Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It's Happening, It's Happening....


      As I'm sure a lot of my fellow YASCers have been experiencing, I have been getting asked "Are you getting nervous to leave?" a lot and up until about a week ago I could honestly say no. My mental countdown was still ticking down until I got to see all the amazing people I met at discernment weekend again at our orientation & training in New York at the Stony Point Retreat Center. Now that those two weeks of orientation have come and gone, it is really hitting me that in less than a month I will be leaving behind my friends, family, 24 hour Walmarts, burgers & fries and everything else that screams AMERICA and boarding a flight that will take me to the other side of the world. So it's happening, I'm really doin' it! 

    So two weeks in New York? Most people at work think I was just on some little vacation and don't really understand what in the world a bunch of missionaries need to do for that long. If you take away the seminars and visits to different religious houses, I would equate it to summer camp with a splash of living in a sorority house [Lots of girls running around yelling "Who has size 8 shoes?", "What should I wear to meet the presiding bishop tomorrow? Do I wear the nicest outfit I brought?", "Does anyone have bandaids & bugspray?"] I honestly don't think Mean Girls or Bridesmaids could have been quoted any more than it was during our two weeks, not to mention every situation called for a sing-a-long. See! Missionaries are just like regular people too!

Actual Pi Phi sorority sisters- Katie Webb from Pepperdine and Keri Geiger from Washington & Lee University 

More than a few pickup games happened in between seminars
A lot of time was spent pow wowing in the center of the retreat center 
On one of our many bonfire nights, we were joined by men from another organization at the retreat center . Their group was meeting to discuss how to promote peace among the world while honoring people's differences. 

Carlin VanSchaik and Julie Burd performing on our impromptu karaoke night  for Ashley Cameron's birthday

     On the business end of things, we actually got a lot done. While each of us are going to our respective countries, there was an overarching theme of cultural differences that we focused on. A lot of our discussions focused on what our expectations are and what do we think they expect of us. We also touched on a subject I had never thought of. It is the idea that a lot of our perceptions of people and things are based on "a single story". Think of Japan. You may think of a people that provide us our electronics and eat a lot of sushi. That is based off of a single story, the one that has been told to you through American media/Hollywood. This can be detrimental in situations when you are not open to your new culture because of what you believe to be true. An act that you may think means someone is standoff-ish actually means they are showing reverence to you in their culture. While the seminars felt like we were back in college trying to cram for finals, I now feel infinitely more prepared than I did before, which is probably the whole point. So good work everybody!

Happy to report that we abided by the covenant we created for the two weeks...minus that cell phone part. There were just too many instagram worthy moments.
Opening Eucharist...there's me in the yellow shorts in the middle!
Will Bryant and Carlin VanSchaik explaining to the group how to respond in a situation where cultural differences arise.
One of my many groups discussing an enlightening topic from one of the seminars.

My group creating a map of what it means to be a missionary in our last session. Props to Margaret Clinch for masterminding our creation. 
Our pretty self explanatory tip about not ending up in jail in a foreign country 

     Our first taste of the NYC life was spent at The Episcopal Church Center...think of it as the headquarters. We spent the day learning about how the Episcopal Church as a whole runs and finally got to meet the people that we all had been emailing for the past four months and put a face to the name of the people that essentially have our lives in their hands for the next year. We even got to have a meet and greet with the presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. It was so inspiring having her there to give her blessing to us and our work. She gave us insight into each of our placements and advice for our success. As I heard the entire weekend from multiple sources, she made sure I knew that Kiyosato has "phenomenal" soft serve ice cream. I'm beginning to wonder if coming home a changed person actually is going to mean fifty pounds heavier.

