Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Diversity is Beautiful

By Rebecca Lane, Mercy Volunteer Corps 

Mercy Volunteers serving on a Navajo Reservation in Arizona enjoy hiking as a community
She turned around abruptly to look at me and with sureness in her voice, the words, “I have never been friends with anyone like you before” echoed off the walls of our new apartment. She was probably right. Our interest and outlooks surely didn’t streamline together in a perfect way. It was no secret, we were undeniably different. We were placed together for a year of service, but that did not constitute a friendship. Our humor did not match, our lifestyles were polarities, and I thought we were headed for a year of turmoil. 

It wasn’t just her and I at opposite ends of the life spectrum. As a community, we all had stories to share of where we came from, and who we are today. None of which corresponded. Placed in an entirely different environment: college, a party, or a workplace, would we still have built a friendship with one another? The odds are slim. We are wildly unique, chasing our own lavish dreams. Even with three nurses in the house, they are each sprouting in various directions. Yet cohesively, we lived together, we worked together, and we adventured together. Truth be told, it isn’t easy. Robotic we are not. Each of us is wired with deep passions and strong thoughts on what community in the Navajo Nation should entail.

Packaged in our fleshy nature are concepts and ideals that have been unknowingly manifested in our psychological pathways and present themselves daily. They are caused by how we were raised, experiences we had, and a moral code we have developed. Most individuals are unaware of these concepts and ideals until they are forcefully removed from an environment that accepts them as normalcy. 

One ideal that may not appear as a dilemma but can shake other’s routines is washing the dishes. Four of the five Saint Michael’s Mercy Volunteers are from the East Coast where droughts and water shortages do not plague a community. One of us, however, is from the West Coast. Growing up in eco-friendly Colorado, her ideals are rooted in water conservation, composting, and gardening. As I write, there is a beautiful box garden growing on our windowsill. Therefore, continuously running water as one washes the dishes strikes a nerve in her. As we sit down at the dinner table nightly, each one of us brings assumptions like these on how daily chores should be done, how to make decisions, and different lifestyle choices. The beauty is none of us are wrong, we are simply different. 

Because of our diversity, we are learning a great deal. Yet, we did not simply learn about each other, we teach other. Living with nurses, I learned far too much about infections, medical terms, and how to be an advocate for others and myself in a hospital setting. As for the Speech Therapist, she shows me how to teach my non-verbal student to begin to speak and the importance of communication. For me, I have the opportunity to teach my community members American Sign Language and how to manage difficult behaviors in a classroom setting. 

Informally, we taught one another how to cook from delicious Italian meals to meat and potatoes and every other oriental dish in between. Winter nights were best spent learning to crochet and using them as “living simply” Christmas gifts. Summer months were spent learning to face the fear of height as we hiked all over this beautiful desert. In our downtime, we painted, we completed puzzles, and we learned which roads were best not to take after a rain shower. In 1 Peter 4:10 it states, “Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others, as a faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” We were each unique gifts and destined by God to serve in Saint Michaels, Arizona to not only serve our community, but to serve one another and teach each other every day that diversity is beautiful. More importantly, we taught one another that although assumptions are inevitable, to step into another’s life in intentional community is life-giving.   

Community forces yet fosters deeper relationships. We are unable to hide behind our exterior, instead everyday demands us to pour out a little of our soul on to the table for each member of the community to probe at and infer their own judgments. In the beginning, it was excruciating. By the end, it was liberating. To be a part of a community that freely allows you to be who you are, despite differences, makes for a pleasant abode. We are truly blessed. 

To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, please click here.