So much of my time here in Australia is spent moving from place to place. Going to my sites, to Bible studies, to friends houses, grocery stores, coffee shops. I am constantly moving. It’s easy to forget that these routines are valuable, memorable experiences that I will one day look back on as fond memories. As challenging as it is, I want to cherish these moments while I’m in them instead of just thinking about where I am going. So while this poem (if you can call it a poem, I’ve never written one before) may seem to lack some pizzazz, I wanted to document just how beautiful these ordinary moments can be. So, come along with me on my journey to Peachey Place Last Friday Morning.
Walk to the park at the end of the road. Make sure to stop and pet the friendly dogs out for their morning stroll. Try not to miss the bus, but if you do, don’t stress. There will be another. Pop in your headphones and turn on your favorite podcast. It will be funny, but try not to laugh to yourself too much. Make sure to keep watch for your stop or else you’ll miss it.
Push the red button so the bus driver knows to stop. Check the time, do you have enough to stop for coffee? Leave the train station and turn left towards the main street. Pass the pubs to your left, the fruit and veg to your right. You’ll smell it before you see, but you can’t miss it with the green umbrellas. The barista remembered your name, you laugh at their banter as they make your flat white.
Head back to the train and make sure to admire the street art to your right as you go. Make it just in time, try and sit in a seat facing forward or you might get dizzy. Ride three stops: Elizabeth, Womma, Broadmedows. Hit the button so the doors open. Look around the platform and see if you can see your coworker. Did you ride the same train today or will you have to walk the rest of the way alone? If he’s there, you will probably talk about politics and human rights for the 10 minute walk. If not, keep listening to your podcast. Make sure to notice the beautiful pink and orange flowers as you go. Make sure to take out your headphones before you enter, because everyone will want to say hello.
There is something so holy about shared experiences. The past week has shown me this countless times. I spent the last week in Sydney, Australia on retreat with my country cohort, country coordinators, and their two children. The week was filled with laughter, serious conversations, and a bit of site seeing; but the most important part for me was reflecting on our shared experiences.
This reflection came in all different shapes and sizes. It started with discussions about our childhoods and how they were all similar even though we all grew up in different parts of the United States. From our mutual love of the Jonas Brothers which lead to us watching their documentary during free time, to debates on which TV channel from our childhood was better: Nickelodeon, Disney, or Cartoon Network (obviously Nickelodeon). Eventually, we started to discuss present day and the struggles and celebrations of our experiences as YAGM Australia.
I have been struggling during the few weeks leading up to retreat with thinking that I am the only person who could possibly be feeling the way that I am feeling. Logically, I know this isn’t true, but my mind has a funny way of throwing logic and reason out the window and getting into a spiral of anxiety. Reuniting with my cohort couldn’t have come at a better time. The first night the four of us were together, we started to name a few of our struggles and it was like we were inside each other’s minds. Obviously we all have unique circumstances because we are in different communities and doing different work, but the themes and ideas were almost identical throughout every story that was shared. During this initial time together I felt seen in a way that I didn’t know I was desperately craving the weeks prior.
Now, this is not to say that my community has not supported me through every up and down I have had over the past few months. I have been cared for so unbelievably well. Like almost too well, I don’t know how they do it. It is just such a wonderful gift to be with people that don’t just empathize with you, they know exactly what you are going through because they are experiencing it as well.
This gift was one that continued all the way through retreat. It took the form of storytelling, hard conversations surrounding race, power, and privilege, study of Australian history, and devotions. It’s hard for me to describe just how impactful this time was, but this poem written by Jan Richardson does a wonderful job. Kim, one of our country coordinators shared this poem with us at the very end of closing worship. Before you read it, I want to share with you what our worship space looked like, because I think it adds a layer of depth to the words.
The six of us were seated at a dining room table, which was situated in a small living room inside our rental home that smelled like dust. We had just shared communion with one another, so there was a small plate with half a roll and a glass of red wine in the center of the table. It wasn’t fancy. We didn’t have candles and all the hymns were sung a cappella by a group of people who claim they can’t sing. But it was a Sanctuary. A place where we gathered together as our full, broken, beautiful selves and reflected God to one another. And it brought me to tears.
A Blessing Called Sanctuary
You hardly knew how hungry you were to be gathered in, to receive the welcome that invited you to enter entirely— nothing of you found foreign or strange, nothing of your life that you were asked to leave behind or to carry in silence or in shame.
Tentative steps became settling in, leaning into the blessing that enfolded you, taking your place in the circle that stunned you with its unimagined grace.
You began to breathe again, to move without fear, to speak with abandon the words you carried in your bones, that echoed in your being.
You learned to sing.
But the deal with this blessing is that it will not leave you alone, will not let you linger in safety, in stasis.
The time will come when this blessing will ask you to leave, not because it has tired of you but because it desires for you to become the sanctuary that you have found— to speak your word into the world, to tell what you have heard with your own ears, seen with your own eyes, known in your own heart:
that you are beloved, precious child of God, beautiful to behold, and you are welcome and more than welcome here.