We spent more time traveling than anyone would like to admit/remember

Bishop Schori imparting some words of wisdom that we're invaluable to all of us. It was like meeting the ultimate Episcopal celebrity 

Me and Maurice Dyer posing with the Church Center sign

One of the days we got to spend time with the brothers at the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park. It was an absolutely breathtaking place with its old world charm. 
Think Hogwarts if Harry & Ron & Hermione were missionaries for Dumbledore. It was overlooking the river and peaceful beyond belief. Brother Robert was our host for the day where we had the opportunity to participate in the morning, noonday and evening prayers with the brothers. During meal times, we also go to visit with the other groups staying at the monastery. My favorite part of the whole day was after we had our lesson on spiritual practices and staying strong in our faith. It had started to rain and I was able to sit on the veranda and rock in their rocking chairs and just be. There is nothing like the smell of the outdoors on a hot day after a short intense rain. Everything just feels renewed and refreshed. At that point I just knew this is what I am supposed to be doing.
View of the monastery when you first drive up

So many coffee breaks it's no wonder people joke that it's the third sacrament

The simplicity of the chapel was absolutely stunning
  My two favorite windows in a series of stained glass windows depicting the story of creation

Group of us that went on a walk to the labyrinth 
Me and Zach Baker reflecting on the day
The whole crew with our host Brother Rob

Our only Sunday was spent attending church service at the church where our "boss's" wife presided. Christ Church in Tarrytown, NY is a little different than my Christ Church here in Indianapolis. I am used to a more high church setting at the Cathedral with a full choir and multiple hymns sung during the service and the same ritual every Sunday, so the laid back atmosphere here was a whole new experience for me. Not to say one way is better or more correct, it was just different. I took it as a way to expose us to something different from our own home parish in a comfortable setting. We all know once we go overseas we are all going to see a completely different service than what we are used to. With that being said, the congregation could not have been more welcoming or engaging with all of us newcomers. After the service they had a lunch for us where everyone was so excited to meet us all and just sit and talk with us about what we will be doing over the next year. Being with people of your same faith that you have just met makes you really understand what it means to be unified in your love of God. 

Paul Daniels with the Reverend Susan Copley with a sign that reads "Rainbow banner thieves God loves you madly.
1 John 4:7" that was put up after their rainbow flag kept getting stolen.
All of the YASCers and our bios that were in the front of the church before the service
Fun sign at the front of the church
Emily BarkerMaurice DyerHeidi Galagan, me and Julie Burd after the great service and lunch at the blessing of the new clothing closet of the church

Sean Brown will be joining me in Japan, but he will be at the Asian Rural Institute a little to the North of where I will be
All of team Asia in our Sunday best

There were two days we spent in the city which were really unique to our program. The first of the two was our "interfaith" day. We traveled to the city, in a party bus no less, to different houses of worship with the intent to get a better understanding of how other faiths relate to our own. Our first stop was the Eldridge Street Synagogue. It was a gorgeous, massive synagogue plopped in the middle of what has become Chinatown. Our guide was absolutely amazing giving us the rundown of Judaism, the history of the building and running through what happens during a service.  I never quite realized the similarities to Christian services, but you would have to be blind and deaf to not notice them. Our next stop was St. Peter's Catholic Church in lower Manhattan. It was definitely a beautiful church and the priest that lead us around was very friendly, we just attended the noon mass and it felt like it was a bunch of people on their lunch break repenting for their sins of browsing on Facebook instead of working on their expense reports that morning. It wasn't quite people were there to ponder on their faith. Our next faith house was the Park 51 Mosque. Most notably, this 'mosque' has been in the media known as the "Ground Zero Mosque" for its supposed closeness to Ground Zero. In reality, it was more than a few blocks away and in a building that was as nondescript as one could be. I started walking past it until our guide stopped us and led us in. Here was where we really employed the "danger of a single story theory" in that we were all thinking that this was going to be some huge and imposing building right across the street from Ground Zero. Park 51 is actually meant to serve as not just a place to worship, but a kind of YMCA type establishment. What I found quite surprising was how comfortable most all of us felt there. The young woman who worked there really put a face to Muslims in America and is doing a real service educating people on something that most Americans find to be taboo or have a negative preconceived notion about. To say most all of our expectations on what we would experience there were completely blown away would be an understatement. Our last stop was the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Center. While all of the other faith houses were relatively similar in their basic tenets, this was a place that took almost all of us out of our comfort zones. We were invited to join in a chanting session at the center. While I am sure people do have a religious experience while chanting for the twenty five minute session, I couldn't quite grasp what was going on or being said, but I can appreciate the sentiment. As I sit here writing this and drinking my tea, let's just say it was not my cup of tea. Nothing cures ignorance more than knowledge and I feel like this day really gave us some tools for us to take with us that will help us to experience situations overseas more fully and with our eyes completely open. 

