Friday, July 11, 2014

Bear hunts, and my journey towards Rwanda

Friday, July 11th, 2014

It was a blistering one-hundred degrees as two tots and I hunted for bears on the lush green lawn of Jaycee Park in Fort Morgan, Colorado on Wednesday.  “They’ve gone that way!” declared Harlan, an innocent blond-mopped four-year-old as we prowled the lawn like grizzlies, “Once we get them, we can eat them for lunch!”  Although the original purpose of our expedition across the grass had been to catch frogs (not one of which we had seen the entire morning), it was not long before Harlan and Mercedes (an adorable two-year-old girl) and I were more focused on hopping and croaking like frogs, and later cats, dogs, and bears.  It was thus only natural that we would embark on a hunt for bears.  

My adventure with Harlan and Mercedes took place during a weeklong high-school service trip in Fort Morgan, which I led as part of my job as a counselor at Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp in Colorado.  My high-school campers and I spent the mornings and afternoons working with a variety of local organizations to serve the people of Fort Morgan.  While many of the tasks we performed for these groups seemed mundane in the moment (i.e. stocking shelves in a food pantry, sorting the bookshelf of a stressed-out ESL teacher in a low-income elementary school), we could see the deep gratitude in the eyes of each person we helped.  Yet for me, those moments of demonstrated gratitude were not nearly as profound as that half-hour I prowled the park lawn with Harlan and Mercedes.  

“Show me your best bear growl!” I shouted to the children.  Without an ounce of inhibition, Harlan and Mercedes growled at me with a wild playfulness.  They giggled and smiled at me, and as they led me towards the imaginary bears they became more real with each passing step.  Suddenly it hit me that although I had come to “serve,” the real service had been done to me.  Harlan and Mercedes had given me a gift: they had taught me to unleash my imagination once again, an ability I had thought I lost forever sometime during college.  

Throughout my life, I have been taught that I have unique gifts to offer those around me (which I believe to be true).  But throughout my summer at Sky Ranch, I have found myself discovering and re-discovering a harder truth to swallow: that while I have a responsibility to give myself to others, I tend to deny my desperate need to receive their gifts as well.  It is a truth that strikes me in humble places and experiences, in spontaneous conversations and little acts of service that people do for me.  

I am especially grateful for those moments as I prepare to leave for Rwanda in about five weeks (!!!), where I will spend eleven months living in a small village as a volunteer for Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM).  A program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, YAGM sends young American adults around the world to serve communities by living with them in community.  The ELCA’s word for this style of mission work (yes, it is considered missionary work) is accompaniment.  Instead of going to Rwanda with a plan for “saving those poor Africans” (an attitude that has caused severe damage to Rwandans and countless other people around the world), my fellow YAGM and I will simply walk with people— as they are, and as we are— reciprocally serving each other along the journey.

I hope you’ll join me on the bear hunt; that you’ll stay in touch with me on my journey.  After I finish my summer at Sky Ranch and a week of training for YAGM, I will fly from Chicago to Rwanda on August 20th, and stay there until late July of 2015. I may not update my blog frequently (I don’t know how frequent my Internet access will be), but I intend to journal and share my experiences on this blog.  And, if you find a moment, send me a message sometime during the year, too.