“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30
These sunny days in Tucson, I’ve been working at CHRPA (Community Home Repair Project of Arizona). It’s kind of similar to Habitat for Humanity, however, instead of building new homes, CHRPA staff and volunteers go into the homes of those who qualify as low-income, individuals with disabilities and those who are simply older and cannot get up on their roof in 100 °F weather (Heck! I have a hard enough time as a somewhat limber 23-year-old!) This is just a brief description. There is more at:http://www.chrpaz.org/
Today was in the 90s and 100s. IT IS HOT! When you step outside, you feel like you are entering a sauna. On a daily basis, we at CHRPA repair swamp coolers (an often cheaper alternative to Air Conditioning), rip out and reinstall toilets, roofs, bathroom sinks, kitchen sinks, water heaters, kitchen and bathroom floors, etc. The list is limitless!
Through my work at CHRPA, I have learned and been humbled to the max as I walk into people’s homes and they have holes in their ceilings and therefore, they cannot use that bedroom. I’ve been humbled as I have walked into countless homes and trailer homes and seen the home owners work alongside us to rebuild their homes…..(even as they are wearing a brace boot/cast to stabilize their broken/fractured/weak knee).
Many people have misconceptions about the people we assist. The reality: one of the women who sits in a wheelchair and who we helped one day said to me with tears streaming down her face, “I hate and don’t want to be a burden.”
I wanted to say something meaningful and full of wisdom like, “You are not a burden. I hope you see that this work gives me purpose and dive each day. We all must have time in our lives when we will take care of each other. I just hope there will be CHRPA staff and volunteers when I’m elderly.” Instead, I just said, “Oh! Don’t worry. You are not a burden!”
Honestly, I was a little baffled and without many words. I did not know exactly how to answer because I saw this same fear that I often have of “not wanting to be a burden.” I saw my reflection in her, in her tear-sodden eyes.
But please, let me take this “burden” which is no longer and make it an instrument of blessing. Once again, I was reminded again about how beloved I am. These words that this woman spoke echoed in my ears the whole afternoon.
This happened one year ago. June 1st, 2014….a day that will go down in infamy. Well, to me it will. For many other Facebook countless friends of mine, they will also have (or have had) a similar day. However, this is not the reality for millions upon billions more people around the world. On my news feed, I am not a minority. In the world’s population, I am a minority. I have been to college. It’s one of the things I admitted more feebly and timidly this past week when I was in Mexico teaching English. (I was subbing for the week while my fellow YAV, James was on the Migrant Trail walk. This is a 75-mile walk done in order to simulate – even the slightest bit – the trek that millions of migrants have taken across the Sonoran desert).
As I sat with my host father after dinner one night, he asked me what I had studied in college. I told him Adolescent Education and Adolescent English and that I was trying to decide this year and discern further if teaching is the career I wish to pursue. I told him that I had experienced how education seemed to be more respected in other countries besides America. Therefore – I also told him – it is not as respected and as a paid-well job in the United States as other jobs (i.e. optometrist, pediatrician, lawyer, etc). These are the complaints I have often heard from my teaching mentors and other family friends back home (New England society) and therefore, find myself repeating these same truths that I have found consistent with my own experience.
Next, my host father asked me how much I would make as a teacher in this new teaching job. (I am staying in Tucson after my YAV year and teaching at a local high school). I told him but I was afraid to admit a number that would be a little more than his wage. When he told me that he made $50 a week. My jaw dropped. “But you have this huge home!” I stated immediately, trying to find something to cover up my inaccurate, naive, and privileged comment about how teaching jobs don’t pay as well as other careers in the States. Well, this might be “true” in America but that would be “rolling in the dough” here in Mexico. Mi padre went on to explain more about how he had built this house and how he did all the foundation, cement, tiling, plumbing, roofing. All of it. Todo. My eyes kind of glazed over as I stayed fixated on his previous comment. But it didn’t even make sense. His house’s appearance did not match his income. How can someone who looks so happy and his house that seems to have so much come from an income that is so low? But that is the reality in Mexico, he told me.
Our conversation died down for the evening. I retreated to my departamento – the apartment off the side that the family rents out to bring in more income. They had let me stay in this whole room to myself. I felt selfish when I realized they could have rented it out this week to someone else other than me. I wish that they had so I would not be monopolizing the space. This reality check came after this conversation – when they moved the previous tenant’s furniture out of the room – so they could make space for me. I mean, that was not the only reason. She was moving out anyways. But they could have used that room. Instead, they wanted me to have it. Their hospitality was unreal. An American would never do that! I wish I was not occupying the room. I wish a paying tenant was there.
