Category Archives: culture

February 2012

Share your story.  Be a witness. Tell me about yourself.

It seems people want to know about other people.  We want to hear stories – adventures, tragedies, romances.  And maybe, we even want to know people and be known by them through the sharing of our stories, our experiences, our lives. So here we go.

February 2012, I am traveling in Tanzania with my CrossFire team.  We’ve been in the country for about a month, and some other missionaries have offered to help pay for us to take a day off and go on a safari.  Pretty sweet deal, so the five us head off one day to Arusha National Park.

It’s a beautiful day – sun out, but not too hot. Rather than try to explain the safari itself, I’ll let some photographs from the day tell the story.

Yes, it was a bit tourist-y of us, but after a month of cross-cultural ministry it was nice to have a day to just enjoy.

Less than 30 minutes after that last picture was taken, our team and safari driver were headed out of the park. As we come up and around a corner, there is a large bus coming quickly at us. The roads are dirt, and wide enough for 1 1/2 vehicles… maybe. So, our driver does his best to pull over to the side to get out of the way. Everything is fine.

For about five seconds.

 

Then we feel the jeep tilt.

 

 

The next thing I really remember is being upside down in the vehicle. At least two of my teammates are crying/screaming… and there is clearly commotion outside of the vehicle. The other male on my team is already out of the vehicle, I convince the girl who was in the back with him and I to get out, and make it out myself. We are way down the hill (later we decided that we rolled 4 1/2 times). I look at my teammate with the “what the hell do we do?” look. Maybe I used words… I don’t remember. He says he’ll get the other two girls, because the third is having a panic attack, so I coerce her up this hill…

Many Tanzanians are up there (more than the 5-10 who had come down to our jeep) and they try to get water for us. Eventually the rest of the team makes it up. One girl looks beat up and the other has been carried up by several men.

[there is no way to share how many thoughts and questions were racing through my brain at this point. and possibly no way for anybody to understand unless they also have been in a severe accident in a foreign country]

Through much miscommunication and several cultural barriers we make our way from the park to the police station (because the accident had to be reported….) to the hospital. The girls insist that the guys get checked out too, but we both politely refuse to make sure we know what’s happening with the ladies of our team. The hospital decides that the girl who was carried up the hill needs to go to a larger facility, so I travel with her in an ambulance. She gets x-rays. I talk with one of the pastors we’ve been working alongside. He convinces me to go back and sleep… the adrenaline was finally wearing off at midnight during the x-rays.

I crawl into bed, finally aware of some of my own pain but too exhausted to care. When I wake up in the morning, I’m so stiff and sore. It’s Sunday. I’m alone and beat up. But one of the teens asks me to go to church. I have nothing better to do (because I can’t get to either hospital until after church anyway), so I go. We walk very slowly. Myself with a noticeable limp in my left leg.

The church service was nothing spectacular. In fact, it was kind of terrible.  There was a guest pastor from the US… and he used a football analogy. American football analogy in Tanzania. [facepalm]. But during one of the songs – Great is Thy Faithfulness – though I was busy being annoyed at the choice given the circumstances of my team, I felt some brush past my left side. I looked over, but nobody was near. Whatever, maybe I was going crazy.

The three teammates from the other hospital joined me later that day. The next morning as we’re going to the larger hospital, I realize that I’m not limping anymore. With no specific prayer on my part… and no way of anybody else knowing to pray that specifically, I could walk without (much) pain.

Fast forward through hospital (teammate with compression fractures in her back, another with a broken rib and arm) and physical therapy and time spent not as a team of five all in one place. We had a lot of pain to process. Coming back together as a team of five wasn’t easy. But we talked. And we prayed. And we continued to do life together.

xf2

We ended our year together. We ended our year healthier than most would expect after an accident like we experienced – both physically and emotionally.

It’s been five years since that day.  And there are days, weeks that I don’t think about what happened. But this is a reminder, to myself if nobody else, that God has and does still work. That each day has value. That life is better lived together.

2016 – a year

What a year it has been.  There is much to be said…and maybe much that shouldn’t be said. But this post shares some of the ups, downs, in betweens and lessons of my year.

January – A lot was packed into one day that stands out for this month.  It was Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service, which meant I wasn’t at school. It also happened to be my birthday. It also was the day I cried in front of my housemates – and realized (for many reasons) that love isn’t easy, but it is good.

