Saturday, April 11, 2015

[Silence]


            Like any monumental experience, studying abroad can often be portrayed in solely positive terms: “It was so beautiful; the people were so hospitable; I wish I could go back” (all of which I say). But just as valid a part of a long-term experience is the less-than pretty moments, the conflict that causes you to grow often more than the good times.
            At first I was oblivious. Between the beauty of the snow-capped mountains and freedom of less stressful academics, I couldn’t understand what anyone would complain about. Initially it was the cold. We jokingly signed a petition “for a fireplace in every room.” But then the group began complaining about the grading system, receiving lower marks than expected. Before long it was the schedule, the professors, the entire study abroad program — nothing was free of fault. Negativity was contagious, spreading unchecked until sometimes it overshadowed all the positive things that were occurring as well.
             As someone who generally tends to see the world in a more hopeful light, I began to feel ostracized from the group, not understanding how they could adopt such a negative and critical perspective. Was it even helping their situation, or cyclically serving to perpetuate their misery? I can understand camaraderie over things that are difficult or different, but what I observed was something that quickly got out of control, leading to gossip and ultimately discouragement. I, intimidated by the group mentality, kept silent. But I wish I had spoken up.
            Gordon is no stranger to conflict. Even though I was away last semester, I still picked up on dissent and criticisms directed at the college. I acknowledge the need to think critically and be able to pinpoint and recognize flaws with the need for improvement. And I admire those who speak up in the face of injustice, who seek to right wrongs and strive for healthy, life-giving change. But I’m worried that with our criticisms and focus on the negatives we are losing sight of everything for which we have to be thankful and hopeful. Not just mere optimism, or a shallow positivity that seeks to ignore wrongs. Rather, I’m talking about a deep gratitude that is fully aware of the many wrongs and obstacles we face, yet can still declare “Praise be to God!” if only because of the single fact that Christ lives. It is so easy to forget how much we have to give thanks for, and even harder to practice. But it is vital to a healthy Christian community.
            Even though I did not speak up while abroad, I wanted to speak about Gordon’s conflict here, just a little. I hope that others, when facing conflict, would have the courage to challenge oppressive negativity, and remind others of our call to give thanks in all circumstances.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Country Roads, Lead Me Home

I have dreams, sometimes, that I'm back in New Zealand.
I'm talking to my friends in the program, and we are standing in the kitchen, like we also tended to do whether it was really early in the morning or really late at night. As I wake up I vaguely hope that I will open my eyes and realize that I'm in my little twin bed with the white and blue striped sheets, and see the sun pouring through the edges of the bird-patterned curtains. But I wake up in Massachusetts with heaps of snow towering over my head, and sometimes with a little heavy feeling over my heart, that I have come to call homesickness.

I hardly ever (I won't say never) felt homesick in New Zealand. There were a couple times in the beginning when it would have felt easier to wake up and find myself safe at home with my family nearby. And as we began to invest in one another as a tight-knit community I began to miss the connection I had had just months before in a big barn of a house called Dexter. But overall I was overwhelmingly grateful for each new day. Who knew what the day would bring-- hiking, or biking, laundry washing chats, dance parties with the dishes, soccer games in the backyard, and always some delicious food and good company full of a satisfying mix of deep and fun conversations. I could have, and would have, stayed in Kaikoura, New Zealand longer, a year even. I have that conversation sometimes with one of my good friends from NZ. We just decided we are going to board a flight and head back tomorrow (shouldn't be too difficult to plan something like that last minute, eh?) I won't say that this was everyone's experience; some people had a really rough time with being away from family and friends for multiple valid reasons. That just wasn't my experience.

Mt Fyffe sing-alongs
But now as I replay different memories from this past semester in my mind, I feel homesick for New Zealand. It's not even the big memories either; it is the small moments, like packing lunches on the West Coast trip, or wandering onto the back deck catching some sunshine during our fifteen minute breaks from morning class. It's the feeling of holding warm tea in a beloved mug and sipping it slowly. It's that first evening when I told people I had just met that I compulsively play with my hair, and no one believed me (yet). Or that last evening standing in the kitchen with friends, emotionally and physically exhausted but not wanting to go to bed and end that last full day in the Old convent we had come to love, to call home.

They say people eventually find their way back home, that it pulls at them, tugging invisible strings connected to their very core. I have a feeling I'm going to eventually find my way back to New Zealand

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Unchartered Territory

I got two Bibles for Christmas. Not really sure what that is supposed to mean. But I've been reading the one because not only is it a read-the-bible-in-a-year Bible, it is also in chronological order (according to some historians). So as I have returned to Gordon College for my final semester of undergraduate education, I've been reading the stories of Joseph and Job.

