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.
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.
A Week in the Life of a Young Adult Volunteer
I wrote most of this blog a few months ago, but never finished it until now. Here is a depiction of one of my many full, challenging, and joyful weeks during my YAV year.
Sunday, Oct. 26th, 2014
I start the day by visiting my coworker's Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church. Unsurprisingly an hour service turns into three hours of singing, laughing, praying, and eating. My coworker, Nancy, sings beautifully and also stars in a biblical skit about David. Apparently, Apostle David was blonde...
Next, I come home to discover that we have spontaneously decided to host a barbecue for 15 people so I start chopping and marinating. A beautiful mixture of coworkers, volunteers, and refugees show up with an array of foods and drinks. We sit outside and enjoy the balmy late-October weather Arizona has gifted us. The evening morphs into a time of sharing musical talents. Hanbyeol plays the flute and sings a high-pitched, airy Korean song. (Listen here.) Emily chimes in with a deep, soulful tune. Jean Marie, a Burundi refugee, sings "He Raised Me up." I sit back and marvel at the rich culture and talent that surround me.
Monday, Oct. 27th, 2014
After work, I go to my first Academia Liderazgo (Leadership Academy) meeting, the first of an eight-week course on community organizing and social justice issues. As I sit and eat my Domino's pizza I note what it feels like to be one of the two White people in the room. We go around the room to introduce ourselves, where we are from, and what organization we represent. The room is full of people involved in diverse political and social groups that serve the Latin American immigrant community in Tucson. We go through the syllabus, which includes topics such as systems of oppression, machismo, and Zapatismo. I am excited to be learning about these issues and am especially grateful to be learning side-by-side with Spanish-speaking individuals who have experienced the negative effects of immigration policy and have decided to get involved to educate and uplift their communities. I feel privileged to be in this space.
Tuesday, Oct. 28th, 2014
I get to work at 7:30 AM and jump in the van. We drive for an hour before arriving at Florence Detention Center. I check to make sure I am prepared: close-toed shoes, no revealing clothing, and an ID. I've been briefed on what to say and do, but I am still nervous.
As I wait for the guards to escort me into the visiting room, Norlan, a local day laborer, and activist, walks out of detention. Just by coincidence, I was there at the exact moment he was released. Finally outside the prison walls, he walks swiftly up to his beaming partner Marbel, gives her a hug and kisses his baby girl. I feel so happy to see him reunited with his family. I met Marbel and her baby, Genesis, on my first day of work at BorderLinks. They were the first family I had ever met that had experienced detention. I feel grateful that I have been able to witness this part of their story and congratulate them on Norlan's release.
Read my blog about meeting Marbel.
I walk into the detention visiting room and meet Estrella, a trans-gender person from Guatemala. We sit down, introduce ourselves, and exchange awkward smiles. First, we chat about Guatemala and then she tells me her story. She migrated north to escape cartel and anti-trans violence. Read my blog entry about Estrella. Although, she has experienced much trauma, she keeps a positive disposition. We laugh, draw pictures, and she even predicts my future through palm reading.
***Estrella was released from detention in December and is now fighting her asylum case from a safe place. I was thrilled to learn she'd been released!
Wednesday, Oct. 29th, 2014
After work, I walk home and cook dinner for my housemates. We have a community dinner once a week where we eat together and go over any house business.
Thursday, Oct. 30th, 2014
I have no recollection of Thursday. Ooops.
Friday, Oct. 31st, 2014
On Fridays, we have a Community Day. This means that instead of going to work, my roommates, my site coordinator Brandon, and I spend time together as a community. We do many things such as discuss books, worship, explore vocational discernment, go to events in Mexico and Cascabel, or go hiking.
On Halloween, we went on a beautiful hike through Pima Canyon. We crossed many streams and admired the cacti.
After Community Day, we went downtown to celebrate Halloween!
Before I came to the border I thought of the US/Mexico border as a dangerous place filled with violence, drugs, kidnappings and cartels. This makes a lot of sense because our media and politicians portray the U.S./Mexico border in this way. However, in my time being on the border I have found that our media and politicians are ignoring the most important things that are on the Arizona/Mexico border: strong sense of community, friendly people and a place of cultural and language exchange between two countries.
The most surprising aspect of life on the border for me is that I have never seen two separate communities work together better than Douglas and Agua Prieta. I really value this because at my high school in Wenatchee, WA students would commonly fight other students from the rival high school in East Wenatchee. Unfortunately, these fights occurred because the students were simply from different schools. Many students saw other students from the other town not as people they could befriend, but as outsiders to their social structures and community. The only physical barrier that separates these towns is the beautiful Colombia River. In Agua Prieta and Douglas not only is there a large fence to separate these communities, but there are many people guarding that fence making sure that these communities are separate. But, despite those barriers the people of Agua Prieta and Douglas continue to work and get along better than most communities in the United States.
