On November 3 we were able to participate in the All Souls Procession: An annual Tucson event that, for almost 30 years, and is a beautiful space for creatively processing loss.
I was told that this is specifically a procession and not a parade because it is designed to be participated in rather than just observed.
The evening began with a celebration prior to the procession. The area where the procession was to begin was filled with food trucks, mariachi bands, and face painting. It was a joyful celebration.
When the procession began, we stood to the side of the road a watched the Urn pass by. This was a spherical container to collect written names of those who were being grieved. The Urn led the procession and was followed by groups and individuals showing their mourning in a variety of ways.
The woman who started this procession in 1990 did so as a way of publicly and artistically grieving the death of her father. This artistic foundation has continued and is evident throughout the event in the music, banners, and costumes.
Many of these costumes were black or white to represent grief. Some had skeletons on them and many people had sugar skull art on their faces. Lots of the costumes were also adorned with lights and bright colors.
Much like a parade, there were performers, bands, and church groups. It felt familiar, yet drastically different because every where I looked there was someone with stunning face paint of a sugar skull or a banner with images of someone who has died.
But that was beautiful in every way. The idea of being able to publicly grieve and be in community with thousands of people in their mourning process was an incredible experience.
After watching for a while, were walked the two mile route with everyone as we all grieved. Even the many people just like me who didn’t make a sign for those that we love that have died were grieving.
I had time during that procession to reflect on times where I have been grieving. To remember dead friends and family in an intentional way. And more importantly, in that moment, I was able to acknowledge the importance of that grieving space.
Grief isn’t a process to get through and then check off as being done. It is on-going. During this event, the community grieved together for loved ones that have died both recently and many years ago.
Other people were grieving for groups who have died or are victim to injustices of the world. For example, there was a group that was grieving the thousands of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert due to inhumane border policies. There were others wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to acknowledge all of the black and brown people who have needlessly died.
As I think of the grieving process, I think of how in moments of grief, both years ago and more recently, I have felt the need to keep my feelings internalized and put on a happy face for everyone around me. I feel lots of cultural pressure always show only my best self and grief doesn’t easily fit into that picture.
However, this public space of grieving made room for so many emotions. Everyone could celebrate the lives of loved ones and be sad that those people weren’t here to share in our daily lives anymore. And as a community there was support for everyone in each of our places of grieving.
At the end of the processional route, everyone gathered at to see the lighting of the Urn, which was full of written names and objects remembering all those who were being mourned that night. It was a meaningful and symbolic way to end the procession but not put a camp on the grieving process. And the celebration continued after with more painting faces, eating, and music because even in grieving there is still room for love and celebration.
Do you wanna go on a field trip, my placement supervisor asked me.
I mean I can, I said. To where? Knowing full well that I actually had a full week of work that had piled up and I shouldn’t really be prioritizing this trip after missing all week in Colorado. However, we needed to get these motions for extensions to Eloy because there was no one to cover the hearings for tomorrow. All of the sudden, these papers were rather important. I grabbed eagerly at the keys to Pickle, my placement supervisors blue Prius, and hit the road for the 45 (more like hour) drive to Eloy. My first trip to the detention center. I had been rather excited for this moment most of my year thus far. I had not yet been to a detention center. When I first got to Tucson, I imagined that the facilities were like apartment complexes where people were held just so the government could “keep their eyes on them”. I had already heard that many times, people do nothing wrong to end up in these areas. When entering the US to start a new life, or sometimes even just to continue the lives they have always led, ICE would pick them up. Or, they would be stopped going to work, the grocery store, or a friends house. The term “driving while black” I have learned really just means driving while of color and anybody that is not white or does not fit the right profile therefore labeled “suspicious” and is susceptible to unauthorized harassment. As I was driving past the cotton fields and through Arizona’s countryside, I soon realized that in reality, our detention centers are prisons. I should have put it together sooner. That the term “detention” is never a pretty word. I approached the prison and walked to the tall front gate.
