Packing

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Caity wrote this blog post in June as she was preparing to leave her community after nearly a year:

Packing. When I left the states, it was the only thing on my mind, and now it is pretty much an afterthought. Everything is just barely going to fit and I’m not so wrapped up in making decisions this time.

I was terrified that I was going to over pack and bring all of the wrong things. But I was pretty much perfect on about my packing (I’ll take my humble pie later). I didn’t really bring too much and the only thing I didn’t anticipate needing was bug spray (mosquitoes in the desert, who knew?). Each time I travel I get further proof that I can survive on a very simple packing list, but I have learned exactly how far you can go before it is under packing in a fashion forward culture.

But to be honest (and incredibly cliché) it is the non-tangibles that I am working so hard to pack.

My love of an entire new community, my newfound love of prayer and the goodbyes that may be forever. The hard won smiles from children, the friendships in spite of language barriers and the inside jokes between colleagues. My memories of bearing witness to a community that has been uniquely marginalized because of their race, of the pain that comes from years of discrimination, yet I can only carry these stories as an outsider. The stories I heard when people truly opened their souls to me and the days that were a struggle for me to be so vulnerable. All this has to fit somewhere in my heart’s luggage, and, just like my possessions, it all has to go home.

And then there are the things I am working on letting go.

The images of God that have crumbled for me this year. The preconceived notions I had about South Africa and about church. The many times when people assumed that as an American, my hands were not stained from the history and present of racism, and the moments afterward when I would relate segregation to apartheid, the present South Africa to the present United States. The anger at the year being over so soon, the disappointment with myself as a follower of Christ, and the shear pain of being away for important moments in my sending community. These are all working on sneaking their way into my luggage. Some of them will healthfully fade away and some of them will become scars.

The person who packed last August with the intention of becoming a fellow Christian to a new community is not the same person who is packing today. I learned a lot, through trial and error, about accompaniment and compassion, about walking in the places that are called “lowly.” I learned to pray in moments when there was nothing else within my control. I learned more about America that I could ever have imagined. And just as I am not the same person, America is not the same country. I am writing this on a day when Lutheran churches in America are mourning. Mourning nine people who were the victims of a hate crime driven by generations of racism and entitlement. If I can go across the world as a Christian, I cannot remain the same after all I have learned and still call myself a Christian in the United States.

Today I don’t have the answers and tomorrow I won’t either, but tomorrow the best I can do is start with myself, my passion for justice and my own experiences of inequality and privilege. Today I will mourn, but I know that tomorrow I have to be a different person.

Beginnings and Endings

The current YAGM group is in their last week at their placement sites and are deep into the good-bye’s. It will be tough a week from now. And on the other end of the spectrum, the next group of YAGM are just finding out about their placement communities and are imagining where they will be next year.  In honor of that, here’s a picture of the new crew. Keep everybody in your prayers!

Front row (L to R): Tessa (Country Coordinator), Rachel, Emily, Elle; Back row (L to R): Hannah, Joe, Keenan, Kelly, Abby, Brent; not pictured - Luke

Front row (L to R): Tessa (Country Coordinator), Rachel, Emily, Elle; Back row (L to R): Hannah, Joe, Keenan, Kelly, Abby, Brent; not pictured – Luke

Common Humanity

As she comes near the end of a very transformative year, Katie pauses to express how this experience is shaping her:

Katie and the city she has come to love and call home

Katie and the city she has come to love and call home

The other day, I had an experience  that has showed me what it truly means to carry one another’s burdens and how we are bound together by our common humanity and our struggles. Unfortunately, I cannot go into detail with it because of respect of privacy. Sometimes when you just don’t have the words, a moment of silence, reflection, meditation and even a prayer from the heart usually helps. Sometimes, there are no right words to say to bring comfort to someone who is hurting or in need. Sometimes, love, grace and mercy can come in the form of a hug or a smile. A laugh or a cry. There really is no perfect way but knowing that it comes from the heart can bring a little hope. It is in this that I believe we are bound by our common humanity and it is with this that even though it is hard to carry one another’s burdens, we also have Jesus who said we could place our burdens on him as well. It is with this that end this with a prayer. A prayer that comes from my heart.

Father God,

As we begin a new day

may we realize that

we are all bound together

by our common humanity

May we realize that

we are not meant

to carry our burdens

alone

that we also realize

that others should not

also have to carry their burdens

alone

We are connected to each other

and we can help carry one another’s burdens

May we also realize that You God can also’

carry our burdens

Help us to remember to be merciful to one another

and to always pour out your grace and love among others

that you have so freely given us

Maybe one day

people can truly see your will be done here

on earth as it is in heaven

Amen.