Some people spend Valentine's Day kissing their boyfriends. Some spend the day bingeing on chocolates with their gal pals. I spent the day speaking about migrant justice at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona. This church graciously invited the Tucson YAVs to be their weekend guests during Mission Month. We led a workshop on Solidarity, Charity and Advocacy, preached, spoke during Adult Education and went on a short hike with the youth group. I'm thankful for the opportunity to share my reflections on my year service.
The four Tucson YAVs, Allie, Emily, Hanbyeol, and I preached a sermon together. First, we read a poem called Passover Remember, which we first heard during YAV Orientation in August. Then, we used different verses to individually reflect on the our experiences during the first half of our YAV year.
Below is my part of the sermon. Click here to hear a recording of our sermon.
Do not hesitate to leave
Your old ways behind –
Fear, silence, submission
… Then begin quickly,
before you have time to sink back
into the old slavery
Why do we feel the need to create borders? How do we build equal and respectful relationships with people who are unlike us? How can I work as an ally with those who are oppressed? What does modern day slavery look like? These are some of the questions I’ve grappled with during my year of service with Young Adult Volunteers.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve at BorderLinks, where I organize and lead educational trips about the border. During the last six months, I have spent time with a wide variety of people who have taught me more than I could have imagined.
While observing the 25-foot border wall that separates Mexico and the United States, I have prayed with seminarians, reflected with teenagers, and taken pictures with retirees. I have led workshops for squirmy middle schoolers where we explore what the words “immigrant,” “border”, or “family” mean to them. Brave migrants have told me their harrowing testimonies at shelters in border towns like Nogales and Agua Prieta, Sonora. I’ve wept as a woman recounted her experience of crossing the desert, getting detained by Border Patrol, and separated from her husband. I have visited migrants at Florence Detention Center who migrated north to escape cartel violence in Honduras and Guatemala. I have felt the panic that constricts your chest when you learn that your friend’s undocumented husband was just detained. In the last few months, the border has come a part of me. It is present in my thoughts, my tears, my worries, and my prayers.
In addition to learning about the challenges on the border, I had the chance to meet people who are bringing human dignity back to this region. Raul, one of my friends and coworkers, spent last Christmas in a cold detention center, visiting detainees who have no one else to support them. My friend, Josue, grew up undocumented, and is now organizing with other young migrants to get more access to higher education. My local Presbyterian church, Southside, has opened its door to provide sanctuary to an undocumented mother so she can stay with her two boys and husband.
Amidst the darkness, I have also witnessed a powerful display of God’s love in the borderlands. We are lucky to be part of a community of students, pastors, church members, atheists, migrants, and allies who have bonded together to turn barriers into bridges and make our earth look more like God’s kingdom. As the Bible says in Ephesians 2: 13-15, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.”
During the last six months, my eyes have opened, my heart has ached, and my resolve has been strengthened. With the support of my fellow volunteers and coworkers, I have begun to acknowledge my privilege, my citizenship and the effects of my country’s policies.
My work here has encouraged me not to “sink back into the old slavery” of injustice, prejudice, and ignorance. I truly believe that the most radical act of love is to introduce people to each other. If be build relationships, we realize we are linked. Their struggle is our struggle. Our society’s borders affect us all by perpetuating division, fear, and even hatred. If we leave behind our fear, silence and submission we can reach a state of collective liberation where we are all free.
Hanbyeol and I spoke at our job's Annual Meeting last night. Below is a very serious speech that we wrote together reflecting on the past 5 months of working at CHRPA.
H: On Sept. 3, 2014, Allie and I started our CHRPA story. We will not tell about EVERY day and every job, but here are a few things we have learned so far:
A: There was our first CHRPA school where we learned how to solder copper and every CHRPA school after with Dan R and other CHRPA worker’s careful planning and creative teaching. We learned that plumbing is Hanbyeol’s passion and there’s nothing more fun than the Wirsbo expander tool.