My placement supervisor had semi warned me of the process before I got there: walk to the gate, state yourself, walk through the doors, go through security, get escorted to the court, deliver the papers, walk out. As soon as I entered the cold, brick, and barbed wire facility, I forgot everything. I went to hit the button to be buzzed through the first of three doors to the building. The guard, clearly used to people knowing the routine, mumbles into the mic. Not understanding, I hit the button again. The guard sighs and says, “okay okay just come on through give me a minute”. I walk through the first set and realize the second set is again locked. I ring the button like a doorbell- I hit it twice, “I said hold on” the guard responded. 3 minutes, or forever later, the door opens. The main door, the last door, is unlocked and I am given passage. The guard sighs at me as we finally get to look each other in the eyes. “What are you doing here, state your business”. “I, I am from the public defender’s office, I am here dropping off court papers”. Okay, go through security- It’s just like the airport, she instructs. Luckily, I had just gone to Colorado and been traveling in the recent years, four years ago I would have been lost. As I got through the unguided security, the woman guard became busy. Hoping to alleviate pressure, I jumped up and followed the group of attorneys, thinking surely, they would know where we were going. We. Ha.
The attorneys, as it turned out, were taking a short tour of the facility and then going to speak to clients in the center. So, I toured too. And then, as we ended the tour I walked up to the guard doe eyed and apologized admitting I was lost. He calmly instructed me back to the lobby where I got stuck in, the BERMUDA triangle. Which is a corner hallway that is between two more locked doors. I was stuck and just when I was about to ring the button, the woman guard, the same one I had before, got back on the buzzer. “You’re just gonna have to wait there; I’m busy, and you didn’t follow the instructions I gave you”. Wait, she gave me instructions? I waited ten minutes, then left to the lobby where I was scolded and informed I was not to be going anywhere un-escorted. I think they were now weary of little old me being unattended. An escort came, picked me up, lead me down a long hallway with several more doors locked every so feet. Then, finally, I made it to court. A cheery office cubicle space decked out in Halloween garb. Little did they seem to realize that the cement walls, barbed wire, and cold metal locking doors were more frightening than the googly eyed bats and spiders on their door.
The ten minutes I was in that room was the most relaxed I felt. I waited, and waited, and my escort never came back despite her 6 warnings not to leave without her. Finally, the receptionist I talked to was leaving and offered to escort me. While hesitant to disturb the system, I was also ready to leave and I had my office-mates staying late waiting for me to return. As we walked I couldn’t help but ask her how long she worked here. Four and a half years, four and a half years too long, she admitted. But it gets less dreary and scary after a while. To demonstrate, she yelled back at the guard who mumbled on the intercom “COURRRRRTT”, clearly she knew the common system. She repeated the screeching through security and our three locked doors outside. Always locked, never easy to arrive or to leave.
My first trip to the Eloy detention center was not what I expected. It was a cold and sad place. It was filled with people who dreamed of being citizens but were now in orange jumpsuits awaiting the inevitable deportation or disappearance. I studied our prison systems enough in college to realize that they are unfairly made up of a large POC (people of color) population. Yet, this was just a further example of how we continue to separate families and put people in cages. And for what? In my personal opinion, these families are either A) looking for a better life(shouldn’t we be happy they think our country is so great?) or B) these families existed on the “border region” and who are we to withhold them from being on the land their families have owned for centuries? I need to know what we are doing America.
*Disclaimer: This is more political than I have ever been before but being in the desert, hearing stories, and watching things NOT get done- it’s easy to gain and feel the need to share this opinion. Please feel free to find me on social media, text me for a time to chat, or shoot me an email if you have questions or a differing opinion you feel needs heard.*
Flash blogs are short posts written to a shared prompt during community discussion time -- with a ten minute time limit. This practice helps us get used to blogging, stay in communication with our followers, and challenge ourselves to not overthink how we share with the world. See each YAV's response to this shared prompt below!
PROMPT: According to the PCUSA, you are in Mission service. What does that mean to you?
During orientation as we talked about serving during our YAV year, we had a day where we unpacked the word mission and that definition, what it has meant in the past and started thinking through what it means to us. That was one of the last days after a pretty heavy week of orientation, so I don’t really remember exactly what we talked about. I know we talked about mission briefly, but I am pretty far from knowing what I think “mission” service means. During that day we did talk about the fact that something about the word mission may make us feel icky or like it doesn’t really describe what we are doing.