February – The month that brought closure to Youth Encounter and me. They announced their closing and I went to one of my last events to lead breakout sessions in San Antonio. Family and friends visited during the first Come and See weekend. With a couple of my housemates, I enjoyed my first Shabbat service and meal.

March – Mission Year ran a 5K in Houston to raise funds…and actually had fun! Spent my spring break with friends in the Northwest and back in the Twin Cities. Spent a late evening with Tommy, Josh and McKenzie that made us feel like real friends, outside the Mission Year world.

April –  Our neighborhood mourned the loss of Ms. Helen – a grandmother of sorts to all.  We experienced our first “flood” which kept some of us home from work for two days.  I was introduced to the Your Other Brothers blog.  The Mission Year Houston teams took a day trip out to Galveston – and we had cupcakes by the ocean.

May – We participated in Green My Hood and got to care for one of our most dear neighbors. At school, the students (and staff) turned into robots for state testing. And in Mission Year world, Caz came for a training that shook me and made me question… lots.

June – Our family and friends joined us in Houston for another weekend. Also, we helped our neighborhood put on an art exhibit on what emancipation looked like/meant to them. Their were several shootings around the country… which meant more after living in Houston. And one of our neighbors had us all over for dinner to express his gratitude for our presence.

July – Independence Day was spent with Tommy and the Holy Family church plant, which was a nice break from 3rd Ward living. We had the Luu’s over to our house and then they treated us to a creative, community evening at their place later in the month. My school offered me a job at their primary academy?!?  Also, we finished our Mission Year with a retreat in New Braunfels – full of food, tears and laughter.

August – Lived with the Carpenters for a month while Tommy and I tried to figure out our own living situation. Spent time relaxing and then getting to know the staff during RYSS training weeks before school started.

September – My older brother got married! Which meant I got to see family that I hadn’t seen in awhile as well. Tommy. Moe and I took a spontaneous day-trip to Galveston. And the new Mission Year Houston volunteers arrived.

October -Decided to go to Life Group with a friend made through Mission year.  Although it was primarily college students, I got good vibes from them.  Talked about connecting with another group and then met Chad & Maddy, who have helped the transition to “real” life after Mission Year.  Also, the presidential debates happened…. Tommy and watched these together…. emotionally.

November – In order to get some real fall weather, I visited a friend in Delaware – which was a great escape for many reasons. I visited & volunteered at a couple art and cultural festivals. And my Life group took care of my Thanksgiving plans!

December – At school we had at least one full week of Christmas related activities – pictures with Santa, Jingle Jam dance, class parties, staff secret santa. Advent party with Tommy and the Holy Family group. And then a Dallas-delayed flight back home to spend almost two weeks with family in Kansas.

Some of the top books I read this year – The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, and  Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

A few lessons that I think I’ve been learning:

  • Practice gratitude – So many times this year, when I found myself frustrated or confused or apathetic, something or somebody would remind me about the importance of thankfulness. And, when I’m attentively do daily gratitude, it’s easier to keep perspective.
  • Being present – This was literally the story of ALL of third trimester of Mission Year for me.  And most of second trimester.  It’s very easy for me to start thinking about the future and wanting to make plans on my own time.  But God is faithful. And there have been so many good moments that happened in the “here and now” that I may have missed out on if I had let myself get stuck in planning and worrying.
  • Messy is okay – So much of me wants organization. My education taught me to strive for the best and only show my good side – even weaknesses can be turned around in a “good” interview. But through the 7 people I lived with for most of the year, and some long distance friends, I am continually reminded that life is messy, I am messy… and it’s okay to not have everything make sense.

November 26

Earlier today I was telling my friend about a process I call “angry journaling.”  The premise is simple.  When I get overly frustrated with a person, situation or life in general, I give myself permission to write freely. This means using large, bold fonts, scribbles, cursing.

I understand that for some people, this may be normal journaling.  And I understand that journaling should always feel/be free – no permission is necessary.

So, why do I feel the need to give myself permission to be angry?  Why do I edit myself….especially when I may be the only person to read any of my writing?

At least in part, this is what my culture has taught me.  Or how I have interpreted events and conversations in my life.

Speak [politically] correct.

Keep your temper.

Be polite.

Put others before yourself

 

None of this is bad… but I take it too far and tend to repress anything that seems negative. And sometimes, that negativity needs an outlet.