     Our other day spent in the city was "Find your way in NYC". We were divided into groups and sent out to the different boroughs of New York and told to find people and learn their story, find out who they are and how they came to live there etc. My group was sent to Brooklyn to Brighton Beach and Bay Ridge. We didn't get very far with talking to people because one of the people in our group had a bag with their diocese on it and the first people we talked to told us they didn't want to talk about God and walked away, so that was a little disheartening. We decided to hang out at Coney Island for awhile and decided to get a feel for the people through osmosis. I'm more of a people watcher in that sense. All things aside, we were able to have an absolutely delectable lunch at a Russian Cafe in Brighton Beach, so we considered the trip a success. We ended the day with a dinner at restaurant in Chinatown. While China and Japan differ in more than just geographical location, which some people can't really grasp when I tell them I'm going to Japan, exploring Chinatown got me excited to explore my new Asian home and to try all new foods in my new lifestyle!

Our party bus that took us into the city
Beautiful view of the Eldridge Street Synagogue's window from the women's balcony
Our guide talking to us about the Eldridge Street Synagogue

The group talking with the priest we met at St. Peter's Catholic Church 
After lunch, we had time to explore St. Paul's Chapel which is the Episcopal church that was across the World Trade Center towers and received next to no damage after they fell
The Park 51 Mosque
Two employees from the Park 51 Mosque talking to us about Islam and what the center hopes to do

The Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Center

My group for the "Find Your Way in NYC" day with our lunch at a Russian restaurant--delish
Coney Island near Brighton Beach 
Fellow Team Asia memeber Sara Lowery and me getting some ice cream on Coney Island

One of the few pics I had from our dinner in least it is a good picture of Rachel CarterKatie Webb and Ashley Cameron

I can't have a post about orientation without talking about the great time I had with my roommate, who also happened to be my roommate during discernment weekend as well. Becky and I got to spend time getting to know each other back in February at discernment and really continued that bond through orientation. You get to know someone pretty well when you live in the same room with them for two weeks. A big thank you to her for our long late night talks about everything from siblings to worries about the year to come! 

Such a great roommate! I wish Becky Gleason all the best in Honduras this year!

       I just have to give a quick little shout out to my family and friends that entertained me on our free day in the city. I was able to meet up with my aunt and my cousin in the city for lunch. I hadn't seen them in awhile so it was a pleasant little expedition to see them. Afterwards, I met up with my friends from college, Matt and John. Our plans were to take the new City Bikes around for awhile, but with technology being the game of lottery that it is, we ended up just walking to some of their favorite places in the city. The break in between two weeks of go, go, go and all business was a welcome break. 

My cousin Morgan at work at the UCB Theatre
My friends John and Matt taking me to see some of their favorite places in the city.
Matt and me with the skyline in the background

     So that's how you train missionaries. We get to run wild in NYC and play with play-doh during seminars. Sounds like we're all pretty prepared to encounter cultures completely different from our own, right? All joking aside, it was a pretty incredible experience. It deepened everyone's relationship with each other and our resolve to give it our absolute all while we are away. I now know I have a support system not here in the U.S. but around the world now as well. Now just to play the waiting game until I leave!


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