Friday, July 26, 2013

When I'm Gone

Check it out:

18Aug13   12:15pm   Sunday
Air   Delta Air Lines        Flight# 4077   Class:U Seat:04-C
      From: Richmond Internationa 18Aug13   12:15pm   Sunday
      To:   Detroit Metro MI, USA 18Aug13   02:11pm   Sunday
      Meal: None Equip: CRJ-Canadair Regional Jet Status: Confirmed
      Stops: 0

18Aug13   04:00pm   Sunday
Air   Delta Air Lines        Flight# 252    Class:U Seat:33-G
      From: Detroit Metro MI, USA 18Aug13   04:00pm   Sunday
      To:   Amsterdam, Netherland 19Aug13   05:55am   Monday
      Meal:  Equip: Airbus A330 Jet Status: Confirmed
      Stops: 0

19Aug13   10:05am   Monday
Air   Delta Air Lines        Flight# 9599   Class:U Seat:26-F
      From: Amsterdam, Netherland 19Aug13   10:05am   Monday
      To:   Cape Town, South Afri 19Aug13   09:35pm   Monday
      Meal:  Equip: Boeing 777 Jet Status: Confirmed
      Stops: 0

I finished my final night of work at the hospital last week, so this week I've basically been sitting around contemplating the fact that I'm about to leave everyone I know for a year.  It's funny; since orientation, I haven't felt overwhelmed by what I'm doing.  Maybe a little anxious sometimes, but mostly in a good way.  I'm just excited to get over to Cape Town and get started!  My husband Jacob is doing really well with the fact that I'm about to leave him, or at least he was doing well until I started following him around singing "Cups" by Anna Kendrick.  'When I'm gone, when I'm gone, you're gonna miss me when I'm gone...' 

Anyway, my visa application has been sent off to the South African Embassy, and supposedly it only takes 5 days to process, so hopefully I'll have it back by the end of next week.  It was a little anxiety-provoking to stick your passport in an envelope and mail it, but the lady at the post office assures me that's what tracking numbers are for.  I've also finished all my routine appointments that I wanted to get done before I leave.  Even the dentist.  I HATE the dentist.  But I guess I have a really good excuse not to go back for a year!  Today I'm getting my travel immunizations.  I actually don't need much.  Just typhoid and possibly a Hepatitis A booster.  After today, all I'll have left to do is pack enjoy time with my family.

Speaking of family, here are some cute pictures of them!

Monday, July 15, 2013


A GIANT thank you to all my supporters!  Because of all of you, I have reached (and exceeded) my fundraising goal!  You guys are awesome!

If you have been planning to make a donation and haven't yet done it, you should know that any money above the $10,000 I'm required to raise still goes to support the YASC program.  It actually costs the church about $24,000 to send me abroad for the year, so any additional contributions I receive will still be used exactly for the YASC program.  Also, I suggest you check out the other YASCers blogs.   Every one of these young men and women are my friends, and they are all doing amazing work.  If you would like to make a donation to one of them, please do so!  Their blogs have information on how you can do that, or you can email me and I will get you in touch.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Take off your shoes

I got to practice something new this week, something I had only tried once before.  The day after I got back from orientation, I got to 'preach' at my home parish, St. John's Richmond.  It wasn't too bad to do this at St. John's.  I have a friendly crowd there, because all the parishioners know me, and since I had just spent two weeks with the other YASCers, I had a lot to talk about.  This morning, I did the same thing at St. Peter's Parish in New Kent.  I was a lot more nervous about this one.  I am SOOOOOO not a public speaker, and having never been to St. Peter's before, I was worried about having to talk in front of all these strangers!  St. Peter's has been very generous to me, and I wanted to let them know how much I appreciate their support.  I was really surprised at what an awesome parish this is!  First of all, it's gorgeous!  I wish I had thought to get a picture inside, because it's all pine pew boxes, white walls, and stained glass.  My favorite sort of church architecture.  Also, Martha Custis Washington (George Washington's wife, for anyone who is not a history buff) worshiped here as a child.  The church building itself is the oldest in the Diocese of Virginia.  It beats St. John's building by almost 50 years.  (BUT the parish of St. John's existed for almost one hundred fifty years before our current church was built, so technically our worshiping body is older!)  What really struck me about St. Peter's, though, wasn't the gorgeous setting or the beautiful old building.  It was the awesome people there!  Paul, the rector, is just as friendly and welcoming as he could possibly be, and every parishioner I met was so excited about my work in Hawston that it made me even more excited to go!  St. Peter's is also sending a group of 17 youth to the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina next week.  I'm so excited for these kids to go on their mission trip.  They're going to do some great work, helping with home repairs, and more than that, they will get to be exposed to Cherokee culture.  I'm so jealous; I want to go!  Too bad I've got so much visa paperwork to occupy my time....