In the United States I feel we are divided by so many things like race, income, politics, culture and religion that are the result of many complex factors, histories and differences. However, with my work at Frontera de Cristo and living here on the border it seems that strong bridges are made between communities and organizations in two different countries that also have very complex histories and differences. In my time on the border and being an intern with Frontera de Cristo I have found two key components that allow bridges to be made across borders. The first one is a commitment build relationships and work together. Many people in Douglas and Agua Prieta including myself naturally feel a strong connection as I spend my time on both sides and have built relationships with good people and friends on both sides of the border. People also share the commonality in that both communities lack good job opportunities and many struggle to meet end meets. However, they see the border not as a place of danger and difference, but as an opportunity to work together to be a place of trade, exchange of culture and create solutions to the root causes of problems like drugs and poverty in a global economy.
Despite, the strong community on both sides of the border, I would not feel that bridges between the two communities would not be as strong without working for Frontera de Cristo and the faith community here on the border. I believe that I feel this way because people are not only building bridges made of friendship and economic ties, but of love. I think love is truly the most powerful thing we have to understand and care for our neighbors, and God’s love has the potential to bridge people and communities of great divide.
I first realized this power of God’s love only recently when I was listening to a talk from a pastor with the organization Evangelical Immigration Reform. The pastor speaking was holding an immigration meeting for people of faith and had invited church leaders, community activists and politicians in my own hometown of Wenatchee. The story was about a staff member of Dave Reichert who is a Republican that represents Washington’s 8th congressional district and the regional leader of United Farm Workers in Central Washington. I knew the speaker was going to tell a story about spiritual reconciliation, but I first doubted this thinking in my own head, “how can a community that is divided over such little things become a place of love and unity between two groups that are very different in their ideologies”. The preacher told that after a prayer and bible devotion the leader from United Farm Workers addressed the staff member of Dave Reichert and in tears said, “Today I realized that you are my brother in Jesus Christ, brother will you listen to me.” And the staff member said “Yes, sister I’m listening”. What resulted from this love between a brother and sister of Jesus Christ is that the staff member of Dave Reichert was very moved by what his sister had to say, and said he would do whatever he could to help his sister. And now Dave Reichert is one of the biggest Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.
I wanted to tell that story because I think it is a great example of how God’s love can bring people from different backgrounds, cultures and ideals to work for a more just and loving world. I think it also exemplifies the work of Frontera de Cristo here on the border because people come together from two different countries, cultures, languages and value systems to work towards reducing poverty, violence, drug use and preventing deaths on the border. This collaboration also creates and strengthens relationships between people and churches in the U.S. and Mexico, which helps people including myself and churches learn how to be more like Jesus Christ.
I feel so thankful to play a small role in the work of Frontera de Cristo and its partners while being in the presence of so many amazing people. My biggest role has been in education where I have been teaching English as a second language to both kids and teenagers in two partner organizations of Frontera de Cristo. Most are my classes are at DouglaPrieta Works which works in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Agua Prieta through education, community gardens and permaculture. I also teach English at New Hope Community Center, which is an neighborhood recognized by the United Nations for having a very high percentages of alcoholism. Kids and teens in both neighborhoods face intense pressures like drugs, poverty and gangs, but like everywhere I have been on the border you find so many loving and kind people. What I like most about my work is helping both DouglaPrieta and the New Hope Community Center be a place of community and education where kids, teens and adults can have a place to meet and learn new skills. At the same time I have enjoyed utilizing my passions for education, cultivating relationships and community and living out God’s love in my life for me and others.
Antes de llegar a la frontera, pensé en la frontera de Estados Unidos / México como un lugar peligroso lleno de violencia, las drogas, los secuestros y los cárteles. Esto hace mucho sentidoporque nuestros medios de comunicación y los políticos retratan la frontera México / Estados Unidos de esta manera. Sin embargo, en mi tiempo de estar en la frontera he encontrado quenuestros medios de comunicación y los políticos están ignorando las cosas más importantes que están en la frontera de Arizona / México: fuerte sentido de comunidad, la gente amable y un lugarde intercambio cultural y de lenguaje entre dos países.
El aspecto más sorprendente de la vida en la frontera para mí es que yo nunca he visto a doscomunidades separadas trabajan juntos mejor que Douglas y Agua Prieta. Realmente valoro esto porque en mi escuela secundaria en Wenatchee, WA estudiantes serían comúnmente luchar contra otros estudiantes de la escuela secundaria rival en East Wenatchee. Por desgracia, estas luchas ocurrieron porque los estudiantes eran simplemente de diferentes escuelas. Muchosestudiantes vieron a otros estudiantes de la otra ciudad, no como personas que podían hacerse amigo, pero como extranjeros a sus estructuras sociales y la comunidad. La única barrera físicaque separa a estos pueblos es el hermoso río de Colombia. En Agua Prieta y Douglas no sólo hay una gran moro para separar estas comunidades, pero hay muchas personas que vigilan el moro de asegurarse de que estas comunidades están separados. Pero, a pesar de las barreras a la gente de Agua Prieta y Douglas continúan trabajando y se llevan mejor que la mayoría de las comunidades en los Estados Unidos.