For me I think it’s easier to think about the word service, and say I’m doing a service year. I’m using my gifts and strengths, and growing in my weaknesses as I serve others. One thing during orientation that continued to stick with me was a story our YAV coordinator Richard told us one of the first days. When he served one in his YAV year, I believe a bishop from his host country told him a very humbling and powerful message. As I paraphrase, Richard was told something along the lines that the people you have come to help, do not need you, they have been working and serving one another for many years before you and they will continue their work many years after you are gone. You are wanted, you have been invited, but you are not NEEDED. Richard reminded us this throughout our week of orientation. That has been something I have continued to hold in my thoughts during this year of service. For me service means being invited and welcomed into community to accept the many blessings, that are in the community that is allowing me to grow my different gifts of service.
have struggled a lot with what it means to “do mission”. For most of my life, mission has been broadcasted and labeled as a very damaging thing- damaging a culture, boosting a white narrative/ ego, self servicing rather than uplifting of a community as it is meant to be. But last year, working in a retirement community in Asheville, hearing stories from past missionaries and their experiences, I began to realize the most important lesson- mission service is what you make of it (like all things in life, this too is soley based on what you do with the knowledge you have and how you share it (which is what makes writing blog posts scary and also why I will be doing “yadvocate” training next week).
At orientation, we were warned all too well about the dangers of “white savior complex” and even for me, that experience being over a year ago” I still hear the warnings and remember the message. most of last year I was scared to ever post a picture or share my experience for fear of getting the wrong attention on social media- this year on the border is so much worse. Its hard to talk, share, and “promote” this year of learning and experiencing immigration- without that fear of “white savior”.
For me- mission, is accepting that God is calling you to a place for a purpose and accepting that that purpose is not what you may have thought or intended. That sometimes its hard and although you thought you were ready for the challenge and wanted more of it in your life- you had no idea what you were signing up for. Mission for me, means showing up in those hard times and learning how (as a seven) to admit when they’re awful but knowing that its okay and it may or may not get better— that’s also okay. Mission, is taking the leap and diving into the unknown with fear and uncertainty of what comes next– but also open to the possibilities of what can happen.
Being “In Mission Service” feels weird to me. What does that even mean?
It makes me feel uncomfy because I think of the harm that people with the title “missionary” have done in the past and are continuing to do. There is a lot of oppression, killing, and erasing of culture that has come in the form of what has been called mission work.
I am not in Tucson to do any of that though because of all of that is horrible and part of the horrible narrative of white supremacy. But that brings up the question of why am I here at all?
I am here to learn, grow, and change. I am here to serve others. I am here to show love and build relationships.
I don’t consider that to be mission work. But also, isn’t that kind of the definition of mission work?
Being “in mission service” to me is just showing up for people. I do that by showing up to repair houses with CHRPA. I have shown up to events around the city to support other groups doing good work.
But in all of this I am learning so much, which is part of why I feel weird calling it mission work. But I think that is ok.
Mission service to me is serving others and learning from them. I don’t know how to best serve people unless I first listen to what they need. That is mission to me.
Let us go across to the other side
In the Gospel of Mark there are a lot of times when Jesus and the disciples cross from Jewish land to Gentile land and vice versa. This gospel is read by the delegation groups in preparation for their trip to Agua Prieta/Douglas, and I too read and have been discussing with each group various verses from it.
It has had me thinking a lot about who is willing to cross and who is able to cross these borders. For example, there is a passage in which Jesus and the disciples cross into Gentile land. Jesus leaves the boat and begins healing gentiles, and in this passage, the longest in Mark, none of the disciples are mentioned at all. My boss pointed this out to me, and questioned if they stayed behind in the boat and let Jesus go to do his thing alone. Where they not willing to go across to the other side?
Though I have physically crossed the border, I question, in what ways have I stayed behind in the boat? Have I been fully present in the community of Agua Prieta? Am I fully present with each of the migrants?
And then there’s the HUGE question: who is able to cross?
All of the delegation groups will testify how surprisingly easy it is to cross into Mexico- no lines, no presentation of your papers. But with over a thousand migrants on the list to stay in CAME (the shelter for migrants), it is clear that the reality is not the same when crossing the opposite direction. Beneath blankets tied to the fence-style wall that borders the US, sleeping on mats laid on top of the concrete, are migrants that could testify how surprisingly (?) hard it is to cross into the United States.
My white skin and my “passport privilege” make this a reality I am blind to. And as I ride my bike past the 2 hour long line of cars waiting at the port of entry, I greet the migrants staying in la línea, I am able to “go across to the other side” with an ease they’ll never know.
There multiple realities here, regarding “the other side”, “el otro lado”.
I am really grateful to be here to take it all in. Both by sharing in the experience of living amongst a border, and by learning from those whose realities have to be different than mine due to which side we were born on.
It's National Coming Out Day! YAY!!!!!!!!
A few weeks ago, the Tucson YAVs all attended a Pride Festival together as a community event!
I love pride! This was my second Pride Festival and I fully believe that Pride, not Disney World is the happiest place on earth. There is so much joy. Its a celebration of everyone getting to express their gender, sexuality, and self in anyway they chose.