St. Peter's Parish, New Kent.  Notice the weather vane at the top!

Such a pretty church!  It's even better on the inside.  You can kick me for not taking a picture to share.

I'd like to share the remarks I made today at St. Peter's.  I would have done this a few weeks ago with my remarks from St. John's, but unfortunately I wrote them on the back of my train ticket on the way home from orientation, and it has disappeared into the formless void that is my very messy house.  Luckily, I was better prepared this time and typed up my notes.  Thanks to Julie for sharing the awesome poem/prayer at the end.  I've used it twice now and read it countless times.  I just love the first three lines, and I'm thinking of maybe framing this and putting it on my bedroom wall.  Enjoy!

Remarks for St. Peter's Parish, July 14, 2013

I am a missionary.  On August 18 (I just got my final date on Friday), I will be moving to Hawston, South Africa.  The program I’m a part of is called the Young Adult Service Corps.  It’s sponsored by the Episcopal Church, and it allows young adults age 21-30 to go overseas for a year to do missions.  Is there anyone else here today who is a missionary?  If so, please raise your hand.  All the members of the youth mission trip, you’re missionaries.  Are your hands up?  How about the rest of you?  How many of you are Episcopalians?  Please raise your hand.  Guess what?  Everyone with their hands up is a missionary.  The actual legal name of the Episcopal Church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church.  Missionary society.  So if you’re a member of the Episcopal Church, congratulations, you’re a missionary by default, whether you want to claim the title or not. 

So, what does it mean to be a missionary?  I didn’t grow up in the Episcopal Church.  I was a Baptist.  Being a Baptist meant that, in elementary school, I went to Girls Auxiliary on Wednesday nights, where you talked about all the Baptist missionaries all over the world who are busy converting the people to the Southern Baptist Church.  Because that’s what it means to be a missionary, right?  You convert the heathens.  You might do some other things too, like paint a house or host a reading camp, but really it’s all about the souls you’re saving.  That’s one view of missions, that actually has some historical accuracy, even within our own church, but I see some flaws in this definition of missions.

On the other end of the spectrum from the soul-saving missionary is the Good Samaritan.  When I was in college, I went on a service trip to Nicaragua.  My group worked with local college students in a rural community.  We worked on water systems and sanitation projects.  It was very practical work.  Here is a family who has no running water, so let’s get it to them.  There is a lot of value in this type of service work, but is it missions, or aid work?  My sister works for an NGO that sends her all over the world to oversee development projects.  She does great work, but she will be the first to tell you that she’s definitely not a missionary.  Was the Good Samaritan a missionary?  He was a heathen, and the man in the ditch was a Jew.  The Samaritan definitely helped the Jew.  Does that make him a missionary by his actions, or is he just a good person?

What really defines missions to an Episcopalian?  Is it the work you do, or your motive behind doing it?  Is it the fact that you’re a Christian who’s engaged in aid work?  Or is it something else entirely?  Remember, we’re all missionaries.  If you’re uncomfortable with that title, I don’t think you’re alone.  I’m pretty uncomfortable with it myself.  It comes with some expectations of what you should be doing and how you should act.  But I really don’t think that’s fair.  There are as many types of missions as there are missionaries. 

I am so excited about your youth trip next week.  When I was in middle and high school, I went on youth mission trips.  They were the highlight of my summer.  They were what first got me interested in missions.  I’m also really excited about what you’re doing when you go.  I love that you’re not going half way around the world, or even half way around the country.  You’re going to North Carolina.  That’s pretty much our own back yard, and it sounds like there’s a great need there.  The fact that you’ll be in Cherokee means that you’re going to be living in another culture, at least to some extent.  This is a really exciting mission!