H: We have learned that biking to work is the most fun in the afternoon, when we aren't 20 minutes late for work. True community is when Allie bikes so much faster than me, but I still like her at the end of the day.
A: Community is also when Hanbyeol wakes me up at 6 am every morning for work because I can’t do it on my own.
H: I taught a CHRPA school lesson on Wirsbo, SharkBite fittings, and Rayhow pex to a group of people who are all older than me, something that is not usual in Korean culture.
A: And there’s nothing more satisfying than completing a 2 week gas job with Josh and Dustin, and the all you can eat popcorn at Ferguson's that comes with it.
H: The smell of cats will never leave me and there’s nothing better than a client with puppies.
A: Hugh is a walking story book and figuring out a challenge on Thursday afternoons is so satisfying
H: and it’s a good day when you are completely covered in flash and seal.
A: I have learned that the most important thing about working with clients is just to listen
H: I have learned to not bow, like in South Korean Culture, to clients but how to shake hands instead And how to nod and smile in conversations I don’t understand. No hablo español.
A: We both have learned to count how many times Dan W. says “shoot” in one working day (record was 12).
H: We have learned that CHRPA girls are the strongest, talented, smartest, beautiful women in the world.
A: We’ve never eaten as much ice cream as we have in the past 5 months.
H: Drinking Water is really important and the ability to laugh at mistakes, like falling through a roof is necessary.
A: This job could be hard and stressful, but because of the staff and volunteers who have let us learn, laugh, and grow with them this year, working at CHRPA has been a wonderful experience for both of us and we are excited to see what the next 6 months have in store……
H: dios te bendiga
This is why I love my Presbyterian Church. Coming together and literally and figuratively embracing each other! (Not that we are perfect! We’ve still got a LOT to learn).
During my Young Adult Volunteer year of service, I also have seen the bridges being built, being mended, being crossed. I have also realized that there are bridges that are yet to be built, bridges that may remain broken. Yet there is a beauty in at least trying to build these bridges back. In the wake of is the tragic events of even just the past couple of weeks with Kayla Mueller’s death in Syria and Yusor Mohammad, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and Deah Shaddy Barakat’s deaths in North Carolina, I have been alarmed by the ways in which we still desperately need to need to start building bridges. As challenging as this work may be at times, even just acknowledging that a lack of a bridge exists and start figuring how to start building bridges between cultures, ethnicities, religions, backgrounds, upbringings, socioeconomic statuses, etc. is a start!
We all have our biases but we also all have our brains to get beyond these biases.
As the quote on the Celestial Seasonings tea has taught me, “The river may be wide, but it can be crossed.” (Cote d’Ivoire). (By the way, I have this posted on my door to remind me of the times in which it’s easier just to assume and not step out and communicate).
#yavprogram #haveyouhuggedapresbyteriantoday? #loveyourneighbor #hugs #hugitout
P.S. Rick Ufford-Chase – aka: the dude to the left seen hugging above – was the leader of our 2014-2015 Young Adult Volunteer Orientation back in late August at Stony Point Conference & Retreat Center! Also, he used to live in the house that our current Tucson YAV site coordinator, Brandon lives.
Tonight, after I presented our monthly volunteer training entitled “Refugee 101”, the Executive Director, Barbara at Iskashitaa Refugee Network said to me that no matter of what type of volunteer commitment an individual decides to make with our organization, they can at least step away from this interactive training with more sensitivity towards the refugee and asylum seeking population not only in Tucson but also in the world. Often times, I get caught up in the every day details as a Volunteer Coordinator at Iskashitaa that I forget one of our main missions is to bring education and awareness and sensitivity and understanding about refugees and asylum seekers to the Tucson community. Who is a refugee? What is the difference between refugee and an asylum seeker? What is their journey like? What are the challenges they face? What are the skills and gifts they can bring to their new community?
Often feeling helpless that I cannot do more or that I am not efficient/quick enough to get volunteers connected to one another! Barbara reminded me, “If nothing, the people who have attended ‘Refugee 101’ have become more sensitive to a group of people that they would have mindlessly walked by in the grocery store before.”