We did all of the typical Pride things: collected free stuff with rainbows on it, watched live performances, and took lots of pictures. And it was so much fun!
Pride is a great time knowing that I can be fully open about my sexuality with everyone there and I will be celebrated and affirmed.
Even as much as I love the affirming space that was created at Pride, I recently had another experience that affirmed me in my identity more.
This event was a worship service called More Light Sunday.
More Light Presbyterians is an organization within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that has been advocating for LGBTQ people in the PC(USA) since 1992. The name comes from saying that there was “yet more light to shine forth on the scriptures” in terms of LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
When walking into the sanctuary on that Sunday, the first thing I saw were ribbons hanging from the center over the communion table. One set of ribbons hung down to form a rainbow pride flag and the others made the pink, blue and white trans+ flag.
The ribbons that hung in the center of the sanctuary on More Light Sunday to represent the LGBTQ+ community.Everyone was given a sticker that said “Be-Loved” on a background of either the gay pride flag or the trans+ flag. And many people donned rainbows on their shirts and other parts of their clothes.
For all of those aspects and the joy felt within the room, it was very simliar to Pride. But the difference came during worship.
Many of the songs and liturgy could be used in a variety of contexts. Micah 6:8 was one of the scriptures and “this little light of mine” was one of the songs. These are used in a variety of worship contexts.
But even with scriptures and songs that I am familiar with, it was so powerful to hear them in this context. To hear it being said from the pulpit and directed toward the LGBTQIA+ community. A community of people who are all too often forgotten about and demonized by the church.
It was so powerful to be able to listen to a woman preach who was invited there not despite her sexuality, but because of it. It was more than a church saying that they are inclusive. It was showing it right there from the pulpit as they literally preached inclusivity.
This was a much different feeling for me than the Pride Festival because it was at church. I have been affirmed in my sexuality by family, friends, and strangers countless times. But this may be the first time that I have felt affirmed by an institution.
I have always had weird feelings about being open about my sexuality in the church. This isn’t because I think that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that God created me this way and will always love me just as I am. Embracing my sexuality makes me feel closer to God, not farther way.
No, the reason I have weird feelings about my sexuality and the church is that I never know how other Christians are going to react if I say that I am not straight. It has always been the judgement of people that makes me more nervous than the judgement of God.
But having a worship service dedicated to LGBTQIA+ inclusion and affirmation changes that narrative entirely.
Seeing a rainbow flag hanging at a church is great, but it having an entire worship service planned out and dedicated to praising God with the LGBTQ community that was so impactful for me.
A couple times during worship I was close to tears. There were so many LGBTQ people leading parts of the service. It was incredible.
To be fully affirmed by a church for who I am was so powerful. This may be the first time that I have felt fully included into a church and it was only my second time being there.
This made me take time to reflect on how important inclusion is. Not just LGBTQ inclusion, but the inclusion of all ethnicities, languages, beliefs and people.
Standing there and witnessing a church taking steps to be completely inclusive of LGBTQ people meant more to me than the secular world being accepting of me.
Christianity as a whole has so much power as one of the major world religions. This power can either be used to make every person feel included or it can be used to create divisions among us.
I hope there are more instances of the former. I have hope that people can be amazed and moved by how inclusive and loving Christians can be of all of God’s people.
On my first Sunday in Tucson, the YAV’s and I went to Trinity Presbyterian Church for worship and fellowship. As we worshiped Will You Come and Follow Me (The Summons) is a hymn I’ve heard many times before. As we had already spent a week in New York and a week in Tucson thinking about what service means to us and reflecting on what the year ahead may hold, the fourth verse has stuck with me:
Will you learn to love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Alongside the powerful verses, the sermon has also stuck with me. The pastor talked about confidence in one’s self is something God calls us to do. But she noted an important distinction between arrogance and confidence. In order to be in relationship and use our gifts as God calls us, confidence in those gifts and one’s self is necessary.
There’s a lot of me I hide that I know comes from fears of vulnerability. A lot of insecurities I deflect through laughter and sarcasm. These parts of me require vulnerability, because there often parts of me I don’t really love or are confident enough in to share with others. There are big parts of me I remain hesitant to share. Some of the ‘me’ I hide, includes parts of me that help drive my passions. When I’m not confident in the parts of me that are very entwined with what I’m passionate about how can I be confident in the work I will do to serve others. I think even more so thinking about gifts and talents, I have; if I am not confident in the gifts I have been given, if I am hesitant to share my gifts, how am I really serving or being in relationship with others to the best of my abilities. I feel like I really struggle being confident in all parts of who I am, because I have many fears of what others may think of me, or whether my most vulnerable parts of myself will be accepted.