Let me tell you about some of the other missionaries of the Episcopal Church.  I met many of them a few weeks ago.  When you decide to join the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC), or when older adults decide to go on a mission, you get to go to a two-week training session with all the other missionaries who are about to be sent out.  At this year’s training, we had 26 soon-to-be missionaries.  22 of them were young adults like me, and four were older adult missionaries.  We’re still trying to come up with a name for older adult missionaries, by the way.  The leading suggestion right now is Young At Heart Adult Service Corps, so we would have YASC and YAHSC.  Anyway, the other 25 missionaries were really amazing people.  Sean Brown is a 21 year old from Hawaii who is going to Japan to work at the Asia Rural Institute, which specializes in sustainable agriculture.  Dan Tootle is a grandfather from Maryland.  He is spending a year of his retirement in Haiti, helping the Episcopal school system reorganize their curriculum.  Will Pendleton would be a junior in college next year, but he is taking the year off to move to Cuba, where he is establishing a relationship between the Anglican Church there and his home diocese of New Hampshire.  Ashley Cameron is the other missionary from Virginia.  She is going to the Northern Philippines to work with a microfinance organization that gives loans to locals who want to start small businesses.  I am a nurse.  I am going to Hawston, South Africa, which is a small town about an hour and a half from Cape Town.  I’ll be working with a hospice clinic as a home care giver, and I’ll also be facilitating support groups.  So you can see, the missionaries of the Episcopal Church are really diverse in age, skills, and interests. 

So, if missions isn’t really about what you’re doing, what is it about?  As Episcopal missionaries, we’re not called to save the world.  We’re just called to live out our Baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.  Our Gospel reading today told us who our neighbor is.  Everyone is our neighbor.  So if you want to be a good missionary, I suggest you start with the person next to you.  Missions doesn’t have to mean going around the world to do something amazing, it’s about being intentionally present in all your relationships.  My boss David, the ‘head missionary’, says that the mission of the church is Christ’s mission, and Christ’s mission is to restore all people to a right relationship with God.  I think what David means by this is that, when you’re out on a mission, it is more important to BE than to DO.  This is really hard for me, and I suspect it may be hard for some of you, too.  It’s part of our culture as Americans to want to see results from your work, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is all too easy to let the doing get in the way of being in relationships with those around us.  The home repairs that your youth will be doing on their mission next week is really important, and it’s going to make a huge difference in the lives of the people they are helping.  But even more than that, your youth are going to get to spend time with the people they’re helping.  They’re going to form relationships.  THIS is what the Church does.  We make relationships with each other, and in doing so we help each other grow closer to God. 

Like I said before, I’m so excited that you’re going to be exposed to a different culture.  Really, what you’re doing on your mission trip is not very different than what I will be doing on mine.  We’re all going to live and work in a culture different from our own.  The biggest difference is that I have the benefit of two weeks of cross-culture competency training, and you don’t.  So, let me try to distill a whole two-week course into one sentence.  One of our instructors told us this, and it really stuck with me.  When you go out to do mission, you should take off your shoes.  Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.  Remember that God has been at work in Cherokee, just like He’s been at work in Hawston, long before we will get there, and He’ll be there long after we’ve gone.  We’re not going out to save people who desperately need our help, we’re going out to be with our brothers and sisters.  Everyone I met at orientation who had been a missionary before said the same thing:  they were impacted by their experience way more than the people they were serving.  I can’t wait to go to South Africa.  I can’t wait to swim in the waters of the whale coast.  I can’t wait to try some cape malay cuisine.  I can’t wait to drive on the roads there (on the left side of the road, possibly in a stick shift.  Please pray for me.)  But what I’m saying is that it is my privilege to go on this mission.  I am the one who is getting the benefit, and the same is true for you on your trip next week.  Challenge yourselves to step out of your comfort zone.  Start some conversations with the people you’re going to serve.  Learn about their lives.  Make relationships.  That’s why you’re going.

When I talk to the people around me in my every-day life, I’ve realized I talk a lot about being in love.  I’m in love with my husband, Jacob.  I’m awfully lucky to be married to a man who is letting his wife leave him to go halfway around the world for a year just because I feel like I’m called to.  I fell in love with the other missionaries I met at orientation.  I wish you could meet all of them.  They’re a pretty charismatic and energetic group, and they’re going to do awesome work.  You should be proud of the group that is representing our church abroad.  They’re very easy to fall in love with.  I talk a lot about being in love with the Virginia.  This is my home.  I was born here, I’ve lived here nearly all my life, and no matter where I go, I think I’ll always come back here. It’s my place, and Virginians are my people.  I really like to be in love, and I’m in love with lots of other things, like my dog, my best friend, I even talk about being in love with cupcakes.  My favorite Christmas movie of all time is Love Actually.  Not only is it hilarious, but it has a great message.  Love actually IS all around.  All you have to do is recognize it.