I'm not sure if you know the stories of Joseph and Job, but I'm finding them very relatable at this time of my life. Joseph is the beloved son of his father, but a source of jealousy for his brothers. Even though God gives him visions and dreams of his future success and leadership, he quickly finds himself sold into slavery by his very brothers. Even in Egypt as a slave he faces even more injustice, and is thrown into jail for doing what is right. There he stays for several years, but he never loses faith in God, and remains hopeful. Soon after the dreams come true, and he is released from prison and put in charge of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. I'm leaving out a lot of awesome details but it is an incredibly inspiring story.

Then Job. The man who is faithful to God, even when his faith is tested with disaster after disaster. His livelihood and wealth is stolen and destroyed, his family is killed by a powerful wind collapsing their house, and Job reacts by continuing to praise God.

So, I've never been sold into slavery. I've never been thrown into jail, nor lost all my possessions and family in a single day. God willing none of that happens. But these stories give me hope because I similarly look at the future and know that God has promised good for me, but don't see it yet. That is the definition of faith- believing despite not seeing. From what I've heard, sometimes those years of transition after college can be very difficult. I might not like the job I work in, I might not find a job, it might be very lonely or intimidating. But it is those years of trial that forged Joseph and Job into truly righteous godly leaders. Bravery and confidence can not come without traveling through the unchartered territory.

The last time I was this nervous about my future was the first few months of my freshmen year. And in that time I wrote a prayer based on the story of Joseph. So for those other seniors graduating or those simply needing encouragement about their uncertain futures, I leave you with a few lines from that prayer:

My future is unsure. But always in your hands. Help me to trust you once again. You provided Christ in a seemingly unfixable scenario. Because of your great love I believe nothing is impossible for you....
Remind me of my humility as you restore me with your mercy.
Amen

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Homemaking in New Zealand

Dusky Dolphins

It was really difficult for me to say goodbye to all the lovely people I just met 3 ½ months ago. We have shared so many adventures together: watching little blue penguins waddle up to their burrows, spotting Hector’s dolphins swimming off the beach, then jumping in the water and swimming with Dusky Dolphins, one of the most playful dolphins in the world. And those incredible events just happened in our last week of classes! There are so many stories I could tell— of almost being blown off Mt. Fyffe, or beach campfires under starry night skies with the Milky Way shimmering across the dark horizon. Yet, I don’t want my semester just to be the accumulation of great experiences, consuming the best a place had to offer because I was able to afford it. For me, I believe this semester was more about the people with whom I shared these once-in-a-lifetime moments.

It is not surprising that, once again, I return to the topic of community. Time and again, whether it be La Vida camping adventures or intentional living (e.g. the Dexter house), those memories have been so significant to me because of the people I lived life with at the time, and it is just as true with this most recent adventure in the Old Convent. Days before hopping on the plane at Newark New Zealand bound, I reflected that while everyone seemed to be excited about the beautiful scenery I would see and the wild experience I would have, I was more interested in the community that would be formed in my program, the 15 other names on a piece of paper.

But of course, the community of Kaikoura is more than just the inhabitants of the Old Convent. My church, New Life, played a major role in investing in me and encouraging me to live life with them.
Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. Every four months or so they have new young American faces. They always know that our time in New Zealand is temporary. And yet that knowledge does not stop the members and pastors from inviting us over to their houses for lunch, or to go diving with them. If we sang, they encouraged us to sing with worship. In my case, when they found out I played the violin they got a couple locals to donate me TWO violins, one of which was electric! And of course they
were more than enthused to have me join in worship with them those last three Sunday mornings in Kaikoura. It was not only that they were hospitable and welcoming, but that they genuinely wanted to get to know us better, to invest in us and challenge us to be as involved in their community as possible with the time we had. They made the wider community of Kaikoura, not just the folks at the Old Convent, my home as well.

While it is hard to leave a home, I have returned to my other homes in New York and Massachusetts. I am able to reconnect with old friends and family, to continue those relationships that have shaped those particular places with beautiful memories. As I continue along the path God is leading me, I will probably continue to create more homes wherever I go, because that is exactly what Christ promises to those who are faithful and follow Him:

“'No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.’” Mark 10:29-30

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lessons in Hospitality

Wow. I find myself thinking that the time is going a reasonable pace, that maybe the semester won't fly by, and then I wake up and realize that we are past the two month mark already.

How can I begin to touch upon all I have learned in these two months? From learning some of the Maori culture and language, the indigenous tribe in New Zealand, to in depth spiritual discussion of nature and our role in the world, to feeding baby lambs and cows get milked on a dairy farm-- there are too many stories.

It's strange, because I am getting so used to the little cultural differences of New Zealand that I hardly notice them anymore. I separate my food in the compost bins without thinking, hop on a bike into town, and have even begun practicing asking the important questions concerning where my food, clothing, and souvenirs are coming from.