Perhaps a reason I’ve struggled even writing this first blog post, and sharing with a lot of my community the different experiences I’ve had thus far, is a pretty big fear of vulnerability and putting my thoughts out there for others to read.
I hold a lot of fears everyday. Fears of being a women out and about each day, especially at night if I’m ever biking alone. Fears about biking and being on the road with cars that may not be paying attention. Fears of being vulnerable around my roommates or my co-workers. Fears about saying something wrong or hurtful to others in my community. Fears of causing tension in the house. I have lots of questions about these fears. I wonder often where they come from, what places of privilege some of them come from and what places of past trauma they come from. And my biggest question what do I do to acknowledge them, but not be crippled by them. If I learn to not just suppress or ignore fears I have but quell the fear inside can that lead me to never be the same. Googling the definition of quell it means “to put an end to, typically by the use of force.” I like the use of this specific word, cause it call attention to some of the intentionality necessary to combat fears that are rooted in privilege, racism, or holding on to past traumatic experiences. Put an end to fears of vulnerability or saying the wrong thing, or being scared of people based on stereotypes by using force, by making conscious decisions to take a second to look at where this fear is coming from and how healthy it is to continue to hold on to that fear. I think there are fears and gut feelings that keep us safe, but I think there a lot of my fears that just keep me feeling comfortable. If I learn to recognize some of these fears and put an end to them, how can that allow me to be open to many different experiences, community with different people, and connect with them in a very intentional and deep way where vulnerability is appreciated and necessary.
I will learn many things from my year of service. Some may be new physical skills like how to use power tools or install a water heater, some may be how to listen, and discuss tension and conflict with housemates. But what I think or hope I will learn about most is myself. Learn why I hide parts of myself from others, what confidence can look like, where my fears come from and how can I confront them, and perhaps one of the harder questions I’ve had a harder time thinking through, the question the verse of the Summon ends with will I use the faith I found to reshape the world around? I hope in a year of service, with a program focused on intentional Christian community I can start to think through how me and my faith (something I have hesitance in sharing) can be used to confidently and fearlessly serve and help others.
The first week I was on my own, I was in New York for a week doing orientation. I was excited about all the new people I was going to meet and all the curriculum I was going to learn to better myself in this year of service and how to make this year productive . Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that week of orientation would be about white supremacy and racism. The second day of orientation we dove right into the topic of white supremacy, it was weird honestly. I was uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable because this was a new topic to me, because it wasn’t as a person of color. As a person of color I have to go out into the world with my head held high on my shoulders and my ears opened but immune to the comments being shouted at me either on my body or even because the color of my skin. I was uncomfortable because being in a room that was ninety-five percent white and being one of five people of color in the room made it uncomfortable. Made it so awkward because you could see the shame and guilt on everyone’s faces. When we talked about white supremacy and racism I fell silent, I felt I could not speak, not because I didn’t have thoughts forming in my head, but because I was afraid to say how I actually felt and my own experiences with white supremacy and racism. I was afraid of being looked at with those eyes. What I mean by “those eyes” is the guilt felt and often times filled with petty eyes, that people not of color give you when they feel bad for you. But this is besides the point, I wanted to take the time to write this blog because I wanted everyone to know what a true honor it was to be apart of something so beautiful. Being in a room of people not of color trying to better themselves and make up for their ancestors past mistakes, made my heart warm. I think about that orientation a lot. That orientation gave me hope that I had been lacking because of the world we live in today. And it still does, knowing that the people in that room are trying to fight alongside me to help stop injustice action, racism, white supremacy, etc. That we won’t stop and our voices will continue to be heard, we will fight and stand up for what we believe, now in this year of service, but also for the rest of our lives. Thank you YAV orientation for giving me that hope back. For reminding me why I am here and why I continue to fight for what I believe in.
I have a pretty clear memory of being in Sunday school as a child and hearing a Bible story about a woman giving all she had.
Jesus and his disciples were in the Temple watching as people were giving their offerings, many had lots of wealth and were giving a lot, but one woman only gave two copper coins. Jesus points out that in giving those two coins, she had given all she had to live on, which is worth more than all that the others put into the treasury. (Mark 12:41-44)
In Sunday school, we read this story, colored a picture of a woman placing two coins into a box, and were told to give all we have to the Lord.