At the end of the day, perhaps if we just asked each other -while standing in the check-out line at the grocery store what the Arabic, English, Spanish, Swahili or Kirundi word for tomato was – perhaps we’d gain a little more respect for one another and realize that as weird and foreign and different we all initially seem from one another…..we all have a word for tomato in our language. :)
Check out the “Hugs that Change the World” article in Presbyterian Today.
Because I'm Happy
Getting to Know Tucson: Recently, I feel like I have turned a corner. I feel more happy and comfortable in Tucson. Between my work schedule, YAV activities, and Christmas vacation I was out of town almost every weekend in November and December. During January, I actually got a chance to get to know Tucson and it's been great!
Community of Volunteers: I am so thankful for my housemates and my Tucson community. There are several other service corps in the area such as the Mennonite Voluntary Service, Food Corps, AmeriCorps, and Jesuit Volunteer Corps. This means I've gotten to connect with other 20-somethings who are doing similar work and also want to explore Tucson.
A few weeks ago, a couple Mennonite friends invited me to watch a play about sexuality in the church called Listening for Grace. It was hilarious, poignant, and beautiful. Ted Swartz, the writer and main actor, uses comedy to spark conversation about controversial topics like homosexuality. His goal is to get church communities to discuss uncomfortable topics. After watching the play, members of the Mennonite church stayed to share their reactions. Although there was a variety of opinions, the audience was noticeable affected.
I am thankful to be a part of a community of young Christians who are willing and excited to tackle contentious issues like sexuality, immigration, and racism.
YAV Support: There are several YAV alumni and board members who have reached out to help us with our transition. Various board members have taken the my fellow YAVs and I to different places and events this month. It feels a little silly to go on "field trips" to museums or concerts, but it has really helped me get to know the city. We went to a natural museum called the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a gem show, and an Avett Brothers concert. Sometimes simple living doesn't feel so simple :)
We also have Vocational Discernment classes every other week that provide a space to reflect on our work and ruminate on what we should do after our year of service. These classes include activities such as reading poems, collaging, doing the Examine, following a guided meditation, and walking a labyrinth. Allie Wood, a former Tucson YAV, leads the classes and also meets with us individually for coffee dates every other month. These meetings have become a sacred time when I can confide in someone who is familiar with my work placement and intentional community. Her compassionate listening and questioning have helped me process some of my most intense YAV experiences. I am so grateful for her friendship and mentorship.
Finding My Space at Work: I feel more confident at work now that I have led two BorderLinks delegations (educational trips) with Santa Clara University and Carroll University. I enjoy facilitating discussions, leading workshops, and supporting my participants as they come to terms with some harsh realities. January was a busy month at work, but the staff bonded together as a team, encouraging one another when we were tired or overwhelmed. I'm glad to work with such smart, motivated, and compassionate people.
Tucson feels more and more like home. Several days this week, I have been overwhelmed with happiness. I feel so fortunate to live in a beautiful, multicultural space surrounded by coworkers and community members who care about me. Leaving school has been difficult as I am far from my friends and family, have no idea what I want to do with my life, am fumbling my way through a new job, have to deal with real world responsibilities like paying bills, cooking myself dinner every night, etc. Even so, like all my graduated friends, I have been working through these post-grad challenges. Nevertheless, I feel supported my community as they are doing similar work and asking similar questions. My housemates sit with me as I try to figure out how my small stipend will cover my utilities and my food expenses. My housemates help me patch my tire when my bike gets a flat. My housemates make me watch "Friends" when I have spent too much time discussing heavy topics like institutionalized poverty and prison systems. Living in an intentional community with people who are quite different from me can be demanding, but it can also be incredibly fun and supportive. I get to come home to friends who will ask how my day was, listen to my answer, and make sure I laugh a little.
Thank you to everyone in Tucson and beyond who has supported me with this move.