|My wonderful small group with Shaina, Patrick Q., Patrick H., Caitlyn, Mary and Jonghan.|
This week was my first week as a Young Adult Volunteer. From leaving my friends and family at home, to my AMTRAK train ride, to more trains and buses to Stony Point, NY, it has been quite the journey both geographically and emotionally. At times it has felt more like being disoriented rather than oriented.
To be completely honest, the week was not easy. We have had very long days talking about intense subjects such as privilege, cultural competency, poverty, advocacy, and so on. These are hard issues to talk about any time of day, much less when you are also thinking about what you are giving up at home to be taking them on.
But as time went on, things got easier. My small group had great follow up discussions helping us process everything we learned. Strangers became friendly faces. The tomatoes from Stony Point garden were at peak ripeness. The weather was amazing. My friends at home sent messages of encouragement when I needed them most. Late nights with inside jokes, snacks and some music. Prayers in Korean, Spanish, English, and Arabic. Fresh perspectives on what it means to live in community regardless of your religion or race.
All of these things started coming together before my eyes, and I can only describe it as a miracle that we are able to connect so quickly as human beings.
I want to highlight one day in particular of this past week.
That day is Thursday. The larger group of about 75 YAVs was broken up into 4 smaller groups. My group visited the oldest Mosque in Queens, NY. Another group visited a Sikh temple, called a Gudwara. Another group went to the UN and attended a service for the girls who are still missing in Nigeria. And the final group went to Broadway Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
I will only tell you about the Mosque since that is where I went. The first thing we all experienced upon arrival was hospitality. The Imam came out of his office with a stash of chocolate to share with us. We were also graciously shown around the building by a woman who lives at Stony Point. I swear she never stops smiling!
They also showed us hospitality by not asking the women to cover their heads. But she gave us feminists a new outlook on what it means to them to wear the full hijab, saying that you have to have "swag" to wear it. It takes more confidence to wear that in public than to look like everyone else, and it also makes them more comfortable because their body images aren't being judged.
I found this to be an interesting question she posed to us: which is more oppressive, a bikini or a hijab?
We were also fed an amazing lunch that was similar to kebab, with rice and lamb and chicken. We ate on the floor as they traditionally do, and some people even used their fingers rather than silverware! But the coolest thing that happened while we were eating was the call to prayer. Similar to church bells ringing, a man will chant verses from the Koran five times every day to let people know when it is time to pray. I had never heard that before, but it was truly beautiful!
The take home message from the mosque for me was their example of hospitality. A YAV leader asked us later in the day, "How would you respond if someone totally different from you, with certain opposing beliefs, asked to come visit your home or your church? Would you respond graciously and be welcoming to their questions?"
P.S. Their intramural basketball team is called I Slam. Get it?
As today was the last day of orientation, I do feel much more ready to make the leap across the country tomorrow morning. I feel certain that I will be uncertain and uncomfortable. But as we have learned this week, being uncomfortable is often what God asks of us. Many a prophet complained about where God had sent him, feeling unprepared and unqualified. Yet it always seems to work out in the end as God goes before and behind us, hemming us in and supporting us all the way.
I have felt support from so many places this week. My family, my friends, my fellow YAVs, my pastors, the YAV staff, the congregations that commissioned us this morning, and even the beautiful life giving nature all around Stony Point have contributed to helping me find strength in times of doubt. Thank you to all of these people and places because I wouldn't be able to do this without you.
Next up, Hollywood, California!