That was easy for me as a small child who received a quarter on Sunday mornings for the offering. All I had to do was keep track of the quarter for 45 minutes and put it into the offering plate as it came by. But flash forward 15 years, and that idea of giving everything I have to live on to the Lord has gotten more complicated.
It is easy for me to say, “Yes! Of course I am giving everything to the Lord. After all, I am giving a year of my life to serve here in Tucson.” But when I sit down and actually think on this, I don’t think that is a true at all.
For this year, I am working at Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona (CHRPA). CHRPA provides home repairs and adaptations to low-income homeowners in order to make their homes safer, more energy efficient, and better places to live. Each day I, along with a CHRPA employee, go to people’s homes to do anything from repairing an evaporative cooler to replacing a hot water heater, from building an access ramp to re-wiring a house.
One of my favorite parts of this work placement is the interactions I have with the clients we serve. Its an opportunity to hear stories from their lives.
One woman, lets call her Linda, was telling me how she never expected to end up in a place where it was difficult to make ends meet. She is struggling to keep up with bills and find work, and she is also dealing with many health problems.
The thing that shocked me while talking to Linda was the incredible amount of love she shows people. She told me of how she cares for her friends and neighbors; two friends who have also been struggling financially are living in her home. She also is housing a friend’s dog that he couldn’t keep at his place. Linda had many stories of how she was looking out for people in her life and helping in any way she could.
My first thought was one of wonder. How does she do all this when she doesn’t have much to give? But that didn’t matter to Linda. What mattered was that she was supporting people, in every way she could, to make their lives better.
Linda is generous with her time, money, and resources, which is more than I can say about myself.
I am not saying I am not generous at all. I give my time and energy to lots of people. If someone asks me to do something for them, it’s pretty likely I’ll do it.
But honestly, I am not generous when it comes to gifts. Either physical or monetary gifts. Even though I have an abundance of everything I need, I don’t like to give money, or food, or even possessions in a lot of cases. Its a hard thing for me to do.
Part of it is that I like to be prepared financially in case something were to happen where I need that money. What if I need to go to the doctor? What if I need maintenance done on my car?
I could what if this to death… But why should I?
Did Jesus say about the woman in the temple, “She gave all that she had to live on. Except her savings account. She is saving that just in case she has an emergency.”? NO! He didn’t!
I can try so hard to be prepared for anything, but is it worth it if I am not being generous in my everyday life?
To me, generosity doesn’t look like only giving money to the offering on Sunday mornings. Sure that is giving to God, but God is in many more places than those pews. What about offering food to my neighbors, giving a woman who is homeless some cash, donating to organizations that are doing good work?
And that doesn’t even begin to address all of the giving that I can do with excessive possessions I have…
I have the joy of being able to witness generosity every day: Through those of you who have made donations or sacrifices to help me be able to spend this year serving others and through experiences with clients like Linda.
Being generous like Jesus suggested looks like the woman who brought us jars of peaches as a snack each day that we were at her house building an access ramp for her husband. It looks like the mother who said she didn’t have much but wanted to make sure we had food for lunch, so she gave us a bag of snacks to take with us as we left. It looks like a man giving us cold bottles of water on a hot day as we fixed his kitchen sink.
Generosity like Jesus wanted is giving when it isn’t expected, required, or easy.
I will continue to be humbled and challenged each time a client gives me even the smallest thing because that is giving of themselves and their possessions to a complete stranger.
Giving to strangers sounds like what Jesus did.
I think it could make the world a little brighter.
I want to do that but I’m not good at it, yet.
I have so much to learn and thankfully God gives us endless grace as we learn to love better.
I have always been a girl that loves her board games. Board games, card games, I LOVE games. I usually have a knack for winning and playing games is sometimes the only time my competitive side shows. Especially, if it’s a game I am used to winning, like Disney Scene- It or Rummikub. Then there are the games that I know I don’t win but still like to play. These are games like Stratego, Monopoly, and Risk. Risk was one of my favorites growing up, I used to love gathering around a table with my brother and all of our cousins around the holidays and spending HOURS on end prepping for world domination. I loved the intricate little soldiers, and cannons, the men on their horses. For those that haven’t played, the game is all about strategy, alliances and of course the end result and how you win is to concur the world. There are three types of militia of different point values and a map of the world colored by continent. Your job is to spread your army across every continent and take over the countries from other players on the board by rolling high numbers on dice. Playing this game enough times, I now have the perfect starting strategy: put all my troops in Australia first, then, as the game progresses, branch out from Australia into Egypt, over to south then central and north America, then spread across Asia and finish in Europe. Never EVER start in Europe. It is a tramping ground that is easily taken as there are no secure borders of protection. People can come and attack you from all sides of the map. Its best, to skirt on the sidelines, but everyone else is also trying for that strategy.