Art Festival – Nov 20

This weekend was Via Colori – a street art festival in downtown Houston.  Lots of chalk, good people, good, food, good, music and chalk. Saturday I volunteered – doing a very small part in helping this huge production  happen. For a small taste of what I enjoyed on the second day of the festival…..

Also there was music..

The Gents and Kronika.

And all of it was good, fall, creative fun. PLUS it was all to benefit The Center for Hearing and Speech.  That’s right – awesome art for a cause!!

Also, for the four people who read this blog, be looking forward to some more thoughts on art and creativity in the near future.

 

practices

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One of my friends is currently doing his yearly campaign leading up to Thanksgiving – #warongrumbling.  For forty days he (and others who choose to join him & his family) posts something specific he is thankful for that day.

I am trying to join this year – but don’t always get onto social media – or remember some days.  But there is something about this practice. Verbalizing our thankfulness or writing our gratitude down can solidify it – making more of a practice of finding the good in each day, in each moment.

This is a practice that was suggested to me during Mission Year by my city director.  And I would do it for awhile, notice my attitude shift, and slowly stop doing it. As I lost my perspective, eventually I would find myself frustrated, more likely to grumble, until I remembered (or somebody reminded me) the practice of daily thankfulness.

[Just last week my roommate noted that during the year he could tell if I had been writing my thankfulness list or not]

How easy it is to lose focus.  To get so distracted by some person or situation that is drawing energy that we miss out on the good.  There are moments of growth and beauty happening every day.  I know that when I slow down and focus and listen, it isn’t that difficult to see God. But taking the step to stop, to slow down, to be mindful is not always easy.

What would my life look like if I consistently practiced gratitude? How would it impact my attitude?  How might it impact the people around me?

 

[photo credit – Kelly Hudgins]

little Moments.

How easily I forget my place.

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Earlier this morning I read a blog post about finding beauty in the mundane. So when this photo came up in my list for Five Minute Fridays (or Saturdays), I was drawn back to this idea.

It is very easy for me to get stuck in my routines.  Wake up, eat breakfast, drive the same route to work, follow my schedule at school, tell kids not to run/yell in the hallways, take the metro buses home, make some dinner, check social media/news (if I’m lucky, journal) and get ready for bed.  There’s not anything wrong with the routine, in fact it can be helpful/healthy.

The issue is getting stuck in this routine.

There are little moments that I miss if I’m not paying attention. In the midst of my routine, do I notice (and appreciate, give thanks for):

  • the sunrise as I wait for school to start
  • the downtown skyline on my drive to work
  • the students who give me a high five
  • teachers and students who need some encouragement
  • teachers who give me encouragement
  • an honest question about my day
  • the perfect song playing

Moments happen all the time.  They are waiting if we notice and join them.  May I (we?) be ever more aware and willing to be part of the moments.

Photo courtesy of Becca Grenell

Ready, Set, Go!

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Ready. Set. Go!

This is coming to you a day late, but, in my defense there was a dinner that I needed to go to on Friday and I ended up taking some people home from it so I didn’t get to my computer until almost 10pm – and that’s too late for me to consider (remember) a blog post.

And ready, set, go may be accurate for this photo as well.  It’s from the end of a weekend conference that I was facilitating.  One of my co-workers had done the planning, but there were too many events that weekend and they needed me to be the face/voice of our organization for the weekend.  Ah!!!

So, I felt thrown into the weekend. And there were hiccups, for sure – like a kid drawing on  the carpet of one room… or the elevators being down for most of the weekend…… But it was still such a great time.  Parents were gracious with me and the hotel, the bands, speaker and volunteers were wonderful, the youth all seemed to have a good time and not be too loud.

At the end of the weekend, the volunteers were cleaning out our hospitality room…and for some reason there were hot dog buns leftover…but no hot-dogs.  They graciously gave me the buns as my “trophy” for a successful weekend.

But honestly, the weekend filled me more than I felt like I did anything for anybody that weekend.

#fiveminutefriday

 

Photo sent in by – Sarah Kearney   (feel free to comment, email a photo for a future post)

P.S.

Writing the title of this made me think of the following song…. if you care to listen:

 

Slowing down

Three weeks – amount of time I’ve been in Houston post-Mission Year

Two weeks – how long I’ve been employed in Houston

The time passes slowly some days, and quickly on others.