All this talk of recognizing one’s privilege – that is often found throughout the YAV year – has been summed up in two occasions:
1) My college graduation. See picture of myself and my three best friends above. Here is the Facebook status I wrote upon the 1st year anniversary of my college graduation:
2) A flashback to my high school opinion’s:
When I was in high school, I used to say to my family and friends, “I love airports! You see all sorts of people in airports! People from all walks of life!”
“Yes, you do,” my present self would reply. “However, you see ‘all sorts of people’ who can afford an airplane ticket of $250 and above. You see ‘all sorts of people’ who can all afford expensive designer or at least luggage that looks presentable. There are not going to be people here who are food-insecure. There are not going to be people here who are homeless. Yet surprisingly, they may be a man who is an orphan because his two parents died in the war.”
I am privileged. I am white. I am from a middle/upper-class family who has access to higher education. Of course I’m going to be walking through the airport….However, millions of people do not even know what the inside of a plane or a lecture hall look like.
I guess there are a few things my professors left out of the syllabus…
Long time, no blog! I’m back and ready to write! This is a “sermonette” that I given on several speaking events that I attend with my fellow Tucson Borderlands YAVs, Grace, Hanbyeol and Allie.
Me, Gaby, Hanbyeol, April, Allie & Grace at the U.S.-Mexico border. We are doing the iconic Korean peace sign that Hanbyeol has taught us to adopt. Gaby spent 3 months in the Hen House as she did her last semester at North Texas doing an externship at a local non-profit, Derechos Humanos. April is a Global Fellow Methodist Volunteer who works at another non-profit called Primavera. Myself, Hanbyeol, Allie and Grace are YAVs.
We are collectively from Texas, Maryland, South Korea, San Francisco, Alabama and Connecticut. On the Myer-Briggs spectrum, our community is a motley crew of an ISFP, ENTJ, and INTJs, the list goes on. Some of us rise at 3am and some of us roll out the door 20 or 30 minutes before we have to arrive at work. We have the minds and qualities of poets, delegators, organizers, teachers, life-coaches, mediators, managers, social workers, architects and economists. Yes, there are only six of us in the house but all my housemates are all extremely multi-faceted.
“The Hen House” – as we dubbed ourselves early on in the year- daily face the topics of immigration, sexism in the work place, refugees and asylum seekers, low-income home repair, homelessness, systemic racism. We have read books about charities that hurt more than help. We have discussed the struggles and joys of working alongside non-profits and how the church can better engage young adults and their lifestyles and relevant concerns and how we can better be proactive in our relationship with the church. We not only deal with these realities in our work environment but also process, discuss and unpack these subjects at home. Sometimes we thrive upon this reflection and other times we are so exhausted that we say , “Okay. Let’s talk about something different or let’s go listen to Beyonce and dance.” Don’t worry, sometimes we try to be normal young adults.
When my cousin asked me a few weeks ago about the “spiritual practices” that we engage in as a community, I was at a loss for words at first. We are not engaging in the typical Bible study and prayer group-type of activities. Of course these are great tools to access the Divine but they are not the only way. As a house, we were tasked to come up with a house covenant to describe our expectations of each other as active agents in our own community. In many ways, I see our collective prayer through the ways in which we lift each other up. For example, we cheer each other on by speaking about body image in a constructive and positive frame of mind. We have encouraged each other to “get physical,” join the YMCA, join a soccer league, hike Tummamoc Hill or Sabino Canyon. When one of us has a challenge at work, we have been there to brainstorm and encourage each other to try from a different angle.
As I have thought about how diverse and rich the “body of Christ” is, I have realized that trying to understand or at least listen to and consider another reality outside of your own experience is a deeply spiritual practice. Trust me, that is the hardest part of community. The thing about living together is that time and time again, you often have to alter your view to make sure that you respect the space of another. I think twice about leaving my laundry on the line because I know my housemate will need it later. This year, clear communication and stepping outside myself and my comfort zone have been my gospel. I fall short of this often but there is a beautiful resurrection in relationship when my housemates and I talk to one another about the ways in which we can once again more wonderfully communicate with each other.
One of the brief yet most pivotal moments of my YAV year happened one afternoon after a long day. I walked into the kitchen, sweaty from my bike ride, still wearing my helmet, my shoulders were slumped and my confidence was low. Upon entering the kitchen, Hanbyeol – our 5th YAV from South Korea who was not able to attend today – asked me, “Emily, how was your day?” I started complaining about my day and how I felt frustrated about being a comment that I did not find helpful, in fact actually hurtful. Hanbyeol reminded me, “Emily this person is not your master, God is your master.” I instantly melted into tears as I was once again reminded of the importance of community and how my housemates have reminded me time and time again of my belovedness.