1. Koalas do in fact smell like Eucalyptus. 2. Contrary to what you might think, Australia is not sunny and warm all of the time. 3. A lot of people ask about Trump immediately after finding out I’m from the US. 4. The sun is much stronger here. So far I have only gotten sunburned once, but I’m sure my pasty white skin will be in for a rough summer. 5. Gum trees. Gum trees everywhere. 6. The Asian food is impeccable. 7. My hosts are two of the best people I know. I honestly can’t imagine these past few months without them. 8. Vegemite isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. It’s also much more versatile than I thought it would be. We put it in a lot of pasta sauces. 9. Melbourne is pronounced Mel-bin not Mel-born. 10. Magpies and Bin Chickens are the devil incarnate. But the rest of the birds here are amazing. 11. When someone offers you pie, it’s going to be a meat pie, not a sweet pie. And it will be delicious. 12. Instant coffee definitely isn’t good, but I’m getting used to it. 13. When someone offers you a cuppa, take the cuppa. 14. The time difference is incredibly difficult. 15. There are bakeries around every corner and I love it! 16. Helping out at a 2 hour beginners English class every Wednesday has been the most challenging/rewarding hours of my time here so far. 17. Dry heat is a lot different than I thought it would be. Instead of sweating, it just feels like my skin is burning off. 18. Homesickness comes in waves 19. “Good on ya” is the verbal equivalent to a pat on the back and I LOVE IT. 20. I have played more board games in the past two and a half months than in the past 23 years of my life. 21. A lot of the time I don’t feel like I’m being productive when I go to work, but I still look forward to it every single day. 22. Worship here feels a lot different even though it’s not. But that’s okay. 23. I really am exactly where I need to be right now and I thank God every day for that.
As most of you know, I have been super sick with mono, or as the Australians say: glandular fever, for the past couple of weeks. Although I am feeling much better now, the whole experience took a pretty big toll on me physically and mentally. I was feeling sick for about 3 weeks, but I really couldn’t do anything but sleep and watch Netflix for about a week and a half. I got really in my head for a bit. I was sad that I was in so much pain, I was angry at time zones for making it so hard to call home, I was embarrassed that my new community had to check up on me so much…I could keep going, but honestly, I was just really mad that I was in Australia and not at home where I know exactly how to navigate insurance and doctors offices, know the names of over the counter medicines (yeah, I didn’t realize those would be different here and trying to say acetaminophen when you barely have a voice and no one has heard the word before because they call it paracetamol is infuriating), and my parents can give me a hug while I’m sobbing to them instead of just watching it all over video chats that freeze every 5 minutes.
For a hot minute I even found myself questioning why I was here in Australia at all. Although the question did not stay in my head long when I was in that negative place, now that I am feeling better I find myself asking the same question. Why am I in Australia? Why am I a part of this (kind of crazy) program that has asked me to give up everything I know for a year and live all the way across the world? Why am I a part of this church? Why am I Christian? Okay, okay…I’m going to stop before I start spiraling. But seriously, for the past four years I have studied religion in an academic setting, so a lot of these questions are not new, but I am thinking about them in a vastly different way and it is stressful.
I was reminded of the answers to all of those questions at church on Friday. The Ark is celebrating baptismal birthdays this weekend with an affirmation of baptism at the beginning of the service, a sermon on John 3 when Jesus teaches Nicodemus about baptism, and birthday cakes at the end (I even decorated one! See photo to left). During the service on Friday, I couldn’t stop thinking of a tradition from my home church, St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Urbandale, Iowa. Our affirmation of baptism is included in the sending prayer each week:
“…to LIVE among God’s faithful people;
to HEAR the word of God and share in the
to PROCLAIM the good news of God in
Christ through word and deed;
to SERVE all people following the example
of Jesus; and
to STRIVE for justice and peace in all
the earth.” (ELW p. 236)
Although I am not at home, saying these words out loud every week, I am reminded of them every time I think about why I’m here, or why I’m Lutheran, or why I’m Christian. These words and the promise that they include completely overwhelm me with the love and grace of God. Not only does this motivate me to try to just be a decent human being, but the promise of my baptism also reminds me that when I inevitably don’t measure up to these statements, I am still a child of God, called and loved, and God is still working in and through me. Remembering my purpose and call in this world does not always ease the anxieties I feel, but it sure does give me perspective and hope.
I’m only six weeks into my time here in Salisbury and there has already been quite a large speed bump. There will inevitably be more, but I am confident that when they do surface, I will be able to come back to the promises of my baptism, remember why I am on this journey in the first place, and be showered with the same love and grace I have felt so many times before.
On Mondays and Fridays I hop on a bus, then a train, and take a short walk to get to Peachey Place Living Skills Centre, a branch of Lutheran Community Care located in Davoren Park, South Australia. Lutheran Community Care is similar to Lutheran Services in America, (Lutheran Services in Iowa, Lutheran Social Services, etc.). Peachey Place has many different programs and services offered to the community throughout the week including financial counseling, literacy assistance, cooking classes, gardening, and a tool library. One truly special aspect of Peachey Place is the whole backyard of the lot is a huge garden and the food that is grown and maintained by the community is used in the cooking classes and community meals. My role is to just build relationships with the people that come through the front door, specifically during the community meals. It has been so easy because even though I have only spent two days at Peachey Place, I already feel so welcomed into the community.