One morning last week, I noticed how quickly I was walking to catch my ride to work. Suddenly I had the thought – “just slow down.”  By this time, I know that my ride is never on time (and by that I mean I don’t have to expect it to show up early). Yet, my instinct at this point in my life is to show up early (always) and to rush – to hurry – to worry.

On that morning though, the idea of slowing down just stuck.  In that moment, I could slow my pace and enjoy the rest of the walk.  And in regards to my worries? Slow down brain!!  Don’t feel like you have a community yet? You’ve only been in this new season for three weeks – and you’re not even in your “permanent” location yet!  Work still seems unfamiliar? You’ve only been there two weeks… and school doesn’t start until Monday!

All too often I want quick answers.  And moving quickly will get me to answers/resolution sooner, right?  Wrong. I’m being reminded that life is about processes… and being present, enjoying the process, the relationships as they form, the moments of laughter.

There’s more to say.  But I need to start somewhere, or words will never be put on page/screen.

transitioning

It seems like the entire month of July was spent on the idea of transitioning well and/or finishing strong. Questions were asked such as:

  • What relationships can you push into these last weeks – at home, service sites, church, in the neighborhood? And how do you say goodbye well?
  • Which of the Mission Year values have you been drawn to more? How will I continue those after Mission Year is over?
  • What makes me come alive? What and where am I feeling called to?
  • What does it mean to finish strong with my teammates? How can we continue to be honest at the end? What does communication look like once the year is over? How can we celebrate this year together?

All that to say, there was a lot of reflecting and conversating during July. Lots of celebrations – breakfast one last time with Uncle, lunch @ Marcelina’s, meals with co-workers, an open-house at our place,”the last” affirmations and devo.

This culminated in Closing Retreat. Plenty of stories to share from our time in New Braunfels, but suffice to say – much laughter, more reflecting, relaxing by the river, good food, great conversations.

Now, the part many of you have been waiting to hear – I know because it’s the question I’ve been asked since May? April even? – What are you doing next, Kevin?!?!?

Well, turns out I’m staying in Houston!  Through a series of events, I applied and was offered a job at my service site, Raul Yzaguirre School for Success as Teacher’s Aide in English at the Primary Academy.  Currently looking for housing, staying with some friends. Though I can’t say I love the weather here, I’m excited to continue to mold young minds, explore Houston, enjoy the arts/culture and invest in relationships that I’ve made this year.

Stay tuned for more Houston adventures!

Solidarity (7)

Coming into my year in Houston, solidarity seemed pretty straight forward – Do things the way people around you are doing them.  Live as close to possible the same lifestyle, to better understand and come alongside my neighbors. So what did this look like?

It meant taking Metro (or walking) as my means of transportation.  Many of my neighbors had their own car, but on our budget it was either Metro or a super cheap, shared car for the house. Using Metro meant not always being able to get where I needed to go – more walking! And being on a somewhat unpredictable schedule – a continuing, built-in lesson in flexibility and patience for the year.  I also experienced the inconvenience of riding the bus with the week’s groceries because there is no grocery store within walking distance.  Many of my neighbors would complain about this as well – especially the older neighbors.  Why is there no easily accessible food in our neighborhood?!?

Speaking of food, my team and I lived on a budget.Each week we had a limited amount to spend on groceries, which meant some strategic meal planning.  This forced us to make choices on what is important – when do we get more toilet paper, dish soap, lights? It also put us in a place to rely on the “provision of the Lord.”  And while that sounds “Christian-y,” there were many times when our needs were met (and exceeded) by food leftover from a Food Fair or somebody offering to drive some of us home from work.

Solidarity meant using the Washateria (laundromat) instead of a washer and dryer in our house.  This, again, forced me to consider my budget, making sure I would be able to have clean clothes for the month.  And it also showed me the relationships that can form through solidarity.  Often I would witness neighbors connecting & catching up with each other while doing their laundry.  The Wash is a place to find out neighborhood news and re-connect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.

And, as I write this post-Mission Year, I continue to think what solidarity can look like in my life. Where will I chose to spend money? What kind of balance can I make between using Metro and a car?  How does my money impact the people and community around me (shopping/eating local vs. chain)?  Does the place I live fit me – and does that support the gentrification of a neighborhood?  Plenty to consider.