Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Little Reminders

By Jenette Vogt, Christian Appalachian Project Volunteer

It's funny how God can work in your life sometimes. Just when you think you are starting to figure things out, he opens up all of these other paths and opportunities. Usually they are good surprises. Most of the time they just make me roll my eyes and laugh. But most importantly they remind me that I am not and can not be in complete control of my life. I think God likes to send these reminders that he is still there and that he has these plans for my life. Great plans that will bring me true happiness as long as I am willing to follow and trust in him.
When I first came down to my prospective volunteer interview at CAP, God hit me with one of those reminders. First off, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to give up my first year out of college to serve in this community in Kentucky. Most of my friends were moving on to graduate school or their first job. Was I willing to give all that up? That question was quickly answered. My prospective interviews went great, almost too great!
First I interviewed with the Home Repair Program. The only reason I was interested in this program is because I knew nothing about construction and building things. Once, I tried building a night stand and my father ended up taking the entire thing apart because it wasn't square. Apparently only having two of the legs touch the ground at the same time is a problem. I went into my housing interview not expecting much. Boy was I surprised and in a good way! I had the opportunity to go to a job site and work for the day. I LOVED it.
When I got back to the volunteer house that evening, I remember calling my mom in a panic. I wasn't supposed to like the Home Repair Program that much! Before the interviews I already had my mind made up that I was going to volunteer with the Summer Camp Program so I could be a camp counselor. I knew I would enjoy working at a summer camp. I interviewed for the Camp AJ position the next morning and that interview was better than I expected it to be as well. I had the chance to eat lunch with a few of CAP's employees, and we ended up singing camp songs while making lunch. I am not a super outgoing person so the fact that I sang a song called "Bessie the Heifer" during lunch was a big deal to me. I knew that I would love camp and that I would be happy working as the Camp AJ volunteer.
On my way home, I called my mom to tell her about another great interview. She had me give her a run down of the positives and negatives of both programs. One huge negative for the camp position was the in school work at four of the local schools. I was an elementary education major for a few semesters in college, and I did NOT want to be back in the classroom. I knew that teaching was not my calling, and I could learn so much more in the housing program. Plus, the housing program works longer days so they get Fridays off in the summer!
This is when God sent me one of his little reminders. Eventually it hit me that this year of service was not about me. I wasn't going to serve in Kentucky for myself, so why would I pick a program based on what I wanted for myself? The pro/con list had to go. I waited for about a week to see how I would feel and I could not get the Camp program out of my head along with the thought of all of the little kids that I would have the chance to work with. So what if I was going to be in a classroom for most of the year? God had opened up one of these opportunities that would make me happy. I only had to listen.
So I did. I have been a Camp AJ volunteer for the past four months. While there are days that it can be rough to be in a classroom with 20 third graders, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else! Working in the schools has been wonderful. The students have brought me more joy and laughter than I could have ever imagined.

Jenette is an AmeriCorps Camp Educator/Summer Camp Counselor living in the Jackson Volunteer House. She is a 2016 graduate of Eastern Illinois University. 
Christian Appalachian Project’s mission is building hope, transforming lives, and sharing Christ’s love through service in Appalachia. To learn more about the volunteer opportunities they offer, please click here. This post first appeared on CAP's blog.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Mystery of Mission: A Letter to a Future Missioner

2016 Volunteer Story Contest Winner

By Teresa Villaruz, Maryknoll Lay Missioner

Dear friend,

Relax. Breathe. Welcome to your new life as an overseas missioner. If you are anything like I am, you may be experiencing heaps of excitement with a dash of panic and a good dose of “Good Lord, what did I just get myself into?” Prepare to be enveloped in a cloud, or perhaps even a storm, of unknowing. Things you thought you knew – what is considered edible, how you cross a street, how you wash a mango – well, friend, those days are gone. Never fear, you will learn because you will have people walking alongside you who will show you how to get the dead gecko out of the water tank and how to negotiate the correct price on a minibus. 

