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.
When I tell people I am going to Australia for a year of
service I generally get one of two responses:
“I’ve always wanted to go to Australia! Do you think I could
fit in your suitcase?”
“A whole year? I could never do that.”
In regards to the first comment, RIGHT?? It’s Australia!!
And no, you can’t fit in my suitcase because if that was possible the spot
would be reserved for my mom, duh.
Now for the second comment. I didn’t think I could either.
But honestly, I didn’t think I could do a lot of stuff until I did. Making really
“life altering” decisions has always been pretty difficult for me. When I
started college I had no idea what I wanted to major in and it caused me some
extreme anxiety. I felt like a failure because I have never had any idea of
what I wanted to do with my life or what career I wanted to have. My parents
said when I was a little kid I wanted to be a “purple doctor” (I have no explanation,
maybe I watched too much Barney?). In middle school I wanted to be a baker and
after working at Panera Bread and the Bakery at Wartburg I can tell you that is
definitely not my calling. Too many
early mornings and mismeasured ingredients.
My first year of college pretty much all of my energy was
spent on trying to decide on a career. I talked with so many people about what
I should pursue and received many different answers. Somewhere along the way, someone
told me to stop focusing on what job I would have after I graduated and to just
study what I enjoyed because at that point I wasn’t choosing a job, I was
choosing what to learn about for the next few years. I wish I remembered who
said that to me because it totally shifted how I viewed decision making. It
took the pressure off and made the decision manageable. From that moment on,
whenever I had to make a decision about what I was going to pursue I reminded
myself, “You aren’t deciding what you are doing for the rest of your life, you
are deciding what you are doing next.” (If you have ever come to me seeking
advice about any decision, you have probably heard me say this.)
This seemingly simple statement/mindset not only helped me
when picking majors, but has also helped me decide what to do after college and
ultimately led me to YAGM. Although the decision to do YAGM will impact me –hopefully
in a positive way- for the rest of my life, it is just what I am doing next. No
decision I make can lock me into a set path for the rest of my life because I
get to make the decision of what to do next. Of course there are external
factors that may push me in certain directions, but I will always have options.
This mindset does not take away the fears I have, but it gives me comfort
knowing no situation I am in, good or bad, is going to last forever.
Although I have ideas and goals, I still don’t know what I am going to do with the rest of my life. But I am okay with that because life isn’t going to go according to some sort of plan I make up. All I can do is decide what I am going to do next and trust that that decision will help me grow until the next adventure comes along.
Hello everyone! Thank you for visiting my blog dedicated to my time with the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM). I will be ~attempting~ to post on this page frequently throughout the prep stages and during the year. I will be writing about experiences, feelings, struggles, and celebrations. I am so excited for you to join me!
I want to take this first post to explain the logistics of what YAGM is and how I fit in. YAGM is a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I often describe it as similar to the Peace Corps, but through a church. Young adults ages 21-29 are invited to work in partnership with the ELCA’s companion churches across the globe. There will be over 75 of us serving in different country programs including Argentina/Uruguay, Australia, Central Europe, Jerusalem/West Bank, Madagascar, Mexico, Rwanda, Senegal, and the UK.
YAGM focuses on a concept called accompaniment. Accompaniment is defined as walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. What a beautiful concept. It’s basically is a frame that keeps the relationships between volunteers and communities healthy and mutually beneficial. This is something I am extremely passionate about and will be writing about frequently, so stay tuned for more!
Right now, I know that I have been placed in Australia, but I do not know where in Australia I will be or what my specific role is. I should be finding out soon, and will definitely let you all know. Prayers for my anxious mind, country coordinators, and future community are very much appreciated!
So, this summer I am working on fundraising for this year (hit up my fundraising page here) and spending time with my friends and family. This year is going to be a wild ride, and I am so thankful for the massive support I have in so many different corners of my life. Thank YOU for being a part of that support system by reading this post, praying, or however else you keep me going. I couldn’t do this without you.