En los Estados Unidos siento que estamos divididos por tantas cosas como la raza, el ingreso, la política, la cultura y la religión que es el resultado de muchos factores complejos, historias ydiferencias. Sin embargo, con mi trabajo en Frontera de Cristo y vivir aquí en la frontera parece que los puentes se hacen fuertes entre las comunidades y las organizaciones de dos países diferentes que también tienen historias muy complejas y diferencias. En mi tiempo en la frontera y ser un interno con Frontera de Cristo he encontrado dos cosas que permiten a los puentes que se hagan a través de fronteras. El primero de ellos es un compromiso a construir relaciones y trabajar juntos. Muchas personas de Douglas y Agua Prieta incluido yo mismo naturalmentesienten una relacion fuerte como yo gasto mi tiempo en ambos lados y conozco buena gente y amigos de ambos lados de la frontera. Las personas también comparten el carácter común en que ambas comunidades faltan buenas oportunidades de trabajo y muchos luchan para proveer sus familias. Sin embargo, ellos ven la frontera no como un lugar de peligro y la diferencia, sino como una oportunidad para trabajar juntos para ser un lugar de comercio, el intercambio de la cultura y crear soluciones a las causas fundamentales de los problemas como las drogas y la pobreza en una economía global.
A pesar de la fuerte comunidad en ambos lados de la frontera, no me siento que los puentes entre las dos comunidades no serían tan fuertes sin tener que trabajar para Frontera de Cristo y de la comunidad de fe aquí en la frontera. Creo que siento de esta manera porque la gente no sóloestán construyendo puentes de amistad y los lazos económicos, sino de amor. Creo que el amor es realmente la cosa más poderosa que tenemos para entender y cuidar a nuestros vecinos, y el amor de Dios tiene el potencial de salvar las personas y comunidades de gran división.
Me di cuenta de este poder del amor de Dios sólo recientemente, cuando estaba escuchandouna platica de un pastor con la organización Reforma Evangélica de Inmigración. El pastor tuvouna reunión de inmigración para gente de fe y había invitado a líderes de la iglesia, activistas comunitarios y políticos en mi propia ciudad natal de Wenatchee. La historia era sobre un miembro del personal de a Dave Reichert, que es un republicano que representa octavo distrito del Congreso de Washington y el líder regional de la Unión de Campesinos en el centro deWashington. Yo sabía que iba a contar una historia sobre la reconciliación espiritual, pero yoprimero dudé este pensamiento en mi cabeza, "¿cómo puede una comunidad que está dividida sobre este tipo de cosas poco convertido en un lugar de amor y unidad entre dos grupos que son muy diferentes en sus ideologías ". La pastora dijo que después de una oración y devoción bibliael líder de Union de Campesinos dirigida al miembro del personal de a Dave Reichert y llorandodijo: "Hoy me di cuenta que eres mi hermano en Jesucristo, hermano me escucharas?" Yel politico dijo: "Sí, hermana estoy escuchando". Lo que resultó de este amor entre un hermano y una hermana de Jesucristo es que el politico de a Dave Reichert estaba muy conmovido por lo que su hermana tenía que decir, y dijo que iba a hacer todo lo que pudo para ayudar a su hermana. Y ahora, Dave Reichert es uno de los politicos republicanos que apoya una reforma migratoria el mas.
Quería contar esta historia porque creo que es un gran ejemplo de cómo el amor de Dios puedellevar a la gente de diferentes orígenes, culturas e ideales para trabajar por un mundo más justo y amoroso. Creo que también es un ejemplo del trabajo de Frontera de Cristo aquí en la fronteraporque la gente se reúne de dos diferentes países, culturas, lenguas y sistemas de valores para trabajar hacia la reducción de la pobreza, la violencia, el consumo de drogas y la prevención delas muertes en la frontera. Esta colaboración también crea y fortalece las relaciones entre las personas y las iglesias en los EE.UU. y México, lo cual ayuda a las personas incluyéndome a mí mismo y las iglesias aprender a ser más como Jesucristo.
Me siento muy agradecido de estar en un pequeño papel en el trabajo de Frontera de Cristo y sus socios y en la presencia de tantas personas increíbles. Mi mayor papel en la educación ha sidodonde he estado enseñando Inglés como segunda lengua para los ninos y los adolescentes endos organizaciones asociadas de Frontera de Cristo. La mayoría de mis clases estan en DouglaPrieta Trabaja que trabaja en uno de los barrios más pobres de Agua Prieta a través de la educación, jardines comunitarios y permacultura. También enseño Inglés en New Hope Community Center, que es un barrio reconocido por las Naciones Unidas para tener un muy alto porcentaje de alcoholismo. Los niños y adolescentes de ambos barrios se enfrentan a presionesintensas como las drogas, la pobreza y las pandillas, pero como en todas partes que he estado en la frontera que se encuentran tantas personas cariñosas y amables. Lo que más me gusta demi trabajo es ayudar DouglaPrieta Trabaja y el Centro Comunitario Nueva Esperanza ser un lugar de la comunidad y la educación, donde los niños, los adolescentes y los adultos pueden tener unlugar para aprender nuevas habilidades. Al mismo tiempo, he disfrutado de la utilización de mispasiones para la educación, el cultivo de las relaciones y la comunidad y manifestar el amor de Dios en mi vida.