here to learn the ropes! Her name is Andrea and she has been immensely helpful in introducing me to my work schedule, including my transportation for work—buses. Buses regularly hold as many people it can possibly hold (insert a picture of people in seats on either side of three rows of people standing in the aisle and even some people holding onto the bus’ side into your mind). Let’s just call it over 100 people at a given time. Yep, it’s QUITE crowded, but I don’t mind it. It will sure to be a good test in patience and meditation, especially when we hit the higher temperature months. Going to Pajarito for the first time was a truly wonderful experience. It was amazing to see the love and friendship Andrea has built with residents and co-workers and it makes me eager to start doing the same.

I have always had a passion for being with people with various special needs since my time working on Villanova’s Special Olympics Fall Festival and I believe my time in Pajarito will enable me to be with and accompany one of the most marginalized populations in the world. It is sure to be challenging, but is an experience I am eager to begin. I won’t begin to start working until January since I have a retreat this weekend at the beach, a homestay in our local neighborhood for 4 days, a homestay in a rural area of Nica for 4 days, Christmas, and language school from Dec. 26th- Jan. 2nd. As I mentioned before, December is proving to be very busy, but thus far has been an exciting transition and time in country.

Lessons from Richard Rohr

30 Nov

Over the course of the month of September, I began reading Richard Rohr’s book entitled Simplicity.  This book provides an acute analysis of the meaning of community, contemplation,  and their connection to the art of letting go.

Here are some of the more poignant pieces of the book to me and how they connect to my JVC journey:

1. Community:

  •  “When people get together in solidarity and unity, not out of power, but out of powerlessness, then Christ is in their midst.”
  • “The secret lies in the way you let other people get through to you, and the way you move out of yourself.”
  • “The Gospel is before all else, a call to live differently so that life can be shared with others.  The gospel is ultimately calling us to a stance of simplicity, vulnerability, dialogue, powerlessness, and humility.

These excerpts stand at the heart of what I believe my time in JVC community to be about–authenticity and humility.  Living in an intentional Christian community calls for much more than being roommates.  And it is definitely more than merely tolerating one another.  It is also more than being best friends.  It is, instead, about living with one another, challenging one another to grow, and being open to being challenged.  It is about sharing all of oneself and thinking about more than one’s selfish needs or even reasonable desires.  It is about putting the betterment of community first and working to live out the gospel, every day, as best one can and through the help of others.  It is not easy and it is not instantaneous.  Authentic community comes from putting away walls, false images and egos of oneself, and the quest for recognition and power.  Authentic community comes from being honest and mostly about being honest with oneself.

2. Contemplation:

  • “Contemplation is a long, loving look at what really is.”
  • “It is absolutely crucial to go ‘deep in one place’ and let your God lead you to a place of surrender, love, and humility.”
  • “We are not always good, but we are always holy.”
  • “Don’t be afraid of the silence because God is with you and leading you in that holy silence.”

The JVC program comes from the Jesuit tradition of being “contemplatives in action.”  These two aspects, contemplation and action, cannot stand alone and one is certainly not better than the other.  Instead, they must accompany one another.  JVC calls for daily examination…of self, of faith, and of the world around us.  Sometimes, what we find might not always be good, right, or beautiful, but it is important to find the truth and to take that truth lovingly.

3. Letting Go:

  • Learning from the 12 step programs–that of letting go and offering it up.
  • “We can’t convert ourselves, we get converted through God’s grace.”
  •  “Fear always comes from the need to control.  And we are not in control anyways.”
  • “Bring your emotions and your mistrust to the Lord as an act of personal powerlessness.”

I have found that, like I’m sure others can relate to, I like to be in control.  I like to know what is going on, when it is going on, and with whom I can expect it is going on with. I especially like being the one to create the plan.  So, how does this need to control or possess power translate to being in a foreign country with strangers, not having mastered the language, feeling out of place at work, and missing people from home?  Well, my guess is that it will surely manifest itself in other ways.  It may come with me trying to control something within my house/JVC community.  It may come when I find something I might be good at and become fixated on that one thing.  It could come out in a lot of ways.

But, what is at the root of me trying to be in control…? Fear.  Being scared of failing.  Being scared of not fitting in.  Being scared of not adjusting.  Being scared that I might not be able to finish this program.  Because of these fears, I could look to grasp control…power.  But, as I reflect upon the words of “fear always coming from the need to control,” I think about what that ounce of “control” brings me.  It doesn’t bring me  authenticity in community and  it won’t bring me a true strength in self.  I’m sure it will only bring me distance in relationships and help me to stray from the truth.  And this is where the letting go comes in and where faith takes over.

I sincerely hope that I will be able to take these lessons with me as I begin to experience what community, contemplation, and letting go truly mean during my time in Nicaragua.

 

Lesson from Orienation: The Essential Call and Misson

16 Sep

As I reflect on my time after JVC orientation, one “lesson learned” or at least explored is that of my call and my mission while volunteering in Nicaragua. Dan, a campus minister from Boston College, came to speak with us one morning and shared a story that has really stuck with me.

He spoke of a man who was meeting with a priest to discuss his spirituality, faith, and call. Dan told us that the priest asked this man why he was involved with being a youth minister and that the man responded that “he felt called to this work by God.” To the youth minister’s surprise, the priest responded that he “did not buy that.” So, the youth minister took another stab at answering the priest’s question and said that “he felt he was given the gift of being able to relate to young adults about faith and that he had other talents that God gave him that made him a good youth minister.” And once again, the priest responded that “he didn’t quite think that was why.”  So, a little tired and confused from the questioning, the youth minister asked the priest why he thought he was a youth minister and the priest responded, “to save your soul.”

Now, at first hearing this story, I was a little jarred and confused…mostly because I would have given very similar answers as to why I am volunteering with JVC and what I feel is the greater mission for my life. But when examining the priest’s statement further, his message is quite clear.  God does not need me or my help to do good work on Earth.  Instead, I need the work I am doing to be my best self, to develop into the person God intended me to become.

As I think about that, it is quite humbling.  My call, is to become the best person I can be.   I’ve found that this comes from being with the marginalized.  But, it is so much more than that because I can be my best self in any situation. 

Insert a second story to give greater clarity:

When Dan discussed one conversation he had with a student who was considering working on Wall Street or volunteering, he repeated that the student thought Dan would say “to go volunteer.”  But instead, Dan responded saying that it is “easy to be a good person in a volunteer program, but it is harder to be nice to your parents.  It is harder to not be a pain in the ass to your roommate.  It is harder to stand for what you believe in when surrounded by a society or lifestyle you might not agree with.”  In other words, Dan’s response was once again, that we are not called to be in a certain place, but to be our best selves…in every setting we are in.

And I think that really illustrates the mission of JVC, which is not solely focused on 2 years abroad, but with the rest of my life. 

My time in Nicaragua with JVC is about formation and the foundation for that formation comes from building and being in right relationship with others.  And being in right relationship with others helps us to be our best selves or what we are called to work toward becoming…

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