But it is still remarkable the amount of hospitality that is continually shown to me and other Americans. On the last day of my weeklong trip my friends and I realized that we didn't have a place to sleep that last night, because due to unseen circumstances all the hostels in Christchurch were booked. We all began to panic, but the lovely lady we were staying with simply mentioned, "My cousin might be able to host you girls for the night."Five minutes later after a quick phone call she told us that we had the okay to stay, but that this was the family who had recently lost a young mother, the woman's daughter, a few weeks ago. My friends and I were shocked that this family had agreed to us staying there so last minute, and a little worried.
FESTA
Yet from the moment we walked into the house we were shown such grandmotherly affection: homemade food and warm drinks, a shower, a room complete with mattress and blankets and pillows, a washing machine and drying machine, and even plans for our Saturday night! She drove us into the city to enjoy FESTA, a celebration of creative architectural art pieces, with lots of lights, music, and good food. And when we returned we were able to just sit and talk, about life, the world, even church. And even though we stayed up talking till midnight, she was still willing to drive us to our bus stop at 6:30am the next morning.

It is convicting to me, because I was so blessed by this woman that not only is not a professed Christian, but also has just suffered a tragic loss. Yet she still was able to extend hospitality and more towards us, three strangers who she may never see again, except perhaps to enjoy some more hospitality on future adventures. She blessed me beyond what I could have imagined, and even when I didn't think to ask for it.

If anything, I want to bring back such hospitality to the States, to my future homes and communities. It won't be easy; I can't imagine it was easy for her to host us. But the sacrifice was such a blessing, more than she could ever know.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kia Ora


New Zealand is not what I could have anticipated. Honestly, I half expected to find myself in the midst of Middle Earth, with scenic Lord of the Rings views every where I went. But the reality is so much richer than that.

In Kaikoura (pronounced Kai-coda) it is rather difficult to get lost. To the west looms the mountain range, Mt. Fyffe dominating the other peaks, and to the east lies the Pacific Ocean and peninsula. When I bike to town, I pass farm upon farm of cows, sheep, alpacas and the like, with the occasional pick-up truck passing me on the road. Here you can embrace the rural life—re-wearing clothes, sporting “gum boots” or any assortment of flannel and wool, and overall not really worrying too much about what you look like as long as you are warm. I find it so refreshing. Especially being able to live in a community where people not only get to see you at your best but also at your worst.

For example, before coming to New Zealand, it had been a long, long time since I had ridden a bike. My neighborhood growing up wasn’t well suited for bike riding, so I haven’t owned a bike since I was eight years old. However, I’m a pretty independent person, so I get really embarrassed when I can’t do something or need help, especially if it is something simple most people can do. They say you never forget, right? So day three of being in New Zealand, I had to swallow my pride and ask for the help of a few friends to help me relearn to bike, most of whom I had just met a few days before, and wobbly started off down the farm roads. And everyone was so encouraging; encouraging me still, even when I have to make a few attempts to get on, or signaling for me when we are about to turn because I can’t let go of the handlebars yet. I wish I could say “but that’s all in the past now,” but it definitely is still a work in progress. It is those kind of humbling, vulnerable experiences within a community that are so necessary. Everyone has a less-than pretty side, including shoddy but improving biking skills. The incredible part is when the community knows and sees those weaknesses and still comes about you and supports you.

Which is why New Zealand is so astounding. It is not merely the views, or the culture, but the people I am living with in community and sharing incredible experiences with—the good and the bad. That is something I could not have anticipated before travelling to New Zealand, but now is something I can’t imagine New Zealand without.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An (Un)Expected Journey

Kaikoura, New Zealand
New Zealand. It must be a dream. There is no way I am boarding a plane to go to that magical distant land in, what is it? Four days. Everyone else is gearing up to face the grind of school and I feel like I'm about to embark on an extended vacation.

"You must be so excited," is the general comment I hear in regards to it. Word for word, actually. Honestly, that's not quite what I am feeling. I'm really kind of nervous. I'm in a strange in between phase; I want to enjoy these last few days, and the people I still have around me, but I'm also sort of avoiding thinking about this grand adventure because it holds so many unknowns. Who will my roommate(s) be? How will my group of 16 get along? Will I feel homesick? No matter how long I spend thinking about it, any expectations I build about New Zealand will likely be shattered as soon as I arrive. But I also can't just assume that the entire experience is going to be perfect. I trust God has good in store for me there, but trusting God is more than expecting a utopian, flawless experience. Rather, trust is knowing that even when I stumble - or start to worry or feel inadequate - He is there supporting and encouraging me.

But I still am a bit nervous as I prepare to embark on a semester long adventure through a program called Creation Care, based out of Kaikoura, New Zealand. Based on the packing list and some of the itinerary, it almost looks like it's going to be a semester-long hiking trip centered around discussion-based classes. Which has brought me to the scary conclusion that this experience is meant to push me out of my comfort zone, to make me a little nervous. But if my hiking trips with La Vida have taught me anything, it is that growth and learning can only occur when you push yourself to do things you aren't necessarily comfortable with.

So here's to saying "Yes" to any and every experience I come across, to long conversations, to new community and new friendships, to growth, and to making a wrong turn every once in awhile.

The road goes ever on and on...I'll let you know where it leads me :)

*To be continued...