I usually last about halfway through a game. I am not the first person to be defeated, usually people leave me on the board because they know I am not a threat and they take the real competition out first. I usually make it through “alliance and treaty time” the time of the game where people build partnerships. “I ‘PROMISE’ not to go after you here if you help me take this piece of land from so- and – so over there”, or like in Monopoly, “I’ll give you this region if you can just help me or let me have this section here”. In a game where the ultimate goal is to be the last one on the map, its clear that getting there alone is hard. You don’t always have the support or militia you need. The tricky part of the game, however, is when these alliances start to break. It’s all fun in the beginning with people promising things to each other but halfway through it gets chaotic and tension arises. “HEY! You PROMISED I was safe here. What are you DOING!!!”, “SORRY, sorry, it’s a game, don’t freak out- you knew this wouldn’t last forever- You should have built up your militia and been ready!” Playing with my cousins, this is usually where I stop. We have a lot of competitive people in the family who despite this being “just a game” feelings get hurt and tension gets the best of us. The game quickly turns into- how fast can Katie destroy herself and exit the game and avoid the conflicts. All the girls are usually dominated at this point and are ready to play Barbies or House, something less violent. Its funny how a board game meant for children, can influence so much of life and enforce societies stereotypes and “values”.
You may be wondering why I have spent most of one of my first blogs on Tucson, discussing a children’s game. It’s a valid question; I was curious as well when this game was on my mind the whole plane ride here. See, I was reading some of the pre-required readings on the plane (that I failed to read over the summer) and this game, kept coming back to my memories. For the next year, I have committed to being a Tucson Borderlands YAV. I knew coming in that a lot of the learning that I would have to do with life and culture along America’s “border”. A lot of the articles we were supposed to be reading, dealt with history of the border and how colonization happened very quickly and all at once. One article in particular, “Tohono O’odham Nation- History and Culture”, did a very good job in summarizing how abruptly a people can become displaced from their land and culture without so much as a warning or conversation. Like when you are sneaking your troops around the borders in Risk, instead of facing the conflict in Europe head on and in the open. The article tells a quick recap of how the indigenous people (Tohono O’odham) have lived on the land we Americans now consider the boarder for years before it was such. As colonization started happening, the people were promised not to have to worry, they wouldn’t have to change, they would be given special rights and license to maintain their “rights” as citizens. However, as time passed, the line was drawn and the promises made became blurred. Much like in the children’s game, it is hard to keep hold of promises when things are constantly developing. The world around us is always changing and more structure needed to be in place, the special identifications for the Tohono O’odham people eventually no longer mattered. Due to national security, our boarders had to be enforced so “outsiders” didn’t become a problem. The “middleman” had to be cut to assure the “enemy” didn’t stand a chance. If it helps to think of things outside of a “game” perspective for those that didn’t spend their holidays plotting domination, reading the article I also starting thinking of the well known and taught Native American peoples history and the struggles there with colonization. Here I was again, reading examples of other peoples being pushed out of their home, their heritage ripped away by newcomers who pushed for the “betterment of society”.
Why do we find it necessary to teach our children about war? Why do we feel the need to establish competitive behavior, violence, mistrust, and strategic sneakery in our youth? Does learning how to “build and maintain an army” have to start so young? Let’s also note but not get into right now the gender roles displayed on who has the power and patience to maintain their armies. Reading these articles, I started to wonder why I saw the game as fun. I always lose interest and know what’s coming in the middle. Why do I play in the first place? The game continues to teach me that developing a strategy, maintaining borders, building alliances, and communication are important. It’s the key to winning the game. However, the untold and unnoticed lesson that we are also instilling is that it’s okay to break those alliances, hurt feelings, and break the trust, for the well being that this is just a game. The innocent bystanders aren’t your friends, neighbors, or innocent people. They are pieces of plastic, alien- like figurines, not human beings. In order to “win” and be the best you can be, you must be able to step on other people’s shoulders and make your way. I find it eerie how my brain can link an article to a children’s game and my brain can draw so many comparisons. I find it scary that I can see where so many life lessons and social structures get formed, without ever taking a second to realize what’s happening. I find it horrifying how fast we can turn on people and focus on the “betterment” of the game, of the country, of the world. Pushing people’s feelings to the side and getting wrapped up in “end goals”.