I’m really not a very ‘religious’ person.  I said before the title missionary makes me uncomfortable because of the expectations attached to it.  When I told my coworkers at the hospital where I work now about what I am doing next year, I never used the word missionary.  I’ve gotten a little more used to the churchy language that surrounds missions, but really it’s just not my style, and I think that’s OK.  For me, God is most real in this love I’m talking about.  Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”  I think to me, these small things are our missions - mine in South Africa, yours to North Carolina, St. Paul’s to Rome 2,000 years ago.  The small things are the mission, and the great love is God.  I want to challenge you to find something new to fall in love with.   Those of you going on the mission trip, fall in love with someone you meet or the town you’re visiting.  Those of you staying here, maybe try to fall more in love with something or someone you already love.

When I was at training, I was talking to one of the other missionaries about this ‘falling in love’ language I use.  She shared one of her favorite poems with me, by Fr. Pedro Arrupe.  I’d like to close by reading this as a prayer. 

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Orientation recap: Part 2

Since being back from orientation, I've been working on getting my visa documents together and catching up on all the yearly doctors appointments I've been putting off until now.  Not mention, I'm still working full time for another week and a half!

So, more on orientation.  Two weeks seemed like a long time for orientation.  What could we possible talk about for two whole weeks?  Well, we covered a lot!  When we were at our home base of Stony Point, we had sessions with various members of the Mission Personnel staff.  We covered topics like how to tell our own story to the people we'll meet, the history of missions in the Episcopal church, and nuts and bolts stuff like health insurance and fundraising.  Most of our time at Stony Point, though, was spent with Chris Pullenayegem, our cultural competency consultant.

Chris helped open our eyes to what it will be like to live in another country.  We started by examining our own culture, and the things that have shaped who we are.  For me, my family and my education are two of my biggest culture-shapers.  My family has always had high expectations, but in a good way.  As a kid, my mom always treated me like an independent person.  She talked to me like an adult, and she let me try things my own way.  In return, I was expected to act mature and make good decisions.  I think, for the most part, that parenting philosophy worked really well.  My family instilled in me a great desire to use my talents and take pride in my work.  I credit my education, especially my college education, with giving me the tools to do good work, and for teaching me what I can accomplish when I set my mind to it.  We also examined how the different places we are going to will differ from the US, and we spent a lot of time preparing ourselves for the challenges that we will face because of these differences.  It turns out that most of the YASCers have the same anxieties about out missions, like being isolated because of a language barrier, doing something offensive because we don't know any better, or being misunderstood because our body language means something different to us than it does to our hosts.  Overall, our sessions with Chris were really helpful.  We were able to talk through some of these issues, and I think by the end of the two weeks, we all felt a little better, or at least we realized that all of us would be going through the same transition.

Some of my favorite days at orientation were our 'special' days.  As I mentioned before, we spent a whole day at the Church Center in New York City.  It was really great to meet the staff there, and put faces to the names of people I've been emailing or read about.  We spent another day at Holy Cross Monastery.  That may have been my favorite day.  It came almost half way through training, and it was really more of a break.  It gave me a chance to spend some time alone with my thoughts. 

The second week of training, we went back to the city to spend a day with a group called Faith House.  We went to several different sites of worship, including a synagogue, a catholic church, St. Paul's Chapel, Park 51, and a Buddhist center (you can see some of those sites in my pictures from my previous post).  My favorite was Park 51.  This place got a lot of attention for being the 'Ground Zero mosque'.  While there is a worship space in the building, it's actually a community center that is open to everyone, more like a YMCA or a JCC.  Also, it's not really at Ground Zero.  It's several blocks away.  You can't even see the Freedom Tower from there.  I think the reason I struck me so much is that we heard very personal stories from two individuals who worship there.  It was really eye-opening to hear what it was like to be a Muslim in New York right after 9/11.  I won't repeat what they said, because I'm sure I would get the details of their stories wrong, but let's just say they have been through a lot, but they've managed to stay way more open and tolerant of Christians than Christians have been of them.  Faith House did a great job facilitating this day for us.  If you'd like to know more about Faith House, check out their website:

Our final day in the city was the 'find your way in NYC' day.  Basically we went off in groups to check out different neighborhoods where we might be outside of our comfort zone.  My group went to Washington Heights, Harlem, and the South Bronx.  I had a great time that day.  We were supposed to meet people and find out what what it's like to live or work in their neighborhoods, and I discovered I have no problem approaching strangers and asking them to tell me about themselves.  Not everyone was willing to talk to me, but I had some good conversations with the people who were. 