You will see the silky comfort of wealth juxtaposed next to the crushing reality of poverty. In fact, you will probably live in the safety and comfort of this wealth, or at the very least, you will dabble in it from time to time when going to restaurants with exotic fare or on safaris to see living national treasures, but your work will likely be with the 99%, those who do not have running water or electricity in their mud and stick homes. And you will feel guilt. Lots of it.  While as missioners, we’re called to walk with those on the margins, the truth is that we can easily leave those margins whenever we choose.  As a missioner and a teacher, I often ask myself why I have 12 pairs of shoes at home under my bed while my student has only one pair of broken flip-flops; why I can gleefully spend $4 on a Frappuccino when that will pay for three months of my student’s feeding program. If you are like I am, you will toe that thin and almost invisible line between self-care and being part of the machine that imprisons people in poverty. 

Many visitors are impressed by how people can live in such dire circumstances and yet seem so outwardly joyful. But please, dear friend, do not idealize their poverty. Do not deny them their complexity and humanity. If you are able to meet them as they are with all of their contradictions and imperfections, you might be able to start sitting in the midst of the questions and the mystery that connects us all.

This is what mission is all about.  It’s about serving others and wrestling with the questions surfacing that you didn’t even know were inside you. It is the ability to look in the mirror and see yourself with stark and almost terrifying clarity because the truth is, when you pluck yourself from your everyday familiar and intentionally put yourself into what is uncomfortable and foreign, the landscapes of your soul begin to rumble and shift. And you begin to realize that these questions, no matter how painful to hold, are a gift. Your soul, though it may fall into temporary darkness, will bloom and your heart will expand because you had the courage to allow the tragedy around you to shatter it. You had the courage to stand with your hands open and empty, waiting for God to fill them. 

The reality, dear friend, is that you will need God more here. When you’re in a western country, you can rely on the doctor when you’re sick, go to a friend’s house when you need comfort, escape distress with a good movie. Here, hospitals do not have enough blood and people frequently die of preventable diseases. You can go to a friend’s house here, but that friend might not speak English, may have different boundaries about crying or expressing emotions. And watching a movie would be great…if you have electricity that night. These are the adventures, the challenges, and the gifts of everyday mission. You will see just how simply you can live, just what food you can stomach, just how much your culture has shaped your version of reality. And believe it or not, you will be surprised by how a place so foreign to you can feel so much like home. 

So often, we go into mission with plans about how we are going to transform lives, not realizing that in the messy process of learning how to serve, we ourselves will be transformed. You will be evangelized by the tragic beauty of the place you’re in, the struggles and the heartbreaks of the people you are accompanying, and the hope that is held anyway. And you will be evangelized by your own doubt, made to feel the breadth of your humanity and the fear and wonder of your unique journey. By putting yourself in such a vulnerable place, by allowing yourself to be broken and blessed, you nourish not only others, but yourself. So be gentle with yourself; you will learn the language and the culture and the customs with time. But for now, just thank God for the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of another and to draw just a little bit closer to the person you’re meant to be. 

With love, 

Want to know more? Visit Teresa's blog!
Would you like to make a donation to support Teresa's mission? Click here to visit her donation page!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016 - The Gift of Light

The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote in WWII Germany, said of Advent: “The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”
Over the past four weeks, we have lit candles on the Advent wreath. This ritual engages us with the darkness of the season, as well as the symbolic darkness of our world. In the circle of night we make a four-point square of light – a burning sign of our hope for the new life promised by God.
Today, our Christmas Gospel reveals God’s fulfillment of this promise:
What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:3-5)
We celebrate anew the birth of Jesus Christ – a gift we can hardly comprehend. In the refuge of the manger (which is located in every heart) we rejoice in the eternal Son of God, who is born for man, by the power of Holy Spirit and the willing service of Mary, his mother.
As a community founded in faith and service, we can rejoice doubly, for as God’s Angel told Joseph in the Fourth Week of Advent, “…they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23) As Christ is the light of the world, he is also the light within all who receive him. We are each made little lights in His name. We are each to glow, and as St. Francis of Assisi reassures us, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” 
We pray that you have peace and joy on this Christmas Day and beyond. We pray that you will carry your light forward into the world. The new earth has not yet come, but Christ has, illuminating the dark. Rejoice! In joyful spirit, we share now a few lines from author Madeleine L’Engle (herself a little candle of Christ):

First Coming (excerpt)

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!