A month before I left Asheville, I made a decision to do a second YAV year. It was in no way an easy decision. As soon as spring hit, I began to think seriously about the options that laid ahead of me for the next year. I was supposed to have been using the whole year as a “gap year” focusing what came next after college and what interested me. I went into Asheville, hoping that it would possibly even lead to a future job or career path. As I got closer to the end, that dream became more and more of a reality as several options to stay came my way. Job offers, Americorps years, even options to go to my Illinois home for the year. None of them seemed right though. I was convinced that as much as I wanted to stay in Asheville, by staying, I would be taking an opportunity away from someone else. Also, I had came into Asheville knowing that the experience would only be a year and so in some ways, my subconscious was ready to move onto whatever came next. My heart may not have been ready, but every other part of me seemed to be- my muscles for instance were counting down the days as we entered June and they didn’t have to carry heavy sofas and prove themselves to old men who looked at me sideways. Going home also seemed like a step back- I had convinced myself that moving forward into the future had to mean a step forward. So, when a representative from the giving’s department of the PCUSA church came for a visit and asked us what came next in continuing this knowledge of faith in action, only one answer really made sense. In discerning my call last year, I started thinking about seminary, but am not yet ready. I need more hands-on experience and learning. There is so much of the social justice world that I am just beginning to get a flavor for. A year on the border stepping FAR out of my comfort zone, seemed like the perfect opportunity for change and growth. With a half an hour left on the clock to submit my application, I had committed to a second year.
The commitment has taken a while to sink in.
I left Asheville feeling like I was prepared and fully expecting the challenges ahead. However, writing this two weeks in, I can tell you that everyday here so far has proven me wrong. Although I am doing a second year of service through the PCUSA Missions Agency, the comparisons between my years end there. I am living with 5 women again, but they are completely different from my roommates last year. My current site supervisor may be friends with my past one, but their guidance styles are very different. Last year, I had a job where I was constantly on the move and lifting furniture; so far this year, I have had a lot of office work and sorting in the nice air conditioning. Last year, I had my car and relied on that privilege more often than I should; this year the temptation is gone, and my primary mode of transportation is a bicycle. The years are drastically different and although everybody was telling me not to compare, I did not realize how much I was doing so until I came face to face with the pre-conceived notions I carried. I am almost two weeks into the year and apart from realizing that it is different from my first, here are some other things I have discovered and learned about Tucson in particular:
It’s hot here but it’s a “dry heat”. It took me two days to realize that means dehydration becomes a problem as the heat inevitably sneaks up on you. I am living in a house in the midst of a neighborhood with a lot of U of A students. Our yard is full of “goat-heads” (or how I always knew them- sand burrs). To avoid getting flat tires on our bikes, we carry them anywhere there is not pavement. There is no grass here in Arizona, just cacti, gravel, and sand. The lady at the post office was joking with me yesterday and called Arizona the country’s largest beach without the water. My bike ride to work is about a three-mile ride through downtown Tucson. Two days into the year, we took an 8-hour intensive bike course where we had both a written and riding portion. I am certified in all biking endeavors but my “quick-stop” could use some work as the practice portion sent me flying over the handlebars. Helmets are not fashionable, but I learned in that instance they are in fact necessary. So, I am learning to adjust and live with it- my bun however is not so becoming bald may be in my future. My work placement this year is at Keep Tucson Together (KTT). It is a nonprofit organization that helps in providing legal assistance for members of the community that need representation in legal hearings, aid in filling out and filing court documents, and help understanding their current situations and figuring out options. The team is comprised of a few full-time employees but mostly it consists of retired lawyers and other volunteers (we are all volunteers as I am often reminded) who are looking to provide hands on assistance and help wherever they can. My job so far has been in going through and organizing client’s files and getting used to the “a# system”. I am quickly realizing how although it is not required, being able to speak Spanish in the workplace and community would be tremendously helpful. I start an intermediate level Spanish class on the 9th and as a house, we are reading and practicing vocab words together.
Two weeks in, I can see where my time in Asheville was an asset to my learning and how it can in some ways contribute to my year this year. However ultimately, these are two VERY different experiences and being able to live each of them has been a blessing and has helped in understanding just how diverse God has created this vast world. I am excited and obviously nervous to continue embracing each and every challenge, difference, and change that lies ahead.