Each Monday one of the community members holds an Indian cooking class which I was SO excited for because Indian food is one of my newfound loves. This Monday morning I walked in ready to get to cooking and I asked the instructor how I could help. She pointed me to the cabinet with the aprons but told me before I got started I had to sit down and have a cuppa, (Australian term for having a hot drink, usually associated with socializing, taking a break, etc.). Later on in the day, I was taught how to make Puri, which is a simple (delicious!) fried bread. While frying the bread, I was asked about five times if I needed a break. I was doing fine so I continued on the bread until eventually someone took the spatula out of my hand and told me that I didn’t have to work the whole time, that I needed to sit down, have a cuppa, and relax. Although this probably sounds like a pointless rambling, it was really meaningful for me. I am so used to endless work and constantly needing to be doing something in order to feel productive or valuable in a work environment. But the hospitality that was shown to me made me realize a few things:
Contrary to what I have been conditioned to think, it’s okay to take a break.
The people that I was cooking with didn’t view me as there to do a job, they saw me as another member of their community.
They didn’t measure my value by the work I was doing, how good the bread was, or how fast I could complete the task, they just appreciated my presence and wanted me to feel included in the process. A process that included taking time to just sit and be present in the moment.
This idea is a perfect example of the concept of accompaniment that we talk about so often in YAGM. Accompaniment is the process of walking alongside a community and is the frame in which all of the ministries of ELCA Global Mission operate within. I have really struggled to call myself a missionary because of the connotations it brings. So much hurt has come from mission work in the past and even now. I didn’t want to be associated with colonization and conversion. I mean, I still don’t, but just ignoring it doesn’t help. But the ELCA, and many other churches, take a different approach to mission work that aligns more closely with the mission of Jesus. It works to eliminate the power imbalance that comes with the imperialist model of mission work and starts to heal the wounds it has created.
Accompaniment calls for authenticity, meeting people where they are, sharing, and living within both the differences and similarities in culture, religion, and norms. It means that I am useless to the community unless I am a true member of the community (and even then, I’m still pretty useless most of the time). It’s taking a break, having a cuppa, and laughing with my new community in the kitchen of Peachey Place. Accompaniment is radical hospitality and one of the most beautiful displays of God’s love that I have ever witnessed.
The past two-ish weeks of my life have been anything but still. From orientation in Chicago with the large group of YAGM volunteers, to this past week at in-country orientation in Australia. My natural instinct is to lean into the movement. My whole life I have been busy, filling my days with activities and as much human contact as I can find. This means I have very much enjoyed the go-go-go of orientation. One thing I have noticed however, is that some of the most impactful and holy experiences have been during the rare moments of stillness.
Reflecting on heavy sessions about race, power, and privilege while laying on the grass looking at the clouds in the courtyard of The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Creating and reflecting on new relationships while sitting on a bench in a small sprinkling of trees by our dorm after most of the city of Chicago had gone to sleep.
Drinking my morning coffee on the porch swing in front of the beach house in Port Elliot, South Australia while I watched the sun dance over the hills in the distance and heard the waves crashing in the other direction.
I am not good at being still. It is challenging for me to relax. This year is going to involve more hours of stillness than I am naturally comfortable with or have experienced before, but I know with each reflective moment I encounter, I will get better. A goal of mine throughout this year is to not only be comfortable in stillness, but to also intentionally seek out these moments for myself. So as I head out from orientation tomorrow and into my new community for the year I ask for your prayers. Prayers for stillness and peace, even when it is a little uncomfortable.
I just said a really hard goodbye to one of my very best friends. Rebecca, one of my friends from Wartburg, was in Des Moines for a work meeting so we got coffee and caught up on life, talked about the future, and most importantly, discussed what our friendship is going to look like over the next year (our conclusion was lots of pics of puppies, koalas, and memes, so maybe it won’t be that different after all…).
Rebecca has been one of my biggest supporters since the first day I met her four years ago at freshman orientation. I cannot tell you how many times throughout college we cried together. Sometimes it was because of sadness, but most of the time it was from laughing too hard. This coffee date was no exception. Thank goodness we were in a public space or I probably would have started straight up sobbing.
I am usually not one to use cheesy quotes, but this experience desperately calls for one:
“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie the Pooh
Although I am far from ready to say the goodbyes that need to be said, I am so grateful that they are so painful. They are painful because the relationships are meaningful and I think that kind of pain is truly beautiful. My relationships with friends and family are going to look drastically different this coming year and knowing that makes the goodbyes even more difficult, but I find comfort knowing that I have such a large support system sending me out and even if we do not talk every day, week, or even month, when I return in a year I will be welcomed with the same amount of love and care that I am receiving now, it just might look a little different.
So thank you, to all my friends, family, mentors, and acquaintances for making these goodbyes so difficult. I cannot wait to share this journey with all of you.