I could go on and on about all I learned at orientation, but I think I'll just leave it at this:  The most important thing I learned is that I really can do this.  Not only am I capable of spending a year abroad, but it's going to be an awesome experience, and it's going to change me in ways I can't even imagine right now.  After orientation, I'm convinced all these changes will be good :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Meet the team!

Wonder what the other YASCers are like?  After training, I can tell you a lot about them.  Joseph has the most fantastic laugh.  Julie runs faster than I do.  Becky, Claire, Emily, and Ashley are awesome singers.  I could tell you more, but I'd rather let them tell you themselves.  Thanks Ashley for making this!

Meet the YASCers

Monday, July 1, 2013

What happens at missionary orientation?

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I think I will start talking about orientation by showing you some pictures!
In front of the UN, which is only about 2 blocks from the Church Center.  The wind wasn't blowing enough so you can't tell, but that's the South African flag behind me!

Where the magic happens

We got to spend a whole day at the Church Center, and we even met Bishop Katherine!
We spent a day at Holy Cross Monastery.  There is another order of Holy Cross in Grahamstown, South Africa, and I intend to visit!

The altar at the monastery.  We attended three of the daily prayer services.  They were lovely, but my voice was not made for chanting.

There was some awesome stained glass at the monastery.

This is what a chapter room looks like!

It's easy to see why people come to Holy Cross for reflection and study.  It's both stunning and peaceful.

On our free day in NYC, I went to the 9/11 memorial.

Inside Trinity Wall Street, more gorgeous stained glass

Fellow YASCers inside Trinity

The church in Terrytown, NY, where we went on Sunday.  They did a special English/Spanish combined service that was really awesome.

We spent another whole day in the city visiting places of worship from different traditions.  This historic synagogue is literally in the middle of Chinatown!

St. Peter's Catholic Church

St. Paul's Chapel is literally right across the street from Ground Zero.  It was remarkably untouched when the towers fell, and in the months following 9/11 it became a place for rescue workers to eat and rest.  It is also a makeshift memorial.

This was on the wall at St. Paul's.  The words of the prayer are, "May it be pleasing before Thee, Lord our God and God of our Fathers; To abolish wars and shedding of blood from the world; And to extend peace great and wondrous through the world; No more shall nation lift up sword unto nation - and no more shall they learn war; Only let all the dwellers on earth recognize and know the very truth; That we have not come to this world for the sake of strife and division (God forbid); Not for the sake of hatred and envy, provocation and shedding of blood (God forbid); Only we have come to the world to recognize and know Thee; Be Thou Blessed Forever.... May the Scripture be fulfilled, as it is written:  And I will give peace in the land; And you shall lie down with none to make you tremble; And I will cause evil beasts to cease from the land; And the sword shall not pass through your land."

St. Paul's

Park 51, the 'Ground Zero mosque'.  That's actually not what Park 51 is, and I will write more on this later.

We had a 'find your way in New York City' day, when we basically went to different neighborhoods and asked the people we met what it was like to live or work there.  Here is some of my group at the subway in Harlem.

I had to put a picture of Tom and Dianne in here.  These two are current missionaries in El Salvador.  They are awesome people doing great work.  They're also two of the biggest practical jokers I've ever met!

Hannah, Julie, and I ran together most mornings.  Thanks, girls, for being my running buddies!

This is Emily.  She is going to Cape Town, so she will be the closest YASCer to me!  She may not know it yet, but we're about to be BFFs.
I hope these pictures are a good start to explaining what the last two weeks have been like for me.  I will write another post in a few days that explains more about what I learned from all of this.  But now, let me share a short video that our cross cultural tutor, Chris, shared with us.  This, more than anything I can write, explains what I hope my experience will be like:  it's full of joy, laughter, and people just being themselves, no matter where they are in the world.